BPS 167: From Self-Produced Play to Hit Feature Film with John Pollono

This week I brought on the show, playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor, John Pollono.  I wanted to go down the road a little bit about his remarkable journey in the business which expands across theatre and short films. 

John is one of the founders of the Jabberwocky Theatre Company in 2004 which became the Rogue Machine Theatre in 2008 where he produced his earlier plays. His big break came with his screenplay for the acclaimed biographical drama film, Stronger which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

The screenplay, based on Bauman’s memoir Stronger, was number two on the Black List (most-liked “motion picture screenplays not yet produced) in 2016.

Stronger, starring multiple award-winning actors, Jake Gyllenhaal, is the inspiring real-life story of Jeff Bauman — an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope after surviving but losing his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and must adjust to his new life.

This project came along for John right after signing with Los Angelos – based Creative Artists AgencyProducers, Alex Young and Todd Lieberman were already familiar with Pollono’s work. And they were on the hunt for something. That was when adapting Stronger became a prospect. At the time, the book was not yet published so he had a chance to review the unpublished book. 

Producer Scott Silver was looking to mentor a more junior writer for the Stronger film and fortuitously, John was a good fit having grown up 20 minutes from where the characters take place, he was the best candidate for the job. So, with a follow-up pitch, the book’s film adaptation screenplay was sold to Lionsgate.

Writing Stronger (the film) was a double success for Pollono. Not only was he mentored directly by the incredible Scott Silver and receiving writing directions about theme, structure, etc, but the project brought him some notoriety as well by topping number two on the blacklist a year before production. That script made a big enough splash for his career.

Besides Stronger, Pollono is known for writing Small Engine Repair (the play and its film adaptation), Lost Girls (2013 and 2015) Off-Broadway release, Second Of Rules (the play), Lost and Found (2006), Razorback (play, staged in 2008) and his one-act Illuminati play which won Best Play at the 2010 Network One-Act Festival in New York City.  

In his career in front of the camera, Pollono made appearances on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, recurring roles on Mob City and NBC’s This Is Us TV series, and have worked professionally in entertainment Public Relations

Pollono’s love for stories and movies dates back to being a kid who was also a voracious reader — reading every Stephen King book there is. He picked up short story writing at a pretty young age. Obviously, he had a sort of knack for storytelling and started pursuing that path and passion to become a filmmaker and has been fortunate to shadow so many directors who I really admire in the business.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1994 from the University of New Hampshire and did two semesters of film school at NYU on an exchange. His experience in New York City, being surrounded by such a diverse group of artists was the biggest epiphany of his life that helped him decide his filmmaking career.

He’s guest-starred in the television series, How I Met Your Mother and has had smaller acting credits on film and stage.

In 2021 he wrote and directed the black comedy-drama, Small Engine Repair which will premiere this September. The film is based on Pollono’s play of the same name. I can not recommend this film enough. It is easily one of the best films I’ve seen in 2021. 

Events spin wildly out of control when three lifelong friends agree to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore. It follows lifelong friends Frank (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frank’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Bravo). But when Frank invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control in this exploration of brotherhood, class struggle, and toxic masculinity.

This interview was a pretty cool conversation and I did not hold back getting John to share all the gems of the business he’s learned and fun questions like what it’s like working with Frank Darabont and working on the new Hulk Hogan movie currently in production.

Enjoy my conversation with John Pollono.

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Alex Ferrari 0:20
I'd like to welcome to the show, John Pollono. How you doing, John?

John Pollono 0:23
I'm doing all right. How you doing, man?

Alex Ferrari 0:24
I'm doing great, man. I'm doing great. It's any day above of the ground nowadays?

John Pollono 0:31
I know. Right. With the we've lowered the bar. Pretty much.

Alex Ferrari 0:35
All the bar has been lowered since 2019. that's for damn. that's for damn sure.

John Pollono 0:39

Alex Ferrari 0:40
But thanks for coming on the show, man. We're gonna talk later.

John Pollono 0:43
I'm a big fan of the podcast. Thanks.

Alex Ferrari 0:45
Oh, thanks, man. I appreciate it. You know, we were going to go down the road a little bit about your your remarkable journey in the business. And in your you're an East coaster.

John Pollono 0:56

Alex Ferrari 0:57
So I always love talking to East coasters. Because I mean, being an East Coast. There's a different energy with these coasters. Even though you're even though you're West Coast now as I was. But

John Pollono 1:07
it's where you spent the formative years I think is

Alex Ferrari 1:09
I think it is. And it never leaves you. And never never know. If you can live in LA for the next 50 years. I had a I had a good friend of mine, who was a first ad worked on every big movie you can imagine. 20 years he raised in New York, but until he was seven, he was still talking like, you know, when I go to the door, it had the accent he had the

John Pollono 1:27
It's comfort. It's it's what you're used to you do it? You know, I mean, I've been here about 20 years. And I, you know, it kept me at, you know, the first like five or six. I was like, you know, I'm not, I'm not really here. And then you kind of like I kind of love it. I mean, California is great. But California is like a melting pot. It's like people from all over. And I mean, like most of my friends are from the northeast from New York and Boston. And I mean, it's just happened to gravitate towards that. I mean, like I said, My wife's in Dallas. But you know, when we first were dating and stuff, she'd be like, we stopped yelling, and I'm like, I'm not yelling.

Alex Ferrari 1:59
That's love.

John Pollono 2:01
That's how we Communicate, and then realize when you're from people back home, you're all like that, you know, so it's just that you attract birds of a feather, I guess.

Alex Ferrari 2:08
And then eventually all all East coasters go down to Miami to to retire. So that's Yes, that's it. Isn't that the law? I think that's the law. The law. So, so man, how did you get into the business? How did you get started?

John Pollono 2:24
Like how back do you want to go? I mean, so

Alex Ferrari 2:27
not the womb, but right.

John Pollono 2:30
I mean, look, I always loved stories and movies. And as a kid, I was a voracious reader. And I started writing, you know, short stories a pretty young, I was obsessed with Stephen King. I like read everything he wrote. And I don't know, I just sort of had a knack for it. And then, you know, started doing that kind of thing. And then I wanted to be a director. I wanted to make movies and I, you know, it was a dream of mine. Then I went to university New Hampshire was pretty much all I could afford. But I didn't exchange to NYU. And you do you for a whole summer. It's like two semesters worth of filmmaking classes. And I was just like, it was the biggest epiphany of my life. Being in the city being surrounded by such a diverse group of artists. For the first time in my life, I was around people I could just sit down with and we could talk about movies and stuff for hours, like endlessly. So I was no longer the sort of having to convince my peer group to go watch a movie with me or talk about it. I was just with people and living and breathing. And I was like, This is what I want to do, you know, for the rest of my life. And, you know, I went a very circuitous way. I graduated from college, I lived in Colorado for a couple of years with with a girl we lived in a trailer park and I wrote a bunch of terrible screenplays. And then I moved out to LA with those and you know, in my backpack, and, you know, they sucked, I was writing movies that were derivative of movies, so I didn't quite, you know, like, here's my Indiana Jones, here's my you know, whatever weapon exactly for weapon type stuff. And, and so then I started to take acting classes, and I got more involved in theater and I've been a, you know, in a playwright for, you know, 15, about 1015 years now. And theater was really what, how I discovered my voice, and it's sort of amplified all of that stuff. And, and then in theater and working as a playwright having play after play produced and sort of living in that world. I just, yeah, I've developed my voice as a writer. So then when I started to write screenplays, I had that sort of skill set that wasn't derivative of other movies. It was based on the lessons I'd learned in theater, which were, you know, character and drama and conflict and, you know, provoking an audience and really going to these daring, scary places. And so when I started to use that, in screenwriting, my you know, screenwriting career sort of took off, and then I've just sort of been juggling the two ever since,

Alex Ferrari 4:59
but You but you started but you started acting a little bit before. I mean, you were you your big break wasn't your big break or your first notable role with Frank Darabont and mob city?

John Pollono 5:09
Yeah, that was coincidentally, he saw me in small engine repair of the play in 2011. And I had known Frank, when I first moved to LA, I worked at the mailroom, Castle Rock entertainment. And then, which was really cool. I mean, look, I'm like, in my mid 20s, I'm like, this is great, I made wonderful friends. And then a friend of mine in the mailroom, this guy, filson tanny, who's a great guy, I'm still friends with him, he was taking acting classes at this place. And I, you know, I had acted in NYU and done and I kind of had, like, you know, the bug, but I kind of was too, you know, so much of my life and sort of my upbringing was being sort of closeted about my artistic side, and being afraid to sort of in the culture that I was in, or I was subscribed to the, like, I was too vulnerable. And I just didn't have feel like I had that support system, I had to kind of keep it very down. So that was, I was still in I probably the last 10 years of my career by being too much of a chicken shit to just say, you know what, this is what I am, I am an artist, you know what it is like, you're from Queens, like that tough guy. Like,

Alex Ferrari 6:14
my father was like, you're gonna do what? Like, what's kind of where you gonna make money like they had, he was a factory where

John Pollono 6:21
he just 100% exact same thing, exact same thing. And I had, you know, I've had, you know, 100 jobs in my life, manual labor, construction, irrigate, you know, everything, landscaping, you name it, because that I was afraid to say, hey, look, this is what I want to do. So I took those acting classes. That's sort of how I met it. And then I, but then I became an assistant to the head of PR. And it was like this beautiful family to be part of. I'm still friends with all those people and I so in the PR department, Frank Darabont made a bunch of movies at Castle Rock. So I just got to know him as like, you know, the 27 year old guy who parks his car and talks about movies, he was awesome. He was, you know, one of those filmmakers who you could just talk to, and, you know, I just got to know him through there. So then when I was in this play, and he was obviously new, Jon bernthal, from walking dead, he came and saw it. And he was like, I didn't know you're an actor. And you know, I'm such, you know, I love your that you wrote it. I love it. And yeah, and they brought me in on that pilot. And, yeah, I just got cast in that I think someone else got cast over me, this Irish actor, and he, like, couldn't get his green card. It was like I was pinned for it. And then they let me go, they cast this guy. And then they called and they're like, hey, you're in and I was like, This is amazing. So we shot that pilot, but it kind of sat there for a long time. And then we shot those other episodes. I mean, that was such an amazing experience. And I just adore Frankie. So great.

Alex Ferrari 7:38
So how did you have connections in the Lisa department to get that actor kicked off? Right. Let me say, you know, what, what is it? I have to ask? Because I'm such a huge Frank Darabont fan. I mean, sure. I mean, everyone. This is the show understands my obsession with Shawshank Redemption, considering it's one of the greatest cinematic experiences I've ever had, and continue to have one of the best screenplays ever written. What is it like working with, like, you know, I guess you already knew them a bit, because you'd been working with them. And, you know, as the 27 year old has parked his car, but yeah, it's another thing had been directed by by giant like that,

John Pollono 8:15
well, you know, there's different directors have different ways of doing it. That was one of the things I learned that it's like, what kind of director are you and you know, Frank, he does the work on the page. And he worked, you know, in the case of mob city was written by a bunch of different people, but it was like, his vision, and he was very visual. And so performance wise, you know, he kind of let you do your thing. Like, I feel like I'm a different director than that. I like to get in the weeds with the actors more, but he's not intimidating. He's a super cool guy. He fucking loves film. Like you're saying, he's a student of it. And that really interesting about Frank, which isn't like a lot of directors I've worked with is that if you're like, Hey, you know, my cousin's in from out of town, he wants to see other movies like bring them in. Like I was working as like a freelance PR guy at the time still to pay the bills because I had a child. And you know, we were making shit work I like I said at that was a period of my life where I had like four jobs. One of them was mob city, but you know, and it paid good, but not enough to raise a family in LA. You know, you're always waiting for that bigger break. So but I was I brought all of the PR guys I was working with and gals like these, this another group of friends I had, and he's like, Yeah, he brought them all around the monitor. They're all like, I can't believe this. He completely is disarming. He loves to show you this and ask people questions. Like he loves the process so much. He's very inviting. So you whenever if he has a minute, you can always ask him questions about the camera lenses and this and that, you know, at mob city, he was starting to go more digital, which he didn't think he would and he would talk endlessly about that. I mean, the guy is just like so open about all that and eager to share.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
That's awesome, man. That's all yeah, it

John Pollono 9:56
exceeds your expectations on how cool he is with that particular person. You

Alex Ferrari 10:01
know, I've heard he's been I heard from other people who've worked with him. He's very cool, but it's nice to continuously hear that he is awesome.

John Pollono 10:09
Yeah, now he totally, you know, I think he's very visual and that sort of his lane. You know, I think if you're an actor who likes to be super collaborative in terms of your ideas of the characters, and the performance, and, you know, high of this idea about the scene, and you know, he's not necessarily that director, but he's painting beautiful pictures, and he knows the story, and he knows it. So it's like, you gotta you got to go with the flow. That means all different kinds, you know,

Alex Ferrari 10:35
right. Like, yeah, if you're working with Clint Eastwood, are you working with Tarantino? They're very different flavors of director.

John Pollono 10:40

Alex Ferrari 10:41
Very, very different.

John Pollono 10:42
Yeah, no, totally. And, you know, again, that was sort of I was very intimidated to direct a movie. And one of my things was, like, I was fortunately able to shadow so many directors that I that I really admire. And I saw, well, I had the opportunity of being the actor with them and saying, oh, okay, how can I communicate that and, and additionally, some incredible theater directors as well. So I felt like, you know, it's such a godsend to be able to see someone like, you're saying Frank Darabont work, and sort of cherry pick some of the stuff he does, they'll be like, yeah, I think I want to try that. And some of the stuff you're like, Okay, that's not the director. I am. But, you know, Frank, I think his direction starts on the page. You know, so right. There. Yeah, he's a writer. And I mean, there's so you know, there's so Connect interconnected in many ways, but you know, read his script, you kind of know what he wants from that character.

Alex Ferrari 11:34
Now, when you were, you know, you're hustling as an actor. And then you're writing some screenplays, I'm assuming you haven't written Lethal Weapon seven at this point, you've gone past that. I would write that I was about to say, I would enjoy having you writes. That would be interesting to say the least. But so you start writing. Can you tell me a little bit about how stronger came to be?

John Pollono 11:58
Yeah. So you know, smaller repair at that time as a play was like my writing sample, you know, what they used to get you in the door. And I had just signed with CAA. And they were like, you know, I had written some screenplays. And at that point, I had had some legit screenwriting jobs, but the door wasn't sort of kicked open, so stronger. I had known the Mandeville guys especially this guy, Alex young Todd Lieberman producers over there. They were familiar with my work, I had had enough plays going on that they got to know you, you know, you have a general meeting. And you say, hey, look, you know, I have a play running with you. We want to check it out. So they go see it. So they were like, especially Alex, who was the junior sort of producer at the time, he kind of knew my voice and he was looking for something so stronger came by the book sample they had hadn't been published yet. They were trying to find a writer. It was a it was a really, fortuitous situation. Because just coincidentally, one of my favorite all time screenwriters, Scott silver was a producer on it. And his role was he was going to they were going to hire somebody a little more junior. And Scott was going to kind of, as sometimes happens in these things to kind of oversee it. Like, we like this guy's voice. He's never necessarily written a studio movie of this size, we're going to kind of help mentor him a little bit, which Scott does a lot. And he's amazing at that. So, you know, look, I grew up 20 minutes from where the characters take place. So, you know, I think it was a shoo in and enough of my plays, which had taken place in that sort of those neighborhoods. It was just a really good fit. So I read the book, I had my take on it. And then, you know, I came up with my pitch. And I had never done that quite thing before. But like, these guys were incredible. You know, we sold it to Lionsgate and then, you know, I spent a ton of time with, with Jeff Bowman and his friends and everything. And then you know, and then I wrote it, and then I wrote a first draft that I think really captured, like the rough, scruffy heart of the story that it ends up being and, and then you know, working close with the producers, and more importantly with Scott relief, saying, Okay, well, this is, you know, this seems working, this is not so, structure theme, really nailing down on that writing, writing, writing, and then eventually, you know, it just kind of clicked and it became, you know, that script then being on the blacklist and all that stuff, even before the movie was produced. That script made a big enough splash. I mean, look, sometimes you write a screenplay, and the producer takes it and it's under lock and key. And they they, you know, give it out to a director reading but like, you know, I mean, I have scripts, scripts, I'm certain I've written that maybe, you know, 15 people I've read outside of the company, I wrote it for stronger was one of those that it just went out on the circuit. Interesting. So that's how

Alex Ferrari 14:41
and that's and that's how I got involved with blacklist.

John Pollono 14:44
Yeah, because blacklist is like, you know, Junior execs, assistance, everybody like reading and it was just a caught fire that year. And you know, that he was like I said, before I was made I started to have buzz and people wanted to hire me because they read this script and then like holy shit. And then you know, obviously when you make a movie brings you to a whole nother level. But you know, that's sort of how that that took fire. But just as importantly, from that relationship with Scott, he and I just really clicked and he's from Worcester, Massachusetts. And we've gone on to write a whole bunch of scripts together. And you know, that was as important in terms of my education as being a studio screenwriter is anything is like getting to work with him on all this stuff. And you know, how I like to approach it, how he does, and again, just like working with a director, you kind of cherry pick, I've always tried to be humble and open to that. And, you know, Scott is like, you know, he's one of a kind, and he has his way of doing it. And then when we do it together, so I've really, you know, gotten so much out of that. approach as many of these sort of collaborations as possible.

Alex Ferrari 15:50
Let me ask you, what's the when you were working with Scott, when you were just brought in on stronger? What's the biggest lesson you learned from him as far as either structure or character or approach to the craft? Because you were still, you've been writing for a long time, but this was kind of like you were starting to get into deeper waters here in Hollywood?

John Pollono 16:05
Oh, absolutely. I mean, look, when you write a play, there is, you know, you're, you're in a good way, you're limited by the constraints of theater, right? You know, whereas a movie, you can do anything, you can do exterior, the universe, whatever, there's like too many options. So sometimes, initially, that's intimidating. So theater by nature of it, you're a little bit more contained. I would say the thing that Scott initially, even having written a draft, and knowing like what it's about was the specificity of theme, really being disciplined in being like, he's like, you know, what, what is this about? You know, and using that theme, as sort of a prism to inform the rewrites the structures, what scenes stay, what doesn't like to really be disciplined about about that. And that was something I think I was doing to some extent, subconsciously, some way consciously, but it was always easy to be like, Oh, this is a really cool tangent, which, you know, my whole thing in theater was always like, is it? Is it deepening the character? Is it really funny? Is it thematic? Is it moving the plot? is it doing all those things, but in especially in a film, it's like, really, the economy of making sure it's all cohesive and one vision. And although you may not know, my theme, reading something, or anyone's theme, it's clear when there's sort of an intelligent design behind that, and I felt, maybe that doesn't work for everybody. You know, certainly I grew up listening to, you know, being obsessed with Tarantino and Scorsese and hearing their work process, especially Tarantino saying, like, you know, there's that famous quote he has when he's writing Reservoir Dogs that he's like, Mr. Blonde, took that straight razor out of his thing while I was writing, and he surprised me, I didn't do that. So I still like to create, especially in theater, or I want the characters and situations to surprise me, but it has to be like, let's not go off the reservation. Let's continue saying what we need to say. And that served me very well and continues to,

Alex Ferrari 18:00
I always find it fascinating. And I know, you know, in my own writing over the years, and with with writers I speak to I always, always am fascinated when they say something like Tarantino just said, like, oh, all of a sudden, the, you know, the, and when I was first writing first coming up with stories and things like that, it would be so difficult. I'm like, when when I hear things like that, I'm like, What are you talking about? I don't like they're not talking. These characters aren't? I'm not I'm not just writing down what someone's saying in my head like, and then later, and I don't know what it is that maybe it's being open. Maybe, you know, wherever this magic dust comes in, from our creativity flows through us. I don't know, I opened the door. And all of a sudden, when I did start writing, I was like, oh, oh, I kind of see, I get glimpses of it. I'm not nearly obviously it's as open as Tarantino is, right? I don't think anybody has. But is that kind of the process with you to like, did you? I mean, do you see this actors talk to you?

John Pollono 18:57
Absolutely. I mean, look, I think taking a deep dive in theater, being an actor, being on stage, performing other people's words, my own words, was instrumental in the sort of progression of an artist. So when I write, I know how to write for actors. I know, as an actor, I just know that I know how to, like I'm in the bath water, you know, so you know, there are acceptable characters. And then there are characters that are just servicing the plot. So really sort of interesting analogy when I first started to write plays, for my friends and for you know, my wife, who was a my, my future wife, who was in my acting class, we started a theater company we did this, like theater has brought me pretty much all my core relationships, but you'd be writing something and you know, in the back of your mind, I'm like, Okay, I'm writing this play. Is this character significant enough that I'm going to be able to get my friend to commit to it, work for free, carry equipment around, take work off, do all this shit and If it's not valuable to them as an actor, they're not going to do it. And I found that sort of philosophy works, meaning every character I try to write, you know, sometimes there's like day players, they just got to say a little things, basically extras, but you want them to have some meat, because I know how actors are in terms of give them juicy subtext. And they will bring it to a whole other level. If you don't give them subtext, I don't care how good of an actor there is, they are, they're just gonna invent something or just kind of float. So I do think I specially in my early theatre writing, I would experiment with having characters one way, and then suddenly, yeah, if you write a character who has like, they take a joint out of their pocket, and they start smoking, but they're, you know, but if you set that character up as like a 55 year old, you know, school teacher, whatever, well, that's surprising. But that actor will then stitch that into the entirety of their performance, you know, so you're like, creating these moments that will be organic to it, but it better suit a better damn well suit the story and suit other things, but I like stories in which the characters can continue to surprise me and continue to do things within the reality of what they are. Do you know what I mean? But I like I, I mean, I love how I like my favorite stories have characters where you're a little bit unsure of what are they going to do so so I like building that in and interesting that an actor is going to going to pull it off and have fun pulling it off. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 21:30
right. I mean, Mr. blondes a perfect example of that, like you have no idea where Mr. blondes going. Yeah, it's a great a great, great analogy.

John Pollono 21:37
Well, I mean, look, I I love talentino. But I think Tarantino, I don't necessarily always get the sense, and I'm not shitting on him in any way. But I think his sort of type of movies and it feels like, in a way, only He can do it.

Alex Ferrari 21:52
There's no question. He's just the only thing. Just gonna direct Inglorious Basterds? Like,

John Pollono 21:58
no, I know that. I mean, that's one of my favorite movies. But I don't necessarily get that these his movies have like a theme. In the end along the way of like, where my work is, and where I come from, I don't know if that's dictating him, although I feel deep resonance, and I love his movies and watch them over and over again, because I love the characters and the camerawork, and I get emotionally involved. But whereas if I see like a Scorsese movie, or some other newer directors that I love, like, I really, you know, man, it's, it's so funny. I, I never watched Little Women, the Greta gerwig movie, and my daughter was like, you got to see you got to see it. And I saw it, I was blown away. I was like, I couldn't believe how much I love that movie. I mean, I've watched it multiple times. And, you know, you just never know So, but I watched her movie and I'm like, Oh, she there's clear what she's having to say with this. And it's all cohesive and it all works. And, and again, not that he doesn't do that. But you know, I can I can clearly see a Scorsese movie and say that there's like a dark thematic idea he's working out of it. But you know, whatever, it it's all different. I just think if someone I don't know who else but Tarantino can engage me to that degree without having some sort of more, you know, commentary on the human condition. But but he does,

Alex Ferrari 23:09
but him and he's also just on a whole other level, his own level. And there's just nobody else that that that works the way he does. Like I was, like you were saying like, okay, let's give Nolan Inglorious Basterds, let's give Fincher Django Unchained like that's, I mean, I'd be interested to see those films by the way, I would, surely would be, but they're not. He writes so perfectly. For one I,

John Pollono 23:33
I think, to your point, I think Tarantino's directing starts when he writes, and it's all fluid. So it's not someone taking a script, which, by the way, I mean, I love that process. As a playwright, that's the bread and butter of what playwriting is, is you create something and then you have the the chemical reaction of having a director have their interpretation of that text. That's the beauty of it. Whereas Tarantino, it's like from start to end. It's It's his sort of singular vision, which is really cool. I mean, it's amazing. Everything he does opening night,

Alex Ferrari 24:04
and very few, and very few artists can do it at that level, within a studio system. Like there's not, there's just that there's just not many, that list is very, very short. Now, when you're writing either plays or scripts, do you start with character or plot?

John Pollono 24:21
I mean, or theme? Yeah, no, it depends. I mean, to me, look, honestly, it's different in each situation. Yeah, it's just different in each situation. I think usually, you know, you read that book on writing by Stephen King. Yeah. Such. Yeah, so great. But I think what he said, I think he said, and it's been a while, that clicked so much as he's like, Look, you have this little bubble here, a great idea of a character or a sketch or a scene. And you have this little bubble here and might be a theme and might be this and that and they're kind of all floating around and then suddenly, they click and you're like, holy shit, that's what it is. So to me, it's always been at least two pieces clicking you know, like, first Small Engine Repair it was this I dia of the themes being a father, all that messiness kind of floating there. And then the composites of the character hits all I kind of ragged. And then suddenly they click, and they just stick together. And you're like, Okay, that's it. Now we're off, you know, but all I try to say and try to do is like, if I'm gonna sit there and write about it, it has to be compelling to me, to make it work, to put the time and to really make my work, shine, I have to be compelled by it, I have to be moved deeply by something in it in order to do it. So that's, you know, that's part of that of that whole process. But yeah, sometimes it's Yeah, I think it is like a real interesting character. I mean, certainly with the case of stronger the book was not a great I don't think it was, it was not a deep book. It was he wrote it really quick. It was like an airport book. And in reading that I was like, compelled by what wasn't said, as much as what was said, and knowing the truth of the neighborhoods and talking to him a little bit. I was like, Oh, the story here is like, the subtext of that whole book is what I made that movie about, which is, he feels pressured to be this hero. And we are so much more comfortable when he is in that struggle, that the book is like, hey, rah, rah, everything's good. But then meeting him, you're like, things aren't good. He's really struggling. Let's peel that back. So you know, that was a case of that like an investigative thing. But you know, it's different in every in every situation.

Alex Ferrari 26:33
But now I know a lot of screenwriters listening, dream of being having one of their scripts on blacklist? Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to go down that journey? Because you you kind of skimmed over it a little bit, but like you I think it was number two on the blacklist that year, something like that. Yeah. What is how is the town treat you what was that whole kind of world? And because at that, at that point, you're the belle of the ball. And so many people are,

John Pollono 26:58
you know, look, I when I found out I was in the office with Alex and Todd and and Jake Gyllenhaal and we had Scott silver on the phone, and we were all talking so kind of things were already in motion at that point. And I

Alex Ferrari 27:12
made that project for that project. Yeah,

John Pollono 27:13
just so it was like, I mean, look, I had an early agent. This guy, Ron was the ad Abrams, and he was primarily my theater agent, but he was great. And one thing he said to me a word of advice, which I think is unbelievably difficult to follow. But super healthy. He's like, just be pleasantly surprised when things work out. That's just conduct yourself like, you know, I mean, that's the guy did not I was pleasantly surprised. But look, it didn't change your life. It didn't make things easier. It definitely look I think all of these sort of accolades and stuff. They make things a little easier to do what you want to do but at the end of the day, you're still looking at a blank page, you're still want to create something that you're like you're proud of, and you want to do and those things are nice. I'm always like cautious because if you believe the hype, you also have to believe it when people don't get it and it's a very tricky thing. And you know, I've been doing it long enough to know that things that are trendy or whatever don't that they don't necessarily like you have to believe in a more absolute purpose I think of what is it what is your artistic journey and um, you know, I always go back to punk rock you look at punk rock back then and you're like, you know the shit that you look at and you're like, God Damn, that is like the real deal. Didn't know it's to have those Pat's on the backs then you know what I mean? Like they just didn't mean why was find it funny as I as I started to come and get more serious about film that I would think about, like my favorite movies, my favorite plays, and then you go back and you look and a lot of them got destroyed in either reviews or box office. I mean, look at Shawshank Redemption, it just don't even know. I mean, that's maybe a lot of people's top 10 lists to this day. But to be fair, that

Alex Ferrari 28:57
it's a horrible title. I'd be one of the worst titles of all time, but I don't even know. I don't know what what note Sydney can call that what was it? What was the

John Pollono 29:09
title was Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption? was the name of his like, novella that it was basically Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 29:13
I don't know what I'd call it either. I mean, it's it's a tough thing. But it's like, how do you how do you mark because how do you market that film? Like I didn't even know it's so hard to market it but arguably, what was

John Pollono 29:26
the thing is like, you know, the some of the hardest things to market are that I certainly experienced that a lot with our movie is like, it's tricky. Some things that are super easy to market are not necessarily good. Some things are harder. I mean, that's just the nature of it, and then it comes up and it's there. I mean, you know, this is why, you know, the movies that stand the test of time, they just find their own path, but it doesn't always happen, you know, immediately.

Alex Ferrari 29:49
No, I always love I always love seeing that picture of George Lucas with a T shirt that had a bad review of Star Wars on it. And he just walked out on set with this bad review of Star Wars. Some, I think some guy in variety or something just rip Star Wars apart in 77.

John Pollono 30:04
I mean, you know, I've, it's it's a very complicated thing, the review system may mean, look, I think reviews, reviews exist. I've certainly got some incredible reviews. I've gotten some bad reviews. I've, I've learned from reviews, I've also had been, like, deeply emotionally affected by them. And that's obviously on me. I mean, I think the purpose of reviews is simply like, Hey, this is one person's opinion. Let me see. And by the way, I have reviewers in the theater world that I will read the reviews, and if they love something, I'll be like, I'm not gonna love it, because I know this person's aesthetic. Conversely, if they like shit all over it, I'm like, you know what, there's something going on here. But you know, that's the purpose of it. And you know, God loves people who dedicate their lives to the arts, in any way, shape, or form. But it's just difficult. When you've worked so hard on something to have people. The hardest thing for me is always like, if they don't get it, you don't have to like something. But if they don't get it, you know, I had plays written when I had reviews who were like, they literally didn't get certain plot twists that or machinations to the plot that they didn't get. And that was led to confusion or whatever. And I'm like, I don't know what to do. You know, like, it's there. So those things bother me worse. But you know, what are you gonna do? I don't think I'd ever get a T shirt and wear I mean, maybe if I made Star Wars I would,

Alex Ferrari 31:21
that will again another another person on a very short list.

John Pollono 31:26
Sure enough, my god, did he take a drubbing with those those prequels that he did? I mean that,

Alex Ferrari 31:32
you know, but the funny thing about the prequels is I agree. I don't I don't particularly like them. I enjoy them when I came out. But I was younger. And then I came back and I watched I watched Phantom minutes with my daughter the other day, I'm like, Oh, my God, other than the action sequence with Darth Maul. I mean, it's Yes. It's just not well, I didn't like the way it was written. Forgive me, George. But there's a generation. That's there. Star Wars films.

John Pollono 31:54
No, they love it. I mean, like, the memes are all over the place, they defend it to the end. And, you know, look, man, look, there's a there's a cop, you know, there's a form of art where I don't necessarily subscribe to it. But like, you know, you look at a painting of a stop sign. And people will stare at it for four hours, and it has deep resonance. And it's, that's great. So sometimes the creativity is in is in the reception of it as well as it is in the actual thing. But I just don't think those the prequels were not my favorite Star Wars. And I'm not gonna change my mind on that.

Alex Ferrari 32:27
I mean, we're, we're of similar vintage, sir. So I think we both grew up with the same stuff.

John Pollono 32:34
At so excited, I saw that Ziegfeld theater. I mean, I was so excited to see that I was like, but before the internet really was was going on, like so you read a review in the paper, and the paper was like, Yeah, I don't know about this. And I was like, I don't know what they're talking about. And then you saw it, and you're just like, Huh, okay, this maybe wasn't worth the way but whatever. But like you said, It stood the test of time people thought I have to ask,

Alex Ferrari 32:55
I have to ask you, since you know you enjoy Star Wars, the Mandalorian. I mean, yeah, that's cool, man. They're just they're hitting on all cylinders, man, as well. You know, it

John Pollono 33:04
took me a couple episodes to sort of figure out what it is. And then I was like, Oh, cool. It's kind of like an old 70s spaghetti western, like kung fu type thing. And then I was super, super fun. It's super enjoyable. Yeah, yeah, I really do. I really dig it. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 33:18
Now let's talk about small engine repair, which, you know, tell me how, how, what is it about? And how did it How did it even come to be?

John Pollono 33:26
So small repair started its life as a late night play at a theater company that I was a co founder at, in Los Angeles. And we my wife was a producer of the late night series at that time. And what it was is you have a main stage play. And we had a big like 100 seat theater and then like a 50 seat theater. So in the 50 seat theater, they were doing Sunset Limited with Cormac McCarthy. So to your previous point is how does ideas germinate? So I sat and I watched that play, it was great, it was getting tons of people in there. And the late night plays you just when they walk off, you got to go on, but you need to have a set that can easily function with their set, you need to not reinvent their sort of lighting scheme. Got to make it simple. You know, I mean, I have a lower budget and and you you know, everybody leaves and then you do it. So what that does give you creative licenses to write whatever the hell you want. And to not worry about the pressures of being like a commercial mainstream play. Which theatre especially at that time was always like, the more provocative it was. So we were doing like plays or readings of like Adam Rapp, Sarah Kane, the lebua like really cool, edgy, provocative stuff. So I was looking at the set and I had that like, idea of these characters and sort of the what if scenario for myself was always like, Okay, what if I didn't go to college? What if I stayed and went, you know, became more of the kind of archetypes of some people I knew growing up, you know, in particular, the was like a guy, I had a Harley. And there was a guy who ran a shop at the end of the street on South Willow. And I used to go there and hang out while he do it. And I was just like, oh, that guy's cool. It's like a single set, guy holds chord. He's got his Pitbull on the thing. And he's got the friends keep coming and go, and hey, you want a beer and just doing that. And I was like, Oh, this is a cool set. So then I looked at the current McCarthy's, then I was like, okay, you could turn this into a shot. And, you know, the whole lawn mower kind of thing seemed interesting to me. And then I just started to populate it. And then it was like, thematically what was going on having a daughter, you know, in sort of the environment like you grew up with, to where it's like, you know, what it's like to be like in the tough guy circuit posturing, or whatever, and how you gain status from talking in a certain way. But like how coded that is, but like, I just knew that I've always had a knack for dialogue, and especially that sort of the rhythms of that sort of neighborhood, working class neighborhood. I'm like, I got that. And then well, how do I incorporate what's personal to me, which is like having a foot in both of those worlds, being I consider myself a feminist and having a daughter and being so deeply have the, the, the visceral emotion of that with also knowing I can walk into, you know, the locker room or anything, and I could trade barbs with anybody and talk shit with anybody. And a lot of times, it's about women, and it's misogynistic, sort of the world. So I put those two together and sort of saw the chemicals would go off. And then it was also like, Look, this is the sort of tool set that you have on a play, and again, put up the set, lights come up, do your play, lights go down, like the simpler, the easier it is, so that I knew I was like, I'm going to do a master scene. And I had written other plays that sort of toyed with that formula, I had written a play with a whole second act as one scene and I just really liked that idea of just, you know, drawing the tension out in a one act continuous thing felt that would be very immersive. So that kind of all informed this sort of idea of getting these guys the structure of what it would be, you know, sort of slowly chipping away at an audience's resolve and starting to feel like they're the guys and starting to see through that, you know, the triggering words and start just feeling like you're in a garage, and then have that stuff happen. But and to be you know, the the prerequisite of late night is like, you have to provoke, you have to like, feel something, you don't want to go and sit and watch a play, that just reinforces everything you already believe, like let's emerge from this unsettled or provoked and have a roller coaster. Because it's 1030 people binge drinking, you know, you want to gauge and so all of that stuff was in it. And that sort of birthed the play, which we did very low stakes late night, and it just kind of caught fire. And then it went to mainstage. And it kept moving. You know, Jon bernthal, who was a part of that it was always like, Hey, we're really onto something, sometimes you just have something that in particular, this material. Look, we had a theater lovers there who had seen every play in LA for the past, you know, 20 years, loving it, we had, like, you know, bernthal has a bunch of friends fighters and cops who would sit there never been to a play, and they loved it. So we created this community of you know, gay, straight, you know, working man, you know, working class artists, everything, and it was just great, because everyone was in it and got it, you know, got what the piece was trying to say there. The the the play is in northern movie is written, it's not pandering, it's really like, keep up with us. And you have to use your head to really understand what this is about. At the end of the day. It's like, hit no one's saying the theme. You know, the theme that I was working with, no one sits down and says, Wow, this is a lesson I learned. It's not that, you know, and, and people were getting it and loving it and it kept moving. So john and i were always like, this would be a good movie. Also, as you know, in the independent film world, the more contained your story is, the better it is to keep it at a certain budget. And it was like, Well, shit, that's all it is. And I had to open it up, obviously, to make it a movie. But I tried to be really strategic about that thematic making sure that it's cohesive, but still the majority of the movie, you know, the four weeks we shot three weeks were in the shop, right? And that's where the majority the activity happens. And that keep that kept it, you know, doable. It made it so that we could make the movie for that. So all of the play really informed the movie and that's sort of how it happened. And john and i our relationship and work our careers went and finally having the time and him certainly having the ability to get people really excited to put money into it and you know, make it happen. And then you know, it just kind of clicked we really got lucky until we got incredibly unlucky with the pandemic.

Alex Ferrari 39:46
You're not the only one that's been hit by that, sir.

John Pollono 39:50
People are suffering a lot worse, but I'm just like, and by the way, we were like the pandemic hit and then vertical films bought the film and they're so excited about doing this big theatrical release and we're like awesome because People's masks are off. And then now we're back with a delta. Look, as to what we were saying about before, hey, we made a movie, it's a miracle you put it out, I believe that this movie will find an audience. It just might take longer. And like, I think about myself is like I saw Reservoir Dogs. I didn't see in the movie theater. I caught it on VHS afterwards. And it's like, oh, you know how enjoyable that is? And how many times I watch it. So I mean, I'm hoping for something like that. I just because I mean, I don't know, none of us know, when the movies are gonna come back to normal. Man,

Alex Ferrari 40:31
I don't know, either. I'm looking forward to it. I was able to watch one movie, in that window, where everything is good. And you're like, oh, everyone's back. So everyone could go in. And I watched the movie. I was just like, I'd forgotten. It's been a year since I've been into a movie theater. I was like, oh, man, this is so much fun. And it's the packed house that has everything. And then one.

John Pollono 40:52
Look, man, I'll wear a mask. I'll go to a movie I'll do you know, I'll go see small engine repair in the theater with an audience which is like, you know, that's the hardest thing is like this material is Oh, I've been able to battle tested over and over again with with,

Alex Ferrari 41:05

John Pollono 41:07
You know, man, it's like, it didn't really happen to me until I can have that. So.

Alex Ferrari 41:11
And by the way, john, for my, for my money, one of the best actors working today. He's absolutely remarkable. I mean, I can list off 1000 things that he's done, but I just love his I think that's I think one of the things I liked about both your performance and his in the film is the rawness. there's a there's a, there's a thing about when you have a masculine, like, you know, that and that term, toxic masculinity. But But you know, in the performances, to be a tough guy, but a vulnerable tough guy is not easy. And to pull off both is not easy within within a character and within a performance. And that's what

John Pollono 41:52
No, I mean, that that's him. And I mean, look, I had the advantage of knowing him. And he's one of my closest friends, and really shaping the character in a way that I felt accessed his tool set as an actor in a way, you know, he's played a variety of these characters, but I was like, you can, he can get away with murder, so you could craft his character to be like, his sueno is like, really a study and contradictions in so many things that you say, but uh, beneath at all, john is a human being, but as a performer has a huge heart. And he's tough as hell, and he's got all that stuff. But also, he was fearless in creating this version that sort of subverted a lot of his persona and being, you know, kind of very vulnerable and very sort of submissive in a way that he certainly isn't as a real person, but he has the capacity to do that. I mean, look, that's ultimately, and again, I never want to tell people what the movie is about, I want people to always, you know, come to their own conclusions, but it's certainly a study in I wouldn't even necessarily say toxic masculine, I would say modern masculinity, but in particular, you know, the struggle that we have, like, you can say, coming from a neighborhood where you have your masculine and your feminine, and then you know, and how do those two coexist and really, the movie is looking at the places where they, they bounce up against each other, there's places like I wanted to create, you know, these guys who you wouldn't ordinarily see being so intimate with each other and loving with each other, but then the violence and the undercurrents and just kind of creating a very raw real way now, I love john is one of my favorite actors as well, and but he's like a real guy, like he doesn't have to act or research what that guy is, he has those tool set within him. And it's just effortless. So then you can go a whole other level and start deconstructing it.

Alex Ferrari 43:43
And I don't know if it's the same case in where you came up when you came up from but when I came up in my culture, you know, women, you know, very much East I mean, Latinos are very much east. And you know, and my God, my father was one of the things the first generation that didn't cheat on his on his mom, my grandfather had, like, you know, nomina kids and all that kind of stuff. Yeah. But the women in the side of our, of my family and of all my family throughout my family, close and far, are very strong women, like you didn't disrespect a woman in the family, you might disrespect. You might say some shit about somebody else. And you might say something wrong about the girl around the corner. But you would never disrespect. And so I think that, for me, at least always really guided my path in regards to how I treat women in general because of that, just like you don't do that you were raised not to do that. I was raised by women basically. So I'm yeah, I'm surrounded by women now. Yeah.

John Pollono 44:42
You and I are similar in that sense. And I think that was a saving grace for me is like, you know, I have my sisters and how influential they were to me and not having that, you know, it's funny, man. Later in life. I started to have friends and stuff who had trouble with women and I was like, Oh, wait, you don't have a sister. You know what I mean? Like, I've shared my deepest. See grunts with, uh, with my sisters my whole life. So it was it was very easy to have that that relationship. But you know, and again to back to back up a little bit the play was all men, it was the three guys and then the and then the college guy shows up. And all of the women in the movie were referred to, but they weren't ever seen. So the movie did give a great opportunity in terms of, obviously the power of cinema to punch in on someone's face like Sierra, who's the heart of the movie and the heart of the play her character, even though she's not on stage, it just amplifies all of those emotions that you and I are talking about, where it just further complicates it. And it's not, you know, it's not like a simple cinematic cheat. It's like you they're flesh and blood characters, and they're involved in the in the movie thematically and plot wise, you know, the movie doesn't exist without them. It's not, you know, just lip service. Now, I

Alex Ferrari 45:54
have to ask you the question, man. Sure. Did your first film? So you're directing? You wrote it, and you're acting in it? Are you nuts? Well, it's, it's tough to do one of those things, brother, instead of you did all three?

John Pollono 46:11
Well, look, I mean, here's the truth is, it's hard to take a chunk of time out of your life to pursue a passion project. So to some extent, I was like, if I'm going to do that, I'm going to be all in. Now, I knew I was gonna write in directed, I had played that character, for so long, so many different directors with, you know, Andrew block with Giovanni in New York. And it just, I just understood it inside and out. And I felt this is a very unique once in a lifetime opportunity to play a character whose emotional state mirrors that of a first time director, which is terror, stress, trying to keep all that anger in at any given moment, then I'm on camera, but the character is just manipulating it subtly. The whole fucking movie, he's just pushing it slowly. He's the least flashy of all the things, but he's just sitting there, and he has a check. And he's making sure all the chess pieces click. And that's what it just clicked like that. You know, and I mean, I couldn't have done it without john and Shea. And the key in this particular thing was, I mean, look, it's one of those things, they say that you when you're naive, you you don't realize the challenges ahead. But it was it was very much in having, you know, very, very seasoned producers who had my back. You know, Rick Rosenthal, who's a very seasoned director, Peter has done a bunch of movies, Noah, who was my manager, but he also did that everyone had my back, and the DP and I, Matt Mitchell laying out every single shot. So there were no surprises, we all knew everything ahead of time, and it was all there. And look, in theory, I feel, if you do your pre production really, really well, on the day, you can kind of almost just sit back and let everything click into place. It was all pre production, it was table work, it was knowing every little thing so that in the moment when we had those discoveries. And look, you know how this goes to we didn't have a budget that after every take, we like Frank Darabont did, you know pause it do a playback, look at it, make sure okay, move the briefcase a little bit, that way move that you sent out that time, so you trust your dp that it's going to look good. And then like, instead of doing that, let's just roll again, these are, these are, you know, the best actors that you could get, you know, so then create a system around it, where they can really do their thing. And that's, it was all around that apparatus. So I mean, look, I and again, the script was my direction, like, here's what it is. And look, we improvise, we found a lot of new stuff. But we kept going back to that, that roadmap and all those things and discovering stuff. So it's terrifying as it was, I knew I had done so much prep, that it just sort of had a life of its own and it kind of, you know, it was just happening before my eyes and you can feel it when you're there. This is the muscles you learn in theatre. When you're on stage with someone and something is happening. You can't deny that the air changes. So I just kind of looked for that. And if it felt that way, in the moment, even if I'm on camera or whatever, then I'm like okay, we have captured something is the story beat or whatever. Let's just keep going. And then look, the Edit was an embarrassment of riches. We had the performances when there was nothing, you never had to like, edit around the performance. It was like it was all there. Oh, I'm gonna give him

Alex Ferrari 49:35
Oh, no, I've had that. I've had the pleasure of directing newbie actors and Oscar winning actors and in between the two men. I take the the seasoned actors everyday because if they make your life so easy, a good actor, it just like you don't even as a director just makes you look good as a director when you have that kind of talent in front of the lens and you're not forcing and pulling and tugging. Perform? Well, look,

John Pollono 50:00
I think I think just some great advice I got early on, which is like, hire the best and then get out of the way. And I think that's accurate for, you know, I'm here to support and I would talk and you have character, you have actors like Shea whigham, who's brilliant. And, you know, we sat at the table for months really answering questions and working through it. And then you had, you know, actors like Sierra, who I met a couple of times, we worked a lot talked, and then she showed up, and she had it all worked on, and it was just little adjustments, but I'm not a control freak, I like want to create, which again, I learned a lot of working with David Gordon green and sort of shadowing him on stronger. It's like, he sets the table. And then he lets you go. And it's like, it's it's invigorating, making a movie with him. And I wanted to create that. I mean, we worked our asses off, but everyone was empowered. It's like, every single person contributed to that project, everyone who was there, and, and it was just sort of a communal art project.

Alex Ferrari 50:54
You know, now there's, you know, when when someone's on, when a director is on a project, there's always that one day, at least for me, I'm not sure if it's for you. But that day that everything feels like it's falling apart that like, Oh, my God, this, I don't know, if I'm gonna make it over this day or something happened, what was the toughest day in the production for you? And what did you learn? And what did you learn from it? Well,

John Pollono 51:18
great, great question. So I would say there were a couple of dark moments. That you're just like, the hole opens up on the floor, and you're like, holy shit. And I mean, what it taught me was just take a deep breath, and you'll get through. So I'll tell you one example that ended out being a gift. And then I'll tell you one example, which was a massive challenge. And we had to make it work. So the gift was the opening scene of the movie, or you saw the movie? I'm assuming?

Alex Ferrari 51:46
I have not. I've not yet I didn't get a chance to see it yet. I'm dying to see it. I'm dying to see it.

John Pollono 51:50
No worries, you'll, you'll follow up, let me know what you think afterwards. So the opening scene, as it was constructed, was the sort of no dialogue version that we cut out. So it sort of takes place slightly in the past. So most of the movie takes place in the shop. So we dress the shop to be like it's for sale. It's like the first day at the shop. Frank, the character I play comes back. He's served a couple of days in prison for fighting, you know, his daughters. He hasn't seen his daughter in a little video and seen his friends. He shows up in the front, he's kind of cut up, he's gonna cast it's like telling all the story like no dialogue. And we have the dolly shot, and we had to move it in this cinematic and move it around. And it was a very one of the three or four just really complicated cinematic shots that wasn't necessarily about the acting, it was about the shot, the fluidity, like maybe the credits come in, and all that stuff, like really, like storyboarded mapped out, which we did on like, two things. And, you know, we have the dolly tracks, we have the extra crew, we had all that stuff. And again, the art department dressed the outside of the shop on that day. So like, we can't shoot anything else until that stuff is stripped. And it was, you know, john Byrne fall and Shea whigham show up. And the the younger vert, the four year old version of the crystal character who Sierra plays, is played by John's daughter, Addie, who I know. But, you know, I know we're pretty well known her through the years, but she's there with her dad, and they want to come up, put her down, she runs up to my character, we hug. Look at everybody, and we're like we're going to do and it's like setting up the story. So it's supposed to snow, but not till about one o'clock. So they shot my coverage with the dolly or whatever, coming out of the truck and doing all that stuff. And then they turn it around and it starts to snow. And it's like early, but you're like okay, we can make it work. Dude, it started to snow is strong. As you can imagine, to the point that you can't go in a dolly, they're covered. You can't keep sweeping it. So we lost the dolly. And then the equipment started effect and you're like, holy shit, what are we going to do? And then we did one reverse take with with Addy. And she's freezing when she comes to me because she knows me but she's like, I don't want to go to this asshole is I'm gonna go with my dad. I'm cold. She's four. And you're like Jesus. So that was a dark moment. Because what are you going to do? So then, in the moment, you know, we the priests gather around? What footage do we have? What do we need to retake? and john was like, working on it. And it became like, what moment are we have like, don't invent it. Don't deny it. Let's see what happens. So we have maybe two more takes as the snow was gathering before the equipment was damaged. She comes up, you know, my character Frank reaches out for her and she's gonna go to me. She's like, I want to stay with my dad. I don't want to do it. So I get her and it's heartbreaking. She's crying. She goes back to that. And then I'm like, just being emotive about like, I'm feeling we're all feeling that stress and the tension of it. And then at the end of the day, it's like, you know, Hey, stay with him. It's okay, honey. We did. So we shot you know, without our sort of choreograph, we shot a whole bunch of angles, and we did it and we had it in the can and I was like, Alright, either we're just gonna start later. And I when we were in the house, I shot some pickup stuff, but it's So we had all that footage and like, what is it, it's not going to be what I thought it was. It's not what it was in the script. But it ended up being a gift because now we created the sequence that opens it where my character gets out of jail, he sees his daughter, he reaches out for her, and she hasn't seen him in a little bit. So she's like, Who is this guy, she's upset. And she goes to john, who's the, you know, the surrogate uncle and the other one and into Shay. And then my characters dis distraught by it, and then we go into the shop, and we used like, 90% of the footage that we shot, the editors put together a beautiful, heartbreaking sequence that was darker, and and less fun, but it was so much more deeply resonant thematically, that it informed the whole movie and it it made the movie darker and more beautiful and tougher and way harder. And like I said that was a gift because all of everything feeling on that in the in Addy field she's like, fortunate what's going on all of that tension,

Alex Ferrari 56:01
right on the screen.

John Pollono 56:02
And when you think about that, when you see it, and and how again, that was a you know, it's tough to find every little make sure we had coverage and everything. And we had to digitally add snow on like one shot or whatever, to make it all match. But it's like, I'm like, I can't believe we had that gift.

Alex Ferrari 56:18
Yeah, so that was the that was the gift. What was the Oh my god.

John Pollono 56:22
Well, the the the hardest day without a doubt was the day we shot at a big bar fight. And the our fight choreographers were the coordinator was Eric Linden, who did the Punisher all the fights. The Mark is a big Marvel guy, like he's doubles as Captain American shit, like he is the man. And obviously he knows john. And you know, John's, that kind of guy that everything he works on people, like I'll do anything you work for, because he is that guy. He's so real and amazing. I mean, that's how I, you know, got to know. And so share the script with Eric was like, hey, you're gonna do this, but he was like, hell yeah. And you know, a lot of the Marvel choreography, which is super fun to watch, it's like it. It's not porn, but it's like, pause the story. Let's do this kick ass, exciting fight sequence. Sometimes it moves the plot, sometimes it doesn't. It's thrilling. And it's its own specific thing. This was like, the fights and the violence have to fit thematically and in the tone, and in the world of it. And he was really eager about that challenge. But we had a lot to shoot in that bar. And then this fight, and it was chaotic. And, you know, the DP hadn't really shot a fight scene to that extent. And then we ended up having to reinvent a lot of stuff. And it was, you know, but the guys, we were beating up, I mean, you have john who was an expert at that, I mean, I'd done some of that stuff, but not to that extent, Shea was really comfortable with it. But the, the the the stuff, man, we had were like, you know, just hit me like pretty much just like just really do it. They're all padded up. So we just beat the shit out of each other quite a bit. And it was like, shooting from this angle from this angle. And it was the terror of I don't know, like, unlike other things, you have to get enough coverage on those physical things. Otherwise, they're just not going to cut. Right. Right. So it was chaotic. We shot which I think Eric Linden was like, Alright, here's the solution. Let's shoot one master tracking, that's all the right angles. And and then once you have that, and it took a lot, we're eating time getting that one. But once you have that you can always cut back and forth to it. So this was all like new information and like my plan and with the DP, like all that stuff. It was like, What are you going to do? Like, you can't This is the only day we have on this set. And so we just shot it. And you know, I was terrified the whole time. And having to be physical and doing all that stuff. And I mean, the fight is incredible on I mean, like, I'm blown away about how good it looks, because it has all that shit. But on that day, I mean, I was like, why do I make this movie? What am I doing?

Alex Ferrari 58:59
What am I playing here? I was.

John Pollono 59:03
I literally was like, there's a hole opened up behind me and I'm like sinking and I like what am I doing? I'm sweating in the back of it. Like, this is a disaster. Yeah, but that was the that was the most sort of terrifying moment of me just because it was all of the things clicking together. You had all the extras you had all this stuff. And then I forgot what happened. Like there was a big bus of extras that weren't there on time or something. I mean, it was just like all the problems happening at once.

Alex Ferrari 59:27
Hey, no, no, that's in Martin Martin Scorsese says it very best because if you look at your film, and you don't think it's an absolute disaster, you're not doing something right. There's always a moment there's always a moment that you're like this is a fiasco I'll never work in this I'll never work again. This is the last time you get you get that you get that feeling I had a fight sequence a fight sequences are I mean, unless you're Michael Bay, or or Tony Scott, cameras and money to shoot over 100 cameras in a giant transforming robot. That's a whole other conversation. Yeah, but we I was shooting a fight sequence one day and I had the greatest stunt team and from Kill Bill in the matrix and this insane stunt coordinator from 24. And they they've been working on this fight sequence. And I just but the team I had a couldn't catch up on the day on the on the I was just I was getting my pages. So when we finally got to the fight sequence, they had wirework setup. They had wire work setup, they had rigging setup, and they're like, I'm like, we got to rework this man, we got sorry, we can't, we don't have time for the rigging. So and they, they rework the entire fight sequence just from like, we got two hours, what can we do in two hours?

John Pollono 1:00:36
And did you lose your mind? Or do you just take a deep breath? Or do you Kevin?

Alex Ferrari 1:00:40
No, I know that whole shoot that whole shoot, I lost my mind because the weirdness about that film was that I had some amazing talent, probably some of the best time I've ever worked with. And it was like, the first thing I'd done in Hollywood really, with like, some amazing technicians, some really accomplished actors. And then the support team was not accomplished. And that was the thing so the support team did not stay up at the same level as the rest of them. So the head was great, but the rest of the team wasn't

John Pollono 1:01:13
I mean, isn't it remarkable how it's like you know, it's that analogy they say it's like a it's like a stereo equipment your your stereo is only as good as its weakest component. And I mean, I feel beyond blast at everybody I had but you're like, in retrospect, you're like, wow, with that one? Oh, he's, oh, you're screwed. Meryl Streep there but if your ad sucks, like you're screwed,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:35
I did a whole movie where my audio guy saved me my location audio guys. He was like, it was a completely on location all the time actors running around. In public we were doing kind of like this, you know, let's just running around and kept you know, capturing stuff. And everyone's like, I don't know how the sounds gonna be on like, I here's a here it's fine. I got into post my post sound guys like Who the hell was your location sound guy? Like, Oh, no, you were in the snow. You had 50,000 people running around and all this stuff and it sounds crystal clear man.

John Pollono 1:02:08
And meanwhile on the day everyone's furious at the sound guy cuz he's like way do all this like there's always Oh, it's we had an incredible Wow, just like you but so often people like would be like, waiting on waiting on sound playing like fuck it. You can't make it you know? I mean, and it's waiting on sound. Oh, you're like, Dear God, you say big.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:28
Thank God. He did what he did because it just without it. There's no movie. So it's

John Pollono 1:02:32

Alex Ferrari 1:02:33
it's it's fascinating, man. Um, now I have to ask you. You're working on the new Hulk Hogan movie. Right? Yes. With with Todd Phillips. Is there any spot? Silver's right. Is there anything you can say about it? Cuz I'm a huge fan. And I can't wait to see it.

John Pollono 1:02:49
I definitely can't say stuff on the air. I'm like terrified to I've never I've never worked on anything that was so under lock and key.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:57
How's it how's it off? Okay. All right. Sorry, guys off off air. But, but how's it working with Todd and these great, you know,

John Pollono 1:03:05
I had met him you know, as like a general meeting years ago. And I was like, Oh my god, like we talked. We talked for like an hour. And then his next meeting didn't show up. We just hung out twice. And I was just like, He's such a cool guy. Like, he's so easy to talk to. Very disarming. Just like a cool dude. Like, I mean, you'd love that guy. And then you know, working with him on this now Tom Scott had made the Joker with him Joker movie with him. Obviously, so you can see the kind of people I get to work with, which is so awesome. Yeah. So the guys are obviously have a great you know, shorthand a working relationship. So when, when I'm in the room with the two of them, first of all, it's funny watching them bust each other's balls, but like, you know, because Scott and I have a certain dynamic and then when Todd comes in, it's like, all different. It's really fun. But he's great man. He's a fearless. He's like an artist. He's like, got really, really smart notes. And, you know, Scott's super smart. It's just, it's, you know, this is what I always wanted was to work with people who like really lift you up in your game and help you do things, you know, bring out the best in you. And, you know, I can't speak highly enough about those two guys. And you know, I'm really excited to make that movie and I think it's gonna be awesome.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:17
And it's someone Chris Wright.

John Pollono 1:04:20
really hung out with him. I only hear him through the through the grapevine of every you know, everybody else but I'm a huge fan of Chris Hemsworth. I mean, he's like, just having him in my head as you write called Cogan dialogue is just really fun.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:31
I cannot I'm just I'm a huge help. I mean, I was a wrestling fan and all that stuff. And as you will love the movie, I can't wait. I cannot wait. I'm gonna ask the last two 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?

John Pollono 1:04:50
Well, I think, Wow, that's a deep question. I think the thing that that took me the longest to learn was to because of the way I was raised And where I came from, I think it was having enough confidence to say and do what I wanted. And to not look too outward permission to do what I wanted to do. And as an artist, primarily, I mean, I've, I, like you were talking about is like, I'm really blessed that I've had some really caring people in my life, whether it was the teacher when you needed it. And I mean, quite profoundly, was when I met my wife in that acting class. And I, she's such an incredible actress, she's actually in the movie. And she was just like, sitting down with her. And having her breakdown my early plays in doing it, it was like, do you should do this, like, you're really good at this, it was like I am, you know what I mean? And then have that at that moment in my life, you know, when when you're you don't and then like I said, my biggest regret was always not figuring out earlier to be like, this is, this is what I want to do. And I don't care if you get it or not, I get it, you know what I mean? And then and then do it and, and being comfortable with being vulnerable like that. And, look, it's still not completely easy. I'm putting out this movie, it's the first thing I made. It's, it's, it's latching into all of those things I've worked so hard to get past and you just got to be healthy about it. But you have to find that, that strength to just, you know, be confident enough in who you are.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:19
Very cool. Time, it's still a work in progress. We are all a work in progress. And this is for you. I would like to ask what are three screenplays that every screenwriter and filmmaker should read?

John Pollono 1:06:32
Wow. That's a good really good question. I think one of my favorite screenplays is Chinatown. I think just in terms of being a classically structured, incredible thing. That's so resonant. I love that. I would say the fighter, the original draft, Scotts original draft, which is different than the movie has an entirely different first act. It's such a joy to read. And it's really interesting to read that and then see the movie and see what they kept in and what they change. What what how much that would have changed. It's like a masterclass and that I mean, I think his script would have been equally as brilliant, if not, maybe better, but the movie they had and seeing that I think that that's, that's phenomenal. And then the third, you know, one, look, it sounds corny, but I took that Robert McKee class when I was in my 20s I just had him

Alex Ferrari 1:07:22
on, I just had him on the show. No, I

John Pollono 1:07:24
mean, I picked up at the airport and drove him I like got to because I was there for some Film Festival and we chatted and I was like, fuck is this guy. And, you know, so much of his stuff was like so resonant, but when he really broke down Casa Blanca, you know, I mean, I was like, Oh my god, I had no idea. And reading that screenplay and seeing that movie in also having the Robert McKee sort of book to follow through. That was like a masterclass for me to do that. So I would say those three in terms of my personal like growth as a writer, or were very, very influential scripts,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:00
and when and where can people see small engine repair?

John Pollono 1:08:04
So it comes out in theaters in September 10 and then it's on video on demand and I think early October

Alex Ferrari 1:08:14
Okay, cool. So it'll be it'll be available everywhere

John Pollono 1:08:18
the video on demand Yes, like you know, I guess you know, Apple and all that stuff. I've never really gone through this process but it's like you know, Amazon whatever wherever you get video on demand. Got it there really will be everywhere, which is I mean, I watch a lot more video on demand now obviously. Yeah, but uh and I would just say with the movie to people who your listeners and stuff which sounds like you have a really cool film fans is like you know, try to see it with a group of people that's how it was intended to be it'd be really fun to see it with that and everyone's different reactions and stuff like that. It's definitely a roller coaster I think the movie is more in line of like we're talking about you know, those films that like a Reservoir Dogs or Goodfellas or something you saw and it had that tension that humor but you really enjoyed seeing it with with people.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:01
Gentlemen, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you brother. I wish you continued success on your on your Hollywood journey and storytelling journey, man. So thank you again for making this film and for doing what you do, brother Thank you.

John Pollono 1:09:15
Alright, thanks man you to keep at it and I look forward to the next time.

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BPS 166: Inside X-Men, Deadpool, Logan & The 355 with Oscar® Nominee Simon Kinberg

Today on the show we have Oscar® and two-time Emmy® Nominee Simon Kinberg

He has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers, having written and produced projects for some of the most successful franchises in the modern era. His films have earned more than seven billion dollars worldwide.  

Kinberg graduated from Brown University and received his MFA from Columbia University Film School, where his thesis project was the original script, “Mr and Mrs Smith.” The film was released in 2005, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. 

Upcoming, Kinberg will premiere his action spy film “The 355”, which will be released theatrically by Universal on January 7, 2022. Directed, co-written and produced by Kinberg, the film was one of the biggest deals out of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and stars an ensemble of A-list actresses including Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing. 

A dream team of formidable female stars come together in a hard-driving original approach to the globe-trotting espionage genre in The 355.

When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Oscar®-nominated actress Jessica Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Diane Kruger, In the Fade), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o), and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Oscar® winner Penélope Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan, X-Men: Days of Future Past), who is tracking their every move.

As the action rockets around the globe from the cafes of Paris to the markets of Morocco to the opulent auction houses of Shanghai, the quartet of women will forge a tenuous loyalty that could protect the world—or get them killed. The film also stars Édgar Ramirez (The Girl on the Train) and Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Endgame).

The 355 is directed by genre-defying filmmaker Simon Kinberg (writer-director-producer of Dark Phoenix, producer of Deadpool and The Martian and writer-producer of the X-Men films). The screenplay is by Theresa Rebeck (NBC’s Smash, Trouble) and Kinberg, from a story by Rebeck.

The 355, presented by Universal Pictures in association with FilmNation Entertainment, is produced by Chastain and Kelly Carmichael for Chastain’s Freckle Films and by Kinberg for his Kinberg Genre Films. The film is executive produced by Richard Hewitt (Bohemian Rhapsody), Esmond Ren (Chinese Zodiac) and Wang Rui Huan.

His original series “Invasion” premiered on Apple TV+ on October 22nd. He co-created the show with David Weil, serves as Executive Producer, and wrote or co-wrote 9 of its first 10 episodes. It is considered one of Apple’s most ambitious series to date as it was filmed on 4 different continents. The show has already been renewed for a second season, which Kinberg is show running and Executive Producing again. He is also the Executive Producer of the upcoming show “Moonfall” for Amazon. 

Also upcoming, Kinberg produced the sequel to “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Death on The Nile,” directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening and another all-star cast.

Additionally, he is producing several projects for Netflix including “Lift” starring Kevin Hart with director F. Gary Gray, his original script “Here Comes the Flood” with Jason Bateman directing, “Endurance” with Camille Griffin directing, and “Pyros” with Reese Witherspoon starring and producing. Kinberg’s latest spec “Wayland” will also begin production next year for Lionsgate, with Michael Showalter directing, and Jessica Chastain producing alongside Kinberg 

Kinberg will also be producing “The Running Man” at Paramount Pictures to be directed by Edgar Wright, “Artemis” to be directed by Oscar winners Chris Miller and Phil Lord and based on a book by the writer of “The Martian”, the remake of “The Dirty Dozen” at Warner Brothers with David Ayer writing and directing, “Starlight” at 20th Century Studios to be written and directed by Joe Cornish, “Death Notification Agency” at Amazon based on the novel of the same name, “Karma” at Sony Pictures, “Chairman Spaceman” at Fox Searchlight, to be directed by Oscar Winner Andrew Stanton, and an Untitled Action-Romance starring Idris Elba at Apple. 

Following almost a decade’s worth of Marvel films, Kinberg will also write and produce “Battlestar Galactica” for Universal which will be his latest franchise universe. 

In 2006, he wrote “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which opened on Memorial Day to box office records and began his ongoing relationship with the franchise. In 2008, Kinberg wrote and produced Doug Liman’s film “Jumper” for 20th Century Fox. In 2009, Kinberg co-wrote the film “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey Jr, directed by Guy Ritchie. The film received a Golden Globe for Best Actor and was nominated for two Academy Awards. 

In 2010, Kinberg established his production company Genre Films, with a first look deal at 20th Century Fox. Under this banner, he produced “X-Men: First Class,” executive produced “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and wrote and produced “This Means War.” In 2013, Kinberg produced “Elysium,” which starred Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, directed by Neill Blomkamp. 

On Memorial Day of 2014, Fox released “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which Kinberg wrote and produced. The film opened number one at the box office, received critical acclaim and went on to gross more than $740 million worldwide. 

In 2015, Kinberg had four films in release. He re-teamed with Neill Blomkamp to produce “Chappie,” starring Hugh Jackman and Sharlto Copley. Kinberg produced Disney’s Academy Award-nominated film “Cinderella,” starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Kenneth Branagh.

In addition, Kinberg was the co-writer and producer of “The Fantastic Four.” His final film of the year was “The Martian,” which he produced. The film, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, grossed more than $630 million worldwide, won two Golden Globes (including Best Picture) and was nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture). 

In 2016, Kinberg produced “Deadpool,” starring Ryan Reynolds. The film broke international and domestic records for box office, including becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time globally. It went on to win two Critics Choice Awards (including Best Picture – Comedy) and receive two Golden Globe nominations (including Best Picture), a WGA nomination and a PGA nomination for Best Picture. That year, Kinberg also wrote and produced “X-Men: Apocalypse.” 

In 2017, he produced “Logan,” the final installment of the Wolverine franchise with Hugh Jackman. It was selected as the closing film of the Berlin Film Festival and opened #1 at the box office. It was named one of the ten best films of the year from the National Board of Review, garnered three Critics Choice Nominations and an Academy Award Nomination.

Kinberg was also a producer on “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Branagh starring alongside Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, and others. 

In 2018, Kinberg produced “Deadpool 2,” which matched the success of the first film. It was Kinberg’s fourteenth film to open number one at the box office. 

In 2019, Kinberg made his directorial debut with “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” which was released June 7. The film once again starred Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, with new addition Jessica Chastain. 

In television, he was the executive producer of “Designated Survivor,” starring Kiefer Sutherland on ABC and Netflix. He was also the executive producer of “Legion,” “Gifted,” and executive producer and co-creator with Jordan Peele of the remake of “The Twilight Zone” on CBS All Access.  

Kinberg has served as a consultant on “Star Wars: Episode VII” and “Rogue One,” and he was the creator and executive producer of the animated show “Star Wars: Rebels” on Disney networks. 

You can also watch Simon’s Screenwriting Masterclass on The Dialogue Series on Indie Film Hustle TV.

The Dialogue: Learning From the Masters is a groundbreaking interview series that goes behind the scenes of the fascinating craft of screenwriting. In these 70-90 minute in-depth discussions, more than two-dozen of today’s most successful screenwriters share their work habits, methods, and inspirations, secrets of the trade, business advice, and eye-opening stories from life in the trenches of the film industry. Each screenwriter discusses his or her filmography in great detail and breaks down the mechanics of one favorite scene from their produced work.

Needless to say this is one heck of an episode. Enjoy my conversation with Simon Kinberg.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:00
First of all, how did you get started in the business in the film industry in general?

Simon Kinberg 0:17
I got started. I was in film school graduate film school at Columbia, in New York. And I wrote a script. In my first year of film school that a professor of mine named Ira Deutschmann, who was the creator of fine line features and produced a lot of movies he read, he liked the option for $1. Nice with the promise that he was sending out to Hollywood, to studio executives and agents and managers and the like, to start my career, and it did, I got my agent CA, where I remain represented, I got my lawyer who's still my lawyer, and a lot of relationships that are still some of the closest professional relationships in my life and those people. I was 23 at the time, and those people were maybe a little older than I am. And those people now run studios. Those people are Scott Stuber, and Donna Langley, and Emma watts. And those are, you know, we all started as kids together, and now we're no longer kids. Um, so that's how I started. And then I continued in film school, even though I was, you know, getting this traction and working in Hollywood. And then my, my thesis project in my second year of film school, was a script called Mr. Mrs. Smith. Um, and that obviously turned into a movie, starring Brad and Angelina. And, and from that point forward, my career really, really catapulted to a different level.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
So one of your first scripts gets picked up and is a big Hollywood, a big Hollywood production with two of the biggest movie stars of all time, out of out of film school, essentially.

Simon Kinberg 1:55
That is that is accurate. And, and was completely absurd, and surreal. And may you know, listen, making that movie would have been surreal. In any circumstance

Alex Ferrari 2:08
At any age, yeah, at any age.

Simon Kinberg 2:10
But when you're 20 something years old, and you're on your first film set, and you're showing up to work every day. And in the morning, you're working with Brad and Angelina onlines. And Vince Vaughn and Kerry Washington and Doug Liman who was about as hot as any director could be, because he'd gone from swingers to go to Bourne Identity to our film. It was a I wouldn't even say a dream come true. Because I wouldn't have dared to dream that big. It was a it was a completely like absurdist fantasy, it felt like I was in a Charlie Kaufman movie,

Alex Ferrari 2:44
Which is and obviously anyone listening. That's generally the way it works for screenwriters. This is the normal role that all screenwriters go through.

Simon Kinberg 2:51
They say what do you what advice do you have to sell a movie and get the biggest movie stars in the world act on it? And then you're golden, you're done?

Alex Ferrari 2:58
Then everything just just the doors opened magically? Of course, of course. Now, what is what is your writing process? Like? Do you do you sit down every day at a certain time? Do you wait for inspiration? The Muse to show up? Do you argue with the muse? Why aren't you here? Things like that.

Simon Kinberg 3:18
I'm the I love these questions. Um, the answer your question is, my writing process is everything you just described. But it starts with I have a set amount of hours each day that I'm going to write because if I don't have that kind of construct, or that kind of discipline, the Muse is never going to show up. I don't think the Muse is magically shows up. Sometimes it magically shows up while you're sleeping or you're in the shower or your subconscious is working, right. But But what it needs is some sort of container. And then within that container of however many hours I'm going to, I'm going to sit down and write per day and I have a goal of how many pages I'm going to get done or how many scenes I'm going to get done. But that goal sometimes surpass it, most times I come short of it. Then you just wrestle all day. The writing is the greatest torture in the world. And it is the greatest pleasure in the world when you get it right when the Muse shows up, and a line comes out of nowhere and you don't know where it came from. And if not for you it would not have existed. And it cracked something open. It's the greatest feeling in the world and the other 99.9% of the time, you are staring at a white page or a white wall and saying why they why did they take this job? Why do they choose this career I could have been a professor I would have been a happier person. That's my writing process. I mean, my my technical or specific writing process, I would not advocate for anyone including myself, but it just happens to be mine which is I write by hand and I write on blank white pieces of paper, front and back. And I don't know what page I'm on when I'm writing the script. I just know a sense of sort of flow and rhythm of storytelling. And what it helps me with is one, I'm just much looser, because it's not on a computer. And I don't feel like there's this sort of finality to what I'm writing. And it's got scribbles and scratches, and you'd never be able to read it anyway. Um, but it also, it keeps me from going backwards, it keeps me from looking at yesterday's work, because I can barely read yesterday's work. I just keep moving forward. And there's a satisfaction of that. If I were to show you a picture, by the time it's done, you know, it's, it's really a lot of pages. And so the satisfaction of building that pile, as I'm writing, and that's better than being able to scroll up and down a screen for me.

Alex Ferrari 5:44
Now, you know, as writers, you know, I know when I'm writing, I feel sometimes that like I'm typing, and then afterwards I read and I go, who wrote that? Like, I don't even remember writing that. Do you have that feeling of almost channeling some other worldly force that that thing that writers, if we're lucky enough to tap into? flows through you? Is that your experience?

Simon Kinberg 6:04
Yeah, I mean, that's the that is the that's the point. Oh, 1% of the time, that's the great. That's the undefeatable joy. You know, when people ask me, What's the what, what, what's my favorite part of my job, and I've done a lot of different aspects of this job between producing and directing and writing. And the greatest pleasure for me, by far in a way are the moments you're describing where as a writer, you do, Discover or channel however you want to describe it, invent whatever the verb is, it is outside of you, and then it is coming through you, and then it is on a page. And if not, for you existing in the world, those lines, that idea would not exist either. And that feeling is the greatest feeling in the entire world. And it is the feeling, you know, there's a there's a joke, and I can only say this joke, because I'm a Jew. Is it? Why did the Jews search in the desert for 40 years? Because they found, I don't know, $1? Why did they search another 40 years? Because they found $1. And, and I think that is very much my writing process and all of our writing process, right, which is like, like, forever, we find something that is invaluable. And then we take another forever because that we're chasing that feeling.

Alex Ferrari 7:21
Oh, that's the film industry in general. I think as film creatives, you're just always searching for that. Hi, that happens. A handful of times, if you're lucky. If you're lucky in your lifetime, whether as a director as a producer, as a writer, you're looking for that Hi, it's we're sick, we're all sick. It's it's a it's a beautiful sickness.

Simon Kinberg 7:41
Listen, you know, I say this to my partner all the time. She's a writer too, but a different kind of rhetoricians poet, and I say, you know, if not for the fact that after six hours, eight hours, 10 hours a day, we came out of our rooms, with pieces of paper that had writing on it, we would be considered, you know, psychiatric, or psychologically, you know, imbalanced and put in a psychiatric hospital because we would just be sitting in our room for 10 hours a day, staring at the wall, communicating with imaginary voices and characters in our head. And if we didn't somehow experience you would be that I'm sure that would be diagnosed. I'm not a psychiatrist, psychologist, but I might my armchair psychology would be that would be schizophrenia. Um, fair enough. But but, you know, we tend we're writers and artists, and so we get away with it.

Alex Ferrari 8:30
Now, one of my favorite films in the X Men series is X Men Days of Future Past. You know, you you wrote that, how did you come up with that storyline like that? That's an insanely complex line, meaning all moving parts?

Simon Kinberg 8:47
Yeah. Um, well, I came up with it, because Chris Claremont came up with it. And, you know, it was it was a comic book. Um, and so the, the notion of it was something that already existed as a comment. But as a comic, it was wildly different than the movie made like as, as a one specific example. It was Kitty Pryde, they went back in time, not worrying. And one of the reasons I made it will vary. And other than obviously, Wolverine, being the leader of the franchise, was because I thought there was something incredibly powerful about this character who had been in some ways teamed by, by Professor Xavier having to go back to a younger broken Professor Xavier and team and teach him the lessons that Xavier had taught him. So there was a there was an inherent complexity. And it was interesting that, but writing that movie, I would say, from a technical standpoint, was the most complicated and difficult film I've ever written because of the time travel element because of the time paradoxes because of the fact that I was playing two different sets of characters who were essentially the older and younger version of the same character, you know, simultaneous and wanting to Giving them all arcs, you know, and wanting to wanting to give Halle Berry interesting things to play and certainly wanting to give all of our younger X Men from X Men first class who were sort of the dominant storyline of that movie, really interesting, surprising twists and turns emotionally in that film while also servicing a storyline that was itself an unbelievable, you know, demon to wrestle to the ground. And

Alex Ferrari 10:27
No, no question and be like, yeah, like, even when you're writing the voices of the same character is so different from the older Xavier to the younger, Xavier, and keeping that all together like did you like just put it all up on a board? Like how do you keep not only the characters, but the timelines? And the paradox is like, that's why I looked at movies like Back to the Future. I'm just like, Jesus, man. How did Bob and Bob do that?

Simon Kinberg 10:51
Yeah, I mean, back to the future was obviously a movie that I looked at a lot. Terminator two did a lot. Although there's not as much back and forth obviously in the character, the same kind of struggle with the characters. I'm a I have a great actual Terminator two story, which is I met James Cameron's one of my shareholders like all of us, and I met him we were on a panel together and sanely while I was writing the as a future past and I said to him, Listen, I'm writing this time travel movie. And I'm, you know, the Terminator films are for me, among the greatest time travel movies of all time, obviously, among the greatest science fiction movies, maybe movies movies of all time. And I said, you know, I had brought this like fan book that I had, I told him to sign and and, and so he was like, okay, buddy, I'm going on a panel with you, but I'm happy to sign your book. So I saw he wrote signed the book we went to the panel I looked at the book afterwards. I need written dear Simon Don't fuck it up. Love James. And I ever met and and and throughout the writing of the process of Days of Future Past, I just kept thinking Don't fuck it up. Don't fucking keep fucking it up with these paradoxes. But I'll be into those words. But, sir, sir, sir. So um, you know, yes, I did have I don't usually use no cardboard when I write. But I did with that, because it was so complex. The luxury I had. The advantage I had in writing the older and the younger versions of these characters is that I had already written the older and younger versions of characters, I'd worked with the older cast X Men three, and did work with the younger cast on days on first class. So I knew the nuances both of the characters and of the actors. And so I could channel that to some extent, or rely on that to some extent. But even within that I was, I was creating new versions of those characters like that. The professor, the young Frederick Xavier, that McAvoy is playing in his future path is very different than the McEvoy of first class, obviously. And so I in the fact that you know that from the very beginning, the movie you introducing the older Xavier and the older Magneto as partners and friends, again, you're just, there's a lot of sort of work you're doing to both honor the voices, and then also innovate on the voices that came before.

Alex Ferrari 13:20
Now you you produce the film, that's one of my favorite comic book films of all time, Deadpool, which must have been I mean, I just suddenly assume it must have been a ball to work on that project. What At what point did you jump on that project? It was it after the film was leaked, by somebody got the green light? How was it? How was it working on that project?

Simon Kinberg 13:44
Um, it was extraordinary work on that project. And it was exactly what you said, which was it was it was great fun to witness. I'm, like, just unbelievably talented people from the writers, Ratan Paul, who really created the voice to Tim Miller, who was directing his first movie, which is incredible about, you know, the multi tonally of that film is really hard. And then most especially Ryan. Ryan Reynolds is not just the actor of those films or any film he works on. He's the producer. He's He reminds me a lot of the way Tom Cruise works. He's also kind of the person who is operating in every category of the film. He's just sort of force of nature of the movie in the best possible way. And when I got involved was after the movie had leaked, but before it got greenlit, it was close to getting greenlit but was not greenlit and Retton Paul, the writers where they can reach the writers emailed me I'd never met them, and they email me saying we need your maybe they said we are we are dead will we need your ass with a bunch of ellipses after it and And then that that was the subject. And then in the body of the email, it continued the word asked into assistance. And, yeah, and they and they, and they made this, this sort of plea to me because I was at that time overseeing their sort of X Men universe at Toys of jury box to help them. And Ryan and Tim get the movie greenlit. And so we all work together a bit on the script, and then quite a bit in the budget. And one of the things that was extraordinary about that film, especially when you go back and rewatch it is, we made that movie for I think, something like $50 million. Now, which is low, it's tiny compared to what your superhero movies are made for, which is usually in the $200 million range. And, and that was part of the deal with Fox because they'd never made and nor had most people ever Marvel hadn't made. They've made blade, but they'd never made a true R rated comic movie before. And the tone was so wildly anarchic and different. And, you know, breaking the fourth wall and all the things that Ruby does. They said, Listen, this is feels like a gamble. But it's a cheap enough gamble that we're going to take it. And they did. And obviously it paid off. incredibly well for everyone involved.

Alex Ferrari 16:22
Now I have to I have to thank you for for making a Logan, which is arguably one of the greatest in my opinion, superhero films of all time. In the genre. It is what it's like dark night, it's up there with dark night. It's just one of those films and it's such a bittersweet film. Because I wish you could stay his age forever. Just continue to play that character. What was it like? Because you've been with that character, and you've been with you playing that character for so long. What was it like putting that film together and finishing off his his swan song, if you will.

Simon Kinberg 16:55
It was all the things you said it was bittersweet because I had lived with Hugh as both a friend and a partner in making these films for probably over a decade. And and it was also really exciting because he his ideas, Jim mangles ideas, who's a genius filmmaker, Scott Frank's ideas, who's clearly a genius writer. You know, Scott wrote, directed all the Queen's gambit episodes, and he just has such incredible, incredible pedigree. We all came together, they all really did the heavy lifting and Hutch Parker, who was another producer on that, and had worked on a bunch of the X Men movies and had been the executive at Fox for a lot of them. We all came together and with a common purpose, which is creating, you know, a truly dramatic, truly emotional, deeply resonant swan song for this, you know, character that had been in the zeitgeist for, you know, again, well over a decade, close to two decades. And so it was it was an extraordinary process with a bunch of, you know, a plus brilliant human beings taking the job incredibly seriously. And just really listening and caring deeply. Yeah, thing when this isn't good enough. And like, really, I remember Jim mangled with that last action sequence. And really the third act of the movie just going over and over and over again. And Scott rewriting it and me taking a pen to it and, and Jim mangled himself, rewriting it and just like working and working and needing it until, until we could create something that was worthy of saying goodbye to you in this part. That would be hard for people.

Alex Ferrari 18:54
Would you I have to ask this. Will we ever see Hugh in a dead movie in a Deadpool movie? As a cameo ever?

Simon Kinberg 19:02
I you know, I'm not a part of that universe anymore. Because Disney bought all the Marvel movies at Fox they bought Fox. So I dancers I have no idea. I know, obviously, like the rest of the world does that you and Brian are friends and have this sort of rival beyond, you know, foam rifle rifle on social media. Um, so I wouldn't be surprised, but I also have no idea.

Alex Ferrari 19:34
Got it! No problem. Now tell me about your new film the 355 which I had a pleasure of watching yesterday. And it was it was wonderful. It was just wonderful to see a group of women just kick all sorts of us throughout the piece. So how did that how did that come to be?

Simon Kinberg 19:50
It came to me because it was actually going back to an excellent movie. When Jessica Chastain and I we'd work together on the Martian. And then we work together on X Men Darlene When we were on the X Men set, Jessica had this idea to do a an all female ensemble spy movie. And she brought that to me and said, I had this idea It might sound crazy, and I said actually sounds really intriguing. Um, and then we just started building it with her producing partner, Kelly Carmichael together, and we got the actresses really on that pitch alone. And Jessica's relationships and Jessica's, you know, sort of pedigree. And we went to the Cannes Film Festival, and we sold it at the Cannes Film Festival to universal for the UK and US rights as our partners, and then to other distributors that other territories around the world. And from there, we really crafted it to the actresses and built the movie,

Alex Ferrari 20:49
You pre sell, but you pre sold it prior to actually going into production.

Simon Kinberg 20:53
We pre sold that way before going into production. So it all happened very fast. I mean, we pre sold that it can in 2018 in May of 2018. And we were shooting by summer of 2019.

Alex Ferrari 21:09
And it's been on hold since then, because of COVID

Simon Kinberg 21:11
Because yeah, we were meant to come out last year, exactly one year ago. Um, and it was a tough time for COVID. And obviously we're in another tough time for COVID. But not a tough time. That's true, I mean, a different tough time for COVID. Because we're in a mime. And sure, strain is not thankfully quite as lethal as what we were dealing with last year. But yeah, we pushed to the year it's been done, it would have could have easily come out last January. And now we finally get to release the film.

Alex Ferrari 21:47
Now, how was directing such remarkable actors? I mean, you've got Oscar winners in there, you've got I mean, they're powerhouses every single one of them. What What how do you approach directing actors like that, as a director?

Simon Kinberg 22:00
Umm, I approach it, the way that I approach kind of directing any actor, which is their partners, um, I have to go into it that way. And especially with actors like this, because they own their characters, more than a director does. Because they're living that part, they're wearing that part, they're thinking of that part. And only that part is the director, there's so many things you're thinking about, right, not just the characters in the story, but also the visuals and all of the technique of making the film. And with these particular actresses, and the actors at your Ramirez and Sebastian, Stan, they just had tons of ideas, and really an immense amount of authorship and ownership over their characters. And that was part of the process going into all of this was we were all partners in making the film. Um, and so that's the way I directed them was, you know, their ideas, my ideas, other people's ideas, and other actors ideas within the scenes with them. We played it felt like kind of, like the lovely thing about it, it felt like being in an actor's workshop with the best doctors in the world.

Alex Ferrari 23:03
Pretty pretty much pretty much now as directors, you know, there's always that day that we're on set, and the entire world comes crashing down around us. And we're the sun is we're losing the sun, the the cranes not working, the actor can't get to the set for some reason. What was that day for you either on this film, or any of the films you've directed? And how did you overcome that moment, as a director?

Simon Kinberg 23:26
You know, I think on this film on 355, the hardest moment to the moment where I felt like, I just want to go home. Because you know, you do that you do have that feeling sometimes, um, you know, you're shooting, you know, 5060 on a huge movie, 90 days of photography, and they're long hours and all that. On this one, it was we were filming the fish market sequence in an actual fish market. And it was right after the fish market closed, but you could still smell the sting of from that day. And it happened to be quite literally the hottest day in the history of the United Kingdom. And so, the smell itself, I think Penelope passed out. I was close to passing out most of the day. Um, it was, you know, sort of before the day of wearing gas masks or surgical masks wherever we went. And, and so it was overwhelming, and the heat was overwhelming as well. And we had stents and we had big crowd sequences. And it just felt like the scale of it plus the simple, you know, Human Reality of you're in the stinkiest place imaginable on the hottest day in the history of a country was a was a lot to manage. And you made it through. I made it through luckily the actors made it through We all kind of bonded together and helped each other get get there.

Alex Ferrari 25:04
Now, is there any advice you could give a filmmaker screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Simon Kinberg 25:10
You know, it's hard, because, you know, everybody has a different way into the business. So, you know, I get asked this question a lot. And I hear people ask this asked this question a lot. And I don't want to give like a symbol or a singular answer, because again, obviously, my path is very different than other people's paths are going to be and everybody I know who works in the film industry habit has a different story. The thing I would say is, write something you love, direct, something you love, I think the mistake that I see a lot of new filmmakers make or new writers make is they right or make something they think is right for the market. Or for the cycles or for, you know, not for themselves. And the truth is, you can't chase the market, partly because by the time your movie comes out, the market will have changed already. It takes time. And also because people can feel it. There's enough writers out here in Hollywood, there's enough director there in Hollywood, what they want is new, fresh, genuinely original, genuinely unique, bespoke voices. And I want that as a producer, I can feel that when I read new scripts, and, um, you know, we all know how to write the tricks of a script, we all know the structure of a script, it's not enough to just write something that's solid, you have to write something that makes people feel like, Oh, this is a new voice. And so it's trust your voice, trust your vision, don't try to copy other people's voices and visions because they're working.

Alex Ferrari 26:39
And last question, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Simon Kinberg 26:46
Wow, um, balance, I think balance is something that took me a very long, 48 years old, and I would say, I just learned that, and I'm still learning it. Um, but I just learned it in the last few years with a two year old baby and God bless you. I know, I hope God does. Um, I'm counting on it. Um, but, uh, um, you know, I think for a very long time, I was so focused on my work. That and I, I felt like, you know, I'll have time when I take a break from my work to take care of my life. And my work just kept rolling. And, you know, I moved from country to country and movie to movie and set to set. And that's wonderful on the one hand, but on the other hand, it hurts two things. One is obviously it hurts your life. Because you know, if you want to be in a real relationship, or a real family, it's harder. It's harder on them. And it's harder on the bonds. But it's also it hurts you as an artist, because you start recycling your old ideas, instead of actually living in the world and coming up with new ideas. And so that balance is something that I'm still learning. But it is the lesson that comes first to mind when you ask that question. It's a good question.

Alex Ferrari 28:14
Thank you, Simon, so much for being on the show. And where can people and when can people see 355?

Simon Kinberg 28:19
This Friday, January 7, it will be in theaters. Um, and I hope people go see it.

Alex Ferrari 28:28
Simon, thank you again for being on the show. And thank you for doing making some amazing films along the way of your career continue doing so, sir. So thank you so much.

Simon Kinberg 28:35
I appreciate I appreciate all your questions and your support. I really do.

Alex Ferrari 28:39
Thank you, my friend.

Simon Kinberg 28:40
Ok take care!

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BPS 165: Writing Short Films to Directing Shazam! with David F. Sandberg

So many times we hear those mythical stories of a filmmaker who makes a short film and uploads it to Youtube in hopes of a big-time film producer sees it and comes down from Mount Hollywood and offers him or her a deal to turn that short into a studio feature. Today’s guest had that happen to him and then some. On the show is writer/director David F. Sandberg.

David’s story is the “lottery ticket” moment I speak about so often on the show. His journey in Hollywood is remarkable, inspiring, and scary all at the same time.  He created a short film called Lights Out. That short was seen by famed filmmaker and producer James Wan (Furious 7, Aquaman, The Conjuring) who offered to produce a feature film version at New Line Cinema.

The feature version of the film was made for $5 million and grossed $150 million at the box office. Here’s what the film is about.

When Rebecca left home, she thought she left her childhood fears behind. Growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out…and now her little brother, Martin, is experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that had once tested her sanity and threatened her safety. A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie, has reemerged. But this time, as Rebecca gets closer to unlocking the truth, there is no denying that all their lives are in danger…once the lights go out.

The film stars Teresa Palmer (“Triple 9”) as Rebecca; Gabriel Bateman (“Annabelle”) as Martin; Billy Burke (the “Twilight” franchise) as Martin’s father, Paul; Alexander DiPersia (“Forever”) as Rebecca’s boyfriend, Bret; and Maria Bello (“Prisoners”) as Sophie.

After the success of Lights Out he tackled the horror prequel Annabelle Creation. That film went on to make over $300 million at the box office with a $15 million budget.

Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.

The studio Gods were pleased with David because he was offered New Line Cinema’s Shazam!, the origin story that stars Zachary Levi (TV’s “Chuck”) as the titular DC Super Hero, along with Asher Angel (TV’s “Andi Mack”) as Billy Batson, and Mark Strong (the “Kingsman” movies) in the role of Super-Villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Shazam! was a box office smash.

David and I discuss his days making short films, which he still makes on the side, working in the studio system, his filmmaking philosophy, how he could afford a place to stay in Los Angeles while he was in pre-production on Lights Out and what it takes to make it as a filmmaker in today’s world.

Enjoy my conversation with David F. Sandberg.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:02
I'd like to welcome the show David Sandberg man. How you doing, David?

David F. Sandberg 5:04
All right. How are you doing?

Alex Ferrari 5:05
I'm as good as I can be in this insane world that we live in. But um, yeah, well, man, I'm doing I'm doing I'm better than I should. That's just

David F. Sandberg 5:18
Pretty much Same here. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 5:20
Is the thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I'm, I'm a fan of your work. And I wanted to kind of talk shop with you for a little bit. So first things first, why did you decide to be a filmmaker? Like what made you want to come into this ridiculous business?

David F. Sandberg 5:35
I mean, I've always been fascinated by movies and always wanted to make movies like since I was very, like, I think my dad bought a video camera when I was. I think it was five actually. So it's always been a thing. And I've always been sort of fascinated about how it works and how to do it. And one of my early sort of memories, I remember, because I was playing around with my dad's video camera and like, Okay, this is how it works. And then I remember watching the Muppets as a kid. And they had this thing where they had a musical number. And when they were changing angles, I was like, how do they do that? Because I only knew like having one camera. So it's like, do they everyone just pause at a certain moment, and then they move it around? And then they do it again? Like I'm trying to figure out like, how does that work? multi camera? No, so it's always been my Golden's always been what I've wanted to do. I've had certain other interests but movies have always been the same.

Alex Ferrari 6:40
And let's give a shout out to the Muppet Show. For our for artists. We're similar vintages. I'm a little older than you, but we're similar vintages, the Muppet Show.

David F. Sandberg 6:48
Yeah. Was the thing man growing up. And by the way, everyone listening all five season will be on Disney plus coming next month. So yeah, I saw that.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
It should be it should be fun. Now, you also did a lot of animated shorts. What what what was what drew you no pun intended to animation, when you first started out,

David F. Sandberg 7:10
it was actually a necessity, like I've always liked drawing. And you know what, comic books and stuff like that. And then, as I was in my early 20s, or something like that, I really started messing around with it, because it was something I could do all by myself. And my first real animated short, was something I made after I was going to do a horror movie with some friends in Sweden. This was during the winter, and it was so cold that we gave up after just shooting a couple of shots. And then when I got back home, it's like, I still want to do something. So I made like a little animated. I mean, it was actually barely even animated. It was almost like a slideshow. But I made that. And this was in early 2006. And I put it up on YouTube, because I had just gotten an account there because it was like, I didn't even know what it was. It's like, okay, you can upload videos. So I uploaded that. And it actually got some traction in Sweden, you know, got some views, and people seem to really like it. So I made another short that got even more attention went viral in Scandinavia, which got me like, won some awards set like Film Festival and started getting companies asking me to do like, Hey, could you do a little animated short for our company that we can put up on YouTube or so I was starting to get, you know, work doing that? Not a lot of money or anything, but it was I was able to, like, start my own company, which was just me, but so I could charge people for it. So I did that and did documentary work for a few years in Sweden. And made an OK living. Like sometimes I had money. So other times I had to live off my wife and because she had a steady job, you know?

Alex Ferrari 9:05
I know that feeling very well. We're filmmakers. Isn't it true that all filmmaker all guy? Well, filmmakers in general should have a spouse that is extremely supportive, and also does not work in the business or has a steady job.

David F. Sandberg 9:20
It's a it certainly helps. Yeah. But the goal for us for a long time in my wife was to make things together. And that's what we started doing. We started making shorts together. And that's how we made lights out which went even more viral than anything I'd done before and which led to ending up here in Hollywood.

Alex Ferrari 9:40
So you'd make so you've been in from my from my saw and your filmography you were you were making shorts constantly making these small shorts and just kind of putting them out and then you made lights out, and you just posted it not really thinking much. It was just another short it wasn't like this isn't gonna blow me up or anything like that.

David F. Sandberg 9:56
No, no, it was actually just the second short the Latino made together? Wow. Because what happened was, you know, I done, I'd started doing like animated shorts, I think that got a little bit of a following on YouTube from from Swedes because it was mostly in Swedish. And then yeah, we did a little short called cam closer look than I, which was just two minutes or something like that. But we really enjoyed that. And we're like, yeah, let's keep doing this. And yeah, we saw a contest online, like make an under three minute horror short and win some prizes. And that's what we made lights up for. But yeah, it was only supposed to be a contest submission. And I did win Best Director. But the movie itself didn't make like the finalists, the top six finalists. So it's like, yeah, that was cool. I won Best Director. But that was the end of that was, was what we thought. But then a couple of months after that, yeah, some it just suddenly went viral. And that, so we got, when that happened, we started getting contacted by all these people, like in Hollywood, you know, agents and managers and producers and our thing, and started having conversations about making a movie. But while this was going on, that was a little over a year of like, back and forth and deciding which manager to go with and talking to the producer and all that. So and we didn't know if this was actually real. So that's when where we kept making shorts, because it's like, let's, let's not take this for granted. Let's just let's keep making stuff. So most of our shorts were made in that period. And we even started having these plans on to make a feature just not on AI, which would have been difficult, but had an idea that it would just be the two

Alex Ferrari 11:51
of you. It was just been the two of you.

David F. Sandberg 11:53
Yeah, the same way we've made our shorts, just feature length, based on

Alex Ferrari 11:57
that would have been interesting.

David F. Sandberg 11:59
That would have been taken it would have but yeah, before we got that far, the Hollywood thing turned out to be real. We got to move here.

Alex Ferrari 12:07
So that's the thing I want people to listen to, to understand that just because you start getting calls from Hollywood, and you get a lot of attention, you have a short and you get some heat, because I've been down that road a bunch of times earlier in my career as well. You just don't know sometimes it pops like it does for you. Sometimes it doesn't like other directors. And you guys were smart. You're like, you know what, this? This, this could all be BS. Yeah, you didn't feed into the hype, which is so amazing. And how old? Were you at this point?

David F. Sandberg 12:37
My weight When was this? So I must have been 33 or 34? All right. So

Alex Ferrari 12:45
you've been around the block a couple times, you know, so it wasn't like your 20s?

David F. Sandberg 12:49
No, I mean, that was kind of the thing as well, that we were kind of feeling like, something needs to happen soon. Because in Sweden, you know, I was trying to get money from the Swedish Film Institute for like horror movies and things like that. And what happened was, they were like, well, you're not experienced enough to get the, you know, the proper funding, and what, and they also have like beginner money, but that's for people under 30. And I was now just over 30. So I was like, Well, what am I supposed to do? Now I'm too inexperienced for this. And I'm too old for that, like, what are we going to do? Which is why we started just making things with no money on our own. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 13:31
And so you start called, so they so you, you spend this year you're making other short films, and then the thing from lights out actually starts turning into a real thing. And they fly you out to LA and and they want to make a feature with you off your short, right.

David F. Sandberg 13:43
Yeah. So yeah, pretty early on. They wanted us to come out like our manager, and an agent wanted us to come out and meet people and everything. But we were like, We don't have any money. We can't fly to the US. That's expensive. So we had to do everything via Skype and email and phone calls and stuff. But then when it started getting closer, the producer of the movie flew us out for a little over a week. So we could meet everyone and like start, you know, meet Jane Swann and who produced the film, and take a bunch of meetings. And then a couple of months after that. It was like yeah, movies happening. We need you're here now and we're gonna pay for the flight and everything.

Alex Ferrari 14:24
That was the key point, you'll pay for the flight. Okay, I'll

David F. Sandberg 14:26
show up. Well, yeah, otherwise I couldn't do it. You know,

Alex Ferrari 14:29
I know. I know. I feel you man. I feel you. So you, did you. You did something that most a lot of independent filmmakers dream about, which is make a short film, put it on the internet, get it goes viral Hollywood calls. They want to develop a feature around that short. What was the development process like because I'm assuming it was a kind of shock to the system coming from Sweden and doing everything ourselves like a DIY stuff, and then just being thrown into you know, a Hollywood movie.

David F. Sandberg 14:59
Yeah. I mean, I do. I think that experience is pretty unique going from like, no budget, and the budget right into the

Alex Ferrari 15:07
other side of the world, which is another whole conversation, I'd like Kansas or another part of America, like you're completely culture shock.

David F. Sandberg 15:15
And yeah, we had no idea that a two and a half minutes short could lead to anything like that we thought, you know, we had a plan of like, trying to get some money so we could make longer shorts, and maybe that would get some attention. You know, we got to skip all of that. But yeah, it was sort of a journey, because first of all, I had to figure out who these managers and agents were, they contacted me, because, you know, I'd never heard their names before. And so I got like, an IMDb pro account signed up for that. So I could see, okay, what other clients do they have? And like, are these guys for real? So you have the process of sort of first, getting worse, you know, deciding on a manager. And an agent was a very strange position to be in to have sort of multiple offers. Because then once I decided I had to, like, contact, you know, like, Who me and say, like, yeah, sorry, I don't want to, I've already picked someone else, you know, which was very strange, because if it had been like, a month earlier, I would have been begging them to take me on. So that that was sort of the first step. And then, at first, I started talking to a writer, who I came into contact with, through one of the many managers I was talking to, he was like, Hey, I have this client. And he had written this script that I had heard about, because you know, the blacklist that comes out every year, even, you know, back in Sweden, you can usually find, even there, you can usually find these scripts online, you know, someone always puts them up. So I would download a bunch of scripts to see like, Okay, what, what are good scripts, what they, what do they look like, and he had a horror script that had been on there. So I started talking to this writer, he put me into contact with a producer, he knew Lawrence gray, who, you know, became the producer on the movie. But then, the writer, his ideas, were too big for me, like it was like this worldwide event. And yeah, it was just like, no one's gonna give me a first time director all this money to do such a big movie. So I told my managers and then one, like, I don't like the idea. And they were like, well, what would you do? And I wrote down sort of a treatment that is very similar to what lights up became. And the producer I talked to he still like that. And it was just a long back and forth. So then we got Eric heisserer, onboard through that producer, and then I needed to get a lawyer so we could make a deal and everything. So I had to lots of you know, interviews with that. And it was like, Well, how do you even pick a lawyer? I don't know. So I went with the guy who, who had watched my entire YouTube channel, like even the Swedish stuff he had watched and was like, Well, okay, he really seems to be very dedicated. Okay, now I have a lawyer. Now we have a producer. Now we have a writer and you know, it's pretty soon we had like a deal made and that was about that point when the producer flew us out. So we could meet for real and start talking more and meet with like, new line because James Wan came on board as a producer. And he was like a new line of great for her you know, he cuz he had done conjuring and all this stuff with them. Yeah, it was just a long process of lots and lots of conversations. And then, you know, once I got here it was, yeah, that was quite a shock to just because I've never been on a film set before. Like, I didn't know how things worked. I knew how to tell a story. But I didn't know how movies were made here beyond what I had seen in, like, behind the scenes and commentary tracks on DVDs and things like that.

Alex Ferrari 18:54
Yeah, so that's the thing is so you, you're basically a DIY guy. I mean, you're doing everything yourself is like you and your wife, essentially. So you're shooting everything yourself on all these. The shorts and even when you were in talks to do lights out, you're still shooting all the shorts by yourself. So coming on to a professional Hollywood set must have been just completely jarring. You'd like you were saying you didn't know who did what, other than the only the only educate because you didn't go to film school. Right? No, right. So the only education you had was YouTube, or director's commentary is a behind the scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yeah.

David F. Sandberg 19:30
No, no. So when we were interviewing, when I got the interview, like the crew members, a lot of that was just asking, so what do you do what what's your job on set? You know, how, how did these things work? And, and, you know, we, before we started shooting, we did like a camera test. And that was sort of my first feel of how of a movie set. I mean, it was a smaller scale because it was just a camera test. But already then I was like, oh, like when do I say action? were like, how do I, that's when I started realizing like who I really don't know how things work on a movie set. So I had to ask the assistant director like, Yeah, when do I say action? Because it's like, yeah, sound speed and these things that were called out first. But yeah, I think they thought that I was more experienced than I was because they would ask like, okay, so who's the DP you usually work with? Or do you have a storyboard guy? And I was like, No, that's just me doing that myself. So it was just like, trying to keep up appearances. Like I knew what I was doing, because obviously, they think I'm more experienced than I am. So it was extremely stressful, to be honest. I can imagine. And yeah, trying to navigate that and working with so many professionals, because even, you know, the PA is had more experienced than me, they had worked on a bunch of movies, I'd never worked on any movie. So yeah, it was extremely stressful. And

Alex Ferrari 21:00
I could only imagine that the PA knew more than you. I mean, so you're going through that whole process. Did you have to deal with? I mean, because you weren't, that's like a $5 million budget, right? Like, you have no money to $5 million budget, which is a substantial shock to the system, and also the pressure and the stress of just having.

David F. Sandberg 21:20
Yeah, shoulders? Well, you think so. But what I discovered, is that a $5 million movie in the studio system, Oh, is that the absolutely lowest budget? Like they don't even know how to make a movie with less money than that? Because I mean, things are more expensive with unions and everything and like, overhead. And so, and I think on lights out as well, crew members, were saying like, this feels more like a $1.2 million movie or something, because I think we had, you know, we had big producers on it. And you know, a lot of above the line money, and thanks. So yeah, I quickly realized that, okay, you can't do anything, because it felt like that whole $5 million. There are no limits to what we can do. But but then it was like, Yeah, can we have rain in this scene is like, no, can't afford that. Okay. And it actually was more limiting, because I was told it was kind of in error, but because I would be like, hey, what we can do this effect, if we just do a split screen, or, you know, we do this thing here. And they were like, well, that's not part of the plan, because that's a split screen is a visual effect. You know, that's, that's going to cost money, you know, to get a VFX company or whatever to do these things. Now, so what you can do that in the editing software, or like, but the thing is, you know, when you're editing, I mean, you're just editing QuickTime files, you know, like progress or whatever, like proxies. And then everything else is done by the post company or the DIY, it was just very confusing of like, how can I How can I not do these simple things that I can do in my no budget shorts. But what I then found out once we got into the editing process, then the editor told me that no, the VFX, they don't have a union. So anyone can do VFX. So you can do that yourself, if you want to, we can get you the files and you can. But even that was weird, because if I wanted a I need this shot and this shot, so I can do it myself. I need the raw files. And then I was like, well, that's a little bit of a cost to get that from the the company who's dealing with all the files, and that where we're going to do the DI and everything. There's just so many things where the kind of felt more limiting, than on a no budget short, I would make myself which was weird. But it Yeah, I found out that anyone can do visual effects on a movie, which which helped me in that case.

Alex Ferrari 23:50
Now, when you were and I've had this happen to me on set many times when I'm working when I was younger, especially when I was coming up. I'd imagine that some some people on the set picked up that you were not the most experienced direct.

David F. Sandberg 24:04
Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 24:05
They usually smell that out pretty pretty quickly, especially if you're a veteran. Did you have any pushback? Did you have to deal with any kind of politicking on set? That you have?

David F. Sandberg 24:15
Definitely. I mean, yeah, I mean, we had, I mean, these were guys who had worked on huge movies, you know, like, x men and like, you know, these things and, and I think some of them, were just doing it. It's kind of like a favor to James Wan or, you know, you'd want to be in his circle. And that, I mean, what one problem was, you know, when we're doing the effect of the ghosts being there and not being there, I mean, it's simple like you, you put the camera down, and then you shoot it with a person and then without a person, you do a clean play. And what happened was, like I was got into this argument with a camera guy because like we shot the ghosts there. And then it's like, Okay, now let's do the cleanup. plate and he was like, we already got it. I was like, What? No, we don't have it from this angle. No, but we got it from the other angle. That's fine. You know? And it was like, What are you talking about? Like, we can't cut between the two things. I mean, if it's off even a centimeter, yeah, it's not gonna work. I mean, what I've then learned on doing shoe, Sam, like on a movie like that, the clean plates don't have to match that much, you know, because they will, you know, you can just do a somewhat similar move where you're like, you can move the camera around and whatever. And they'll take the clean plate and like reprojected and track it and create a new shot that matches perfectly from that. So I mean, the camera operator on lights out, I mean, he came from movies like that. So to him, it's like, well, we already shot that area without a person when we were over here, so they can just use that. But that turned into an argument where I had to like, I think that was the first time I had to, like, raise my voice on that film set where it's like, No, just put the camera here. Okay, press record, okay, now we take in the actor, we do the thing, keep rolling, she steps out, and like a head, really do it. Like step by step, this is how we do it. So there were a lot of things like that. And I've talked about, you know, with the DP as well, like he was, you know, he was worried about going too dark. And I was like, well, it needs to be really dark. That's obvious. But yeah, it's got lights, but he was worried that well, you know, if the studio thinks it's too dark, they're not going to hire me again. And right. Yeah, there were a lot of those things that were extremely frustrating. And, you know, I'm not a very confrontational guy. So it, it sort of builds up until I just can't deal with it anymore. And either I get depressed, or I will have to raise my voice and, and get it done, you know.

Alex Ferrari 26:57
And that's the reality of things that these are the kind of stories I'd love to talk about. Because these are the things that are generally not in the press kit. Generally, not in the press tour of films and filmmakers, when they watch a story like yours. They're like, Oh, my God, look what you know, what David Sandberg did, he did lights out, and you become one of those kind of like El Mariachi stories, you know, the or Kevin Smith stories, like, you know, those kind of mythical stories like, Oh, my God, that's the thing. But there's stuff that happens behind the scenes that, that they have to understand that this is there's there's the lottery ticket, which is what you got, but there's a lot of people who didn't win the lottery, or there's a lot of stuff in between that going through that process that they don't talk about. So that's why I love going a little bit deeper into these things. So people really have an understanding about what the realities of working in, in how

David F. Sandberg 27:45
Yeah, and I mean, the thing I reflect on now afterwards is like how bad things could have gotten because when we got here, the you know, they paid for the flight. And they paid for, you know, a hotel for a couple of weeks. And then we had to find a place and everything. But the thing was that I wasn't didn't start getting paid until the movie was officially greenlit. Which was weird, because we had like a production office with all these people there working. And I was like, Well, how can the movie not be greenlit? Like spending money was, yeah, we're spending money. Everyone's here. I was like, why am I not getting paid? So you know, we had to, first of all, you know, we borrowed everything we could from our families back home, like so we could survive. And then that money ran out. And so then we borrowed money from the producer, we borrowed money from my manager, and it was like, it was this feeling of like, if this falls apart now, and movies can fall apart. At any moment, like, you can start shooting a movie and falls apart and you Everyone has to go home. If that had happened, we would have been in so much shit, because we wouldn't have been able to pay back people because that was another shock coming here and finding out like what rent is in LA,

Alex Ferrari 28:59
it's very affordable to live in LA, very, extremely affordable.

David F. Sandberg 29:03
I mean, we were I mean, we lived in Gothenburg, which is not the cheapest city in Sweden. And you know, our apartment there we thought was pretty expensive for us. And we came here and we lived in half a garage in Burbank, and the rent was two and a half times our big apartment in Sweden. And it's just like, holy shit and, and that's another thing. Everything happens so quick that we didn't have time to like sublet our apartment or anything. So we just sort of locked the door and got on a plane. So that money was going as well. So it's like, if this doesn't happen now, we're going to be so much shit. You know, and I'm sure there are for every story like ours, I'm sure there's like 100 or 1000 stories of people where it did go to shit and they were like it most bros and yeah, so I mean, we know how extremely lucky we were. That it that it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 30:00
I moved out here 12 years ago, and I literally had, all I had was a Final Cut system. And my wife, we got apartment in North Hollywood, we had I think 10 or 12,000 bucks saved up. And I had no job. I knew two people in LA, my wife knew nobody and, and we just like, we'll figure it out. And that and we're like, we have at least six months to a year that we can survive. But I know a lot of personal friends of mine who made the trip out here and try to make a go of it. And they just they go because it's, it's too hard. It's not it's your story is definitely the unique, this unique story in the bunch. But you're right, you were you were and you were you were actually in a place where you were like, on you were working with big producers, and you were working and you were still not getting paid. And that's nothing against them. It's just the way the system is set up. And you're just and you're coming in just looking around going. What What do you mean, how can I not be being paid? We have an office like this is not the way businesses run? in general. Yeah.

David F. Sandberg 31:00
No, I remember one of the guys involved with with one of the producers was talking about having a chef working for like a private chat or whatever, who was getting like 1000 bucks a week announced like, Holy fucking shit, like, I I'd kill to have 1000 bucks to get paid that, you know, it's like it we felt so, you know, like such outsiders. And it, you know, pretty early on after we got here was when you know, James Wan he had he had, you know, furious seven had just made like, a billion dollars. Sure. So and we were invited to like, we were at the same agency. So we were invited to this like party in honor of James Wan to celebrate the his achievement. And so a lot and I mean, yeah, we we had no money. So we were like, Okay, what kind of clothes do we have that we can look kind of fancy in you know, and we're sweet. So we're always like, early, we're on time, you know? So we show up to this mansion in Beverly Hills. And they had like valets, and I was like, holy, do they have valets for a private house? It's like, holy shit. Yeah. And we go in there. And since we're so early, there's like, pretty much no one else. There's just the two of us in this giant mansion. And then these people start coming in. And we were just like, we felt like such imposters, you know, like we had just snuck into this party. So we were just like standing in a corner. And you know, we had our own secret language, Swedish. So we were like, trying to look like we were just having a casual conversation, but all we were saying which is like, holy shit. What are we doing here? This is just weird. And then like, these celebrities would show up the Vin Diesel and Adrian Brody and like, holy Yeah, it was just surreal. And yeah, we were just two broke Swedes who felt like we had just gotten into a hollywood party.

Alex Ferrari 32:56
Yeah, you're waiting for any any moment security would come in like you to come here.

David F. Sandberg 32:59
Yeah, so be here. Just Yeah. Yeah. That that's insane. All right. So you had that experience and obviously lights out came out it was a very big hit for the studio. It did very well especially off of the budget that you made. So then they offer you your second feature Annabel creation Yeah, they actually did that before the movie even came out because they you know we had test screenings and stuff and it tested really well so everyone was really happy about it and they were everyone Oh, this is going to be a hit and I was like well how can you know like you can't be sure it could be a total bomb but everyone's really sure that it was going to be a hit. So they off they offered me Annabelle a sequel to Annabelle And so yeah, I started working on that before lights out was even out that so that came out during the middle of shooting Annabel which was also very surreal and that we had to like break or wrap early that day. So I could go to the premiere of lights out at the you know Chinese Theater which is so Hollywood like yeah, we have to go wrap early so I can go to the premiere of my other movie but I think it was also good because then I didn't have time to freak out like Oh, how is it going to perform and all that because I was already on my second movie and that that was also a thing where it's like I needed to find a second movie quickly because on the first one you know I got paid scale for for that movie because it was my first one and you know scale on a $5 million movie is still more money than I'd ever made before. But because we like had to pay everyone back and like to take care of everything that movie that money was starting to run out and I remember like this person at the studio was surprised like what you already burned through your lights out money. It's like yeah, to pay back a lot of people. So that was you know, I had to find something the next thing quickly and I was very happy that they offered me to interact Annabelle

Alex Ferrari 34:59
so then What was the difference in experience from you know, doing lights out to Annabel? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

David F. Sandberg 35:16
I mean, it was night and day. I mean, I still, to this day, animal creation has been the best experience so far. Because then then I knew how movies worked. Like how it films that worked. And I knew all the steps, you know, because there was just so much learning. I mean, even, you know, when we were doing the sound mixing on lights out, I came in there and they were like, doing all these things. And I'm like, when do I say what I want or like, what's happening here and like, you know, so on Annabelle creation, I finally felt that, okay, now I know the whole process. I know how films that works. And now we had more days, we had more money. And it was just pleasant experience. It was just yeah, enough money enough days, and in the less pressure as well, because it wasn't my first movie and this feeling of I better get this right. Or, um, this is my one shot at Hollywood because now I felt like yeah, I even if I fucked this up, I will have made two movies in Hollywood. And you know, I might still get a third chance if lights out does well, everything.

Alex Ferrari 36:28
Yeah. And I'm imagining that it was a good feeling that while you're in production on Annabel, that you're, you know, you see the returns and the reviews on lights out, come out. And I'm sure that boosted your confidence a bit. I mean, we all go Yeah, imposter syndrome, I'm assuming Yeah, probably were. You weren't positive

David F. Sandberg 36:46
all the time. And the thing was that I hated lights out until we had test screenings of it. Because just watching it. I mean, first of all, the first time you watch it is it's temp, audio, music and like temp effects and like the colors aren't right, and it just feels really lame. So I was really depressed, seeing like the first cut of it. And thinking like, maybe, maybe we can cut a cool trailer out of it, because there's some cool shots in there. But the movie just sucks. So we, you know, just started cutting out as much as possible. Just like, take out this, take out that scene and trim this and just to get it down to like the bare bones story. Like, I just wanted as little of the movie in the movie as possible. So it's a very tight movie at 80 minutes. But yeah, so but I still sort of felt that this is a piece of shit until we started screening it to people and I could sit there in the audience and hear and see their reactions. They were laughing they were getting scared. And that was the moment where it's like, okay, maybe it isn't so bad. Maybe this is an okay movie, after all. So yeah, it wasn't until then that I started feeling a little bit better about it.

Alex Ferrari 38:05
And then Annabel comes out and it's also another hit. So you have now hit you've had two hits back to back. Yeah, so you're you didn't even have time to worry about your sophomore. Jinx, there's no that you weren't.

David F. Sandberg 38:18
And it was the same thing with HSM that I got, right that job before animal creation was even out. So yeah, my agents and I mean, everyone was telling me like, don't get used to this, like things don't usually go this quickly. And this well, like, it's it's not normal. Right.

Alex Ferrari 38:37
But but then you got so then you got your exam, which is a I mean, dude, that's a step up a budget. That's a step up in everything. And Shazam, you know, you're in the DC Universe now, which, you know, the DC Universe has had a couple stumbles along the way on their side, and they have some, you know, obviously Batman and Superman and those kind of things. But it was rough. And then you got something like Shazam, which was coming out completely different than it's not a dark and broody movie. It is a fun, let's have some fun kind of movie. It's what I love about Shazam so much. It was just so much fun. And it's also mean the story is great with the little kid that turns into who doesn't want that story. So, you know, what was it? What was it like going in dealing with not only the pressure of a big studio movie, and it's a big superhero movie, but also translating a beloved IP and character onto the screen that's never really been on the screen like that before? I don't remember at that level.

David F. Sandberg 39:37
No, they did serials in the 40s and TV show in the 70s. But not Yeah, no movies. No, it was. It was interesting in that he's not as known as you know, Superman or Batman or Spider Man or anything like that. And he hasn't had movies before, which I think helped a lot because it I can't imagine like taking on like Superman or Superman movie or something, because there's so many expectations. And there are so many like versions of, you know, some people will say Superman has to be this way for them. Other people are like Superman has to be this. She's AM. It's like, I mean, he's been around for as long as Superman, but he's never been quite as big, or at least not recently. And there have been a lot of different variations of him in the comic book world as well. So it didn't feel like oh, it has to be this one thing. And so it was a bit that pressure wasn't as big, I don't think. And also, the fact that it was something so different from what I'd done before. I felt like, if I fuck this up, I don't want to fuck this up. But if I do, it's something that's completely different. Because then I can go back to horror was like, yeah, superheroes. That's not for me, obviously. But horror, I can still get more chances there. But But yeah, overall, making the movie was like making my first movie again, just because there was so much to learn, it was so big. And it was, you know, things that are sort of out of your control. Like, for example, with visual effects on lights out and about creation, I did some of the visual effects shots myself, and even the ones I didn't, I would shoot in such a way that I would know exactly how to put it together myself if I would have to, while on a movie, like Shazam, it's just such crazy stuff going on. It's like, I don't actually know how we do this. So you have to like, Listen to the visual effects, guys. And like, Okay, so what do you need, you need these elements to put this together. And, and, and I've always had issues working with like, storyboard. People because like, I tried it on lights out. But then it was like, you know, they would go off and draw things, and then they come back with all these shots. And it's like, but I want to design the shots. I mean, if they're doing that, then they're kind of making the movie, you know. So I had real problems with that. So on Annabelle creation, there was just a couple of sequences where we needed to storyboard. So for some of that, I would draw really simple things myself, because I didn't have time to do them properly all by myself. So I would draw, you know, little thumbnails, it's like, yeah, just do this, but make them look better. And then I'm sure Sam, I finally got into this thing of like, I don't have to do I mean, I can do a lot of revisions with them. But I also don't have to do exactly what they draw. It's just sort of a starting point. And then we can work it from that, you know, it was more of getting the action, right. So we can take that to previous and so on, maybe I've always had that feeling of, I don't want to give up all this work, especially not like figuring out the shots because that's sort of what filmmaking is to me, right?

Alex Ferrari 43:02
Now. So working on on a film of this magnitude and this kind of scale. And I think you're right, because you Sam's not Superman, Batman or Spider Man or something that's so well known. There wasn't as much pressure attention. Like, I remember when I saw the trailer, I'm like, Oh, that's gonna be interesting. But it wasn't like, but when the next Batman comes out, everyone starts thinking of, of Nolan. Or when Superman came out, yeah, like everyone starts thinking of Donner or, you know, or x men or they, there's so

David F. Sandberg 43:29
much comparison and like things to live up to. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 43:33
so when 40 years when they make a reboot of Shazam, they're gonna be like, but David, you've got to live up to the David's and versions. So the pressures not as much but working inside, I mean, working inside the studio system with lights out and Annabel, that's a certain level, but when you're dealing within the studio system, with so much money is at risk here. What kind of pressures are you dealing with creatively, because you're just, you're just hot, you know, you're being hired as a director to tell the story to direct the film. But there is so many other kind of pressures was just like, I mean, I don't even know I don't even know what the budget was, if it was, I think 100 million years, like $100 million. So when you've got $100 million on the line, people are are a little bit more on hand. And there's

David F. Sandberg 44:20
Yeah, it's what you can feel those some of the concerns more like, you know, I mean, they're in any movie, they're gonna care about casting and maybe it's a little bit more and then, you know, a lot of the look more at different choices. And just making sure that is this the right way to go. But I think they're quite open at Warner Brothers. Because I've heard stories from other people working with on certain movies at certain other studios. Not just superhero movies, but the movies of that size. Where it like I've heard horror stories where Director comes in. And they already have like previous for the action scenes. And it's like, you know, I wouldn't. That sounds awful, like you see, so you just do the Why am I here? The dialogue scenes or like, and, you know, I didn't have that was the good thing about Shazam that I got to do all those things and I got to cast it. And you know, because there wasn't already a Shazam cast for the universe or whatever. So it felt quite free in that way. But yeah, of course, people care a lot when it's that much money at stake. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 45:39
Right. And, and, and launching a new IP based off of a new filmmaking IP is based on an old IP. One thing I have noticed too, in your films is that I think I saw a video you I think you were saying in one of your amazing YouTube videos about characters, and like, the more characters you have, the more complicated things get, and matches Sam has a lot of characters to deal with. So what did you give in regards to other other than not having characters? So you have you have an obscene amount of characters? Yeah. On a visual effects? Yeah. You know,

David F. Sandberg 46:13
to to is even worse, because now all the all the, all the kids, I mean, they now they all have superpowers. So, you know, all the action scenes are what? Most of them you know, and yeah, it's, it's quite an ordeal. No, it's just like, a lot of figuring out, you know, like fishing, Sam, I would do like this overhead view of the carnival. And then because it was even more complicated at one point. And I had all these like, icons that I animated to just keep track of, Okay, this person is here, and then they move here. And then this happens of, it's just so much to keep track of which, you know, once you when you see a finished movie, it doesn't seem that complicated. Because, yeah, of course, they cut to this and then this guy's here, and then they fly there. You know, it seems obvious. But to get there is just so much work and worry of like, how is this gonna fit together? And? Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 47:10
it's, it's yet it's not as easy as it looks. I mean, you make it look easy. So that's, that's, that's why you get hired.

David F. Sandberg 47:17
Right? No, but I yeah, I don't have a good solution for it. Other than Yeah, don't do stuff where, where you have six superheroes all the time. And there were seven sins, and it's so much.

Alex Ferrari 47:33
You look stressed out just talking about

David F. Sandberg 47:35
it? Well, yeah. Yeah. Okay. It was interesting, because I wanted to, we tried to fit in a little horror movie between season one, and two. It didn't work out for a bunch of reasons. And I mean, COVID stopped everything as well. So I was very sad about that, because I really wanted to have that sort of palate cleanser. I mean, it's, it's a great problem to have. It's like, Oh, no, I get to do a second superhero movie.

Alex Ferrari 48:01
You know, darn.

David F. Sandberg 48:03
Yeah, no, but it would have been, I really look forward to, you know, next movie, it definitely got to be smaller. Like, we wanted to do this little horror movie with a lot of it's just a guy in a cabin, you know, it's like, oh, would have been so easy to shoot. And I mean, when you when you look at like dramas and things, it's like, imagine, imagine how easy it is to shoot that because once you cut it, you almost have your movie. It's not like months of visual effects reviews, and over and over again, and just all this complicated stuff. It's just like, nice people talking and a little drama, and then it's over. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 48:40
yeah, maybe maybe you clean out a little thing here. You clean out a license plate there and visual effects something. Yeah. But nothing. Nothing is crazy. So at what point in the process, did you because I'm assuming that as you're making Shazam, when did you feel that you had something that was fun? Or did you have the same feeling as you did lights out? This is horrible, my career's over. Oh, my God.

David F. Sandberg 49:04
It felt some of it felt pretty good. Like, I would watch certain things back on the dailies, you know, you get an iPad where you can access all the dailies. So there were things there where I would like, rewatch at the dais. And it's like, yeah, this this is pretty cool. I think this is pretty good. And I you know, I when we shot, the first sort of Shazam scene we shot was in the convenience store when he gets shot for the first time. It's like, Hey, I'm bulletproof. It was just when we shot that scene, it felt like this is fun. Like this is I think this could be something and then there were of course other scenes where it's like, oh, shit, this is terrible. We need to fix this. Somehow, or cut it out. But yeah, it felt like there were there were good things in there. You know.

Alex Ferrari 49:51
Did you do any reshoots? Did you have to go back to doing

David F. Sandberg 49:53
Yes, we did. I mean, new line that I've done all them who said that they always do reshoots So yeah, because it kind of gets a bad rap of like, oh, the movie must be in trouble because they're doing reshoots, but they always do that they count on it. Which is, it's interesting, because on my first movie on lights out, I was told by another one of the editors, that, here's what's gonna happen, you know, you're going to test the movie. If it tests Well, they're going to come to you and say, so what do you want to add or reshoot? If it tests poorly, they're going to come to you and say, here's what we're going to reshoot or what we're going to add. And luckily, you know, the movies have tested well. And Shazam was very interesting, because I think we did a lot of reshoots and things, which, it kind of felt like, it almost feels like this movie is in trouble or something, cuz we're reshooting so much, but I think it was more of a thing of what we only spent $100 million on this or close to that I'm sure we had some savings. So it was like, Yeah, why not? Just get a little extra money and see if we can, you know, make it even better in certain places. spice it up. Yeah. And I mean, some of that. It was interesting, because, like, in the main shoot in the script, it's so there was that scene where he's on the rocky steps in Philadelphia by the Art Museum, you know, he's doing the lightning with my hands. That was always in the script. But then, during the main shoot, it's like, well, we don't have the money to go to actually go to Philadelphia. So I was like, Okay, we'll shoot it here on this street in Toronto. And then when I showed the movie to the studio, they were like, Ah, yeah, that scene really needed to be in Philadelphia. So go to Philadelphia shoot that scene, you know? And there were a lot of those things where it's like, yeah, maybe we can just make it a little better. Like the opening of the movie, originally had young Savannah in his house during dinner, and he takes an elevator and winds up in the rock of eternity. And they were like, ah, maybe we can do more action. Or maybe we can have something like with a car crash, or something. And to me, it was like, hey, if you want to pay for a car crash, I'd love to shoot that, you know, and because the thing is, if it turns out better than what we have great, if it turns out worse, then we still have the old thing, you know? So I was open to to anything like yeah, let's let's do this. Let's shoot that scene and do this, you know, and see what happens as long as you pay for it. I'm willing to do it. And and some some things I asked for, in particular, like, originally, when they first get to the group home, I did all that in one continuous steadycam shot. And it just didn't work. It just felt it kind of Yeah, didn't get there. And then there's no editing you can do when you when you do that. So I was like, I told the studio, it's like, I really want to reshoot that. But I know that's a big ask, because that means rebuilding that whole set. And the studio is just like a it's a big movie. So we actually rebuilt the whole set, and I got to reshoot that scene. So yeah, they were I think they were happy with what they saw and felt like it was okay to spend more money. Because it was going to be good.

Alex Ferrari 53:19
Right? Now, you you also a post production guy, you do a lot of stuff yourself. So what what, how much are you involved in the post production process in your films? From lights out all the way tissues? And because like you were saying earlier, you're not doing all the visual effects. But do you even still do titles or stuff like that?

David F. Sandberg 53:40
Yeah, I mean, certainly pushes them. I never did any final thing. I think some of the overlays for the news is mine, the news cast, but otherwise, I did tons of temp effects. Because, you know, when you do test screenings, I mean, we do that quite early on, and you just, you want it to look alright, you don't want all these blue screen and weird things in there. So I would do a lot of temp effects myself just to try to get it as close as possible, which is pretty fun. Because then when you do temp effects, it only needs to be good enough for one quick viewing, you know, no one's gonna rewind and look at it again. So that's a lot more fun than when you do final visual effects because there's so much work for those little things just to make it right you know. So lots of temp effects and I'm yeah, I'm quite involved in during the post process because I think that's probably one of the most fun aspects of movies. It's, it's like I forgot who said it, but you make three movies. You make the movie you write a movie producing the movie you edit. Absolutely. And I kind of I love that kind of problem solving as well where like, Okay, if we cut this scene out now this You know, now that we don't have B, how do we go from A to C? And you start looking at, okay, what kind of footage do we have? And what can I create? Because that's that stuff I did for lights out as well as, like, I need this shot of just a potion on this empty room. But we don't have that. But I have a similar thing here what I can take textures and reprojected them in Blender in 3d and create that shot. You know, I love that stuff. I'd like just figuring out stuff at home or in like, in animal creation, there's an insert shot of blood dripping on the floor. And that was one where I that I shot with my gold Black Magic Pocket camera in my apartment, you know, with some food coloring, and just put that in the movie. And yeah, you know, just yeah, that puzzle puzzling together. And just finding nifty solutions is really fun.

Alex Ferrari 55:55
So you actually shot something with a pocket camera just inserted it and no one cares. Like, perfect.

David F. Sandberg 56:00
Yeah. And yeah, and there's that shot, inanimate creation. This is shot in a bedroom where you see all these photographs of Janice growing up, I shot that on my Ursa mini 4.6 K. And then like, and put the pictures in there with blender and everything. And yeah, it works great.

Alex Ferrari 56:22
And that's, again, another myth that you're debunking. And once you get to a certain level you like, you don't do things like that anymore. Of course,

David F. Sandberg 56:30
you know, but yeah, and I mean, even when we were, I remember when we were, I think we were mixing lights out, Michael Bay was mixing a movie on the soundstage next to us. And they were telling me that he had been out in the parking lot shooting something on his iPhone for the movie, because he was already so far down the post production that he was in the sound mix, but he was like, Oh, we need a shot of this thing. And he shot it on his iPhone out in the parking lot. And they put in the movie and made it at work. So yeah, it certainly happens on on everything.

Alex Ferrari 57:03
Now, what is the most stressful part of making a movie for you?

David F. Sandberg 57:08
Well, I mean, the shooting in general, just sort of keeping up with with everything, because it's such a marathon and you get so tired. And like, there were days where I was like sick, and I was just, yeah, not doing well at all, but you just have to do it. And she's an was also weird. And that that was my first time really working a lot with a second unit. And just like with the storyboards, it's like, I don't want someone else making the movie, you know. So we scheduled it, so that we shot menu during the day, and then second unit was shooting during the night. So I could once we wrap the day, I would go to second unit and hang out there and make sure that they shot things the way I wanted to. So I didn't get a lot of sleep for a few weeks there, which was, you know, not healthy and something I need to work on. But yeah, it's just a hard especially when you start sort of when you far along a shoot where you start feeling like you were behind and you were like, I haven't even had time to think of this thing we're gonna shoot next. It's like Oh, shit, like when it feels like things are just coming at you at a quicker pace than you can keep up with. That's very stressful. And you need to sort of just take any moment, you can just sit down and think about how you're going to do all these things.

Alex Ferrari 58:35
Now, do you suffer from the same thing as I think I do? And many directors do is when when you're done on the last day of production? Isn't that the kind of depression starts setting in like, like, you've built that family? If it's been a good experience, obviously, if it's been a bad experience, yeah. But do you get that kind of feeling to like, not?

Unknown Speaker 58:55
Yeah, not quite. Not that soon. I mean, one first, when you wrap the movies, like, Oh, it's over. I'll get to sleep for a few days, you know? But certainly, yeah, once you've once you're finished with a project, you get that feeling of like, Oh, well what now? And you know, it feels kind of empty yet. And that happens with even with short films and stuff as well. Like you're, you have a purpose and you know what you're doing and then it's done. It's like that was it. Okay, what now? You know,

Alex Ferrari 59:29
always looking for that next high, if you will.

David F. Sandberg 59:31
Yeah. as it existed that Yeah, in the moment, you have a purpose and you know, what your future is going to be like, and then afterwards, it's like, Okay, well, what's my future now? And what's my goal now and what's what's gonna happen? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 59:47
Now I have to ask you about your little. I need to know the backstory about your little known for our feature film that that got released called I flip you off for four hours. Which is an official film. It's officially on your IMDb as a feature film. So I saw that I was like, wait, what is that in here about this? And I've started looking at it and it is available on YouTube. Can you please tell us the backstory of that film?

David F. Sandberg 1:00:15
Yeah. No, what happened was I, I was talking in one of my YouTube videos about the fact that, you know, being a YouTuber isn't my job. So I don't really have to care about views and all of that stuff that YouTubers have to worry about, like, oh, how's my channel doing and everything. And as an example, I was like, you know, I can do whatever I want. And as an example, I had a screenshot of a movie called, I flip you off for four hours with just a picture of me doing that. So that was just a joke in that video. But then, for some reason, some months later, I was like, well, maybe I'll actually do that. just for the hell of it, just as a joke. So I did that. And it's a cheat. Of course, I did it for like less than a minute and just added it together. So it looks like it's four hours. But I put that up, people who really ran with it and like they put it up on letterbox, and people started giving it his all fantastic reviews. So it's like, for a moment there. It was like among the top rated movies on letterbox, like next to love parasite, you know, the Oscar winner and all these. But then eventually, letterbox took it off, because it's like, it's not a real movie. But I love seeing that out there. Everyone just ran with it. I love when internet does dumb stuff like that, but not like now with the Bernie Sanders. Oh my god sitting in his chair. I've seen that in every situation now. Like people have drawn artwork and paintings,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:50
dolls, they're making dolls of it now.

David F. Sandberg 1:01:52
Yeah, I saw like a crocheted doll. And like, yeah, it's everywhere.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:57
But you heard you know what Bernie did now? Right? He actually grabbed it, put it on a T shirt, and now he's selling it for charity.

David F. Sandberg 1:02:03
Yeah, I saw that. That's amazing.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:05
So if you could do one thing and say one thing to your younger self, before you start a directing, at first, like the one thing that you wish you would have known before you started going down this directing journey, what would that be?

David F. Sandberg 1:02:20
I don't know. I mean, maybe to be to ask for a little bit more or not be too afraid with some things. But yeah, I mean, that was the big thing with lights out where we didn't want to ask for too much. Because it was like, Oh, this is our shot. Like, for example, a lot. You know, she really should have been a producer on the first movie. I mean, we're sort of correcting these things. Now. We started our own production company and whatnot. But it was like, oh, let's not ask for too much. And it's Same thing with, I've always seen myself as a writer and director. But like, I couldn't ask for like, Oh, yeah, I want to write the movie as well. Because, you know, first time director, first time writer as well, and they're not gonna, they're gonna say no, right? So there were there been moments where it's like, I probably could have pushed for a little bit more. But at the same time, it's worked out great. You know, I love what Eric heisserer did with the script. I mean, he's a great writer, and I've gotten to work with riders and see how that isn't get, you know, feedback and be able to bounce ideas off of each other. So but yeah, maybe I think that's been a bit of a problem, sometimes of me, not, you know, being able to afraid of conflict, or like taking too much space, and instead backing off.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Yeah, just ask for a little bit more. I feel I feel that a lot of artists are like that. I was like that as well. You know, I do jobs. God for anything. You're gonna pay me to do this? Oh, sure. Whatever you want to give me?

David F. Sandberg 1:03:52
Yeah, that's been a constant problem of you know, back in Sweden now. It's great having like agents and managers dealing with that, so they can be the bad guys. You know, that's been awesome.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:03
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

David F. Sandberg 1:04:10
Well, I mean, the, what I always say because it's, it was my path was to just keep creating things. Because the more you create, I mean, for everything you do, you're gonna learn even if it turns out to be shit, then you learn what not to do. And you're gonna get better and better for every short or every little creative thing you do. And it just, you know, it's like buying more lottery tickets, because, you know, one of those things you do might really resonate with people. Yeah, we had no idea that lights up was gonna become the thing it did. And also, you know, whenever I do something, I always think it's shit, halfway through whatever it is, if it's a short or it's a feature halfway through, I think it's shit and I want to give up, but that's you have to actually finish things you start even It feels like it's shit because you don't know how you'll feel about it later on. Because whenever you know you do the next thing you think like, why do I suck? Now the previous thing I did was good. But when you were making the previous thing, you hated that, too. So you just never know. I think

Alex Ferrari 1:05:15
that's basically just being an artist. It is it is, what is the cross we have to bear? Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

David F. Sandberg 1:05:30
Huh, oh, that's a really good question. I mean, if it's something, I'm still just trying to figure out the best way to do certain things like s, is it? You know, storyboards? Or, you know, I've been experimenting with so many different things with everything from shooting action figures, to just walking around a location and shooting things. You know, trying to find shots, even without people like cutting together that stuff. And I'm still working out what is the best quickest way to get my thoughts and ideas across to other people? And it's, it's hard, but yeah, at the moment, I'm using a blender a lot to do animatics and animated things and boards. And yeah, that's been working pretty well.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:23
What is the biggest fear you had to overcome to make your first film?

David F. Sandberg 1:06:30
Well, I again, I think it's has a lot to do with. Knowing that I mean, being confident in myself, in many ways, because like, on that first movie, there were arguments, where I felt like, well, these guys have done it for so long. So of course, they have to know better than me, they have to be right. I have to be wrong, because I'm new at this. But I wasn't always wrong. There were things like no, I do know this. So experience does not always make you right. So you get Yeah, even experienced people can be wrong. And I think that's something that can be good to know sometimes.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:11
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

David F. Sandberg 1:07:16
Aliens is up their races of the last are. Yeah, I mean, it's sort of changes a lot sort of, but But yeah, those two and like the thing you know, john Carpenter's the thing. But yeah, I think aliens is probably the movie I've seen the most.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:37
That was an hour, but it's a masterpiece. I mean, it's Yeah, it's an absolute masterpiece. I mean, Cameron. I mean, Jesus, man. I mean, did you ever see the the the you've seen the best obviously? Oh, yeah. Did you see well and obviously James dispersion is much much better I think that with with with

David F. Sandberg 1:07:59
with the title is a little long, but it's Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:02
but the tidal wave makes it Yes. Work. Did you see that? Behind the Scenes of that? That the whole movie The documentary of the like, of how they made that movie, James Cameron?

David F. Sandberg 1:08:12
Oh, yeah. And all the problems and everything and I love the like three hours documentary about aliens. Oh, my God.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:22
Yeah. Oh, so in depth. It's it's absolutely insane. But David, I want to thank you for not only being on the show, but I want to make sure everybody knows about your YouTube channel. Because you're one of the few directors out there who still are trying to give back even after they are, you know, after they hit a certain level of success in the business. A lot of times it just Oh, whatever. Screw screw the little filmmaker. I don't care. I'm not that guy anymore. You're still doing it. I mean, up until recently, like, a few weeks ago, I think you've posted a new video. You do it often, man so thank you so much for doing that. It really means a lot to me and to also a lot of filmmakers out there and learning and I've watched your stuff your videos and I've learned stuff. I'm like that Yes. Like I didn't know about the river. I didn't I kind of knew about the reverse thing with the neck is an alien with the with the Oh yeah. That the edits like doing that within the edits and stuff like that. Like they just reversed it because I know Copeland it's just an old the oldest Hollywood trick in the book is to shoot something in reverse. But camera did it so beautifully in that scene that you just don't even realize it.

David F. Sandberg 1:09:26
It's the stuff I love to see. That's why what I can you know, but but I do understand why directors don't do it because you kind of reveal things where you know, you can get things in a movie that seemed like they were intentional or brilliant and maybe it was just an accident or like something that just, oh well we were gonna do this and then that fell apart. So we just slap something together and it happened to work. You know, like you You kind of reveal your true magic.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:59
Yeah, yeah. You pulled the curtain back a little bit. Sometimes directors want to keep that magic.

David F. Sandberg 1:10:04
Some people can think that Oh, he's a genius. Yeah, I'm not a genius. Open with that.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:12
But very humble of you, sir. Not call yourself a genius. But this seriously, man, thank you so much for being on the show and, and continue doing what you do. And I cannot wait to see Sam. Is his black Adam gonna be interested to

David F. Sandberg 1:10:26
know not? No, no is that they're separate for now. But also they're not maybe in the third movie or something?

Alex Ferrari 1:10:33
Yeah. So they're building it up. They're building it up. Yeah, very quickly. Listen, man, continued success. Brother. I really, really appreciate what you do, man. So thanks again.

David F. Sandberg 1:10:41
Thank you, man.

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BPS 163: Bloodsport & Rambo: Writing 80’s Action Cinema with Sheldon Lettich

Get ready to go down the rabbit hole of 80’s action cinema. I sat with an iconic 80s & 90s action film director, writer, and producer this week – Sheldon Lettich who brought to our screens some epic actors and fighters like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone. He’s the trailblazing director and writer of Lionheart (1990), Bloodsport (1988), Rambo III (1988), and the Cold War drama, Russkies that first introduced us to the phenomenon that is Joaquin Phoenix

An Ex-French Soldier begins participating in underground street fights in order to make money for his brother’s family

Lettich’s experience as a Vietnam veteran has inspired much of his films and plays throughout his career. Paired with his academic background in photography and cinematography, he bulldozed the action film scene with other classics like The Order, Double Impact, and The Last Patrol.

Between 1983 to 1987, Lettich wrote and directed a couple of short films that did not pick up as much. The following year, he wrote the martial arts classic, Bloodsport – inspired by tall tales from Frank Dux, from which Lettich became a famous name in Hollywood. 

The film also launched Jean-Claude’s career, the star of Bloodsport who played Frank Dux, an American martial artist serving in the military, who decides to leave the army to compete in a martial arts tournament in Hong Kong where fights to the death can occur.

If you love Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat then you have Sheldon to thank. Bloodsport was the first time you have multiple fighters, from around the world, with unique styles fighting in a tournament.

Frank Dux has entered the “kumite”, an illegal underground martial-arts competition where serious injury and even death are not unknown. Chong Li, a particularly ruthless and vicious fighter is the favorite, but he hasn’t faced Dux yet.

The commercial success of Bloodsport, which grossed $50 million on a $2.3 million budget catalyst more trailblazing films. Lettich signed an overall deal immediately with White Eagle Productions that led to his collaboration, co-writing Rambo III alongside Sylvester Stallone in 1988. The movie was a HIT for the Box office. It outperformed his previous project, grossing $189 million on its $63 million budget. 

One thing I discovered speaking to Sheldon is that Bloodsport was NOT A TRUE STORY. The person that the film was based on, Frank Dux, was apparently a brilliant storyteller. There were lawsuits, books written, just an absolute mess. Either way, the film is a masterpiece of 80’s action cinema.

Another classic in Sheldon’s canon was the highly anticipated sequel, Rambo III starring Sylvester Stallone. Rambo mounts a one-man mission to rescue his friend Colonel Trautman from the clutches of the formidable invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

The battle rages on as superstar Sylvester Stallone detonates the third and most explosive blast in the action-packed Rambo trilogy. Combat has taken its toll on John Rambo (Stallone), but he has finally begun to find inner peace inside a monastery – until his friend and mentor Col. Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) shows up to ask for his help on a top-secret mission to Afghanistan.

A war-weary Rambo declines, but when Trautman is captured, Rambo erupts into a one-man firestorm to rescue his former commanding officer and deciminate the enemy. It’s an intense, pulse-pounding adventure that boasts unrelenting action and suspense from start to finish!

Lettich reunited with his friend, Jean-Claude in 1990 for the fan-favorite, Lionheart. This time directing and as a co-writer. He approached the project to allow Jean-Claude to display versatility, compassion, and rises beyond the “Karate Guy”, now that he had become a household name. The film made $24.3 million on a $6million budget and became popular amongst his films.

Lyon Gaultier is a deserter in the Foreign Legion arriving in the USA entirely hard up. He finds his brother between life and death and his sister-in-law without the money needed to heal her husband and to maintain her child. To earn the money needed, Gaultier decides to take part in some very dangerous clandestine fights.

The two, Lettich and Van Damme, immediately followed up with their third of several collaborations, Double Impact in 1991 with Jean-Claude playing a set of twin brothers who were separated when their parents were murdered but 25 years later they re-unite in order to avenge their parents’ death.

Like their initial projects, this one too became a critical and commercial hit.

It was a nostalgic thrill chatting with Sheldon about these movies that are part of the beautiful tapestry that is 80’s action cinema.

Enjoy this throwback entertaining conversation with Sheldon Lettich.

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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I like to welcome to the show. Sheldon Lettich. How you doing Sheldon?

Sheldon Lettich 0:27
I'm doing great today.

Alex Ferrari 0:29
Thank you so much for being on the show man. It is an absolute thrill like the the the young teenage boy that worked at the video store in the late 80s. Early 90s is freaking out right now. So I do appreciate you coming on.

Sheldon Lettich 0:44
I'm I'm actually surprised happily surprised by just how big a thing these 80s and 90s action movies have become. It's just this 10s of 1000s or hundreds of 1000s of fans out there. I just the other day, I noticed that there was a book on Sam Furstenberg who basically directed ninja movies for Canon. There's a whole book about this guy. So yeah, these these movies are they they're like crawling out of the weeds. It turns out that there's a lot of people that have fond nostalgic memories of that period. You know, but yeah, you know, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger and Stallone and Chuck Norris people, people have really fond memories of those movies. So So here I am being interviewed.

Alex Ferrari 1:35
You know, it's fascinating, because you know, those those that time period pretty much from the early to mid 80s, all the way to the that pretty much the 90s that that window, those movies cannot be made that way anymore. Like they just wouldn't, they just wouldn't be made and especially that with those budgets and those kinds of stars, it's just such a window in time of a specific kind of like the country that the society every I mean, when you see Arnold and you see John Claude, and you see these guys just ripped up muscle bound, just sweating. And, you know, you know, Jean-Claude with his splits and all this, like that stuff wouldn't play nearly as well in today's world. But it's so wonderful to watch back

Sheldon Lettich 2:21
then. Yeah, well, in the late 90s. They the studio's realize, you know what, we don't have to deal with these action guys with these big egos and big muscles and all that. Let's just get some real actors like can I'll reach and teach them how to do some of the martial arts stuff. And then we've got stunt men to do all the difficult stuff. We'll cut it all together, we'll make the cutting really fast, nobody will notice. And you don't have to deal with it with Chuck Norris. You don't have to deal with with real karate guys, and try to make an actor out of them. Well, we'll start with actors. And we'll make them look like we'll make them look like bad assets. So that's what really changed that was like, I would say like mid to late 90s. It started shifting over. Yeah, with speed.

Alex Ferrari 3:09
It was speed and Point Break and, and matrix for Keanu. But yeah, then all these other actors. I mean, Liam Neeson for god sakes. I mean, right, right. Liam Neeson is an action star like you see him in Schindler's List you don't think taken.

Sheldon Lettich 3:23
Right. But you know, the first the first guy to turn Liam Neeson into an action star was really Sam Raimi with dark man.

Alex Ferrari 3:34
That's right. You're absolutely right. Yeah.

Sheldon Lettich 3:37
And boys and I, we've we knew Sam really well, back then. And, you know, I was doing Van Damme movies. And then Boaz wrote the adult movie, he wrote The Punisher first Punisher movie. And so we were a little surprised. Like, you know, Liam Neeson is sure about this. And if it ended up working out pretty well.

Alex Ferrari 4:02
He did. Okay.

Sheldon Lettich 4:03
They've all went that way since then.

Alex Ferrari 4:06
Absolutely. So, um, so tell me how did you get started in the business? How did you jump in?

Sheldon Lettich 4:13
Well, umm it's so it's kind of a long, circuitous story. But I started writing screenplays. I guess, I guess I was in my, my 30s. I just got this bug that I wanted to. Well, go back. I'll go back even further. I originally wanted to be a cinematographer, you know, Director of Photography, and I went to the American Film Institute, and that was my, I was the cinematography fellow there at the American Film Institute. So that was my, my focus. And while I was there, I I started getting interested in writing and directing i was i was monitoring the writing classes, there were some classes taught by a kind of well known older screenwriter. And at that school, we had directing fellows producing fellows writing fellows cinematography, I was, I was a cinematography travel. I'm not a cinematographer now, but that's what I was interested in at the time, wanted to be a dp. And so I started reading, writing samples by some of the writing fellows. And I was very impressed by their credentials. Most of these people had, you know, they had MFA from a lot of big colleges, you know, they MFA in creative writing MFA and stage direction. So these were people some heavy duty credentials. Me I had no credentials like that, at all. I didn't even have a bachelor's degree. I was basically a photographer. At the time, I was I was a commercial photographer for about 11 years. And so started reading the screenplays and and I found myself feeling very unimpressed. I was I was reading this is screenplays that these guys were writing and thinking, Well, I think I could do better than this. Very good, okay. And then, and even though I had not done any writing, before, I was I was just thinking, I should give this a try, because I'm really disappointed with what I'm reading here. And then as a cinematography fellow, I was supposed to help the directing fellows direct their short films. So every directing fellow had to make a number of films we shoot them on, on video at the time. And so I ended up working with a number of directing fellows. And again, they had some really amazing credentials, you know, like, yeah, MFA from this Ivy League school, and, you know, directed plays in New York and, and all of this. Yeah. And there were there were a number of them that that I came from theater. So I had none of that in my background, but I would end up being a cinematographer. And I found that I was helping these guys or girls, far more than I really should have been. They just really did not have a clue as to where to put the camera, they would be good at directing actors, but really wouldn't know where to put the camera, how to set up a shot, any number of things that I would help them with, it just sort of came naturally to me. So I started thinking, well, maybe I should give this a shot. Also, so everybody who wanted me if I had an opportunity to make their own film, on video, they'd give you the resources, you'd have the camera, you put the third crew with some of the other students. And so I made this little science fiction piece. Actually, the film's generally were about 15 minutes, 20 minutes long, I made this piece I based on Arthur C Clarke short story, and ended up being 45 minutes long. And I was just surprised at how well it turned out. And as I was working on it, I started thinking, you know, I think I sort of got a knack for doing this kind of stuff. And so we are working with working with react, I wrote the script also wrote this all by myself, based on this Arthur C. Clarke short story. And so I started changing my focus away from cinematography, to writing and directing. And that's what kind of got that's that's where the bug really bit me was that AFI and then unbelievable. Yeah, it was shortly after that. Yeah, I'm a Vietnam veteran also. And there is this. This theater, this actor, theater director, named john de Fusco, who was putting together he wanted to put together a theatrical piece about Vietnam. And he was looking for actual Vietnam veterans who were actors to be in this piece. There was no there was no play. There's nothing written. He just had this idea for putting this together. I think he put something together like that before. He was like teaching acting in prison. He wasn't a prisoner. He was just an acting coach. And, and he thought, Well, I'm a Vietnam veteran. Let me put together something about Vietnam. So he put an ad in. There was there were a couple of papers at the time. This is this was pretty Internet.

Alex Ferrari 10:00
Sure. But what are these papers you speak of? I don't understand.

Sheldon Lettich 10:05
What is this paper. And there was this one, like weekly newsletter. I forgot what it was called now but he put an ad in it saying I'm putting together a play looking for actors, who are also Vietnam veterans for play that I'm going to be putting together about about the Vietnam experience. So I got in touch with this guy. And I told him Look, I'm I'm not an actor. I don't pretend to be an actor. I don't want to be an actor. However, I'm a writer. And I have written a couple of screenplays that dealt with Vietnam. So I was already writing at this at this time. And he decided to work with me. So I was the, the writer member of this small ensemble that created this theatrical piece that ended up being called tracers. And, and that actually, we actually put this thing together. We had a number of Vietnam veterans in it, who were actors. And we staged it at a theater called the Odyssey in West LA. And it kind of became this little mini sensation ended up playing. They ended up taking it on the road they got invited to perform it in on in New York City, actually was Joseph paps theater, but the play on and then it was in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre was directed by Gary Sinise of all people. Well, haha, I think that maybe helped get Gary Sinise into the mindset of exploring what Vietnam veterans are all about. Because he's really been. He's really been big on advocating for Vietnam.

Alex Ferrari 11:57
Yes, yes.

Sheldon Lettich 11:58
And I believe that was his first is the first time that he got involved with that subject, and then ended up playing Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. And he's a big advocate for veterans now. But that was his first taste of that. So anyways, tracers became this little sensation. didn't do anything for me, career wise. But, but again, the kind of gave me the bug. I started thinking, you know, I should, I should start focusing, rather than photography. Just start focusing on writing, and directing.

Alex Ferrari 12:37
So when you so when you were you when you started, changed your focus to writing and directing, obviously, writing was the way in to start because you hadn't really proven yourself it was, but I'm assuming still very difficult to become a director out of nowhere, even even in the late late 70s, early 80s. So your your first script that I saw that got sold at least and produced was a wonderful little cult classic called rooskies. Yes, when I when I again, you're hitting my sweet spot 87 to 93. That's when I was at the video store. So I was in I just saw everything. So I remember rooskies, who started a very young Oscar winning actor by the name of Joaquin Phoenix,

Sheldon Lettich 13:23
went by the name of leaf Phoenix at the time, right? Joaquin Phoenix and on the poster, it's leaf

Alex Ferrari 13:30
Phoenix, which is which is hilarious, but I guess that was like the stage and it was no one's gonna go see Joaquin, you gotta have some sort of cool name. I'm sure the agent told them.

Sheldon Lettich 13:38
But his brothers and sisters all had I guess their parents were their parents were hippies. And they Yeah, all the kids name is based on some some something natural. So his brother was River Phoenix. And then there was a sister named summer Phoenix I believe. I think she's even in in the movie. But I guess his birthday might have been walking, but then they for stage names. They gave me names like leaf and river and summer.

Alex Ferrari 14:08
It's it's brilliant.

Sheldon Lettich 14:09
I think the thing is, he's He's really good.

Alex Ferrari 14:13
I'm not sure

Unknown Speaker 14:14
how old he was. But I think he was like a young teen maybe?

Alex Ferrari 14:17
Yeah, probably like 12 1314. Something like that.

Sheldon Lettich 14:20
Right? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 14:21
But it looked great. So how did you get that? Like, how did that whole thing come about? How did you get how did you come up with the idea for for rooskies? Because for people not not understanding what it was like in the 80s with the whole Russian, you know, Cold War thing. It was a thing. It was a real we were all terrified that the bomb was gonna come at any moment.

Sheldon Lettich 14:40
Well, that's funny. I think this is maybe the first interview that I've done, where I'm talking about rooskies nobody asks, nobody asked me about that. They want to know about Van Damme and

Alex Ferrari 14:52
we'll get it. We'll get there. We'll get there. But I want to. I want to take you

Sheldon Lettich 14:56
way back. Yeah, we went way back to Tracers.

Alex Ferrari 15:00
All right. So I want to I want to I want to bring in rooskies. Because it's, I always like going down the road because first of all people haven't seen rooskies it's just such a fun movie. That whole concept of it was so much fun. How did you come up with that idea?

Sheldon Lettich 15:12
Well, I had a, I had a writing partner at the time, named Alan J. Glickman. And he really hadn't didn't have many movies made. But he was he was a he was a writer. He was a real screenwriter had a couple of things produced. And he's the one that introduced me to computers and word processing. Because before that, that Brad was using a typewriter. Yeah, typewriter, we're writing things down on yellow pads. So we're sitting around in his house one day, just talking about various things. And I had a friend who was one of my closest friends in high school, who was in the Navy after high school, and he was stationed at a Navy base in Maine. So way up there and north northeast. And it was a radio station, very remote, isolated radio station in Maine. And he told me, one day they found a raft washed up on the beach, and it had Cyrillic writing on it. It was a Russian RAF, basically, the Russians that and what's funny to me is even back then people didn't believe that the Russians were surveilling our coast. And they were, they had submarines going up and down the East Coast and West Coast, listening in for radio signals, basically monitoring us. And probably making maps in case they wanted to do an invasion of how to, you know, what, what's the best beach to approach anyways, it was a Russian RAF that they had found. And no sign of the Russians just just the raft. Obviously, they got into some kind of distress, had to abandon the raft raft washed up on the beach. And my friend had been told, you're never to speak of this. You're not telling me about this. I found this raft. So anyway, I told the story to Alan. And we both thought, you know what, this is kind of a good basis. This is a good starting off point for. And let's have some kids find it. Okay, so some kids find a raft

Alex Ferrari 17:37
very, very nice, very nice.

Sheldon Lettich 17:41
And these kids are into 80s style, action. This is even this is really risky.

Alex Ferrari 17:52
One of us has come out like 8685

Sheldon Lettich 17:55
might have been right around then. I wrote it. I wrote it before Bloodsport. And and I even invited Van Damme to the first screening of rooskies which he came to and, and thought, you know what, I should have been that Russian guy in the movie, I would have done much better than him, which is true. I think designcrowd would have been better.

Alex Ferrari 18:19
I would, I would I would agree with you. I would agree. Right,

Sheldon Lettich 18:21
right. So these kids are into, like war comics. Sure. And they've got a hero named Sergeant slaughter. Oh, there was a wrestler who ended up calling himself Sergeant slaughter. So we couldn't use that by the time the movie got made, it got changed to sergeant slammer. But even so the kids are into these comic books. And so you know, they, they would like nothing better than to be war heroes to do something like capture a Russian Well, they find out about this, the raft, and then the Russian one Russian survives, actually, they all they all survived, but one of them ends up on the beach. And he takes refuge in a clubhouse that these kids have said that they've got a little little clubhouse on the beach. And so they find him and they they quote, capture him. Like, wow, we're real heroes. We just captured we just captured a Russian spy.

Alex Ferrari 19:25
Right, right. Right, right, right.

Unknown Speaker 19:26
Hang on, let me just hang that up. So that was pretty much the basis for it. And I have three kids. Yeah. And we ended up not only Joaquin Phoenix in it, but there's the blonde kid that was in those Oh, Christmas Christmas Story movie.

Alex Ferrari 19:45
Yeah, I forgot his name. But yeah,

Sheldon Lettich 19:47
I forgot a Peter Billingsley. Yes, he was I noticed that too. was now directing. He's directing like a lot of TV stuff.

Alex Ferrari 19:55
Yeah, he's a big TV director now. So I'm rooskies. So rooskies obviously gets you in the door. And I remember it being a moderate hit

Sheldon Lettich 20:04
it was not know what didn't do well actually didn't do all that well

Alex Ferrari 20:08
video I think it found its audience and video and cable more than any Yeah,

Sheldon Lettich 20:11
yeah, but it didn't really open any doors for me just like tracers did not really open any doors for me because it was this. It was this play. It was kind of an obscure play. I got great reviews, but it didn't open any doors for me.

Alex Ferrari 20:27
So then how in god's green earth did you come up with Bloodsport? Because and how did you get involved with Bloodsport? How did you meet john Claude? Because before we before you answer this question. I just want everybody to understand when you look at Bloodsport now everyone's like, Oh, that looks kind of like Oh, we've seen that 1000 times like but when Bloodsport came out, there was nothing ever really fresh. The only thing the only thing that's even remotely close to it and a much smaller level was entered the dragon and a much smaller level. But the concept of these character fighters, which sounds like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat,

Sheldon Lettich 21:04
we do it all based on blood for you

Alex Ferrari 21:06
all, you launched a billions and billion dollar industries off of this one movie, not to mention a young Belgium guy named Jean.

Sheldon Lettich 21:17
Alright, so um, so we'll, we'll skip ahead to Bloodsport. Yes. And so here's how I got to that. I wrote a screenplay called Firebase, which is basically you ever see Zulu?

Alex Ferrari 21:36
Yeah, I remember. Okay. I remember Zulu. Yeah.

Sheldon Lettich 21:38
Well, small group of British guys being besieged by 1000s, of Zulus in Africa. I saw this movie was really knocked out by it. And I came up with this idea of Firebase, which is kind of the same stories like a disparate group of Americans on this hilltop Firebase in South Vietnam, and they get attacked by hordes of Vietcong and North Vietnamese and have to fight them off. And it was a small group that was there were three different groups. There were Marines army, the army guys with the artillery guys on the on the hilltop with the artillery pieces, and then some Army Rangers and they all end up together, not that they're supposed to be together, they kind of get forced into the situation. And they all dislike one another at first. But then once they get attacked, then they start banding together. And it's basically teamwork against this, this invading Horde. So anyways, I wrote this screenplay. And and there were a lot of people that were very impressed with it. Including, actually had a meeting. Walter Hill and Joel Silver had read it. They liked it. And Walter Hill wanted to make it his next movie. So actually, I had a meeting with them about that it, it didn't happen simply because Walter Hill had a deal with Paramount. This is right after I think 48 hours, 48 hours, right after 48 hours. And so he brings on this big Vietnam War piece. And they basically said, Guys, come on, nobody wants to see a movie about Vietnam. This is all pre Platoon, of course,

Alex Ferrari 23:29
of course.

Sheldon Lettich 23:30
So it ended up not happening. But in the meanwhile, I had gotten myself an agent, based on somebody reading the script and saying, hey, you need an agent. And they got it to this guy, Harold Moskowitz. And Harold also represented this guy named Frank Dukes. And Frank had written a book that took place in Vietnam, called the last rainbow. And it was 1000 pages launch 1000 like this, you know, typewritten he had written this book. And Harold was thinking, you know, I could probably sell this book if I could cut it in half. So he got in touch with me and said, Look, I want you to read this book. And let me know if you'd be interested in editing it down. So it's only 500 pages. So I read the book, and I was kind of kind of impressed with it, it was pretty well written. Frank's actually not a bad writer, which is surprising fact about him. Actually shouldn't be surprising because he makes up so many stories. But anyways, I was impressed with the writing with the book. And he did a lot of research. So Frank used to tell people back then that he was a Vietnam veteran, he went all these medals. He was this war hero, all of which turned out to be complete bullshit, but he read a lot of he read books. He listened to stories from people. And he put this all together. And it sounded pretty authentic to me. And I'm I was actually in Vietnam myself as I'm reading this book, and I'm thinking, well, this sounds like this guy might have actually been there. So, um, I wanted to meet him. And I got his number from Harold. And we got together and we just kind of hit it off right away. And at the time, Frank had a couple of martial arts studios. He might have only had one at the time that I first met him. But he pretty much was telling people he made up this myth about himself that he was trained in the secret art of Ninjutsu. There was a he had a teacher, kind of like Mr. Miyagi and Karate Kid, whose name was tiger, Tanaka. Okay, Tiger. Tanaka, by the way, happens to be a character and the James Bond book called You Only Live Twice, but Frank borrowed the name. And so that was my teacher, and he was a descendant from, you know, like 40 generations of ninja. And he taught me personally, the secret art of Ninjutsu. So he had this martial arts dojo. And another thing that he would say he had this, he had some flyers for the school and he would say that he was the first Westerner to compete in this contest called the COVID. A.

Alex Ferrari 26:34
Is that a real Is that real or not?

Sheldon Lettich 26:37
Apparently, not. Apparently not. Oh, he was making all this shit up. Because, again, he did research he read books, there were books about Ninja, other martial arts magazines at the time, and no

Alex Ferrari 26:53
internet and no inner no Google or internet,

Sheldon Lettich 26:55
no internet to check up on this stuff. And there was a there was a movie called Enter the Dragon, which is basically it's not like not, not by any means. Is it the same story? Enter the Dragon is basically about cops infiltrating this island stronghold that's run by this drug lord, human trafficking, Lord. And I guess that's the dragon. We have to find a way to enter the dragon. We've got to take this guy down. That's what the story's about. It's not about a tournament, but he happens to have tournaments on his Island every so often. And one of these tournaments, an X, I believe, that's how Bruce Lee that's Bruce Lee's entree to the island is he's going there to participate in the tournament. So that's how we ended up with the tournament's anyways. So Frank had seen this movie, a lot of people have seen this movie, it was actually released. It's huge. And so Frank made up this whole story about this competition called the comity and Frank is got it. There's this psychological disturbance called the Walter Mitty syndrome. Or the Walter Mitty complex. This is a real thing. You can look it up on the internet. And there are psychiatrists that have studied this. And Walter Mitty. I don't know if you've ever heard of the film.

Alex Ferrari 28:29
Oh, yeah. The one was the one with Ben Stiller. Well, before that,

Sheldon Lettich 28:33
it was a short story, by James Thurber, very short story, that that was turned into a Danny Kaye movie. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Walter Mitty is basically that guy, just the ordinary guy, nerdy guy who makes up these fantastic stories, these heroic stories, and puts in cast himself as the main character in these stories. And that's what Danny Kaye was, was, was doing that, trying to impress the girls by saying, well, I did this, I did that. And I'm a war hero. I've it basically Frank did the same thing. He he was fixated on Vietnam, in particular, because it was happening when he was a teenager. And so he read everything he could on Vietnam, and then ended up making up stories about himself being in the Marine Corps, being sent to Vietnam actually being recruited into some kind of special program. He was a special forces guy, right? Yeah. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 29:42
I'm like, right. This is like you're blowing my mind. None of this is true.

Sheldon Lettich 29:47
No, no. It turns out that Frank is not the only one who makes up stories like this about his military heroics and their It's a phenomenon that's called Stolen Valor. Now back when I met Frank, that term did not exist. Some some people started doing research on this. Because, like, if you're a real veteran if you've really been in Vietnam, and then you find out that people are faking it and saying I want all these medals, oh, zero. Well, it really irks you. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 30:25
To say the least. Yeah.

Sheldon Lettich 30:27
So there's this book called Stolen Valor. I've got a copy of it here. And they they came up with this term, Solon valor. And Frank is even in the book. They even Frank is actually one of the people that they researched

Alex Ferrari 30:44
after Bloodsport came out and all that stuff. Oh,

Sheldon Lettich 30:48
I think it was Yes, it was after Bloodsport came out because they mentioned Bloodsport in the book.

Alex Ferrari 30:54
So okay, so, so then, so this is okay. So because I remember when Bloodsport came out. Is that that it was promoted as a true story? That was one of the biggest selling points of the film. You were like this. so surreal, like this really happened? I have to ask you. Before we get to john clot How the hell did this get passed? Like this was a warner brother. It was a Canon Really? It was a Canon production. For Warner Brothers. Yeah, but Warner brother released? No, no,

Sheldon Lettich 31:23
it was a Canon release. Canada had their own releasing company at the time. If I were okay,

Alex Ferrari 31:28
if I remember correctly, Warner Brothers was involved in some way shape or form with all these others. Maybe video maybe video video? Yeah, but the video

Sheldon Lettich 31:36
canon went bankrupt. They went belly up. And then Warner Brothers and I believe MGM rated their video library and they got the rights to a lot of their stuff. Right. Others picked up Bloodsport,

Alex Ferrari 31:51
got it. That's how I wrote it.

Sheldon Lettich 31:52
Now, there was an article. See, Frank was telling this these stories to everybody, including the editor of black belt magazine. Who bought into it? I'm talking Okay, now, I didn't know shit about the martial arts world. I had never I had not even seen into the dragon before I got involved with rank and Bloodsport. But he had, he shows me this article in black belt magazine. Okay, then no better authority. back then. But here's black belt magazine. And here's an article called qulity learning experience. And it's all about Frank Dukes. And don't belt magazine is saying that this has some validity to it. Who am I to say it's bullshit? Okay, I can't I can't do a Google search. All right. So I saw I didn't do it. This is

Alex Ferrari 32:48
like Catch Me If You Can the guy from Catch me if you can, like he's just telling us. He's just telling. He's just telling stuff. And he's getting it to at such a high level of artistry in this in this the BS that he's throwing out there, that he's got now proof from real, legitimate people. So now you got so all of these things are coming together. And I'm assuming you hear about this. And you can say I gotta write the script for this. Right? Is that how it goes?

Sheldon Lettich 33:13
Kind of? Basically, look, Frank told me lots of stories. Okay. Frank used to tell people that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics in Vietnam. Not just me, plenty of people. And so he would tell me stories. And he and some of this stuff was published in magazines. He got some of the stuff in the magazines about, about his various heroics, and how he won all these metals. There's a photograph of him. I cannot I could get you the book, actually, if you want to see there's a photograph of him wearing all these ribbons. He's, he's he's

Alex Ferrari 33:52
all the way in. He's all in. He is all in on this on this con. He is all in.

Sheldon Lettich 33:58
It's a con and he's a con man, basically. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 34:00
it's a con. I mean, this is a this is a really good look. Listen, listen, we all might exaggerate a story here or there in our lifetimes. And you're like, Oh, this or that. Fine. But this is this is a whole other level.

Sheldon Lettich 34:14
There's he invented a myth. A legend even calls himself the myth, the legend, the real Frank Dukes. And it's all bullshit. So um, oh my god. Yeah, yeah, it's pretty damn amazing. So

Alex Ferrari 34:28
the story so the story for Bloodsport, like did you make that story up? Or did you did Frank help you just come up with the story and you just want the script? How did that the creation of

Sheldon Lettich 34:38
frac see there's a difference between story and and, you know, the real like, facts information. I forgot what the term is right now for for what source material. It's called source according to the Writers Guild, their source material. Which is not the same as a story source material is the raw facts. Okay? Like, you know, Erin Brockovich will her story was source material. The movie Gandhi, Gandhi's life story. Sure, but Gandhi write this script. No, he didn't. But this is my true life story. Well, Frank was telling people, this is his true life story. So he'd been telling me all these tales about the Kuma day told me about and I read the article. I've got the article here. Yeah. I could, I could send it to you. If you need some. If you need some visuals to go along the article. I've got all this stuff on Frank. The Stolen Valor. Yeah, picture of him in the Marine Corps uniform and turns out so there are there are people that started a group, a couple of groups out there that do research into Stolen Valor, right, because they just got tired of hearing this shit. Okay, people lying about, about their credentials lying about people that were not even in the military saying that they were in the military and they won medals. Frank turns out once these people started doing their research, then I found out what was true about Frank because they they dug it, they got the military records from the government. And they published this stuff. And basically, Frank was in the Marine Corps reserves. So he actually was he went to Marine Corps boot camp, but that was about it. He was in the in the reserves, and he was a wireman, which means guy guy who climbs up on a pole and strings, communications wire. That's what he did is. Yeah, so he was never sent overseas. There was nothing in his military record about any kind of specialized training. Well, that's that's what

Alex Ferrari 36:59
they, but but Sheldon, that's what they want you to think. Obviously, it's all been it's all behind the scenes. It's been black, it's black. That's why you can't I can't show it to you because I wasn't it's secret. Don't you understand? Yeah.

Sheldon Lettich 37:14
The government is basically there. They've redacted everything. Government, government, they're gonna tell you that I'm lying. But I'm telling you. He wrote a book about himself. Oh, my God. Oh, secret, man.

Alex Ferrari 37:29
Of course we did. It's okay. It's okay. It's okay. Yeah. All right.

Alex Ferrari 0:06
first of all, it's all imbalance. Sure, sure. Got it. Got it. Yeah, yeah. Got it.

Sheldon Lettich 0:12
And Frank's not the only one in here.

Alex Ferrari 0:14
Oh, there's a pretty thick book, I'm assuming. Yeah, sure.

Sheldon Lettich 0:17
Yeah. There's a lot of people who are, who have been doing this, which is, I just could not conceive of it at the time. I just couldn't believe like, if somebody is gonna say that they were in the military, and they would lie about something like that. But here we go. Look, I don't know how well you can see

Alex Ferrari 0:37
the bottom one.

Sheldon Lettich 0:38
Yeah. And the top that's in his uniform metals. Okay. And the bottom one is one of his karate poses. Oh, my God. I don't know if it's got the the bit the Yeah. And there's just a trophy. Okay, he's posing with

Alex Ferrari 0:55
a Kuma Tae trophy.

Sheldon Lettich 0:57
Yes, yes, absolutely. Which

Alex Ferrari 1:01
doesn't exist from the

Sheldon Lettich 1:02
LA Times ended up doing a doing some research. And he found out that this is a trophy that he had made for himself at a local trophy shop in North Hollywood. And the guy hadn't got had the receipt for the money that prank paid for now, here's his book. Okay. And American warriors uncensored story he was the CIA's finest covert. operative. Okay, here's here's the back of it.

Alex Ferrari 1:31
Is this is pure con man.

Sheldon Lettich 1:35
Oh, wow.

Alex Ferrari 1:36
This is I mean, this is pure pure con man. Yeah, this is it. This is not even just telling stories. You've written a book of lies. You've taken pictures, you falsify stuff. I mean, this is a pure, this is a sickness, this is an illness. This is Catch

Sheldon Lettich 1:51
me if you can.

Alex Ferrari 1:53
Alright, so alright, so we have a minute. So we established that he's an absolute crazy person, but out of this insanity comes in these action classic. Now, how did junk Claude get involved with you and Bloodsport because essentially, if I remember correctly, I because i'm john Klein. I follow jumpcloud very, very well, when I was he was just at that time. So right, no retreat, no surrender, I think was his first appearance. Black Eagle. I remember was right, that and then came Bloodsport.

Sheldon Lettich 2:27
And I want to give you that. I'm gonna give you the backstory and the chronology here. Okay. Okay. Because there was no john clot involved. Early on, basically, Frank had been telling me all these stories forever. And one day, we're driving in my car. And he's telling me about the coupe. And he says, Well, we had a nickname for it, because it was very bloody because it was no holds barred. There'd be blood all over the map. So we actually mean the other fighter, we call it Bloodsport, and like, Bloodsport. Whoa, that's a great title for a movie.

Alex Ferrari 3:03
He came up with a

Sheldon Lettich 3:05
you know what, Frank? Come to think of it. On the stories you've been telling me about the Kuma tain the article and black belt magazine. That's a movie, that's a movie, we should sit down and write this. And we never did. We did not sit down and write it. Okay. But we talked about it. And, and so now I had a title, Bloodsport. So, many months later, I'm editing this short film that I made, which is a whole other story. But I took one of the there was one scene that I wrote for Tracers, that was a bit too big to put on a stage. Right. So director decided, yeah, we can't use this one. Well, I really like the story. So later on, I decided you know what, I'm gonna make a short movie, and basically use that story and some of the dialogue. So I made this little movie called firefight. And it's in 16 millimeter shot at Camp Pendleton. This is something I I totally put together and actually got Frank Dukes actually plays one of the characters in it because Frank saw himself as an actor, he thought he he thought he had the chops, movie star,

Alex Ferrari 4:28
right. So you so you're editing the short,

Sheldon Lettich 4:31
I'm editing the short and some very low budget post production house in Hollywood. And next door to me. A guy named Mark the cell has got an editor working on one of his little films, which were porno films, Mark was producing porno films at the time. And so I got to talking with his editor and told me I'm a writer, and this is a little movie that I wrote and directed. And tell me one day Hey, my boss Mark wants to take take you out to lunch and talk about a movie project that he wants to have written. So Fine. So I meet mark, we go to lunch nearby. And Mark has this theory about movies that everything runs in cycles. So, you know, there's a cycle of science fiction movies, lots of them get made, and nobody makes any of them. There's horror movies, lots of them get made, nobody makes it. Well, same is true for martial arts movies. And there haven't been any martial arts movies made lately. And so I want to do a martial arts movie, I want to put a martial arts movie together. And the story he pitched to me was called kickboxer. Okay. So this is like the very early version of kickboxer you know, kick the story of

Alex Ferrari 5:47
course, yeah, of course,

Sheldon Lettich 5:49
does not have a brother in the story that mark first pitched me. But Tom, yeah, Tom, he defeats tonko in a fight back in the US, and tonko wants to get vengeance. So he goes, he sneaks into Kurt's house at night and throws a kick at Kurt, but Kurt, either ducks or for some reason he doesn't get hit, but his mother comes walking behind tonko kicks his mother in the head and kills his mother. That's okay.

Alex Ferrari 6:21
That's a rough visual, even for the 80s even for the 80s. That's a resolution

Sheldon Lettich 6:26
that was marked. That was Mark's idea kickboxer. Sure. And so I listen to this and I think okay, well, this is kind of lame, but I've got something much better as I said, Mark, look, I got a better idea for martial arts movie. It's called Bloodsport, well, Bloodsport. Wow, is that a great title? So I tell him about what I tell him about Frank Dukes. I am the Kuma Tay and this this it's a true story based on this guy going you know, the first Westerner to participate in it and when and and the guy lives right here in LA if you'd like to meet him I can set up a meeting and we can talk about this further. So that's that was the next step basically introduced Frank Dukes to mark the sell. Mark sells liking all this. And I think I at this point, I had already been hired to write Rambo three. So he knew I was writing Rambo three. So that was that was kind of a feather in my cap. And so he's thinking well, is this guy's working on Rambo? Three, you must be a good writer. Anyways, Mark makes a deal with both of us. And we signed contracts and he hires me to write Bloodsport, and he makes another contract with Frank for the rights to his quote, true life story. Okay. And this is all memorialized on paper in contracts. Okay. And so I ended up writing the script for Mark. And Mark gets the script over to canon films. It's a long kind of a long story. But basically, he got it the canon. Canada was doing really good with karate movies at the time they were doing those ninja movies, they're doing Chuck Norris movies. Oh, here's another martial arts movies called Bloodsport great title, based on a true story. That's pretty cool. We can use that in the advertising. So canon ends up financing this film, we're making a deal with Mark. And then we had no star we had no actor we, I wrote the script. For mark, we had no actor in mind. We just knew this is a cool idea. It's a great title. It's you know, based on a true story. So now, we had to find somebody to play this character, Frank Dukes, who would have been in his 20s at the time and a number. I wouldn't say a number there were not many names that you could plug into that role. We talked about, like Chuck Norris, his name was mentioned. But Chuck was, I think, in his 50s at the time, right for the 50s. It was too old to play this character. And I think Canada was already working with Michael Dukakis at the time. But Michael Dukakis was not a martial artist.

Alex Ferrari 9:26
He's an actor.

Sheldon Lettich 9:26
He was an actor. And they basically faked it with Michael Dudek off and and we're all thinking that we need a real martial artist for this movie to make it believable. And then there's the famous story about john Claude. Apparently this is true. I've heard it repeated a number of times exactly the same way and from john clot himself, john clot and from Michelle Casey, his buddy, who was there with them, but john clot had gone to the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years early. And he was basically going from office to office saying, Hey, I'm john Claude Van Damme, I'm gonna be a big star you should sign me. And Menaka was one of the people he that he saw. And so he's, he and Michelle are driving on La Cienega Boulevard. And john plus says, hey, look, there's manakin Go on. He was coming out of a restaurant. Do a quick U turn. You pull up right in front of Malacca. And john Klug goes up to and says, Hey, Menaka remember me john Claude Van Damme. And he does one of his kicks. Basically, he used to do this to everybody, he would throw a kick at your face and miss your nose by two inches. And he did that to monogame. And manakin, just happened to be looking for an actor back Dukes in Bloodsport. And he, he gives john Claude his card and says you'll come to my office tomorrow. And they used to have an office on Sandra sente in that wheelchair. And john Claude goes there the next day, and manakin gives them the Bloodsport script. And

Alex Ferrari 11:15
the rest of the rest is history.

Sheldon Lettich 11:17
Yes, what

Alex Ferrari 11:19
if I remember if I remember, in my Jean-claude, I remember seeing john Claude in a little film called break in as an extra in the background. And it's a Canon film that was a Canon film.

Sheldon Lettich 11:33
He was just an extra he didn't know who the hell he was.

Alex Ferrari 11:37
He was just an extra all of a sudden, like you're watching this like years later, you're watching break in. And you just go is that? Is that Jean-Claude on dumps dancing in the back. And it was

Sheldon Lettich 11:50
wait. So there's another movie we have to insert here. Yeah, cuz it just so happened that at the time all of this was going on. We're looking for an actor. No retreat, no surrender, right in LA. And Mark calls me and Frank and says, Hey, looks like we might be making this movie with canon. And there's this young actor that I want you guys to take a look at. His name is Jean Claude Van Damme. And let me know what's your thing. Okay. So Frank, and I go to see no retreat, no surrender in North Hollywood, I believe. And we're blown away. We thought he was fantastic. Well, he's

Alex Ferrari 12:33
the best part of that movie. No question. Absolute No, no question. No question.

Sheldon Lettich 12:38
Right. So we call him mark. And we give them a ringing endorsement. Like, yeah, this guy's perfect. And next thing we know they're getting getting a director and they're scouting. Hong Kong. They had to deal Malcolm had to deal with a Hong Kong producer and Charlie Wang, who had a production company in Hong Kong and had all the cameras everything you needed. Yeah. And so they basically this is supposed to be a very low budget film. I think the budget was like 1.1 million Jesus. And so yeah, one thing led to another and

Alex Ferrari 13:17
there is

Sheldon Lettich 13:18
a new new Donald was hired to direct it. And newt was a second unit, not second unit director. He was a first ad is a very well known first ad. In fact, I believe he was the first ad on Blade Runner, and in some other very famous movies, but he's never directed anything. And he had, he had saved one of canons movies, they were having trouble with one of their movies. I guess they had to replace the director. So they ended up using newt to be like the ghost director for this movie. And manakin was kind of impressed with them. And he said, Look, because you're doing such a good job for me if you keep on doing doing a good job. I'm going to give you a movie to direct. So I got Bloodsport and manakin gives it to new Donald and,

Alex Ferrari 14:05
and the rest is history. Now, so Bloodsport I remember comes out I don't remember seeing it in the theater. I think there was the theatrical for it.

Sheldon Lettich 14:14
Well, I got a whole story for that. Because my mom hated the movie. Now the very first time was really bad. All right, I saw the first cut with john Claude and Frank Dukes and we were we were depressed. They had I think, Carl Kress was the editor at the time. And, and he just didn't know how to cut a movie like this. He was like an old old time Hollywood guy, hollywood editor, and didn't know how to do the cuts really didn't didn't get a movie like this at all. So the movie was terrible. manakin thought it was terrible. And somehow manakin got convinced that they should bring another editor And I can't remember the guys name now, but they did bring out another editor who completely ripped it apart, put it back together again and turn it into a turn it into what?

Alex Ferrari 15:12
Classic as they selected as a classic as this.

Sheldon Lettich 15:15
And the verse, the first version that we saw did not have the music. This got some pretty cool music.

Alex Ferrari 15:21
I love that soundtrack.

Sheldon Lettich 15:22
soundtrack. And so it had none of that. And, and suddenly, it's a much better movie, right? But Menaka was still, he was still remembering that first version. And he did not want to release this in theaters. We're talking about, like the mid 80s. Like everything got released in theaters back then. All right. He didn't go straight to VHS, and anything unless it was a real stinker. And manakin thought this is a real stinker. And I'll tell you how I know this from firsthand experience. Because at the time I was, I've been writing a number of scripts for an actor named Leon Isaac Kennedy. You remember early on by any chance they don't start in a couple of blaxploitation films called penitentiary. Okay. And then monogame I think produced penitentiary, too. And then he ended up doing another movie with Leon for Canon, called body and soul is a remake of an old john Garfield movie. So monogame new new Leon and Leon co starred in a chuck norris movie called lone wolf McQuade great movie. Hey, Leon was the black guy in lone wolf McQuade

Alex Ferrari 16:41
got it.

Sheldon Lettich 16:42
And that movie did fairly well. And Leon thought they should do a sequel, you know, because my character would come back and sequel. So I think Chuck wanted to do a sequel also. But the sequel wasn't happening. So Leon had me write a script that was going to be a sequel to loan with liquid except we had a different title to it. And it was going to be very much like low grade as a white guy who was the lead role, and Leon was the CO lead. Leon's character was the CO lead. So I wrote the script. And Leon gets it to Menaka in Canada. And Menachem likes the script. Leon said that I was interested in directing and manakin was gonna, he was gonna let me direct the movie, in fact, because I made this little film firefight, which I blew up the 35 millimeter look pretty impressive movie. Someone awful saw that and decided he was gonna give me a chance. So they were gonna hire me to direct this it was called strikers. For us. That was the name of the script. And we Chuck Norris did not want to do it. So Leon, I introduced john Claude to Leon, Isaac Kennedy, they hit it off. And Matt and I both thought, Well, hey, this guy john Claude should be your your co lead in strikers force. And john Claude has gotten a three picture deal with cannon films. And you've got to deal with cannon films. So Leon decides, I'm going to just take the straight of an outcome and tell them let's do this movie. Can they want us to do the movie and not want to do the movie with me directing. And let's suggest to him that john Claude Van Damme should be the CO lead. So we go, we go to his office, and he says, his term for Van Damme he thought he thought Bloodsport was terrible. He tell it basically tell me this to my face is a terrible movie. I'm not going to embarrass myself by releasing it in theaters. We're going to go straight to video. And well, what about john Claude Van Damme, you got a three picture deal with him, Van Damme, and that was poison. He called them poison. He thought he thought john was a terrible actor. And he said, Look, I want this movie to be successful. So I'm gonna give you a real movie star. You're gonna have a real movie star in the lead role. And that's Michael do to call on DOM is poison Michael do the COP is a movie star. So anyways, I gave john Claude the bad news and he was very upset about this

Alex Ferrari 19:33
is pre release of Bloodsport,

Sheldon Lettich 19:35
correct pre release. Nobody knew who the hell was vandam guy was. And anyways, so I'm had a meeting with Michael Dudek off about this project. He didn't like the script ended up going nowhere.

Alex Ferrari 19:55

Sheldon Lettich 19:57
And. so Buddy at at canon we had the new editors name was Michael J. Duffy, by the way. And Michael is ended up Michael six movies for Canon. They brought him in to fix movies that were that were a mess. I was like a, like a film doctor basically. And he recut a few other films. So they brought him in to try and save Bloodsport, and he did he saved Bloodsport big time. And somebody at canon decided, you know what? People are kind of liking the movie. We should maybe give it a chance. Why don't we try releasing it just on the West Coast? You know, California, Oregon and Washington. Let's give it a test. A test run. I think I might have done 25 prints. And so they tried that. And it did really well. Because the title threw people in the poster based on a true story. The movie did well and then they decided well, okay, let's roll it out. nationwide. And they opened it nationwide. And it's funny I made a bet with Milan fortunately. Fortunately for him he didn't put any money down on it. But his big movie at the time when we were having we had this meeting in his office was missing an action three missing an action three Chuck Norris and they changed the title so not it was Braddock missing action three like I did with Rambo, right? Right. Right right. First Blood now it's Rambo First Blood too. So I decided to use the same tactic and he figured, okay, this, this, this one's gonna explode. This is gonna do it's gonna be huge business. And I told him to his face, okay, but nah, come if you release, Bloodsport in theaters, it's gonna do better than missing an action three. And he laughed. He said, you're you're draining my friend.

Alex Ferrari 22:08
To do impression of him. By the way, it's very good impression. It's a good question.

Sheldon Lettich 22:11
I knew Menaka well had many meetings with him. But I've worked. We worked with a number of Israeli producers actually. manakin successor was really Avi Lerner. It's not as as big and as theatrical. He's not big in theatrical at all. He's very low key. But Milan was very big theatrical. You know, like the zero muscadelle. And so they they ended up releasing it nationwide. And it did really well. It was I think it was canons, highest grossing movie of the year. And we're not talking about a huge numbers, but this is back in the 80s.

Alex Ferrari 22:50
If it made like 567 million bucks. That's a huge,

Sheldon Lettich 22:54
I think was even more than that. Yeah, that's huge. They were really impressed. And

Alex Ferrari 23:02
then it really found it out. I mean, once it hit video, it was a perfect time it was when that video dropped, it was in the I was talking I think was 8687 I think somewhere around world when it dropped because I couldn't keep it in the store. At the video store. I was working I worked at a mom and pop video store. There was just we had to keep getting copies of it, because people would rent it all the time. So we were like what should we watch? We just like go watch Bloodsport or watch bloodwork. And it was a constant. So I know it found a massive audience. So it hit like at the at the when when video VHS was starting to take off, Bloodsport shows up and it's just kind of like when Terminator showed up with HBO. And it was just timing situations that just worked out and exploded.

Sheldon Lettich 23:43
And well in the theaters. Because

Alex Ferrari 23:44

Sheldon Lettich 23:45
I give you a little anecdote. Jeann Claude was living in this apartment on Riverside Drive at the time. I went there with him many times. And he had an answering machine. You know, we had answering machines back and it would beep once for every call that he had missed. Okay, so, you know, we come back we hear you know, beep beep Okay, I missed two calls. I listened to him. We come back after Bloodsport and open in theaters, right. We come back to the apartment. And there's a there's a limit of 50 messages, right 850 times and then basically reset itself. There were 50 messages on his answering machine. People were calling him from all over the country all over the world to congratulate him because it did make it did make kind of a splash when it first opened in theaters. I remember at the time watching I was watching something on TV. Somebody was following are following the Lakers around like a small group of LA Lakers. And they're walking by a movie theater. Hey, let's go see a movie. What are you Want to see? Let's check out Bloodsport. Okay. They see the title Bloodsport. And they went they went to see a Bloodsport. But people were the poster was pretty cool.

Alex Ferrari 25:09
I remember the poster. It's

Sheldon Lettich 25:11
awesome post. able to do. You do? Yeah, I'll put up. There was great. The, the post in there, we had newspaper ads and everything. There actually was a we actually had a little premiere on Hollywood Boulevard that john Claude went to and Forrest Whitaker was there, too.

Alex Ferrari 25:32
I forgot. Yes, of course. Yes. The Oscar Oscar, another Oscar winner that we're gonna find

Sheldon Lettich 25:37
somebody at the time. Yeah. And I remember seeing him at the theater and going up from hate. For us. You're terrific in the movie. I'm the writer, by the way, and we were talking for a little while. But they had a premiere. And I have photographs of this, which I could send you. You probably want to put them up on the screen. Sure, sure. But it was they ran ads in the newspapers. At john Claude Van Damme will be there in person, you know, based on true story, starring world kickboxing champion john Claude Van Damme. And there was a big crowd. I have photographs with a big crowd showed up for the movie. And they gave away posters, maybe 50 people, I have photos of him signing the posters. But people were just they were attracted by the poster that was in the newspapers. And it opened in I think two theaters, and one was on Hollywood Boulevard. Yeah, the Chinese crowd. We had a crowd that theater was packed. So

Alex Ferrari 26:44
it's so it's so remarkable, the whole story of Bloodsport, how that came about. And then that basically launches john Claude into the stratosphere. But before we go into, because we might want to talk a little bit about Cyborg in your involvement with that and, and Rambo. There's a story that Boaz was yankin who's on my other show, bulletproof screenwriting your cane, by the way, you can't I'm sorry, you can't sorry. But he told me to say that Boaz, please forgive me. Boise Keene. He was a guest on my other show. He told me the story of how you guys have some sort of history with Mr. Tarantino. How did you were you involved in that? Yeah.

Sheldon Lettich 27:28
I'm going to introduce Quentin to Scott Spiegel. From the Lawrence bender right. See movie Lionheart. Okay. Yeah. Because this

Alex Ferrari 27:39
Lawrence Lawrence is in Lionheart.

Sheldon Lettich 27:41
Yeah, yeah, both of them are. We had a whole circle of friends at the time. Right, right, including Sam Raimi and Sam was at that first screening of Bloodsport, by the way to see Sam ended up doing at least a couple of movies with john claw. They did that he was involved with time cop and hard target.

Alex Ferrari 28:00
Universal Sure, yeah.

Sheldon Lettich 28:03
I introduced john Claude to Sam Raimi and Sam was immediately impressed with them. But yeah, we had a whole circle of friends at the time, which included Sam and Bruce Campbell. And you know, some of these Detroit guys, another people I met in LA like Boaz, I met Boaz through a completely different source. And we all used to used to hang out together. So I was prepping, Lionheart, that Imperial entertainment. And Quentin, who worked in video stores just like you many years ago, yes. When I was hired by Imperial to call video stores all over the country, to sell them their product to basically get them to buy, you know, like, Hey, come on, you want five copies of ninja versus zombie, don't you?

Alex Ferrari 28:52
And that was the thing for people not done and understood. I understand because I worked at a video store. But back then, there was hustlers on the phone trying to get you to buy more copies. And this is before sell through. Like before 1995 movies. They were still like at 79 or $99 a tape or something like that, or $79 a day expensive.

So you were like trying to get them you were trying to get my mom and pop or not my personal mama Papa, but the owner of my video store to purchase that

Sheldon Lettich 29:21
guarantee. No.

Alex Ferrari 29:23
So he was a telemarketer. So quintard Tina was a telemarketer at that time, essentially.

Sheldon Lettich 29:28
Yeah. And yeah, in my little works. My Workspace was right across from where Quentin's workspace was. And Quentin comes up to me one day, and just bubbling with enthusiasm. He's always bubbling with enthusiasm.

Alex Ferrari 29:47
Yo, yeah.

Sheldon Lettich 29:48
You're Sheldon, manage you. You co wrote Thou shalt not kill except right. Yeah, it wasn't joking though. He was it was like he knew it. He knew it like you. You co wrote Citizen Kane didn't Anyways, he was he was really jazzed about that. So we talked a little bit and I realized that he was he was just a fount of trivia. He just knew all this trivia about every movie ever made. And, and my buddy Scott Spiegel is pretty much the same. Scott. Scott actually co wrote a movie with Boaz. They co wrote the rookie, and Scott co wrote, Evil Dead two is basically one of the Detroit guys he used to hang out with Sam and Bruce and all those guys. And so I tell Quentin, you know what, you really need to meet a friend of mine, Scott Spiegel. He says, well, Scott Spiegel and starts rattling off Scott's vehicles credits like, well, Evil Dead to Scott Spiegel. He was really excited. So I gave him Scott's phone number and the two of them, they hit it off. Right away. And Scotty had been directing a low budget movie that Lawrence bender was producing at the time called intruder. Yes, yes. Which Sam Raimi was in playing the butcher in this grocery store. And so that's how, that's how he met Lawrence. Lawrence was a friend of mine at the time, too, because I also I cast Lawrence and Scotty in Lionheart, Lauren says the Lawrence has a very memorable role. Is this heckler? at one of the fights? I remember

Alex Ferrari 31:33
he's in the trailer. He's in the trailer.

Sheldon Lettich 31:34
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I've been and I've been auditioning actors to play. You know, the New York heckler. I just couldn't find anybody who I was really happy with. And I thought, you know what, Lawrence? Lawrence would be perfect to playing this this guy. So I gave him a call. At the time he was living in some small apartment over in, like a Miracle Mile area. And, you know, kind of living paycheck to paycheck. So, yeah, he's more than happy. He rushes down to do an audition does an audition, and I cast him in the movie. And he was doing such a good job of heckling john Claude. When we were shooting, that with cameras rolling. JOHN Claude walks over to him and Lawrence, you know, he's a trained actor. So he stayed in the moment. JOHN Claus stayed in the moment. And Sean cloud walks over and grabs Lawrence by his shirt. Yanks. You and me right now. And Lawrence. Lawrence did not break character. He stayed with it. And then the Harrison page comes in and separates the two of you don't do that. So that was Lawrence's role in the film. And, and yeah, like you said, they even use it in the trailer was a really good little moment. So I was hanging out with these guys at the time, and, and a lot of them have moved on to become some pretty prominent names and

Alex Ferrari 33:10
they've done okay, they don't okay for themselves. They don't Okay, so that's so so Quinn is next to you. telemarketing, you introduce them to Scott Scott eventually introduced him to Lauren Bender, and then the rest is history as far as quitting as Lauren's equipment go.

Sheldon Lettich 33:23
Right, right. Yeah. Yeah. Well, basically, Quintin showed Lawrence, his script

Alex Ferrari 33:30
for reservoir reservoir.

Sheldon Lettich 33:33
Actually, Lawrence, I told you about this project strikers for us. I was gonna do a cannon to Lawrence was gonna produce that. Once he even did I even have a budget that he put together for it. So yeah, Lawrence and I, we know, we were good buddies at the time. And he certainly got on to do some pretty damn amazing projects.

Alex Ferrari 33:54
He did okay for himself. But both of them both of them did. Okay. It's okay. But it's so fascinating to listen to the stories because I've, I've, I mean, I've started quitting. Like every other filmmaker of my generation and every generation studies like his lore and how it comes came up and everything. I have never heard that story. I have never heard the story of when he was a telemarketer, you know, up selling VHS is copies to video stores around the country. Right? Right. I never heard that story in all the things I've heard or read about that.

Sheldon Lettich 34:24
I have told it to a few people and I've written about it a few times. Sure.

Alex Ferrari 34:27
I'm sure it's out there. I just never heard about it. So it was it's it's very fairly fascinating. And I heard about a new intruder thing and Lawrence bender and how that combination and quitting didn't want even make reservoir for a million dollars. Like I'm gonna just go do it for 50 or 60,000.

Sheldon Lettich 34:41
There's actually yeah, there was. There was a very low budget producer named David prior. When there was Dave and he had a brother, and the brother was a preacher. I forgot the name of their company, but it was like ultra ultra A budget and, and the brother The one who ran the company. I have to look look up his name now but he was actually he's previously been a dancer. And he was one of the jets in West Side Story and the movie West Side Story. Yeah, that's right when you're a jet, you're a jet. Oh, he was one of them. So he, he wanted to make a very low budget movie with me at the time. Because of the Rambo three connection. And the budget was ridiculous, you know, like $50,000. And I told him, Look, I don't think I could do this. But he says, you have any friends that have got scripts that we could make something we can do on a low budget? in one location. This friend named Quentin Tarantino, and he's got the script call Reservoir Dogs all takes place in one location. What can we as number we call, sweet he does call Quentin Quentin comes in. I think Quentin mate and Lawrence maybe both came in to meet with him. And he said, yeah, we want to we'll do this movie. We'll do Reservoir Dogs, though your budgets going to be $50,000. And fortunately, they turned that down. And they actually they were actually getting ready to shoot Reservoir Dogs on their own. And super eight.

Alex Ferrari 36:31
That would have been an interesting film.

Sheldon Lettich 36:33
Well, I I went over to Lawrence's apartment and Lawrence are both there. And they're they're crunching numbers. They're putting together a budget. And they said, Yeah, we're gonna, we're gonna shoot Reservoir Dogs one way or another. And right now we're putting together the super eight budget. They're going to shoot it in Super eight for like, I don't know, they're, like $50,000 or something. Because that's right. Quentin had gotten a bump. By selling right to Sammy had diva. And so now he had like, $50,000 that was burning a hole in his pocket. He said, I'm gonna use a 58. Lawrence, we're gonna make Reservoir Dogs. With that, $50,000 we're gonna put it all into the movie. So I don't know if you've heard that one before.

Alex Ferrari 37:26
Yeah, yeah, I've heard that one. And then Lawrence was like, yeah, Lawrence is like, Hey, listen, just give me like a month to go find some money. And yeah, yes. Renee got Harvey involved and as the rest they say is, is history. Fascinating. Fascinating little side note.

Sheldon Lettich 37:41
Prior to Harvey though, they got they got it was I think it was called live entertainment. Anyway, it was it was live. I believe a woman named Ruth Vitaliy was running it at the time. And the reason that they got involved was because Lawrence got Harvey Keitel interested. Lawrence new some. An editor who was also director. I forgot the guy. I'm blanking on his name right now. But this guy knew Harvey Keitel. Anyway, he read Lawrence's he read Cretan script. And said, when I get this to my buddy, Harvey Keitel, I think he might want to play one of the roles in this. And sure enough, Harvey liked it. He wanted to play I guess his character was in movie was Mr. White, I believe. Yeah, it was Yes. Okay. So basically said, You know, I like this. I'd love to play Mr. White. And so now they've got Harvey Keitel wanting to be in the movie so so basically I think it was I think Ruth vitality was an executive at live at the time. I think live spot they spun off and Carol colors. I

Alex Ferrari 38:55
think it was something like that, because I remember that again. Video Store icon along with that VHS

Sheldon Lettich 39:01
live did the video releases for Carol go?

Alex Ferrari 39:05
Correct? Because they did Terminator two and a couple other ones about that one at that time.

Sheldon Lettich 39:09
So anyways, now once and Clinton had Harvey Keitel wanting to be in the movie. So suddenly they're realizing Okay, we got we got something we can release some video here because Harvey Keitel got his name above the title. So we got a big star we got Harvey cartel and then one thing led to another and then they ended up getting enough money to to shoot. I think the budget was about a million dollars

Alex Ferrari 39:41
or something like that.

Sheldon Lettich 39:43
And, and they discovered all these people like Steve Buscemi.

Alex Ferrari 39:48
Michael Madsen, Michael Mads Tim Ross.

Sheldon Lettich 39:52
Yeah, I think Lauren's new Virginia Madsen. Okay, sister, and that's an I think she's the one that said hey, can you put my brother Michael on this thing

Alex Ferrari 40:02
crisp crisp pen like it was Yeah, it was it was a remarkable remarkable but thank you for that a little side note on on your your connection with Mr. Tarantino because that that I wanted to hear from your mouth because Boaz told me a little bit about it but you you elaborate it a bit more so thank you for that.

Sheldon Lettich 40:19
Yeah I'm gonna hook up guy I've actually hooked up a lot of people

Alex Ferrari 40:25
Good for you. That's awesome. Hey, you know that's what it's all I always try to in when I when I have if I have the ability to help somebody I try to if I can if I can at all. Now you wrote you wrote Rambo three with Sly and I just got it you know, and I have sly on my shirt here from first blood.

Sheldon Lettich 40:46
To get to that we

Alex Ferrari 40:47
have from first blood obviously. And first blood is a masterpiece and then Rambo two was, I mean, it was a sensation.

Sheldon Lettich 40:55
I love Rambo

Alex Ferrari 40:56
sensation, written co written by a Mr. Jimmy Cameron. At the time. This is pre I think this is pre aliens after Terminator, but he's pre aliens for that when he wrote. So turmeric. I mean, Rambo two was amazing. So you're now tasked to write a sequel to an extremely popular film, which is Rambo three, what is it like work? Because I mean, at that point, you know, sly, sly, like he is at the height of his power at that point.

Sheldon Lettich 41:22
He was the number one

Alex Ferrari 41:24
star in the world. And the way he was the guy in the world is at the height of his power. And you're you're tasked to work with him. What was that experience? Right writing Rambo three with him?

Sheldon Lettich 41:38
Well, let me tell you how I got the gig. First of all. I told you about my script, Firebase, my Vietnam based? Yeah, a version of Zulu. So Salaam is looking for somebody to write Rambo three with them. So put the word out to agents. My agent sends him Firebase. He loved Firebase calls me in and he wants to actually make Firebase. So he's another guy that wanted to make Firebase. So make this movie one of these days. Now's not the time. Vietnam still kind of a taboo subject, but I'm going to make this thing. And they would have been perfect in it. So based upon that, and the fact that I was also a Vietnam veteran, like the real deal, not Frank

Alex Ferrari 42:31
Duke style, but like a real deal.

Sheldon Lettich 42:33
Like the real deal. Yeah. actually got a DD 214 that says, you know, certain Vietnam from this date to this date, right? So he thought that that would be a good qualification for a co writer for a Rambo film. And turns out that it was so I did my research on Afghanistan, the war over there, at least I used to read was a magazine called Soldier of Fortune at the time, that was constantly doing articles about Afghanistan and the CIA and Afghanistan. This stuff was pretty much under the radar with the well, we'll call the mainstream media, new term now, you didn't read much about it. But souls your fortune was all over it. And they were doing interviews with actual Mujahideen. So they had a lot of the background information that I needed to write this thing. And another thing about my first meeting with Stallone, we were both on the same page as far as where Rambo three was supposed to take place. Get Rambo to Southeast Asia. Rambo three. Well, what's what's going on in the world right now that Rambo would want to get involved with or that Rambo? What? Where is there a conflict with Americans and Russians? Because Russians were also the bad guy and bad guys in Rambo, too. So Americans versus Russians, foreign country Warzone? Perfect, yes, that was the only thing that made any kind of sense at all. And Stallone and I both had the exact same idea we both wanted, wanted to take place in Afghanistan. And the idea was that Troutman goes in first. Now, here's where Stallone and I differ and I gave him my perspective on it and he agreed with me. So he, you know, look these big action stars like stone, they got an ego, but Stallone's ego is not so big that he would reject a good idea. And his first notion was, so Trotman is going on a mission because the CIA did used to send Americans over Were there to sell Stinger missiles. Stinger was a ground to air missile that could shoot on a helicopter. So, so Trump has gone over there. And and basically the idea was that Rambo goes to Afghanistan as well, somehow connected to Troutman Stallone's idea was when traveling comes to him and says, Hey, I'm going to Afghanistan, Johnny, when you come come to help me. Well, let me just go get my gear. So basically Rambo's off, he's just on board from the from the get go. And I felt that sounds very wrong to me. Because RAM is the baddest badass in the world,

Alex Ferrari 45:41

Sheldon Lettich 45:42
but he's seen too much too much war, too much death, too much destruction. He's, he's done with that shit. He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to go to war zone. He doesn't want to want to kill anybody else.

Alex Ferrari 45:55
It has to be the reluctant it has to be the reluctant hero you have to.

Sheldon Lettich 45:59
And that's, that's one thing that's so appealing about the Rambo character is that he's the baddest motherfucker in the world but doesn't want to get involved doesn't want to fight

Alex Ferrari 46:10
because he's, he's, he's done too much.

Sheldon Lettich 46:12
And to use an expression that we used a lot back in the 80s until he was pushed too far.

Alex Ferrari 46:22
In a world where water is wet and ice is cold state that was live was used so much in every ad like

Sheldon Lettich 46:33
absolutely was pushed too far. For Rambo for Yeah, he doesn't. He doesn't want to go he wants to stay in his monastery in Thailand. But yeah, he's pursuing the peaceful path until he was pushed too far. So traveling goes and traveling gets captured and now Rambo is feeling guilty. Okay, because Troutman asked him for help. And he didn't go. He's pulled it because of his, his wimpy reasoning like, my war is over. Sam, I can't go with you. I've had enough of this shit. So now he's guilty. All right. Now his buddy. Troutman. his mentor. Troutman does everything, but he's been captured by the evil empire in Afghanistan. And the CIA is not going to send anybody in to rescue they can't, you know, because of politics. So the CIA guy, Kurt woodsmith, is the guy comes to Rambo and says, Hey, we just want you to know, we know where Troutman is. We can't do anything about it. We're just letting you know in case you want to go rescue your buddy. So that's that's became the basis for the story. Very, very cool.

Alex Ferrari 47:53
And and then when we work with someone like sly must have been, you know, wonderful. And the movie came out. I remember when the movie came out. It was it was it wasn't as big of a hit as first blood.

Sheldon Lettich 48:04
But it took it gets station period was way too long between the two movies. We know just from the time that Salone decided he wanted to do Rambo three, and Afghanistan until the movie came out. Because there were a lot of roadblocks along the way that sly was one of them. He started becoming nervous about Afghanistan, because it was now it started. It started going into the new cycle. everyday people were hearing about Afghanistan. There are negative things being said about Americans getting involved about the CIA, giving Stinger missiles to the to the Mujahideen and it's it started sounding like a hot potato to him. And he decided to back off. There was another storyline we came up with it took place in Siberia, okay of all places. An American pilot gets shot down in Siberia. Rambo goes to rescue him. He crosses the Bering Strait. And there's Russians that are after this guy. He hasn't been captured yet, but he's shot down. So there's Russian bad guys again, Rambo has to fight off the Russian bad guys gets in the safety. And it was kind of kind of based on a book. I forgot who wrote it now. I think it might have been a Louis L'Amour call as to the breed. And last of the breed was basically the same same kind of story. So um, so then they change. So I wrote I'm pretty sure I wrote a few treatments for that one. But now we're talking about you know, snow and ice in Siberia. And then they got then he went back to Afghanistan then we got they got Russell Okay, higher to direct the movie, and they sent poor Russell all over the world. And I'm not making this up. Okay. My first suggestion is alone when they were talking about where they're going to shoot this thing we're working we do Afghanistan. I said, What about Israel? Because I had been in Israel before. I was hired by Mike cannon to write to do a rewrite on me. It was one of the Delta Force movies, right? Yeah, Delta Force two, I was hired to do a rewrite on that. So I've been in Israel, I've been showing all around. And I told sly, I think it's the perfect place to shoot this movie. And he said, I want to know Israel. Because there's, you know,

Alex Ferrari 50:49
it's not it's not it's it's not the it's not the best vacation spot, let's just say.

Sheldon Lettich 50:54
Right? Actually,

Alex Ferrari 50:55
it is a very good I you know what I mean, you know, I mean, yeah, especially those years, especially in those years.

Sheldon Lettich 51:02
Yeah, yeah, we're still Oh, there. Were there wars going on at the time. Like when I was over there working on the chuck norris movie. I hear. I see. planes flying north towards Lebanon. I hear explosions. Okay, so there was shit going on. But sly didn't want to go. He was nervous about it. And they said, cor Russell, okay. All over the world. They They even had looking in Canada, like some of the some of the middle provinces in Canada. school, I think there's good production deals they're going to

Alex Ferrari 51:39
so where did you guys find this? Where did they finally shoot Israel? Oh, they

Sheldon Lettich 51:42
did. She came back to my original idea, which was Israel, Israel be perfect. But they have a film industry there. They have technicians. And they've got the thing about Israel is they've got all this captured Soviet equipment. They've got all the so they've got Soviet tanks, armored personnel characters, because because the Soviets had been supplying all the Arab countries, and they had these wars and the Israelis won the wars, and then they'd have the spoils of war. So they had all this shit land around. Beautiful, in addition to the only thing that Israel didn't have was the high mountains. But not every part of Afghanistan has high mountains is a desert part. So so

Alex Ferrari 52:27
it all worked, it all worked out. So I know I go into every every movie in your, in your filmography, we'll need at least 20 hours for this podcast at least 20 hours so because I mean Lionheart and sight and your your work on Cyborg and just working with the cannon boys in general, but I Lanier and all in the order and things like that. But you know, to kind of wrap this up I just wanted you had such an impact on john clouds career and john cloud had a major impact on your career. You guys are very, very simple symbiotic relationship. And you did How many did you finally do with jumpcloud? Like, directed for for directed, but you worked on it? From what I saw, like, polishes?

Sheldon Lettich 53:12
Yeah, maybe. Maybe it doesn't,

Alex Ferrari 53:16
right. I mean, jumpcloud always had you in his back pocket working with him in one way shape, or form as a as a co writer, or, or Polish or script doctor and things. So you know, what? How was that relationship? I mean, I because I've, it's very similar to you know, Scorsese and De Niro in a sense because they they both came up.

Sheldon Lettich 53:36
I mean, people have made that comparison.

Alex Ferrari 53:38
Constantly, obviously, constant louder. It's just, it's just like it but a little bit of slight bit different, less kicking less kicking on the Scorsese side. So, but but you've had this kind of really symbiotic relationship with a star and you were there literally at the very beginning when he was kicking guys on the street to get attention or close the kicking guys in the street. So how, how have you worked? How was it working with him on things like Lionheart and double impact and and you're working in. I mean, Lionheart was a studio project. I remember right, it was a Was it a universal?

Sheldon Lettich 54:14
No, it was Columbia,

Alex Ferrari 54:16
Columbia. I'm sorry. It was Columbia, right. But it would these are, you know, you you've left the Canon world and started playing in the big leagues when john clouds started going into I remember double him. I remember going to the theater to see Lionheart and double empowerment and I remember double impact perfectly. I was on a date. We were in the back row. We were supposed to we were doing other things that other than watching your film, but I always had an eye on the screen, sir. And, and it was it was amazing. So how was it working with him and it kind of growing together as two artists,

Unknown Speaker 54:46
right? Well, now we're getting into hours and hours of discussion.

Alex Ferrari 54:52
So let's let's wrap it into a 10 or 15 minute conversation. Because I literally I know you probably have to go to the bathroom. I know I do. So let's

Unknown Speaker 55:01
We could wrap it up, we'll come back to this another time. No, no, no.

Alex Ferrari 55:05
But I would love to, I would love to hear that I would love to hear the answer to that.

Unknown Speaker 55:10
Well, it changed with over over over the course of years, we have a much stronger relationship at first. And then we had people trying to get in between us once he started becoming really famous and popular. We had tried people trying to pry us apart. You know, people bad mouthing me, so that they can get their client working with john Claude, instead of me working with him all the time, which I'll always keep coming back, coming back to me because there was a certain comfort level that basically, and where that comfort level stemmed from was the fact that I always believed in him. From the moment I met him, I believe, this guy could be a movie star, but this guy can also be a good actor. So I was the first one to really take him seriously as an actor, and actually give him dialogue, to actually give him emotions to express and not just be a kicking and punching machine, but not just be a karate guy. Because at the time, when I first got to know him, people just saw him as a karate guy. You know, he was basically in, you know, Chuck Norris land, you know, Chuck Chuck's a pretty big star in his own right, but nobody would ever put Chuck Norris in something like want to hit hard. Okay, got to show his emotional, soft, caring emotional sides. Right. And, like, double impact would not have been a Chuck Norris. Movie.

Alex Ferrari 56:50
legionnaire legionnaire

Unknown Speaker 56:52
legionnaire, right. legionnaire would not have been the chuck norris movie. And you know, Michael Dukakis was a bit more of a like a more sensitive. You were like an actor. He started out being an actor. But Michael dooba cough couldn't do the action stuff. He couldn't fight. He's not a fighter. So. So I saw that in john Claude and he's, he could see that I was trying to bring him out as an actor, not just a karate guy, not just okay, here's like two lines of dialogue, and now get out there and beat the shit out of 10 people. Okay, right. That's not how I was approaching it. And so we kind of bonded over that over the fact that I believed in him, and he believed in me. And like I said, along the way, people started getting jealous of this relationship. And were wondering why, well, you know, why did I have is here, and they couldn't get Azir Why was he listening to me and not listening to them? So that that hurt things to a degree, but I still managed to make to direct for movies with his and,

Alex Ferrari 58:03
and work with him when he doesn't write up stuff. And you guys, are you guys still friends? You guys still talk? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he's, he's, I mean, when I, when I saw jcvd come out. I thought that was like, amazing on his part and the acting that he I mean, he was he, people were like, wait a minute, john clouds a really good actor. He is he's just never given the opportunity. Because other than, like, that's why I think that's why Lionheart holds so well, because it just, there's there's a there's a there's an image, it's not just a bunch of kicking in. Right, right. There's something there. That's real characters. I

Unknown Speaker 58:42
think Harrison page helped a lot to write a book, the last guy that was in it with them.

Alex Ferrari 58:47
Yes. He was wonderful. He was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. But, but yeah, that was those those must have been great. Like, I mean, seriously, I know. I know. We could talk about Canon and all the other stuff that you've gone through. I mean, when's your when's your biography coming out, Sheldon. I mean, seriously,

Unknown Speaker 59:04
it's fun. You know, I'm just in the midst of starting to talk to people about that right now. Right one I've had a few friends have told me I should I should write a biography or autobiography. And I've only started taking it seriously. Just in the last few weeks. like just yesterday. Yeah. out that. There's a whole book on Sam Furstenberg. Get on Stanford. I know the name sounds familiar. But who is he? He just he directed at some ninja movies for Canon. He was basically sort of an in house right where are you saying that he never branched out to other studios other kinds of movies just ninja movies for for Canon Michael Dukakis movies. Oh, damn book about the guy. And I just, I just saw this yesterday, here. I don't know if you can see this, but it's like Yeah, stories from the trenches.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:03

Unknown Speaker 1:00:04
Wait a second. Somebody put out a whole book. I think it's I don't know if it's how much it's written. It might be more like a scrapbook.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:13
I'm telling you, you're sitting, you're sitting on a pile of gold, Sheldon. absolutely need to write your own biography. There's a lot of there's a lot of filmmakers out there the guy of what's his name? Is it called? They call the book true indie. He did Baba. Baba cohab. With with Bruce Campbell.

Sheldon Lettich 1:00:33
Right. The guy who directed he did a couple of like, with the fly.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:37
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Phantasm Phantasm. Yeah. And all of those. He wrote a whole book about his experiences in the indie world and doing those movies at UAB Jesus. Shall I look at your I mean, look what you've done in your in your career, you should absolutely do that. Right. Well,

Sheldon Lettich 1:00:53
I touched a lot. I think I touched a lot of bases. I wasn't just like the, you know, the, the cannon guy or the Van Damme guy. I work with Stallone I worked with, you know, with Chuck Norris. Joaquin Phoenix.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:07
I haven't really worked with I know I'm joking. I'm joking.

Sheldon Lettich 1:01:10
But yeah, oh, hey, that's just my biography. But, but I did work on some big movies and movies that are still people still love these movies. They still I get residuals. So I know people are watching this stuff.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:26
Right? So you get this little little check from Lionheart still in double impact. Still, someone's watching them.

Sheldon Lettich 1:01:32
They're not little checks, either. That's great. That's awesome. Yeah, it's every time I do an interview that gets that gets put on YouTube or wherever. I get a bump in residuals because people realize that I should, I should check out double impact. I've never seen it. And, and so it ends up helping, but we are the financial because who knows how much money I can make from work. I don't really think I'm not really thinking about that. Sure. People just telling me, you've got this interesting story to tell, why aren't you telling it? You're a

Alex Ferrari 1:02:12
storyteller? Why wouldn't you write it right? I even wrote a book about an experience of me making a movie for the mafia $20 million movie for the mafia when I was 26. And that I sold I'm selling that and it's been a best seller. So if I can write a book about a short year of my life as a filmmaker, I promise you, you could sell a book

Sheldon Lettich 1:02:31
about your career. Yeah, well, I've been reading a few biographies lately, just to just to get an idea of how these things are done. Oliver Stone wrote one which is really, really well written. And I'll take a look at that. I just ordered the SAM Furstenberg.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
Yes, Oliver was on the show talking about his book and and it's Yeah, I mean, that book I read that book. It's he's like you sitting there going listening and his career it stops at platoon. So that book stops at platoon. He's like, he still has an obscene amount of career left. He's like, I'm writing the second part next, bro. But it's so detailed about Scarface, and Conan, and all this. And you have those kinds of stories. But in your filmography of Bloodsport, and Rambo, and

Sheldon Lettich 1:03:21
I've got a year in Vietnam.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:23
There's a little bit of that as well. I mean, you are arguably one of the most interesting filmmakers I've ever spoken to. So it's been it's been, it's been really great. I want to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. I'd like rapid fire. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Sheldon Lettich 1:03:39
Make a movie?

Alex Ferrari 1:03:41
It's a lot cheaper now than it was when you started out?

Unknown Speaker 1:03:43
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it cost me firefight which we shot in 16 millimeter. cost me about $25,000 to make now we're talking $25,000 in the 80s. Okay, that would be a lot more now. And we shot on, you know, we shot on film, I blew it up to 35 millimeter, but it got me my first few directing gigs. What wasn't wasn't just with Menaka. That's how I ended up directing Lionheart also because john Claude wanted me to direct Lionheart. The producers and Neil Shaw was very nervous. They had no feature films that I've directed. We show him firefight. It's like 20 minutes long, 35 millimeter, you can watch it in the screening room. There was not like I gave people a VHS. Now we got to go in the screening room. There was a I had to deal with. Dino dilaurentis actually, is another interesting project that never happened was called Atlas, john Klein and an idea for a movie called Atlas, which is basically Spartacus in the future Spartacus in space. And so guess who was going to produce this Sam Raimi was going to produce this chap far who wrote dark man and hard target Hold the script with me. Your Rancho San Rafael de la rent this we're gonna be the executive producers. We had this thing set up at D G. Now how did I get that gig? Sam really liked my mother firefight movie. And he made Dino watch it in his 35 millimeter screening room. Dino saw the movie, he was impressed. So there you go make a movie that shows what what you're capable of, or it shows that you're just, you're capable of pulling something like this together, shooting it. It might not be something that's gonna win an Oscar. But it just shows that I actually did it. I got the people together. I got the location, I got the money. We shot this thing. It works. It tells a story. So that's, that's the best advice I could give anybody.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:52
What is the lesson that took the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Unknown Speaker 1:05:59
Well, with in the film business, I learned to be assertive, and the night not take shit from people. Not when you're directing your first movie. I don't know if it happens to everybody, but it's your happen to me, everybody on the set. They've worked on lots of other movies, they think they know more than you. And they're either they're either downgrading your ideas saying that's not gonna work, you've got to do it this way. You've got to if you're going to shoot a if you've got to shoot if you're going to shoot a over the shoulder shot, and you have to have a complimentary over the shoulder shot to cut to not necessarily but they'll tell you that. So basically, I learned to just trust my, my own instincts a lot more. Rather than taking it you got to take some advice, of course, but you got to learn how to filter out the wheat from the chaff. You got to you got to learn which whose advice you should listen to and whose advice you should ignore. So that was an important lesson to learn.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:08
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Sheldon Lettich 1:07:14
Not an action movie among them. Okay. 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:20
Always a popular a popular choice on the show,

Sheldon Lettich 1:07:22
right? Fellini's eight and a half. Another one. Okay, another one. Yeah. And the Godfather one and two. And probably

Alex Ferrari 1:07:31
the top of all of the movies that get mentioned that from all my guests there. Oh, godfather generally, they generally lumping godfather one and two together.

Sheldon Lettich 1:07:39
Right? Oh, yeah. Yeah, you've got to lump the two of them. You can't say you can't just say to one because you've got to have the preface which is one.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:46
Right, right. Right. All fantastic choices. And obviously you look at those three movies and you get Bloodsport, obviously. I mean, you just think about I mean, it's obvious with three together and Lionheart Lionheart shows up I get it I understand. Show that it has been an absolute pleasure and honor talking to you it's been a thrill and again that little that little kid at the video store is is very grateful for this conversation. So thank you again so much.

Sheldon Lettich 1:08:14
I'm a little kid and I was at Quentin Tarantino was doing the exact same thing.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:19
Which makes our you knew that already. Yes, I did. But you know, that makes me sad. Because Because Because color because Kevin Smith was doing the same thing. And Quinn, Tarantino and my careers are all very vastly different. But we all have our paths to walk. Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it.

Sheldon Lettich 1:08:37
Okay, good talking to you, Alex. And we should do it again sometime if you want to. All right.

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BPS 162: Writing Blockbuster Movies & Television with Danny Strong

Today on the show we have writer, producer, actor, director and Emmy® winning show runner Danny Strong.

Danny started his career as an actor in numerous classic films and TV shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls, then transitioned into screenwriting, exploding onto the scene with his 2007 script Recount which was #1 on the Hollywood Blacklist and became an award winning HBO Film.

Since then he has become a prolific film and TV writer, director and producer, garnering numerous awards for various projects, including two Emmys, a Golden Globe, two WGA awards, a PGA Award, and the Peabody Award.

Through out his career he has shown a wide range and versatility moving between mediums and genres with films like the political docudramas Recount and Game Change, the civil rights epic The Butler and the big budget action blockbusters Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part I and II).

He co-created the smash hit TV show Empire which won him the NAACP Image Award and he produced the civil rights drama The Best of Enemies starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. He has also written numerous theater projects having made his theatrical debut with a new book to the musical Chess that premiered at the Kennedy Center.

Strong transitioned into directing with several episodes of Empire. He made his feature directorial debut with Rebel in the Rye that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by IFC Films.

Over the years he has continued his acting career with recurring roles in many highly acclaimed TV shows including Mad Men, Girls, Justified, Billions and The Right Stuff. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, California and attended the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Enjoy my enlightening conversation with Danny Strong.

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Alex Ferrari 0:17
I like to welcome the show Danny Strong how're you doing Danny?

Danny Strong 3:36
Good, Alex, how you doing?

Alex Ferrari 3:37
I'm doing well, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've I've been following your career for quite some time. And, and of course, a fan of many of the shows that you've worked on and things that you've written. So I'm excited to kind of jump into your process and what we do. So before we get started, how did you get started in this insanity that is the film industry?

Danny Strong 3:59
Wow. That's a very good question. So I was a theater major in college. And I did plays in high school. And I was able to get an agent while I was in high school. But I never booked anything. So I was it was wasn't exactly a successful time. So I never booked anything. But I kept you know doing theater non stop and then majored in college and then I booked a couple jobs in college. You know, I booked a couple commercials and then a roll on Saved by the Bell, the new class probably the favorite show of your audience. I think that's all they want, I think their audiences and not even the original set by about the new class that they're particularly. So I did that and then and then I didn't really start booking jobs as an actor until I graduated college. And it was a few months after I graduated that I booked an episode of Third Rock from the Sun which was a huge cinema And then a month later, I booked an episode of Seinfeld. And so now I kind of went from no resume to two biggest sitcoms on television, which was incredibly exciting. And then in the next six months, I booked Buffy the Vampire Slayer and did that for several years as a recurring. So so things started happening pretty, pretty fast out of college, although it seems like endless at the time. And then by that by the time I was 24, I was working full time as an actor, in that I was supporting myself. And I didn't need a day job. So that was very exciting. And it was, by the way, I wasn't even working all that much. But I was making enough money with sort of a combination of small guest stars on TV commercials, voiceover an occasional movie. It was real scrappy, of just anything, I can land, voiceover radio, jobs, you know, anything I could get I did and, and then I started writing when I was about 25. And that's when I wrote my first script, and didn't sell my first script until I was 32. So it took seven years of writing before I was able to get my first paycheck as a writer. That's kind of the faster the fast version

Alex Ferrari 6:19
Of the beginning of your career. And that's, that's fascinating, because, you know, as so many filmmakers think that it takes in screenwriters think it's overnight? Like oh, yeah, Danny Strong, he must have just jumped in like, Hollywood loves to put you in a box and you're the you are in the acting box. So when you try to break out of that box to do something else, it's even that much harder than if you try to go in at the beginning. Is that correct?

Danny Strong 6:43
Well, to be honest with you, that wasn't my experience at all. Okay, it was it was the second I started writing scripts. A couple people were a bit I Rowley about it, but but the scripts speak for themselves. Okay, so I, you know, once I was able to get some people to read that first script, I wrote what people really liked it. And then it didn't matter that I was an actor. And most people in the development world, which are the people who read scripts for a living, they know that actors that can write, make can make really good writers. So it's sort of understood that that's not an unnatural progression from actor to writer, they've got a real good grasp of dialogue, usually a good grasp of character. And it's in its many are many a writer, and many writers I've worked with either on staff on one of my TV shows, or just screenwriters that I know, started off as actors. So it's, it's a natural progression. So now I find that Hollywood can follow your lead times when you say what you want to do. So I want to do this. It's like, okay, well, are you doing it? Are you trying to do it? And if you are, then then people respond to that. It's usually not a situation where no, you're an actor, and you will never write you will never write. It's, it's really not as close minded is the perception is

Alex Ferrari 8:10
Very, very cool. So then, as an actor, what did you bring it from being an actor to writing? Like, what were the skill sets that you brought in? From just those two years of work and I'm assuming being on sets and watching everybody and all that stuff over the years.

Danny Strong 8:23
Yeah, I think that my background is an actor is sort of my biggest weapon as a writer, director, producer, everything it is, as a writer, it's I spent years and years reading and working on the best plays ever written in the history of humanity. Right, working on the plays of Shakespeare and check off and Ibsen and Edward Albion, Arthur Miller, and, and I spent years working on that material, and you're reading it, you're analyzing it, you're inside of it. And I think it's the inside of it. That is one of the biggest tools for me as a writer, because I write is someone who, you know, when I when I, when I start writing the dialogue, I write as if I'm inside the scene, playing the scene as the characters and and that comes from my background as an actor from spending endless numbers of years just doing that for a living or doing it for free. And, you know, doing all the plays that I did, and all the auditions I did, it didn't go anywhere. You're constantly just working on material. And and that's a different stage of the writing process than the early stages, which is the outlining stage for me. That's what I do. You know, it's sort of the the beginning stages. So, so less my acting background comes into play there. But then when it comes to actually writing the scenes, the acting background is a huge part of it.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
Do you recommend screenwriters take an acting class or two just to kind of get inside?

Danny Strong 9:57
Oh, yeah, I mean, why why were you how that'd be a bad thing. And I've been in acting classes. So I stayed in acting classes. Like I said, I was a theater major at USC, graduated. And then I stayed in acting classes the whole time until my first movie went into production when I was 33. So I spent 11 years in acting classes. And in my attitude was I treated it like I was a professional tennis player. And I just need to be hitting balls as much as possible. So I was constantly in class. And there would be writers and directors that would, from time to time come in, and they would, you know, be there for three months, two months, that sort of thing. And they go, yeah, their director and the writer and, and I couldn't think of a more valuable thing for either one of them to do than to do that.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
Now. Is it true I read somewhere that you used to rent videos from video archives, and there was a young store clerk they used to talk to quite often about movies is that true?

Danny Strong 10:59
Yeah. So I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, very different now than it was then it's like it now it's very wealthy. When I was a kid there, it was lower middle to lower middle class, sleepy beach town, right. And there was this avant garde video store where they would have foreign films, and the films would be categorized by director. And, and my mom knew I loved adult movies as a kid. So she would, she would take me there. And the clerk was this really eccentric young guy. And I was 11. But I looked like I was seven. And, and I would just spend all this time with him, getting advice on certain movies, and I spent so much time talking to him that it made my mom feel uncomfortable. She's like, why are you spending so much time talking to him while I'm like talking to him? And it was Quentin Tarantino. And it was and so I and because I was in there so much. They called me little Quinton. And that was my nickname. Wow. Yeah, it was little Quentin. And then many years later, Quentin got this huge award from the home video Association. And he asked if I would come to the ceremony. So and we live in stay tight is a you know, in my adult age, but but perfectly friendly, you know, and he loves that I became a writer. And he and he, he, in his in his big speech to the big to the audience, he had me stand up and introduced me as a little Quinton from the video store and told the whole story about how I used to read videos from him. And he had the funniest and that was literally he ended his speech. It was so funny, he said, he said, So now when I look back upon my career, and I see that little Quinton is so successful. Oh, I just think God that I was successful too. Because of little Quinton was successful. And I wasn't, I would blow my fucking brain.

Alex Ferrari 12:54
One of the amazing that it does it oh my god, that's an amazing story. Because it's on brand for Mr. Tarantino.

Danny Strong 13:03
It is very, very much on brand. Yeah. And then he finally cast me in a movie, which was so exciting. I was in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Alex Ferrari 13:10
Oh, right. That's right.

Danny Strong 13:11
My scene was cut, although it is in the DVD. And it was, it was an amazing experience getting to watch them direct for a day.

Alex Ferrari 13:23
That must have been awesome. Now, you know, with all you know, being an actor, you deal with a tremendous amount of rejection. And I'm assuming as a writer, you do as well, how do you deal with rejection? Because we get mostly, if I may say we get mostly no's then rather than yes's in this business, correct?

Danny Strong 13:40
Yeah. Yeah. It's all no all the time. I mean, now, that was why I started writing was that I was working as an actor. Like I said, I was supporting myself, but yet all year long, I would hear no. And the no would be no, they don't want to see you for the part. No, you didn't get the callback, or no, you didn't get the part. And that's literally, you know, three, four times a week. That's what you're getting. And it's maybe once every three or four months, you're finally getting a yes. And a great song you. So for me, I actually started writing to deal with the sort of subconscious trauma being rejected all year long. And then I remember there was a period of about 18 months, when I couldn't get arrested as an actor. I just went into this. I don't know what happened. I just couldn't get hired. And then that was part of the seven years where no one was buying my scripts. So it was like a brutal 18 months of, of things not working out. Now, what's great about writing versus acting, is that as a writer, you can go do it. So you can just you can just go write a script, it doesn't matter if someone has bought it. If someone's interested in it. You can literally just sit down and write whenever you want or whenever you have availability based on if you have a job etc. Right but you can Go do it. And so for my attitude is particularly on the writing, when you write a script, and then you're ready to show it to people or to take it out to market, whatever that means. You should be working on your next scripts. So that when the nose do start coming in, and the noes come to people at the highest levels of the industry there have the biggest screenwriters and biggest directors, you know, they're well this only get made if I can get one order to Caprio or Tom Cruise, and then they send it to an art gallery or Tom Cruise and they go, No, we don't want to do the movie. You know, so everyone deals with that. But as a writer, what you can do is you can just go start working on your next script, and it really does help get your mind off the rejection because you're creatively grooving on something new.

Alex Ferrari 15:48
No, do you? What is your writing process? Do you start with character? Do you start with plot? Do you outline?

Danny Strong 15:54
Yeah, it's a combination of things. It's sort of hard to say, because it differs for every project. But I will say the one place that is pretty kind of a standard starting point for me is research, right? So if I'm writing a true story, like in dope sick, it's the opioid crisis, well, I just start reading books. And then I'll usually read two books on something, just read it without even taking notes. So I get a sense of the global macro of the story, I get a sense of characters that have kind of popped for me, you know, hopefully, these books are good. Hope you pick the right ones. Yeah, yeah. Well, and by the way, I go to a certain amount of research to figure out what are the right books, you know, sometimes there's only one book, depending on what it is, but, but um, or even if it's a fictional piece, I'll start with research. You know, when I started, when I wrote Empire, the pilot, I started just watching documentaries on hip hop, right? Just let me just watch some Hip Hop documentaries. So so so that's phase one, which is just get information coming in, and then maybe notetaking, maybe not, then once I kind of feel like I've got a sense of the global. So let's say there's two books on something that I've read, and I'm like, Oh, I really get this now. Then I go reread those books. But now I'm taking careful notes. And I'm writing notes, I'm writing characters, I'm writing scenes, I'm writing all this information. Because things can inspire other things. Right? So I can get I can get it will be like, Oh, this Oh, look at it, there's a whole sequence that I'm coming up with based upon a sentence. You know, when I adapted the book, Game Change into the movie game change. There was one paragraph that was the gave me the inspiration for the entire film. And I was like, oh, that's the whole movie right there. That one paragraph, we're talking about Steve Schmidt did this and then he did this. And then he had to do this. And I'm like, oh, that sounds like my entire movie. It was and it outlined it for you. But film, yeah, was was essentially inspired from that paragraph. But so. So that's what it is, then it's like taking notes, writing scene ideas, character ideas. Sometimes it's stuff from the books or the documentaries, sometimes all it does is it starts inspiring ideas, and then I go off on my own tangent entirely. And then once I've finished the that stage of the research, and this is important, don't get bogged down in definitely in the research, because you can, you can do that for three years if you want, right. So what I do is literally, I try to do enough of it, where I feel like, Oh, I've got a sense of what this is and how I could pull this off. Um, then I'll start actually outlining from those set of notes and kind of freeform thinking that I've done. And then once I have an outline, before I go write the script, sometimes what I'll do is I'll go read another book, or I'll go read two more books. You know, sometimes there's like 20 books on something, right? And then there's a new set of ideas that come in. And then from there, then I go, actually, write.

Alex Ferrari 19:15
Now, I always love asking creators this, there's I always say that there's this kind of, well of inspiration that is ours, that we can tap into. It's kind of like almost being in the flow or in that state of mind, the flow state of mind. What is it in your actual writing process that allows you to tap into your creativity, that inspiration, the muse for better or worse, because sometimes the Muse shows sometimes she does it, you know, how do you tap into that?

Danny Strong 19:42
So I don't I just show up every day.

Alex Ferrari 19:45
And she shows and you let her know, hey, I'm gonna be here. If you're ready.

Danny Strong 19:48
I'm just there. I'm there every day and I'm going to do something. Some days. There'll be today I had all these great plans. Those plans did not succeed, but I did get something done. Yes. Clearly it happened today.

Alex Ferrari 20:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 20:13
And but something was achieved today, right? So so it's really a matter of just showing up every day. And you know, I say that inspiration is for amateurs. And I don't mean that in in a hostile way. You know, if you're, say, a lawyer, and you want to write a book, and you've always had this novel, you want to dry it, or you wanted to write a memoir of a case you had, right, but you're not a professional writer. But you're gonna try it by the way, you may be great at it, it's very possible that you are, but that's the kind of person who's like I need to be inspired. And maybe I need to rent a house by a lake, you know, and go away, because that's what writers do. And it's very romantic write, for me, I'm a professional writer, I've been writing now for 22 years, and and of those 22 years, I've been getting paid 15 of those years, which has its own set of, I mean, it sounds incredible. But there's a whole lot of stress that comes from taking people's money, and then delivering a script to them, right? So so it's literally a matter of, no, I just have to go do it. Now I'm at a point where I'm trying to take days off, where I'm like, just you shouldn't write on Sunday, you need to take Sunday off. You know, my fiance does not appreciate it, she would like me to take Sunday off. Yeah. And so it's it's um, but that act of doing it consistently, what it does is that you do it, then for the rest of the day, your mind is processing things that you don't even know it's processing. You may have hit some walls that day, then you come back the next day, and you have solutions to those walls that your mind has just figured out on its own throughout the course of the day. I've had so many solutions to problems company when I wake up in the morning. And it's sometimes it's it's that period where you're not fully awake, but you're kind of starting to get away. Oh, this is the best part. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and then I'd be like, but that solution would have showed up that next morning, had I not had the session the day before. So it's it's the consistency of the back the back of it is is what I think is is what I do. And I think it's incredibly important.

Alex Ferrari 22:27
Now your one of your scripts got to the top of the blacklist, which is recount was that the was that the you know, was? Was the town or was Hollywood taking you like taking notice of your writing? You know, heavily? I mean, because when you get to the top of the blacklist, everybody in town knows who you are. Was that like a career defining moment for you as a writer?

Danny Strong 22:50
You know, it actually wasn't because the script had already exploded. Okay, gripped, had blown up and become a huge deal. And then had already gone into production. And I actually found out about the blacklist on the plane ride home after we wrapped production. Oh, Jesus, isn't that crazy? Like I was sitting on the plane going through my phone and someone congrats, and I didn't really know what it was. And what was great was, that was the year the blacklist kind of became famous. And there were all these newspaper articles on the blacklist. And so to be number one on the blacklist the year was on payment. That's a very cool year. So, so it didn't add that disrupted already sort of changed everything for me before that, that was just a really neat kind of cherry on top.

Alex Ferrari 23:37
Now, how did you approach adapting the Hunger Games? Mockingjay? Because I mean, at the point that you came in on it, it already is a pretty well established franchise, and there has to be slight pressure on you.

Danny Strong 23:52
Yeah, the pressures enormous. That was a very strange job, because there was this enormous, you know, it was one of the biggest jobs in the business at the time, everyone. Yeah, I mean, it was just like, the first one was the biggest movie of the year. The second one was in production. Um, and so you had to go pictures. The franchise was particularly strong, in that that first movie was really terrific. Everyone really respected it. The book, The books were really beloved amongst a huge swath of age range. So it was a it was just I was really flattered when I got asked to pitch on it. I was told they'd gone out to 10 writers and I'm one of the 10. And to me, that was the when I'm like, Oh my God, how cool was that? And I'm like, one of the 10 that they've asked to, to pitch on this. And then lo and behold, I get the job right. Now, I hadn't even read the books before. They come to me to pitch and they asked me in that in that meeting, they said have you read the books? I said, No, I haven't. So I saw the first movie, and I loved it. And they said, Well, okay, read the next two books as fast as you can, and then come up with a pitch. So that's what I did. And then the job itself, it was very unusual because it was they wanted it to be really close to the book. There wasn't a lot of room for veering away from the book, which I totally understood and didn't disagree with. Then at the same time, they wanted some new ideas, of course, but they didn't like my new ideas. Right? Well, I thought I'd pick shag new ideas. And I always get like, Now now, you know, and so I, you know, and it was just this weird tightrope where I was like, Wow, I'm a really, really high paid plagiarist. You know, they just want me to stick to the book. So then I wrote the first, you know, part one of Mockingjay. And they really liked it. And they hired me to write part two. And I was, I was like, okay, it was, by the way, wasn't, I didn't love doing the job to be honest with you. Because of everything I just explained. Just weird. I mean, it was like, it was like, we want this really close to the book. Okay, but but then we want other things, okay, but we don't like what you're pitching. Okay, but we do like you now, you know, um, and it was I didn't, I just didn't enjoy working on it. But then they hired me to do the next one. Which was, I mean, it was like, Well, I can't say no, right. So so then I did, I did the next one. And then they brought in another writer, which was the first time that had happened to me, you know, they had me do rewrites? No, no, they had them do rewrites on three. And then I finished four, and I turned in four. And then by that point, they really liked the writer who did rewrites on three, and they had them do rewrites on four and they sent me on my merry way. They said by It was a pleasure. Not really. And and I was actually quite happy to move on from the job to be honest with you. Very honest answer.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
They're very, that's a,

Danny Strong 27:13
But that's what but yeah, that's how it went. It was it was like I wrote three they liked it. They hired me to write for while they simultaneously hired someone to do rewrites on three, they did that because they were shooting them at the same time. So there was they in their minds, there wasn't enough time. And and then so then I wrote four, then that same writer came on here, Craig, lovely guy. And then they had him do rewrites on four. And that that was the end of my journey on the Hunger Games.

Alex Ferrari 27:40
And that's the thing that a lot of writers don't think that there's a glow. Well, you know, Danny Strong is not going to get, you know, rewritten or that it happens to everybody. I talked to Eric Roth, and it happened to Eric Roth.

Danny Strong 27:51
Oh, yeah, it's not so not in movies at that budget. It's extremely common. And in this case, there were two movies before, in which these huge writers of high Academy Award nominated or winning writers were rewritten. So I kind of knew going into it that that's kind of the deal. And it was it was pretty common for big budget. tentpole movies to have multiple writers on them. So it's not like you I go in, I don't go into that job, thinking, Oh, this is my artistic vision. I sort of go into the job hoping that I can get through it without having people upset with me. Which, by the way, is not, you know, and I haven't done a job like that sense. Because of it, though.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
And you I'm sure you've been offered a pitch or you've been offered.

Danny Strong 28:40
Yeah, I get offered all the time, you know, different things. And, and I'm and I have done a few in that time period since then. But for the most part. It's a it was a very good life learning experience of situations I'd prefer not to be in.

Alex Ferrari 28:58
Right. And that's kind of where you've made your bones heavily in television where the writer is more keen, especially.

Danny Strong 29:04
Yeah, well, it's a combination of a few things, which is, right if it's time that the medium started changing, right where movie dramas started becoming smaller and smaller are not being made at all. And then there's massive tentpole movies, you know, like what I was working on, but I didn't enjoy working on it. So I didn't want to do that again. So literally for the next year and a half after Hunger Games. I was getting offered a sort of big tentpole things and I didn't want to do them. So then the drama that I want to be working on, they're not really making anymore, so I but I go and I make an independent film. And then simultaneously, television is now starting to take off dramatically, creatively, in many ways to a number of writers feeling like that's actually a much more interesting space to work in. On a multiple different levels, so it was like the business starts changing. I was very fortunate that right when that happens, I created the show empire that was a massive hit. So now I've gotten cachet. And some, you know, a lot of interest in me in a space that is simultaneously kind of becoming the booming space. So the timing was was really great. And I feel very fortunate.

Alex Ferrari 30:27
Now I have to ask you, because I mean, I'm a huge empire fan. I watched every episode and loved empire. I think I caught up to it on seas. I think you guys were in season three. And someone said, You got to watch empire. So I binged the first seat and I was just like, the writing was so tight. The characters were so outlandish. They were beautiful. How did you? What made you jump into this world? I mean, I'm assuming you haven't been hardcore hip hop your entire life. So how did you jump in?

Danny Strong 30:54
What was great was the only person who knew less about hip hop than me was Lee Daniels. Literally would joke about how we know nothing about hip hop, right. But when it happened was I wrote the movie, the butler that leaving directed, and then we'd become pretty close and post production on that project, where he really valued my feedback and notes. And it was the kind of thing where he started, you know, just saying, like, what are we doing next? What are we doing next? We're magic together, we're magic together. And that was before the film came out and succeeded. Right. So then I came up with this idea to do King Lear and a hip hop empire, you know, which is what Empire was. And, and I pitched the idea to lead annuals as a movie, he loved it. He just said that I love this idea. And then it was his idea, which was good as a TV show instead of a movie. And I thought, that's perfect. You're absolutely right. It's about a family fighting, which is what TV shows are about is about families fighting with each other. So that's how it all came together was, was an idea I had that I brought to Lee, based on the fact that we had just done the belt were together. And then the butler comes out and it was a huge hit. You're not remember it was one of the sleeper hits of the year, particularly for a movie that no one wanted to make. Yeah, not a tentpole by any step by any stretch, the opposite of a temple, right? It's kind of like, sort of in the category of one of the last dramas of that era when they would make these kinds of dramas, right, that have this kind of sweep and a motion to it. And so, uh, so we took this pitch out with with having just had this big hit drama, and then we had multiple bidders. And then and then that was that. So that's how it began, it was a random idea. I had one day listening to a radio news piece. On a deal, Sean Combs it just closed. And I just thought hip hop. So so cool, and dynamic and exciting. And I got to do a musical and hip hop, that's back that I knew nothing about hip hop did not determine, whatsoever. And then it's funny, because when I did Pixley, thinking, Well, I don't know much about this world, but I'll dive into it, but we will know a lot about it. And then literally, he's like, I don't know anything about hip hop. I'm like, really? He's like, No. And I'm like Me neither. So it's so that's where that's where Empire began.

Alex Ferrari 33:18
That's amazing that neither of you had a hip hop knowledge that you could bring to the table.

Danny Strong 33:23
No, he was really into Marvin Gaye. And like, like, it was like, loved Marvin Gaye and kind of that era of Motown. Sure. And, and I loved that era of Motown. Now, even though I feel like some of my tastes even went further back to the 50s. And pretty funny how these things can happen. But I think I think the lesson in that is, you don't have to live a life to write about it, or to direct it. And that is a that is not a popular opinion right now. And there's very much discussion right now of who gets to tell what story and if you haven't lived it, you don't have the right to tell it. And I fundamentally disagree with that. And I just think, well, if you had to live, everything you wrote, then just let's go set fire to most of Shakespeare's plays, you know, all the Shakespeare plays that don't take place in England, you know, even Macbeth, that doesn't count. Is that Scotland? Who the hell is he think he is? Right? Someone in Scotland, you know, I mean, let's just take let's take ship set that on fire right? So I just I just fundamentally disagree with it. It goes against sort of my entire background as an actor, stage actor lover of cetera so so an empire is as a prime example of literally two guys that didn't know anything about hip hop. And then we draw upon different things and what we don't know we weren't. And then you know, and then when it goes to series, in that writers room, we've got multiple writers in there that know a lot about hip hop. And they some real huge assets to it and in keeping the show alive,

Alex Ferrari 34:59
You know, It's funny because, you know, I had Taylor Hackford on the show. And we were talking about Ray, which is one of the one of the best, you know, musical movies. credible, incredible film. And he was telling me, he's like, Ray wanted me to do it. And but in today's world, I would have never been allowed to do Ray. And I'm like, Wow, what a devastating blow to cinema that you wouldn't have been able to make. Ray. It's I agree with you. 100%.

Danny Strong 35:23
Yeah, yeah. And by the way, there's there's like, I don't know, that doesn't mean to not be cognizant of certain sensitivity course. It's like, yeah, I don't know. I think everything has its own sort of has its own path. And we're doing a pilot right now that I'm producing. And it's it's basically eight women are the leads of this pilot, right. And this, the network wants a woman director, and I could not agree more. I'm like, Yeah, of course. Of course. It should be a woman director. It's about eight women. Right? It's like in the creator is a woman. But I just seems to me like I you know that that's a perfect example of as us out looking to hire a director. My partner on it on the producing side is a famous male director. And he completely agrees he's like, Yeah, we need to find a woman. So it sounds like every every kind of project has its own path or life. But as a writer, if you're not getting, you know, this is not an open writing assignment, and you want to write something that has nothing to do with your life experience. Go write it.

Alex Ferrari 36:30
That's your absolutely, you're absolutely right.

Danny Strong 36:33
I know what you're passionate about.

Alex Ferrari 36:35
One of my favorite characters of empire, and arguably one of the best characters written for television. That's 15 years. Cookie. How the hell did you come up with cookie? And how much did the Hajah I can never pronounce your dad? Yeah. How did she influence that character?

Danny Strong 36:52
So cookie lion, which I think is hilarious that it could be on my tombstone, he co created cookie lion is a is a it came from. So the show is King Lear and a hip hop empire. But it's also the line in winter and a hip hop empire, sort of both of those classical pieces. And Eleanor of Aquitaine is Henry, the second wife that he would put into a dungeon, you know, this, he put her an exile all year long. And then every year at Christmas time, he would let her outs of exile to see the family. And in the play the line and winter, the play takes place during Christmas time when he lets Eleanor of Aquitaine out of prison, and she just fucks his shit up, right? Like, literally, she just shows up and tries to derail all of his legacy plans. And that was one of like, the early ideas I had for Empire, which was that it would be sort of a fake. You know, like, like a fictional Jay Z, who was a older, you know, a, like an he had an empire like Jay Z, but he was older with these three older sons. And that and that his wife went to prison, selling drugs. And that drug money is what created is what is the origin story of his empire. Alright, so that the pilot would begin with, what's the inciting incident? She gets out of prison, and he doesn't know it. And she's coming back to get what she wants, what she deserves, what's hers, right? And she wants half the company and she wants her beloved Son, the only one that would visit her in prison, and the most talented to be take over the family company. And he shouldn't take over the family company, except for the simple fact that he's gay and his father fucking hates him for being gay is a template homophobic, right? So that was that was like the genesis of cookie wine that she was very much inspired by Eleanor of Aquitaine. It comes from that and then we Daniels had a sister that kind of had this vibe that he would talk to me about. And I remember when I pitched Lee, the movie when it was still a movie. And I talked about Eleanor aqua and everything I just said to you, I said to him in a shorter version. And I said, so this role, she's going to be like an expert in music, and she's going to become the music manager to her gay son. And I said she's gonna be like, Mama Rose on crack, and lead and you'll start screaming. Yes, darling. Yes. Darling. I love it. You know? It was, like I said, the perfect thing to get really excited about about this idea. And that was, that was that was the genesis of it.

Alex Ferrari 39:55
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 40:04
Then, once we got to shooting it, it went from the writers role to terace his role. And terace is a genius a to Well, I don't know, day two into shooting, Lee and I were an offer the pilot, we knew this can be if this show was successful, we felt this would be a breakout character that she was just just like she blew us out of the water, you know, on just everything he did. And the part very much I think it was an amalgamation of the writers but of her two, as far as she would, she would sometimes improvise, sometimes just tweak dialogue just a little bit. Sometimes she would pair dialogue down. And and I actually really learned how to write cookie by following terace Li and seeing kind of the stuff that she would reject or the stuff that she would, she would improvise really inspired a lot. And I remember in shooting the pilot, she had a Nika shows up and it's it's her her ex husband's new girlfriend, right? And it's literally it's the first time I think the audience sees and Nika and it's certainly the first time cookie season Mika and I had written some, you know, calm some just like dig that she does. And drazi took me aside we got along like gangbusters mean to Rosie? And she said, she's like, I don't know about this. And I remember what I'd written. And I said, oh, we'll just say whatever you want. And she went really I go Yeah, I say whatever you want. Right? At this point I had I've come to understood that this woman's a genius. And and so those, she starts to exit she stops. She looks at her and she goes, Huh, booboo kitty, and then walks out a herd of booboo kitty, I had no idea what she was talking about. I was laughing so fucking, that I almost ruined the take, except Lee Daniels was laughing as hard as I was. It was just like, oh my god, like, Oh, you're genius. Just you do it, and it will follow your lead.

Alex Ferrari 42:14
That's amazing. That's a great cookie story. It's a great story that you have obviously run a lot of writers rooms, what is it that you look for as a showrunner in writers for your writers room.

Danny Strong 42:25
I look for writers that. And I look for writers that are bold, that aren't afraid, that have a sense of originality. You know, one of the first things I say on day one day one of school is I say I don't want you to think about what you think the network wants, what you think the studio wants, or what you think the audience wants, or what you think what I want, I don't want you to think about any of that, I want you to think about what you think is great, right, we're gonna follow our own instincts, because of many writers that have been stamped on a lot of shows, you know, they're very, they seem very kind of programmed to clean about the network because of network notes. And then and then they write to the network's AST. Um, I don't do that ever, um, I write to my taste, and then I use the network to help me make it better, right. So I don't do what they want, I do what I want. And then I listened to their notes, though, on how I can improve it. And it's very collaborative. And it goes very well. You know, I don't have big blowout fights with my studio in my network. In fact, most of the time, we have a very fun positive relationship and experience and I'm very open to notes, but I'm not open to dictation. And I think it's a bad idea. Because if, if they could, if they're in charge of something, well, they should be writing it. Right, like I'm the one that has to execute it. And that philosophy which is highly respectful of them as essentially editors, has served me very well politically, but more importantly served me very well creatively, where I get a lot of great feedback from from from my my producers in my studio executives in my network executives, and I think people that come into that relationship a thinking that they're idiots and they're adversaries, I think it's a way to fail and then be people that go into that relationship just wanting to please them or wanting to write to what they think their taste is, is they're not following their artistic self and their artistic soul. And and I think the writer you know, particularly on a TV show needs to be there and on a movie that's what I meant to until until I'm you know, let go until the director has said thank you for your the script now go fuck yourself. happen in film, although most of my experiences on film has been that the director and I have gotten along very well, and I've stayed part of the process all the way through. But there is a power dynamic where once they're there, they're in charge. So then I have to maneuver, you know, kind of my way to either stay in their good graces or if you shouldn't have to then becomes like a different thing. But but a game worth playing, I think, for long term success on multiple fronts. Now, TV is different. You know, I'm in charge if I'm the showrunner creator, by the way, I supervise showrunner creators, and I don't boss them around, I don't tell them what to do. I'm like, they're to like, have, like, hey, what do you think of it? You know, I'll have a note. And then sometimes I'll pitch three or four solutions, only to help demonstrate what the note is, and then be maybe one of these ideas will work for them? Maybe not, but maybe it'll inspire something else. So so it's really, it's really going back to your question, you know, day one, it's like, let's not write for the network. And let's not write for what we think the audience wants. Because that's such a audience. I mean, the four people in a room and they'll all want different things out of story. Right? Right, we need to lead the audience. And and sometimes there are things that don't work in the story. Right, that it's not clear, or there's not enough depth, or it's or it's kind of lame, or, like there that can be improved. And that's what I'm open to, of like, how can I make this better? How can I make it deeper, funnier? If it's a if it's a thriller? More suspenseful, right? Depending on what genre you're working in? And then how can you find some things to subvert the genre so that it's rich and doesn't feel expected or, or it can be multi dimensional, and tone and style? You know, there's all sorts of things I'm trying to achieve. And worrying about what the network thinks is not one of them. I'm more worried, I'm more of like, looking forward to hopefully trusting them, so that it'll be like, Okay, so here it is. So help me like, give me some thoughts like, how can I make it better.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
Great, great answer. I love the answer. No, no, that was a great answer. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Danny Strong 47:24
Follow your bliss, like write, don't write what you think the market wants, right? What you think, is going to be great. You know, and sometimes the weirdest scripts and ideas make people's careers because they just loved it, by the way in the movie never got made, but it wants their career, I got them an agent and manager got them up. I know for jobs, right? So it's really about, it's really about writing every day, or five days a week is good, you know, like you can take the weekends off this week is four days a weekend, borderline three days a week, you're an amateur writer now, you know, it's so so you know, getting a lot of writing done, because you improve as you write, I'm constantly working on projects, and then don't write what you think the marketplace wants. Right? What you think is great, right, what you want to see, I've got friends that are professional, that were professional writers that had a lot of success. And for whatever reason, you know, things have have gone different ways for them. And sometimes they're still chasing the market. And I don't understand like, the market changes weekly. By the way, the markets are different now than it was five years ago, three years ago, years ago. I don't even really completely understand the whole market anymore, to a certain extent. And I think it's different for almost every buyer. I mean, I get you know, if you I know they all want to make spider man like that I get, you know, I just want to write Spider Man on every script, I write and turn it in and see if I can any motherfuckers exactly like that. It just becomes a whole intricate sort of dance. And I think the thing that I do is if I have an idea I'm really excited about I then we'll figure out okay, so how can this get done? What's the pathway to production to get this made, you know, oh, this is actually something you know, HBO Max could be really into or something that a 20 is a perfect age 24 movie, right? That doesn't mean you have a 24 passes, you're dead. But but you're like, it kind of gives you a sense of okay, this is a 24 this is more like a universal, like, I'll think about what makes these kinds of things. And then what budget does it need to be you know, if it's something that's a period piece that you know that that's like a period drama that's really small. While obviously I can't write a script, that's going to cost $60 million to make, right because it's most likely not going To get made unless David Fincher or Martin Scorsese,

Alex Ferrari 50:03
Ridley Scott Ridley Scott,

Danny Strong 50:05
By the way you made you couldn't end up landing one of them. Right. But but but for the most part, it's sort of like, okay, so So how can I make this for 5 million? 10 million, 1 million, 2 million? You know, is there a path to that? So there's, there's a number of things you can think about on the business side. But first and foremost, start with the creative side, and start with like, oh my god, I would love to see this movie. Oh, my God, I could write the hell out of this movie. I could crush this movie. Because that's how things get made. That's how writing careers flourish. Okay, is that that's my advice.

Alex Ferrari 50:43
That's great advice. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Danny Strong 50:49
What I just told you?

Alex Ferrari 50:51
Fair enough.

Danny Strong 50:53
100% true. took me six years, something like that to figure out? Oh, because I was writing high concept comedies all through my 20s. Okay, because Jim Carrey comedies were those those like real high like liar liar man, Bruce Almighty, those were the biggest hits, and I was trying to write comedies. So obviously, I got to write these because that's what the market wants. And, and they were pretty good. You know, I did a pretty good job. I got some attention from them. And, but none of them sold. And then all of a sudden, seven years later, I'm like, wow, I've just spent seven years writing movies. That is not really my thing. Good. Right.

Alex Ferrari 51:29
Good advice. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time, or three screen pilots that anyone should the screenwriter should read either one.

Danny Strong 51:41
Well, I would say my three favorite films are Apocalypse Now. The Sweet Smell of Success. Why don't we say number three, we'll say Chinatown.

Alex Ferrari 51:57
All good choices. And three pilots.

Danny Strong 52:00
Those are all three of my favorites. Three pilots have a madman pilot? Yeah. Wowza. Yeah, that's something to behold. I'm trying to because pilots are hard because you're setting so much stuff up. They're really hard. I, you know, I don't know if it's one of my favorites of all time, but a great pilot, and a great show from this last year was hacks. Yeah. That's a great pilot. And in the show is fantastic. It's probably one of my favorite things of the year was hacks and, you know, really set up these two characters and these two different places. And I remember there was a scene towards the end, because one's a comic and one's a comedy writer, and they just start shit talking each other in comedy. And it was like, you know, it just was like, like Star Wars with two lightsabers battling each other, except in their case, their lightsabers. What were their comedy skills. And so it was hilarious in character driven and tense all at once, which made it pretty effing genius. So big big hacks fan. I don't know I it's tough. Get you know, it's a I maybe I'm biased. I have a limited series this year with dope sick, but I think the limited series space is pretty incredible. Shows out this year. They're so well done, you know, Mayor of Eastwood, per Mary's town, here. He's calling it Murphy's book, or is that correct?

Alex Ferrari 53:37
It might be No, I'm not sure if it's East. I

Danny Strong 53:40
Whatever it is fucking great. White Lotus is great. And underground railroads

Alex Ferrari 53:47
Queen's Gambit. Yeah.

Danny Strong 53:48
Queen's Gambit is unbelievable. So there's these pieces that there are I don't know to me there's in some ways more exciting the movies. I get more excited about these these kind of prestigious limited series right now. And in that there, I just get more caught up in them. There it is. And they seem to break out in a bigger way than movies have for a little while. I mean, I don't know what movie was as big as the Queen's gambit was that year, right?

Alex Ferrari 54:16
Look at Squid Games. I mean, look at Squid Games for god sakes.

Danny Strong 54:18
Yeah, yeah, Squid Games is an ongoing but it's it's a it's just there's some really explosive rich stuff happening in that space right now.

Alex Ferrari 54:28
Dan, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend. I thank you so much for taking out the time and please continue to make great television. Great work out there. We really appreciate you man.

Danny Strong 54:37
Oh, Alex, thanks so much, man. It was so much fun chatting with you and and thank you to everyone listening to this. I really appreciate it.

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BPS 161: Inside the Making of Quentin Tarantino 1st Unreleased Feature

Now, I was scanning the web the other day, and I came across a book about the making of Quentin Tarantino‘s first feature film. Quite fascinated that someone took the time to dig into the unreleased, My Best Friend’s Birthday, which I’ve spoken about a bit on my podcast and also written a couple of articles about the film. So, as per usual, I invited the author, Andy Rausch to the show to talk a bit more about his book.

Before this interview, I did not know that Andy has spent years interviewing other prominent industry names and has authored over forty non-fiction on specific works of established entertainment contributors.

Writing forty books is no small feat.

Some of Rausch’s publications include Turning Points in Film History (2004), The Films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro (2010), Making Movies with Orson Welles, a Gary Graver memoir, and Fifty Filmmakers: Conversations with Directors from Roger Avary to Steven Zaillian (2008).

But today, l would like to get into the weeds on Rausch’s 2019, My Best Friend’s Birthday: The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film book, which is the story of a group of friends who set out to make their own movie in 1983, financing it with Tarantino’s minimum-wage earnings from his job at a video store. In most biographies and Tarantino histories, this unfinished $5,000 film is mentioned only in passing and is looked upon as little more than a curiosity. But with this oral history, author/editor Andrew J. Rausch details how each of the friends came together, other early film projects they worked on, and how they ended up making (or trying to make) a black-and-white screwball comedy.

Check out the show notes below for links to some of Andy’s other books, all available on Amazon.

Enjoy my chat with writer, Andy Rausch.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:12
I'd like to welcome to the show Andy Rausch man, how you doing, Andy?

Andy Rausch 0:15
Hey, how's it going, man?

Alex Ferrari 0:16
I'm good, man. I'm good. Thank you so much for your patience. On forgetting it's getting us together. It's been. It's been a minute, but we're here now. It's been a it's been a little while, but Oh, good things, you know, all good things come to, for those who waits to get this thing together. So we're on here. Now I was scanning the the the World Wide Web the other day. And I came across your book about the making of Quentin Tarantino's first, quote unquote, feature. And I was fascinated that someone took the time to dig into the unreleased film, my best friend's birthday, which I've spoken about a bit on the on the show and also written a couple articles about it. And done in just in there's there's some of it available online to people to watch and stuff. But I really love to get into the into the weeds on it. So for those who don't know, where Quintin got his start, can you kind of talk a little bit about his origins and getting into into this project?

Andy Rausch 1:25
Okay, well, one of the things that the book focuses on in some of the the even earlier projects that Clinton had worked on my best friend's birthday was the first one that he directed, but he'd helped out and on some other films, it was basically the, essentially the same crew that worked on those. And so really, it evolved. So he worked on these are no budget movies, shot in people's backyards on you know, basically on video, and and these were in the early 80s. And, like, there's one where, you know, Quinn's the bad guy, and everybody talks about it, but there's no, you know, they were like, He's great. But you know, there's no, there's no footage left of it. And, you know, that was, I believe, directed by alcohol, which is a member of that group that everybody talks about outs passed on now. But um, you know, and I think that was kind of a mix of, I'm trying to remember. It was kind of like assault on precinct 13. Meat, something else I can't even remember. But then like Quinn, and I think Craig Hammond who co wrote my best friend's birthday, were the bad guys, if I remember correctly in that movie, and they don't exist anymore.

Alex Ferrari 2:37
they don't exist anymore. And they don't, none of those footage exists anymore.

Andy Rausch 2:41
No, not as far as I know. And he worked on some other stuff here in there. So he ends up getting them Well, not really even getting the money, he ends up getting the desire to make his own movie. So he talks to his friend Craig Hammon, they come up with this idea. So they're going to make a movie, they have no money, Quentin works a minimum wage job, as everybody knows that video archives. They have no money, but they have this, this desire. So Craig writes a script at the time for my best friend's birthday, which is a very, very short script at the time. And it's a screwball comedy, which that's one of the things I find interesting here is that not only could I with this book, shark, the evolution of Quentin, as a filmmaker, as a writer, as you know, a creative, but also, it's interesting, because we as we think of him as Mr. Gun, you know, he talked about that one time, everybody thinks of me, as Mr. Gun, he does crime, or he does Western something where, you know, people are going to get shot and all that good stuff. And, but this was a screwball comedy. So then, and so Craig writes a script, when it comes in and expands it, somewhat, rewrites it, but then they go out and they shoot and they have to shoot piece by piece by piece. They're out stealing shots, because they can't afford, you know, locations that can and well, and what's funny, I'm skipping around, but on the film that they shot before that Warzone. There was a time when they were there that's detailed in the story in the book and is very funny, where they were stealing shots. And so they all have these guns, and they're, you know, supposed to be tough guys, and there's a motorcycle and the cops show up and, and aim their guns at everybody and make them lay down on the ground. And what's really funny, and this is the great part about an oral history, where it's all told in the dialogue, is it some of the people are like, you know, I Clinton's like, we weren't scared at all. And if someone else is like, we were all crying and you know, and it's just it's completely different. These different takes on in an oral history is great, because it gives you this Rashomon kind of story where you have all these different perspectives which which are different generally, even if it's something that just happen But when you you take a story that happened in the 1980s, and you tell it, you know, you're gonna get different versions of that. So anyway, they're making my best friend's birthday on Quinn's minimum wage salary. on film. on film. There's right on film. Yes, they're shooting this one on film. And so they're just shooting it little by little over time. I guess a lot of the scenes, they end up improvising or they take a nugget of what was in the script. And they, they come up with something new. So at the time, Clinton's acting teacher was Alan Garfield, who's in a lot of great films like the stunt man, and, you know, things like Beverly Hills Cop to all kinds of stuff. And so he gets Alan Garfield to do a scene. He gets Brenda Hillhouse, who is one of his acting teachers from his first acting school to come and do this scene with Alan Garfield, and Brenda and people will remember from from dusk till dawn, she's the one that they kidnap. And Richie kind of gets a little creepy with her. And you know, when George Clooney Seth comes back, there's blood everywhere. And that's what's left. Oh, yeah. Also in his er episode, and she's the mother of little bush, in the famous Christopher Walken. I had a watch in my ass thing. Yeah. And so anyway, he gets these, this is a one of the most telling representative scenes of how they had to shoot with no budget. So they needed for this scene, there's a bakery, but they they don't have a bakery. So they shoot it in video archives when nobody's around. So then it becomes a video store slash bakery. Which No, that doesn't make any sense. But it's funny, because you know, and I've worked on micro films, I've worked on some some shitty promo movies. And, you know, this is a thing you have to you know, adapt, improvise, make these things work. And not only that, but

they made Allen Garfield's character named Bill Smith, after William Smith, the great actor, who was one of when he was sitting on one of our movies, but he was one acquaintance favorite actors. So it becomes a Bill Smith video store slash bakery. And you don't they do this scene and again, kind of representative. So Alan Garfield brings his dog he's an acquaintance quote that he tells me for the book was, he's one of those guys. He's one of those bring your puppy around, you know, those guys. And, and Clinton says it very respectfully because he loved Alan Garfield, but the dog gets into the case and eats the cake. While they're they're doing the dialogue scene, then when they need the cake, the cakes eaten by the dog. And I mean, it's just a kind of a comedy of errors.

Alex Ferrari 7:51
Now, you you interviewed you, you and you actually interviewed Quinn for part of this book? Yeah.

Andy Rausch 7:56
Yeah. I had tried to interview Quentin for years. I met him in 1999 it when he used to do the film festivals in Austin, at Rick Linklaters. Yeah, thing. They were the first Alamo Drafthouse. And I was working on my first book was supposed to be about printing. And I think I kind of scared Quentin away at that time, because Jamie Bernard was writing the intro. And Quinn had a falling out with Jamie Bernard, who wrote his first biography. So I kind of think what happened was, he associated me with her, and he didn't want to be involved. He was very nice. But all of a sudden, people were calling back saying, I'm not supposed to talk to you. And so I knew kind of what was going on. I kept working on the book on and off. did more books. I mean, I've got 46 books out this year, I think and God bless you. Life otherwise, but so anyway, and I was gonna do this book on all acquaintance films, because at the time I started, there were two biographies. It was one by winsley Clark's and there was the one by Jamie Barnard but I wanted to do a kind of a companion to the film's which is funny now to think because I started that in 1997 when all there was was, you know, that he directed was Reservoir Dogs Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, then you know, it's also going into True Romance Natural Born Killers, God Natural Born Killers that and, um, and, you know, from dusk till dawn and True Romance. So anyway, I worked on this book on and off for a million years, I picked up this book called Quentin Tarantino FAQ. Well, is the same book. So I ended up just throwing that book out. And I couldn't be interviews I had done with a lot of cool people like Monte Hellman and Roger Avery. Tom savini. I went ahead and I put it out a few years ago. That was my first book on Tarantino. So that's called conversations on Quentin Tarantino. Right that came out in the night. 2015 2016 Now we kept trudging forward and and it all came together, man.

Alex Ferrari 10:08
So Alright, so you're so they're starting to shoot this thing. And for my understanding the lore is that they shot this over like a year or something like that or

Andy Rausch 10:17
more. It was several years, I don't remember specifically,

Alex Ferrari 10:21
I was a while, it was like, on the weekends, whenever I'm whenever they can, like, grab enough money to buy some film stock or some short ends to go shoot this thing.

Andy Rausch 10:29
Right? Well, then people's hair would change, it would become longer, shorter, longer, you know, you know, all of these different things. You know, the lead actress, she moved away, and then they had to have her come, she was teaching, they had to have her come back.

Alex Ferrari 10:47
So it didn't I mean, I've heard this story 1000 times from so many filmmakers that I've interviewed over the years, but hearing it the kwinter and team have started like, it's so it's so much it's so much fun. Because, you know, in so many ways, you know, quitting is arguably one of these mythical filmmakers. He's, he's one of you know, he's he's one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation, let alone and all the film history. So he's almost at that kind of like mount Hollywood or a guard on Mount Hollywood. But to know that he started like us mortals. It's interesting, too, it's always interesting to see how they got started, because most people just think he just showed up with Reservoir Dogs and exploded and that was the end of it. But it took a while to get there. Now, when he was putting this all together, they basically were financing this through Quinn's minimum wage job at a video store.

Andy Rausch 11:40
Right. And I think some of the other people would occasionally chip in money. But it was pretty much just with his minimum wage job. And who it was to save up for a month or two to be able to rent the camera for a night, then they'd shoot for 24 hours straight in or whatever they could write, you know, when on short ends and

Alex Ferrari 11:59
right, and how did they edit this over? they edited this on flatbed?

Andy Rausch 12:03
Well, that's part of the problem. You know, so Quentin waits a long time to edit it, because they had to. Yeah, they had to hire somebody to edit. So they hire somebody to help edit at one point, but that didn't really work out. Well. Quinn ends up renting a flat bed, and finding out eventually that the movie wasn't what he thought it was. And that's kind of the we'll get there, I'm sure. But that's sort of the story of where the movie ends up being. I wanted to say two things about this book. One, I thought it was important because I wanted to show the evolution of him as a filmmaker, people think, as you said that you just somebody that's that gifted just evolves from the you know, they're they just pop out of the womb, and they're fully formed. And that's not the case, you know, with anybody I had seen. There was a lot of talk about Stanley Kubrick's first film, your desire. Yeah. Right. And, you know, in Stanley tried to suppress that coming out later on. But it's important because again, it's a documentation of his, like, it doesn't take away from the things he did later on. It only helps us to see his evolution as an artist. And so there was a time I tried to get Quentin for this book. Couldn't get him, I made my last plugin. I said, I think you probably want to suppress this, but you shouldn't. And here's why. yada, yada, yada. But I was interesting. When I interviewed him, he said, No, I don't want to suppress this, like Quentin still loves this movie. He knows it's problematic. But he loves it. And he still has most of it. The other thing I wanted to get to was, is that what this book is really about, because people think well, how can a whole book just be about this movie? And that's true. So what this book actually is, is it in three parts. The first part is sort of the biggest thing we've seen on Clinton's life. And all of those people in his sphere, leading up to my best friend's birthday, it's called I think it's been a while since I wrote it, I think it's it's something like the players come together. And what it is, it's, again, the most detailed look at video archives, all of that, Roger Avery. And you know, I interviewed all of these people for the book, including Avery whom I've interviewed several times, and, and it's a really cool book, but it shows how they all met, and then you know how they get to a place where they're going to make movies. Then the second part is them making movies. So it starts out with all of the little movies they work on, and how they get to my best friend's birthday. And then kind of just a blow by blow of as best anybody can reassemble. What that shoot was like, as told by Greg Hammond, Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avery, and all of the cast that was still alive that I could find and then The third part looks at the existing script. And it kind of with some running commentary, and it kind of shows us what that movie might have been. Now it's important to point out the script that is floating around everybody always thinks when they find it Oh, I found the script you know and but this script that's floating around is not actually the script. It's the closest back silmo assembly there is but what it actually is is when later on when Craig Hammond option the screenplay to Don Murphy, which is a whole other math that a lot of us probably know parts of this book details

Alex Ferrari 15:36
that well, what what was that? So the option this script to somebody else?

Andy Rausch 15:41
Well, what happened was Don Murphy who was quaintance enemy, who is the producer of Natural Born Killers, they had had that big falling out over Natural Born Killers. He is the guy that Quinten quote unquote, bitch slapped in a restaurant, and again ended up in a big lawsuit. So So Don Murphy,

Alex Ferrari 16:00
Murphy, bitch slap Quinn, when bitch slap, don't Murphy, that makes more sense,

Andy Rausch 16:04
I've got everybody's consensuses is that the main reason Don Murphy wanted to option this script was the piske went north. So he goes to Clinton's old writing partner who loves Clinton to this day and never wanted to screw Clinton over. But he went to him and he dangled money over his head and rock and and Craig thought this was going to be great for everybody. He thought it was gonna be great for him and Quinn, and it really didn't work out that way. Quintin blew up, and, you know, he got into a fight and, and that's documented in the book, too. But I'm in everybody's words. But at that time, what Craig did was essentially take all of the things that they improvised and wrote them into script form also. So it becomes this script that is sort of a kind of a weird bastardization of all of the forms of script that had existed and also the improvised scenes, and with Craig actually writing little things to kind of link some of the scenes together that there was no link for, because there were things that they ended up shooting that weren't in the original script. So it's kind of a, it's interesting to imagine what might have been, but we don't fully know what might have been

Alex Ferrari 17:15
so so then, but then eventually, obviously, done, Murphy did. So

Andy Rausch 17:18
Tom Murphy did get the rights to this to the script. He did. And there was a time when I knew Don a little and I'd asked him about the script. And he pretty much just admitted, I don't remember what his words are. And I don't want to get sued, because he is a TGS. Guy. But he basically admitted to the effect that that was why he optioned it, he had said that it was never going to get made. And I think it was known from the beginning, it wasn't really going to get made.

Alex Ferrari 17:46
So so then just on the in the, in the, in the in the timeline here, when my best friend's birth, my best friend's birthday is being shot, Quinn wrote True Romance and Natural Born Killers during this time.

Andy Rausch 17:59
Right. And those were originally one screenplay called the open road, which was something like a 600 page 500 page script. And what it was was you had the characters, most of those are kind of similar thematically, right, like True Romance and Natural Born Killers. We have the man and the woman some kind of criminal on the run. Okay. So in the original, the open road script. He has Clarence in Alabama, from True Romance, your story, but in the middle of they're doing these things. Also writing a screenplay, and that screenplay is Natural Born Killers. So it would go back and forth between as I'm told I've not seen that right. I have no idea if it you never really even know if these things really exist. You get bits and pieces of different people's stories, but that's what it's supposed to be so so

Alex Ferrari 18:55
then Natural Born Killers A True Romance were four together which I've never heard before. And by the way, I'm interested in seeing that movie. Look to see this eight hour miniseries. That would be so but then he broke those apart and sold those separately and he got some money for those if I'm if from what I said like it was the most money he'd probably ever seen at that point.

Andy Rausch 19:18
Right. And I would still contend True Romance is one of his. It's one of my favorites of His love, even though you know, he would have done different things than Tony Scott did. I still think it's brilliant in its way. And you know, when I said thumbs down to Natural Born Killers, it's only because I think Quinn's original script for Natural Born Killers is great. But the thing that Oliver Stone made is kind of a mess. There are people that love it love aspects of it. I think it's a huge mess. It's a big experimental student film with, you know, several million dollar budget. But

Alex Ferrari 19:51
yeah, no, exactly. I Well, I would have been very interested to see the Quinn natural born killer script, originally but what Oliver did was with Oliver But with but with that said, to romance when they released the like 10 disc, you know, Master collection of Quinn's work, they included romance as part of his filmography. That's how much love he has for that film. And he actually does a commentary track on entre romance talking about what he just loved what Tony did. And I mean, the scene between walking in and hopper. I mean, this is probably one of the best scenes in movie history. It's amazing. It's amazing. Yeah, it's it's remarkable. I mean, it was absolutely remarkable. So you're so he's making so during his selling the scripts, so he's trying to get into Hollywood, and trying to make a name for himself. And he knows where he wants to go. But he's trying he's, he's struggling. When When did he actually how old was he? When he actually finally did reservoir? Because he wasn't a young guy at I mean, young,

Andy Rausch 20:56
in his 30s. I don't remember exactly. But he was his early 30s. He and I'm, I don't even want to say I'm 48. So he's 28. And you know, and so by that time, he's in his 30s. And I mean, God bless him good for him that, you know, he made that breakthrough. You know, it's funny another thing to talk about real quick. Is that true romance went through a couple of hands too, before it got made because Samuel had died a was originally at the producer was going to make it as a low budget film. And at one time Oh, what is this thing? I can't think of his name the the director of like maniac and maniac cop. William Lustig was going to direct it. At one point, I tried to get Lustig to talk for the book, but I and I get it, he doesn't want to talk about it. I'm sure. That would have been interesting. Cuz that would have been a whole other level of low budget. And, you know, what that movie would have been?

Alex Ferrari 21:54
Yeah, it's just, it's always very, it's kind of like, Oh, it's like going back to Kubrick's and like, oh, would have been interesting to see his Holocaust film. It would have been interesting to see his Napoleon. Like, you know, you see these amazing artists, you're like, Oh, those are the paintings that never got painted. kind of thing. And now, so what so with with going back to my best friend's birthday, so it's taken him a few years to get this thing together. He's edited it together now. Where what happened to her there was a fire, that part of it was lost. What was that story about?

Andy Rausch 22:31
Okay, so the story up until this book has always been that there was a fire that lab fire that destroyed significant parts of the film. Now, as I'm proud of myself, I find out in this book that is not true. And even get Quentin to admit it. Okay, so what basically, there was some stuff destroyed, but it was so minimal that it didn't change the course of the film. What actually kind of kills the film, is it takes quite a long time. He's starting to, when he's editing it, he sees what he's a god. You know, and he talks about it at length in the book. It's not what he thought it was gonna be, he thought it was gonna be like, she's got to have it. Or one of these, you know, Richard Linklater kind of movie, this low budget, indie thing, and, and it's kind of a mess. And he's heartbroken and he's devastated. And he says that the writers of the Autobot of the biographies kind of came up with the story, that there was a lab fire but other people involved with the movie say that he told them there was a fire, kind of, I think maybe to just calm everybody down, get them off of the the truth of the matter is it went on for so long, he's starting to get some success. I don't blame him for eventually, you know, shelving it because even at its best, this movie would have never stacked up, it would have never fit on a shelf alongside, you know, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, those movies, the script is brilliant. There are scenes of brilliance that are written by both, you know, Craig and Quentin together, each of them separate. There are some brilliant moments in that script. The dialogue is amazing. But what was being put on film wasn't. But when learned from it, he learned how to direct actors. He learned these things. And there's a line that Quentin says in the book, I'm gonna screw it up, but I will get to the eventual heart of it. Quentin says very proudly of himself, and rightfully so. He says, I'm proud of myself, and I'm proud of this movie, because you know what, everyone else who would have made this movie and seen what it was, after all these years, would have given up and I didn't go, I didn't give up. I kept going, and I let that fuel me instead of sitting around mourning the loss of this movie and, and he's right, you know, he's absolutely right.

Alex Ferrari 24:52
Yeah, I mean, because I mean, it's I look, I mean, I've been a filmmaker for 20 odd years, I completely I completely feel I completely like sometimes you look at stuff You're just like, Oh, this is it's this is not what was in my mind. I didn't get I didn't get the crew that I needed. I didn't have the skill set, my tools were not prepared. When I when I had Richard on Richard Linklater on the show, he said one of the best lines I've ever heard about filmmaking, he says, eventually, hopefully, your skill set will catch up to your ideas. And I was like, oh, and he also said, everything is going to take twice as long and twice, it's going to be twice as hard to both those are great, great, great lines. But it's absolutely true. Because when you come out as a filmmaker, you're just like, all these ideas. And yeah, we'll get a techno crane here. We'll swing the camera there. We'll do this Scorsese shot here and but you don't have the skill set, you don't have the tools and quit. And at that point in his life, he was basically a video store clerk, honing his skills, honing, what he had learned and in taken in all throughout his life,

Andy Rausch 25:57
what and one thing that's cool about this movie, is that not only did he not go to film school, none of the people involved in this movie went to film school, as they all say, this was their film school. And I want to tell you how significant this movie is, when you think of it like this dream. You know, three movie directors come out of this little shitty movie. You get Quentin, obviously, Roger Avery goes on, Craig Hammond goes on, he should have had a bigger career. But either way, he goes on he makes Boogie boy. And he writes some action movies and stuff. I mean, three people go on to become professional filmmakers out of a $5,000 movie, shot over several years in people's houses.

Alex Ferrari 26:39
It's it's no, it's it's insane. And now I have to ask now, there is an existing version of this floating around the internet. How did that think get out? And what is that?

Andy Rausch 26:49
Well, there are only a it's not the whole movie, obviously. 30 minutes. It's funny. There's two different versions one has, there's an extra scene with Quentin crag talking a kind of a heartfelt scene. And it's in some of them, and it's not in others. This was the exact version that they were showing around at one time to be there. You know, kind of like a real demo. Yeah, who's got it up. And they were they were showing it around trying to get jobs. I've heard some speculation that, you know, it might have been Russell Bosler, or not Russell, but Rand. They're brothers, Rand vossler, who ended up being the associate producer on Natural Born Killers and worked on some other stuff. But I'm really don't know. I mean, I know that. Rand has a lot of this stuff at his house. I don't know. He took pictures of the of the film reels to prove to me that it existed and send it to me.

Alex Ferrari 27:53
He has the film we

Andy Rausch 27:55
Quinten holds no no grudge against whoever did release it. I think he's kind of happy about it.

Alex Ferrari 28:01
Where are you? I mean, because look at that. At the point he is in his like way, even when it was released, he had already done Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. And Jackie, I'm like, you're growing up. You

Andy Rausch 28:10
have nothing to be embarrassed about by that point.

Alex Ferrari 28:13
Yeah. I mean, when when you make Pulp Fiction, you're pretty much you got a pass for life. As far as like other stuff that you might have done. That's not particularly great, because you are you are who you are. But so then I have to ask who owns the rights to this thing? Because people are putting it out there. I've seen it for sale. In some places, obviously bootleg versions,

Andy Rausch 28:33
it's definitely Quentin owns the rights. But I don't know, I don't think anybody's actually, you know, claimed it or anything. Quinn does say that he wants to maybe one of these days. Who knows Quintin comes up with a lot of ideas of things he wants to do and make and they often don't get made. And I get it, you know, he's got big ideas. But he talked about sometimes he thinks he'd like to have somebody edit this together, just for him to just have a version of the whole movie, edited together. And, and, oh, I'm just gonna tell you this. It's great story where he talks about I don't, he didn't say who the filmmaker was. But he says he shows this famous filmmaker early on. After Reservoir Dogs, he shows him the footage of my best friend's birthday. And the guy says what you should do and it's a foreign filmmaker. And he says what you should do is you take this, and you go out in a boat, and you wrap this film up in some kind of cement and you throw it as far as you can into the ocean. And, and I mean, it's funny, but Quintin is still proud of it. And he talks about how proud he is of certain scenes, especially the one with Alan Garfield, which was why I highlighted that one. But

Alex Ferrari 29:45
yeah, and I mean, this is a perfect candidate for Criterion Collection one day, like it's a perfect candidate for relief through criteria. Perfect as an extra on

Andy Rausch 29:55
one of those movies. I'd love to see that, you know, let me know the criteria has come out and you have All kinds of extras that'd be perfect.

Alex Ferrari 30:02
Right? And it also needs to be properly remastered, properly edited, properly mixed all of these things. So so so the full movie exists in reels at this point.

Andy Rausch 30:14
I think it's something like 98% 95% enough that you can put something together.

Alex Ferrari 30:21
But it's not. But it's never been cut together in a way. It's so basically there's a lot. So basically, the only thing that we've seen online is a demo reel that was cut together to kind of try to get gigs for quitting and the other filmmakers. And that's why that exists. But the raw footage of that film sits in Quentin's vault somewhere where he could eventually if he feels so inclined to

Andy Rausch 30:46
become interesting is a bit. I'm not sure how this works out, because I believe Quentin has footage, but then ran vossler has, I believe all of the footage, so it's really confusing as to and they don't talk anymore. They most of these people had some sort of falling out at some point. And I mean, it just it happens. But yeah,

Alex Ferrari 31:07
egos get involved.

Andy Rausch 31:08
I know, you know, and egos all of it. But you know, somebody is curious. I don't really know. You know, if there's two sets of the I don't know, that's really

Alex Ferrari 31:19
that's never talked about that when you talk to them?

Andy Rausch 31:22
Not really, you know, well, you know, it was great was, when I talked to Quentin, he was in the editing room of once upon a time in Hollywood, took a break, he calls, and we talked for an hour and a half, and it's great. And I save it for the end because I don't want to make you mad. Because, you know, I mean, I, I need this. So I get to the end. And I say so. You know, I asked him about the fire and I tell him somebody showed me a photo and stuff and and he says, you know, well, you know, and and he kind of tells me then he hadn't we we end the call. He calls me five minutes later and he goes, Okay, let me tell you and he says, you know, the biographers made up that story. I didn't, you know, and so I mean, I do love it, you know, he's concerned about, about the image stuff, but twins got to know he's well beyond that. No, it doesn't matter. He's secured his place no matter what.

Alex Ferrari 32:14
Oh, in cinema history. Yeah, there's nothing if you don't like him. He's a legend. No, yeah, you could either. You could either love them or hate them. But you can't, you cannot say that he's not a filmmaker. He cannot say that he's not an epic filmmaker, and that there's massive people who love his work around the world. He's probably the one that I mean, other than I think he probably is more recognizable in certain generations than Spielberg is now. But he's up there with Hitchcock and Spielberg and Scorsese. And

Andy Rausch 32:43
in fact, the people that don't know movies know his name, they might not know what he's done. But if you say Quentin Tarantino, they go, Ah, you know, and yeah, like Spielberg and Scorsese. They know these names.

Alex Ferrari 32:53
Yes. Like Hitchcock or Spielberg, you know, you know, even my mother who's probably seen maybe one or two of Spielberg movies knows who Spielberg is, right. You know, things like that. And it's Same thing for Tarantino. Like I've heard that name, he's, he's something he's done something that's fat. That's absolutely fascinating. It's really great to kind of just see the origin. And I'm assuming the book goes in much greater detail in this. But now how the relationship with Roger Roger Avery, how was that? That form? Because from my understanding, and I know, this is a different movie, but when he came into Pulp Fiction, Roger obviously is the CO writer of pulp fiction, but he he technically gets story credit, but not screenplay credit, I think. And, again, this is what I heard, because, you know, we're all filmmakers are like gossip queens. We're like a knitting circle. That quit and asked him Can I get the screenplay credit? You get the story credit, but if we win something, and that's why he's up there with the with the Oscar, what do you know about that? And how was and how did that relationship build up? Start? Did it start in my best friend's birthday?

Andy Rausch 33:57
Okay. Okay, so first, they worked at my best friend's bar, sorry, they worked at video archives together. I believe Roger worked at another video store previously, and one of the owners of, of video archives. I'm trying to remember exactly how that works. It seemed like somebody's father owned it or something, I don't know. But he had worked at the other one and ends up coming to this video store and, and he talks him into interviewing Quentin, or, you know, to giving Clinton the job. And they talk about the interview in there, where it's basically like, he looks at him and says, You got the job and you know, so they become friends there. So they're making these movies, all these guys hanging out at video archives. They become friends. These two are super tight. Then when they make what so much so they're so tight and their voices at one time are so much in sync. You know that Roger Avery was the one that was brought in to rewrite the end of truth. romance when Tony Scott decided he wanted to make those characters live because they are at least Clarence dies in the integrity, no script, you know, he decides to make them live. Quinn refuses to write that scene. So they bring in Roger Avery. And you know, because they, at that time are in sync, I believe Avery gets brought in to write a scene for Natural Born Killers. They got cut, it was the one with the the big twin brother. muscle man, you know, so anyway, they're working on all these things together. This is where I'm gonna get in trouble. Okay, because there's a lot of talk about what they you know, Roger didn't deserve the credit in this and that, if you see Rogers script, what was it when demonium rains, okay, see a script for pandemonium rains. It's almost word for word verbatim for the second act of natural born air of pulp fiction, which is the bush stuff, all of the pawn shop stuff gets almost verbatim the same stuff. Okay. So I mean, he absolutely deserves the CO writing credit, he deserves the story credit. I like Clinton's mom a lot. Um, you know, we were friends. She's actually the one that kind of set me up Quinn. But, you know, she was telling me, oh, Roger, you know, he doesn't deserve the credit. And, look, it's what my mom would say if I was, you know, sure. But look, I'm not saying anything bad about either of them. They're both brilliant. They're both they're fantastic filmmakers. I, they did finally make up last year. Okay, on that I did an article for Diablo League, where Roger says we just connected last week. And so they are friends again. I don't know if they'll work again. But they're friends. They were meeting up and stuff. And you know, I'm there. But again, there's no reason for either of them to be mad at each other. And there's no reason for anybody to be mad at me for telling it because the truth of the matter is, they're both brilliant. They both had a hand in it. I love the movie. I love both of their contributions, if they do, right, or at least at one time, could write seamlessly, you know, kind of in the same voice.

Alex Ferrari 37:10
Which is, which is very interesting, because what was the rules of it? It was rules of attraction, right? Yeah. Which was, which is a brilliant film. I love rules of attraction. And even though he was good, too,

Andy Rausch 37:23
yeah. Oh, yeah. Can't

Alex Ferrari 37:25
leave Oh, forgot about that one. Yeah. But But Roger Rogers dialogue is it's fantastic. Quinn's dialogue is something so specific, and it is more stylistic. It weaves itself in a way that it's so that's why you could see that in my best friend Nicole. It has a cadence to it. It's, it's, it is really a remarkable, like, even in my best friend's birthday, you can start seeing sparks of that. There are scenes of that you just going Oh, there it is. I don't know what this other stuff is. But there's the quittin that you can start seeing it coming out. in it. It is there was just nobody. It's like It's like listening to us working or Kaufman. You know, their dialogue in the way they write their movies are just so specific. Yes. Specific to them. It is an hour. Mamet. Exactly,

Andy Rausch 38:20
yeah, yeah. You started listening to the best mom to me in my, in my best friends. But there's so many of these movies to keep together here. But um, the best time there's a monologue in my best friend's birthday. That is just brilliant, where and I think it's just as good as his later stuff. We're Quentin's giving this, this long thing about how many it's absurd, and it's so funny and weird. And he's talking about it. Four years old, he got depressed, and he was thinking about suicide. And he's like, four years old. It's ridiculous. And I think he was depressed because he found out Eddie Cochran died. It's just this ridiculous thing. But he gives this long monologue about how he turned on the television. And there was a good episode of Partridge Family on and the episode of The Partridge Family made him happy and he decided not to kill himself. And it's, it's absurd, but it's just the writing is brilliant. It's already got the pop culture references from his early work. I mean, we noticed he's gotten away from that some Well, I say that but then once upon a time in Hollywood just takes us right back to that it's all pop culture but

Alex Ferrari 39:28
Well, I mean, like when you're when you're I mean, you can't do as much pop culture in Django Unchained in glorious back door historical films, but when he's in modern times, or even not even modern times, like still once upon a time in Hollywood was what the 60s right. So but you could still do pop culture within its its thing, right? I mean, yeah, it's, I mean it What can we say that hasn't been said about Quentin Tarantino and about his work. It's It's remarkable. That's why I wanted to kind of dig into the weeds about this book and about his film because there is So much misinformation out there. And there's not really a lot of people a lot of information about the film because no one has taken the time to go deep into it like you have. This is the reference for this film,

Andy Rausch 40:10
I will say I'm incredibly proud of this. And I'm not I'm not somebody who's generally proud of their work. But I always in that way I should be, but I'm, you know, but I always wanted to write about Quentin. But he didn't want to do something that had already been done 10 times. One thing was was that, you know, in all of the other books, the biographies and stuff, it's like, two paragraphs, right about that movie. That's it, maybe two paragraphs. Right. Right. Right. And so I thought it was really fun to talk about that, but also to have him have them talk about some of the other early movie stuff. And that was kind of fun, too, because I'd never heard much of anything about at all about those, you know. So that was pretty neat. You know, and I am excited to be able to contribute to it and, and I think Quentin thought it was something special. And

Alex Ferrari 41:00
yeah, Quinn likes, likes the book. He likes the book, right? Yeah. Yeah, cuz he got it. Yeah, I saw that. He gave it a nice little quote, as well.

Andy Rausch 41:09
The one thing I will say I messed up something, I made his mother Connie kind of unhappy. And it was a mix up, I took a piece of information, like a little biographical detail, because I didn't want to reach out and bother people all the time. And I assumed things in other people's books are going to be right. And, again, not enough, but I I took this little thing about his family having these interesting hobbies. And one of them was like, a carrier pigeons or something, and archery, and come to find out those were before Quentin was born. And so they got it wrong in the other book, too. But, you know,

Alex Ferrari 41:49
now, all in all, I

Andy Rausch 41:50
think it's pretty, you know, it's pretty good. And it shows us a real picture of who Quentin was. There's a lot in it about acting school, when they were at the James best acting school when they he and Craig met, and we're taking acting classes. And we have, you know, two of their acting teachers in it talking about Quinn's acting and how Quinn started writing his own scenes for them to act out. That was the beginning of, of when the writer and they said he would go to the movies. And he would take a little bitty flashlight with him and a pad and he would try to write the monologues down so they could do them. And this is how this started. He would try to write these monologues down out of these movies. So they could, you know, act them out in their scenes for acting class, but he couldn't write fast enough. So they would start as a monologue from a movie and he would just start making up shit. And it would become this really bastardized kind of cool monologue. But like when it was a Paddy Chayefsky one from Marty, but it just ends up with all kinds of wild shit. And several people say, you know, it was even better than Marty, which I mean. I mean, it's just crazy. And that's what inspires him to become a writer, which is fascinating. Now with quit, why

Alex Ferrari 43:07
did what was his fascination with being an actor? Because he, I mean, I've seen it's very well documented, he wanted to be an actor, you That was his, he thought that was his way in. And he did get that little spot and Golden Girls, which was the same person, as the person. What did did he ever talk to you a little bit about that? In your travels?

Andy Rausch 43:28
didn't really go much into it. But I mean, we did talk about the acting class. And

but you know, I think I don't know. You know, I think at the time, he thought that's what he could do. He maybe wanted to be an actor and a director. I don't think he I don't think he just knew he could be a writer. And I think the doors really opened up because of his writing. And, you know, once he found that he was on fire, and I will say this, everybody says, you know, he's a bad actor, and blah, blah, blah. And I know at times his acting can be questionable, but I don't give a fuck what anybody says. He's brilliant. And from dusk till dawn. He's perfect. And I've heard people make shitty remarks. I don't remember who it was. Somebody said, Oh, well, he's, he's, he's perfect when he plays a crazy manner. You know, if somebody's trying to diss him, I don't remember. But the thing is, he can really act. The thing is, if you look at his own movies, I and I contend that a lot of times, He's the worst thing in his own movies, his acting, but I think a lot of that comes from him taking away him trying to direct and act at the same time. Generally, when he's at he's directing other people's performances. He can look at them objectively, but you can't really look at yourself objectively that goes out the window. And I think that's why you see him get better performances and other people's things than it gives in his own. Yeah, it's not that those are always perfect, either. But

Alex Ferrari 44:48
yeah, and I think I saw I saw a video where he was pitching. It was like a small little video I think he did forgot what it was for, but he was pitching the Muppets a movie idea or something like that. And I was like, wow, that That's actually brilliant the way he, I mean, he's playing himself, but, but it was quite brilliant about it know his, I mean look at when you because I know a lot of people, you know say why did he cast himself in Pulp Fiction. I mean, arguably He's the worst actor in that group. I'm like you've got Sam Jackson, john travolta, Harvey Keitel. Tough,

Andy Rausch 45:21
tougher, most people are going to be the worst person in that room. I mean, what I would have liked to see was at one time Tony Scott and him were going to make a version of Elmore Leonard's killshot. And he was going to have he was going it was going to be him and De Niro. And if you read the novel, they're interesting characters, because De Niro is a hitman. Now, he would have been like an Indian Hitman, which would be kind of interesting. And it named rainbird. And then Tarantino would have been this guy named Richie Nix. And I really think he could have played that role. really well. The project went by the wayside, and we'll never know. But I think that would have been really cool.

Alex Ferrari 46:00
Is there anything in early includes early times that he was starting to write or just never kind of like scripts that he went that didn't get it or projects that you heard that he wanted to do and couldn't get done early, like early stuff?

Andy Rausch 46:16
There were like little westerns, and there was something about Elvis and there were, you know, things that he wrote. It was a really neat, I used to have it a long time ago, and I lost it in a flood. But there was, he had written a treatment early on before any was like, he was his version of a john woo movie. And it was like, about these guys robbing this hotel, like in Hong Kong, and then it ends up with all these, these big Mexican standoffs and stuff. And it was made a lot of stuff like that, you know, like little odds and ends. In the book, Linda Kay, who was one of the actresses in the movie, and also has these really two tiny parts in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In one of them, she's shot woman and Pulp Fiction. She's shot woman, like she's the one that gets shot. When in the middle of the street when Oh, the one that Yeah, I'm just trying to shoot Bruce Willis. Yeah. And the other one, she's shocked woman. And she's the one that I think they steal her car I can't read. He's one of the things after the robbery. And But anyway, she tells a story about when she was typing up Quinten scripts early on. And she talks about this very Hitchcockian scene, which the way she describes it is brilliant, that when they come up with any he didn't want to, he didn't know how to show this violence or make it look real. And so there is there's people arguing in the camera turns slowly, and you can hear this record playing. And I'm going to screw this up a little bit. And it just goes in this big 360. And you hear this a couple screaming at each other and fighting. And then it stops. And then you just hear the the middle of the record goes. And when it comes back around, there's just blood everywhere. And I mean, it's a lot neater the way she describes it, because you can get a visual picture of it. So I mean, I think that he always had cool ideas from the get go

Alex Ferrari 48:13
was like Reservoir Dogs when he just pans off the air cutting scene. Oh, right. Right. Yeah, he just pants off of that. And then he's like, no, that's that's the shot. Yeah, instead of actually seeing it. It's much more disturbing if we don't see it. But that's Hitchcock. That was his that was cocking a tool. It's It's It's pretty remarkable. You know, talking about quitting in his early his early works. And I you know, obviously I'm a fan. And I'm very grateful that you actually sat down and how long did it take you to write this thing,

Andy Rausch 48:42
man, I'm grateful. Man, I'd been trying to get an interview since the 90s with him, and he did some fact checking for the first book that fell apart before he found out Jamie was involved in disappeared. But you know, so it took a long time to get that. And then once we did get it, I couldn't get a specific time. Then I got to talk because he was editing he was wrapped up in this editing. So he sets a time and I wait and he doesn't call. So then the next day I go on a date and it's my first date with the woman I ended up marrying becomes my wife now. We're on our first date. I'm on. How does it work? No. The first night we go to this Italian restaurant. I've got my phone turned off because I don't think anybody I sure don't think Quentin's calling. We didn't set anything up Quintin calls like three or four times which is great for him for persistence and not giving up. And he was very nice. He's like the squinter Tino I thought we were, you know, did you want to talk and then I'm thinking it's never gonna happen now. So, still trying to set something up. We go on another date the next night. We lived in separate towns, I'm on the highway, it's nighttime. And Quintin goals and I'm in the car and I'm like, man, I, I'm so sorry. I really would like to record this and he's like, Oh, it's okay. And I'm thinking this is not going to happen, I've just fucked this up, it's just not gonna happen. And then any says I might call you later. So when I get there, me and my date are just sitting there all night just kind of waiting for Quentin to call, and then he doesn't call. And then finally it happens. And it was just like holy shit, you know, and, and it was the interview that you would want to have with Quentin. You know, cuz sometimes they can go bad. Sometimes people make him mad, and yada, yada. So you can be unhappy. He was the perfect interview. And people said, afterward when you're going to interview him again. There's no need to interview him again. I have the one perfect interview. And I found it sometimes. I mean, I've interviewed four or 500 famous people in my life. And I found that when you really enjoy somebody's work, and you have a shitty experience with them, you never look at that stuff the same way you never enjoyed the same right? Right guarantee knows work means so much to me, then I don't really want to risk any kind of bad thing. You hit you hit anything. He was very giving. I'm the biggest fan. I love his work. I don't care. I love his work. I also write nor fiction, and he's been the biggest influence him and Elmore Leonard. Brian, I love his work.

Alex Ferrari 51:15
Yeah, you hit you hit, you hit the ball, you hit you hit the home, run the first time up the bat with him, and I'm not gonna I'm not gonna take another swing. I'm good. I'm good. I'm gonna, I'm retiring from that. Right, I completely get it. Now, where can where can people find out more about you? And and the work you're doing? Where can I get the book?

Andy Rausch 51:35
The book is available of the easiest place always to get it as Amazon. You know, I have to say it's through bear manner media, which a lot of those you're not going to generally find those in the bookstores. The film book. genre has really changed in the 25 years that I've been riding. It's used to be they were everywhere, you know, and my earliest books were with Kensington and Chronicle Books, and they were everywhere. I'd go into, you know, Walmart, hey, here's my book, and it was awesome. And that doesn't really happen anymore. And so people think I'll just read on the internet, and even if it's wrong, that's all I need to know about that movie. And so, you know, I but bear manner media is great. It just they're one of the you know, these, the ones that are left are mostly smaller publishers. Amazon is always a good place, or the bear Manor media website. I don't know what the address is. We'll put it in the show notes, all books with them on everybody from Ed Wood. Quinta, Stephen King.

Alex Ferrari 52:35
That's all

Andy Rausch 52:36
I'm really proud of this book. And I hope people will go out and read it, not because of me, but just because it's a good story. You know, it's a good story. And Quinn Quinn, as usual, has a story to tell,

Alex Ferrari 52:47
as he as he always does. Now, I'm going to ask you probably the most the most difficult question you've ever had about quitting. Three of your favorite Quinn films.

Andy Rausch 52:59
Pulp Fiction is always going to be my favorite. It's the one that I saw first, and it just knocked me on my ass off, guess get going to see it over and over in the theater. I would take everyone I could get to go see it. Like you got to see this movie. And everyone around me was sick of hearing about it sick of seeing it. But anything was every time you'd see it with a different audience, the experience would be different. Because it's funny when you're with an audience, there are certain scenes where everybody laugh, and sometimes nobody laughs that same scene. So that's my number one. I got to tell you number two, I think is I didn't. I got I was really disappointed when Jackie Brown first came out because it wasn't what we expected. But man, I've come to love that movie. I think it is a masterpiece. I think it's because it's more quiet. It's more. It's just not what we expected. I think it holds up. I think it looks better with every passing year. I think the performances are fucking amazing. And they're wrong. More and more people contend that say that it might actually be his best movie. And that may be true Pope will always be my favorite But no, I mean, and then third religion. And really true romantic Jackie Brown. They're they're neck and neck.

Alex Ferrari 54:09
Yeah, that's it. And for people who are Yeah, cuz you and I are similar vintage. So people don't understand. You know, I saw Paul multiple times in the theater. I was in film school and Paul came out so can you imagine I was like down the street from my film school. I went to the theater and I remember seeing the first time and I remember falling literally falling out of my chair. laughing with some of the things he because the stuff that was being said on screen. It was it was a nuclear bomb going off in cinema. It really it really was. I mean, it was just so undeniable. I've never experienced I mean, I'd imagine it'd be I'd imagine it'd be watching Clockwork Orange in the 70s or 2001. In the 60s like that, you know, like it's undeniable what you're seeing in front of you. And it just doesn't. I don't think it's happened since Pulp Fiction, maybe people could argue that there's been other films, but

Andy Rausch 55:07
I don't remember anything in that way. I mean, all of a sudden you had all these people imitating it. And it really odd the rise of indie film really was when

Alex Ferrari 55:18
it was I mean, and I, when I was talking to Richard about that, I asked him about that. And he's like, Look, the independent film movement as we know, it started pretty much with slacker, you know, slacker and 91. And in the end, it was all about the 90s Sundance films, and that's when the market changed. And that was VHS and started making it, you know, a feasible option to make money with these things. What reservoir showed up and then mariachi and clerks and brothers, Macmillan and all those others every month, there was a new guy. It was a new filmmaker that popped up. But Pulp Fiction was the first indie that was a blockbuster. I mean, it was a blockbuster. And it was

Andy Rausch 55:59
they released it twice. Because if you remember when it got nominated for an Oscar, they brought it back out.

Alex Ferrari 56:04
Oh, and they kept kept making money and money was a 7 million. I mean, it wasn't gonna say it's more. It was like a seven or $8 million film. So it wasn't a huge budget. It was essentially an indie budget as as a Studio code because it was released by by Miramax. But it made hundreds of millions of dollars. And you're right like the the rip offs that came off of PIP fiction. There were so many of those movies everyone was trying to write like when but nobody could write. No one can no one can write like him. There's so many rip off. It launched. It mean, it was in the Zeitgeist almost immediately like it just like, I just remember before Pulp Fiction. After puppet. It's kind of like there's certain movies that changed cinema. And I felt like the matrix when the matrix came out, it just completely changed action movies forever, is like before the matrix and like, so many people rip that off. So many people try to imitate it. And pulp was that as well. And there's there's like Star Wars is like that there's certain movies that come along that just do that.

Andy Rausch 57:03
If it hadn't been printed in Pulp Fiction, I would have never written about film. I mean, I liked movies, like everybody, and I was still watching the big tentpole shitty movies and thinking they were just as good as everything else. You know, I would, I didn't start learning about them studying about film, you know, really finding a passion for a film until that movie. I walked out of that movie stunned, I went on opening night. If I'm not wrong, it was like, What September? I don't know, like ninth or something. 1994 maybe it's 20, something like that. And I walked down and I was just stunned. I couldn't believe this thing I just seen and I knew something had changed inside of me, not only on this screen, but inside of me. And I and I just I thought I want to write about film. And that was that was finding film books right after that. That was, you know, when I thought man, I want to write about film.

Alex Ferrari 58:00
And I'll leave you with a little story that I know about quitting that I heard firsthand from someone. I don't know if you know this, and I do know the director Sheldon lected. Who Lynch children back in the day. Yeah. So yeah, the Bloodsport he wrote he wrote Bloodsport and directed Lionheart and, and stuff well, he knows he knew when he was. He was about I think from from Argentina. He either introduced them to Lawrence or they, they knew someone who knows it, but he knew Quinn, somehow, like Scott Spiegel and Lauren Stein,

Andy Rausch 58:32
someone evil and Sheldon were in the same circle and

Alex Ferrari 58:34
right and that there was something there, right but but he told me a quitting story. And you might know this story, but he's the he was he was working on. Was it Lionheart? I don't know if it was a Lionheart or Rambo, but he was working on a pre production in an office. And right next to him, he walked in the room and quit and was there and quit and goes, Oh, my God, it Sheldon liked it. And he's like, holy cow. It Sheldon and then he suspended Of course, quitting because he has that encyclopedic knowledge of film, started nailing all his old films and stuff like that. And apparently quitting was he was a telemarketer on selling. He was up selling video stores around the country to buy more copies of certain films that were coming out that week. Like a you need five copies instead of three of, of, you know, sell to the killer bimbos. I mean, seriously, you do need and that was the end, I was like, wow, quitting was with cold calling, you know, video stores trying to upsell videos.

Andy Rausch 59:35
I gotta tell you for now and forever. Probably one of the greatest experiences of my life talking film was at that Film Festival and in 99, I had a few minutes to just talk to Quentin about. We talked about gangster movies. There was a movie called he had a movie on there called the debt collector, and or the death collector. That's it the death collector and it was an early movie with Joe Kashi and Frank Vincent before they had done Scorsese movies, and we got to talk for a few minutes. And he was just really nice and let his guard down and day you're talking about movies. It's amazing. And, and also I asked him about I just seen the apple, which is that famous movie that canon put out. There was supposed to be so bad and and he was it was awful. But I asked him about it. And Quinn said, Oh, yeah, that was one of the only movies I've ever walked out of. So it was something that associating Quentin walked out and Wow,

Alex Ferrari 1:00:33
he was everything. He watches everything.

Andy Rausch 1:00:37
Right. And for the record, if you ever talked to Guillermo del Toro, he's just like, Quinn. I mean, it's infectious. They both no evidence cyclopedic knowledge. No, I'd love to see those two guys talk about them. I think that would be amazing. I wouldn't even have to talk. I just sit back and watch that like a movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:52
No. When I was talking to Richard, it was the same thing. Richard has an encyclopedic knowledge of films. He was throwing out stuff that I'd either heard of in film school, or I'd just never heard of, and some film, I was like, What is going on? I thought I was a cinephile to a certain extent. But there are a whole other level and I'm like, Oh, I think Richard is probably up and up in the same levels as as Quintin is, but I didn't I I've met midway again, a couple times. But I've never had the chance to really sit down and talk to him. But I've heard that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of film as well. It's insane. But man, thank you so much for being on the show. Andy, I appreciate it, brother. Thank you for writing the book. And and being the historian that we needed for this film. So at least now there's a record a true record of what

Andy Rausch 1:01:40
I just said, you know, I'm editing a third book on when,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
Okay, what's, what's going on.

Andy Rausch 1:01:44
It's called Pope cinema. And it's going to be a collection of essays by different writers on different aspects of Quentin's films. And I'm doing that with Kieran Fisher, who's a really talented writer from Australia.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:01
Nice, very cool. Well, we'll keep an eye out for that man. But thank you, Andy, again, so much. I appreciate you and in all 46 plus books that you've written about cinema so thank you.

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BPS 160: Getting Your First Feature on HBOMax with Lissette Feliciano

Today on the show we have writer, director and producer Lissette Feliciano. She is a Tribeca Film Institute AT&T Untold Stories grant recipient, was named as one of Shoot Magazine’s new directors to watch, and has served as an ambassador for The Wraps Power Women Summit.

Her production company Look at the Moon Pictures develops original content that shines a hero’s lens on underrepresented groups, joining the ranks of creators filling the market gap in storytelling for a new young multicultural audience.

Under Lissette’s leadership, Look at the Moon was among the first production companies to mandate 50% BIPOC representation across leadership positions on and off-camera – a metric they are proud to consistently achieve. An avid supporter of young women’s education, she sits on several committees for an all-girls high school serving low-income students in her hometown of the Mission District of San Francisco.

Her latest film projects is Women is Losers.

In 1960s San Francisco, a once-promising catholic school girl, Celina Guerrera, sets out to rise above the oppression of poverty and invest in a future for herself that sets new precedents for the time.

The film was produced independently and picked up by HBOMax as a major release on its platform. A true cinderella story. We discuss how she financed the film, her struggles with production, getting her amazing cast and much more.

Get ready to be inspired. Enjoy my conversation with Lissette Feliciano.

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Lissette Feliciano, how you doing?

Lissette Feliciano 0:16
Hi, I'm good. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:17
I'm doing very good. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am. I am. I'm excited to get into because you have had a obviously you just made it overnight. I mean, you just started this, like, what yesterday, and you just automatically just got the first movie done. And it was like it happened like within two, three months, right? Something like that. Right?

Lissette Feliciano 0:35
Yeah. Crazy. It was super fun day was like, I'm gonna be a director. And it happened.

Alex Ferrari 0:40
It just happened, right? And then, and then the money just starts piling in. They did bring the truckloads of cash, and they just dump it. It's something like that's the way it works.

Lissette Feliciano 0:49
Yeah, totally. I don't know where to put all of it. It's a thing in it. Like, this

Alex Ferrari 0:54
It's like a scene of like a scene from Narcos like I've got too much cash, man, I can't

Lissette Feliciano 1:02
Moving into moving into the house from casino very soon.

Alex Ferrari 1:06
Very nice. Very well played. Well played. No, I wanted to have you in the show. Cuz you know, you've had a, you know, you had a journey to say the least on getting your first film made. So let's start from the beginning. How did you get started in this business? And why did you want to get into this crazy business?

Lissette Feliciano 1:24
Dude, I asked myself that all the time, thank you. Yeah, man, like all like crazy round around the globe, like circle to get to this point. Like, I you know, I grew up in the Mission District of San Francisco, if your audience is very familiar, but you know, it's basically the Latino area of San Francisco. Now, it's the tech area, my neighbor is, you know, good old Facebook, which has been fun. It's been cool to see it like change in a weird way. But yes, I went there. And I was, you know, I brought a lot as a kid, because it was just like something that I could do that would kind of keep me busy. And there was a lot going on at home, as some of your odd as your audience will know, because the movie is based on my family. So you know a lot about me base like how I grew up in and in and around that that situation. And I was just, I realized that like, I liked writing and people liked reading it. So, you know, I wrote myself into a better High School. And then I somehow wrote myself into NYU, had no idea what the hell NYU was. True story. We had a guidance counselor who got money together, pooled money together to take girls on college tours, because we couldn't, that was too cost prohibitive for us, we'd all of us were going to local to local schools. She's like, why aren't you guys even trying for hardware? And we're like, first of all, what the hell is Harvard? And second of all, where's Boston? Like, we just these things that like now seem crazy, but I had no idea. Sure. So I want to go into NYU, just shocked. Everybody shocked myself, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And went there and very quickly learned that filmmaking was a really cool way to put writing, and acting and theater altogether. And that you could pack it in, pack it into a digital file and send it to loads of people who couldn't come to like your local theater. So anyway, so I went there. And then I decided, Okay, I'm gonna go out to Hollywood and be a dire ctor. Right? That's what I studied. And

Alex Ferrari 3:25
I mean, yeah, so yeah, you studied directing, you go to Hollywood, because that's where the directors get jobs. And that's where they make movies. So I'll just get there and get my first job. And I'll just knock on a couple doors and it should be fine.

Lissette Feliciano 3:38
So, so fine, I'm not fine. It was 2012. And I don't know if people really remember this, but like it, it was four years before me to four years before BLM and even those four years were so different, like the shift of being like I'm a female director, I'm also Latina and you know us born Latina, but nonetheless, like that was like not even a thought in anybody's mind that that could be something available to me and then me to happen and BLM happened. And it started becoming like, Oh no, but we need this so I am definitely a beneficiary of how the industry has shifted even in the last decade that I've that I've been in it so anyways, I came out here started a PA I think my first job was like picking up trash in like Selena Gomez is trailer I was like our handle on things when finding movie was insane. Working, you know, working 22 hours a day, no breaks, nothing minimum, like stand with it guys. And yeah, it just wasn't you know, I kept making writing and kept making proof of concepts and just doing everything I could to say I'm a writer, I'm a director, I'm going to do these things. And, you know, had a couple of projects Like not go or go. And I just kind of noticed that after a while, it was less about my experience. And more about it me being me that was coming into the room. So it wasn't like anybody and you probably knows, but people don't actually say that you can't do something they never like there's no no evil person in the room going, Yeah, that doesn't happen. It's just they don't say anything. It's just very quiet, right? It's like, and then they kind of laugh a little like smile a little like, Oh, you're so ambitious good for you.

Alex Ferrari 5:30
You've got spunk kid, your spark,

Lissette Feliciano 5:32
You got funk, your Sparky, you know, like, going, it's been a be great for you. But then there's no actual help or support, right. And so I'd gone through that process twice. And then by the third one, by the time when those losers came around, I was like, I can't go through that process. Again. I'm just going to do this for myself at this point. And by the time I'd producing commercial that made a little bit of money, and that production company was able to, you know, co financing and get here. So it really was a bootstrap mentality all the way.

Alex Ferrari 6:02
And you went into commercials as well.

Lissette Feliciano 6:05
I did. Yeah. Cuz it was crazy. Alex, like people would give me millions of dollars to produce a commercial. I'm not great at spreadsheets. I'm terrible at spreadsheets. But for some reason, the mentality that I could produce was just like a given. But then the second I wanted to direct it was like, Whoa, yeah. What do you mean? Do you know where to point the cameras? Again, not just me. I know where to point the camera more than I do where to put the spreadsheet. But you know, is this about taking my taking my disadvantages and making them into my own advantages?

Alex Ferrari 6:38
Yeah, no question. I mean, I literally felt the same exact. When I was coming up. I was doing commercials works as well, Miami. And I remember, like, my reps, were saying, Hey, if you, if you do a Spanish commercial, you're done. Like, I couldn't do a Latino commercial. Because if anyone finds out in the general market that you did Latino commercial dates, they just won't let you do general market commercials. Because you can't I'm like, but the lights are the same people. I mean, the camera lens hasn't changed. Why? Because you're speaking a different language. And that was the mentality back in the 90s. You know, when I was coming up, it was crazy. So I I understand, you know, it was it was a crazy time. But yeah, so you get into commercials, which I feel is a great, great proving ground for directors. I mean, really, Ridley and Tony were the ones that kind of broke the door open. And then I mean, the plethora of directors that came from the commercial world is great. So alright, so you so then you write the script for women is losers? How do you? How do you begin to get something like this made? Because it's not like, obviously, this is going to make a boatload of cash. So let's, let's throw as much money at this as we can, like, how did you? How did you approach this?

Lissette Feliciano 7:57
It was just that I'm glad it was a decision. I'm going to do this. I don't know which hat like at what scale I'm going to do it but in a year, this film will be done. And it really was just that decision. And then having getting that decision kind of pushed forward. Every there was just wasn't an option to not do it anymore. And I wasn't going to wait anymore. I wasn't going to wait to be given permission. I wasn't gonna wait for somebody to potential me it just wasn't gonna happen. So, you know, I started very small, and then we, you know, f9 out to talent, first and amazing casting director. And you know, she very quickly we found the Renza. And I think once Lorenzo came on board, it just started clicking for people are like, Oh, I see Celine, I see what you're trying to do here. I kind of go from there. We'd also had a short film prior to this like so I'd done a short film about it was like my fifth short film. And I've done a short film and you know, like, mostly times in short films, people nobody comes up and talks to you. You're kind of like the opening previews for something else. This time, though, people wanted to talk to me. And so they wanted to tell me that like, Oh, it's a that's me. That's my sister. That's like everybody. So I was like, Okay, this this just hit a nerve. And hit me think about that going forward. And I think a year later I decided to make it into a feature length because so many people had been like, I want to see that more of this. I was like, Alright, let me just follow the market here. And yeah, that's how it kind of it kind of it kind of came to life.

Alex Ferrari 9:26
Now the movie it's beautifully shot. I mean, it is a film that is a period piece so they're so you know, you could you couldn't make it you could only make it so much harder on yourself as a first time feature directors. Oh, let's do a period piece. Let's do it about this subject and that you know, so it's it's a lot of a lot of obstacles, but it looks great. How did you raise the financing for this and how did you because this was not like HBO wrote you a checking like, let's just go do your thing, girl. Like that wasn't the case.

Lissette Feliciano 10:01
No, no way at all. It was more about like finding something, the financing. It's always tough, right? I think for your first movie, there's a snippet, someone's gonna come and give you what however much money to do something like that just was hasn't been the case for like me or any of the directors I know it was always something about them scraping together whatever they had to make it work. And the people that I saw do that successfully were the ones that not only embraced their budgetary concerns, but used it as part of the story. Close out being Zhao being the most famous example of that. So the financing was just kind of a little bit of everything. It was what I had saved from work, it'd been a couple of different people that were you know, giving a small amount or a big amount, and really writing that into the script. So yes, I wanted to make a period piece as my first movie, which people were like, you're insane. I was like, I don't care. They kept telling me you're one room movie, it was a one room movie in a period piece there. They're hard either any movie is hard to make. And I just didn't want it just kept being like I kept being asked to play small. I was like, Look, I'm creative, I can find a way to work this to work this disadvantage into the story because the story is about a woman doing that. Right? It's very meta, like what she was going through in the scenes as well. I was going through behind the scenes and the cast to to, to their credit, like a lot of them felt the same way of like being Selena to everybody that came to the story from Brian Craig to Chrissy fit to SEMA Lou to Lorenza, they all had a version of the story for themselves about what it's like to make, you know, make gold out of lead, essentially.

Alex Ferrari 11:40
Alchemy, Alchemy, essentially, you're

Lissette Feliciano 11:43
Definitely some alchemy.

Alex Ferrari 11:46
Now, what inspired you to write this in the first place?

Lissette Feliciano 11:49
My mom, my mom, I had a conversation with her around the time that I was making the short film. Because I, you know, had gone through I paid my dues. I had done all the steps that people had told me to do do this, and then this will happen do this in this business will happen. But every time I got to that step, it felt like the goalposts kept moving. So I obviously internalized that and said, Well, that's because I'm just not that good. That's what's happening. Like, I'm not that talented. And I had to go and tell my mom, this that I failed, essentially, and was like, I'm sorry that we spent all this money. And all this time doing going after this dream. It's not working. And I'm sorry, and I'm ready to let it go. And you know, we'll figure it out. And she was like, No, that's not what's happening. This is what's happening to you. And for the first time in our life, she told me everything that happened to her in the 70s and showed me receipts, Alex, you saw my receipt, she showed me a letter from her boss saying Congratulations on the birth of your son, your two weeks vacation is over time to come back to work. Like she had a C section, you know, so like this thing that I had no idea about that were like real for women of the time period. And that she had lived through this. So I just saw some similarities in between what was happening in her life happening to me. And I wanted to create a story that celebrated that like, you know, you're all looking for your superhero movie, but it turns out my superhero was right under my feet the whole time.

Alex Ferrari 13:18
Oh, that's a great, that's that's so amazing. Because we all need a little we all need champions. Because the struggle is real. There's no question about it. And as filmmakers, especially after a certain amount of time, you just like, is it? Is it me? Am I not? Am I not good enough? Am I Am I not? Like what? Because you Right? Like so many of us go through this process of like, I did this, I did this, but the goalpost just keeps moving, or the doors don't open. And I've always found and after interviewing as many people as I've interviewed on the show, I found that it's only when you start touching something that is true to you. It's a story that you can't, that no one else can tell. But you that's when doors start opening up because that's the secret sauce. That is your secret sauce. Like I can't tell your story. You can't tell my story. It is something so specific to us. So I think if filmmakers start to find that thing inside them, and not be afraid, because a lot of people would be terrified to put your your film out there. And that script out there is pretty personal, to say the least.

Lissette Feliciano 14:24
Yeah, which part? You're so right. It was just about like coming in to that piece of saying Who am I what do I want to be saying? And being really vulnerable? Like, it was really I don't think I really hit me until like South by happened. Like the night before South I was like, Oh my God, what did I do? Everybody's gonna see this. There's no way to get this back. And just being really, you know, like, I'm putting my grandma out there. My grandfather, my mother, my brother myself in a very like vulnerable way. And you're right for some reason That's the one that always hits because everybody kind of feels that way. It seems like, you know, just everyone feel has felt vulnerable and has felt like, I know what it's like to struggle to put food on the table. And that's like, like, it's not gender or culture specific. That's everybody.

Alex Ferrari 15:16
I don't think there, there's only a handful of human beings on the planet who have had the luxury of never having to worry about that. And struggling, you know, I mean, I came from middle to lower middle class, you know, growing up in New York, and Miami and all these kinds of places. So I feel I completely feel it. And I was, I'm a bit older than you. So I was around in the 70s. I was a kid in the 70s. But I still remember it. And I remember what my mom would go through. And I was raised by basically a single mom, so I, man, I get it. Now, the other thing, you got an amazing cast, how did you get gather this amazing cast with you? You know, being a first time director, which is always that thing to like, oh, first, I got to stop for a second for the first time director, bullshit. Just drive it drove me I'm sorry, but it just drove me nuts. You know, when I was first? How much of this? Oh, well, you've done it. You've done a few shorts. Oh, you've done million dollar commercials. But yet, I don't know if you really can hold this for 90 minutes. How often did you hit that first time director wall?

Lissette Feliciano 16:27
Every single step of the way. It got comical. And it was just, and then even now, like I'm doing TV now. And it's like, well, you've never directed an episode of TV. I'm like, Oh, my God, you guys, I can't go through this again. Like, I it's like, it's going to be fine. I promise. It's gonna be okay. I can't explain it. There's like this real fear and more fear for certain people. I think just because, again, the lack of perceived potential that comes with how we as a human race have associated authority, right, the way the symbol for authority does not look like me. And on a set, you are the symbol of authority. So there's a lot of things that we're dealing with, subconsciously that I don't think a lot of people are realizing.

Alex Ferrari 17:26
So yeah, no, you're absolutely right. There is a subconscious, you know, a subconscious thing going on. And, you know, it's, it's something that we all people have to deal with, unfortunately. But I think the doors have been opening a lot more in the last five years, and they have been in the last 50.

Lissette Feliciano 17:46
Yeah, thankfully, that's been a big part of it. The things things have been changing. And I'm definitely a beneficiary of that.

Alex Ferrari 17:54
Yeah, absolutely. Now, again, so let's go back to that amazing cast. Did you did you? How did you gather them? And how did you? You know, did you have to deal with the first time director stuff with the cast? And did you have the because a lot of a lot of filmmakers tell me and I know this to be a fact is, when you're going to casting, they always want to see verifiable funds. And, you know, is this really gonna happen? And who are you? You've never done anything like when you're talking to agents and managers, and even casting people? How did you go through all that? Because you have a pretty amazing cast?

Lissette Feliciano 18:31
Yeah. Well, it's the type of casting that we did, right? Like, if somebody was going to have those concerns off the bat, then they probably weren't going to be the team players that we did. So Lorenzo ESA is a perfect example of that, because she not only came to the story, cre financing basically, until Australia, she said I want to be an EAD. So that's me signified two things a signified to me. She was brave, and is signified to me that she was a team player, all the things that were necessary on the camera and behind the camera. Same thing with Brian Craig, he came on, he had three days before we were shooting, his first scene was the opening scene, Alex, and he was just off book and I called him I said, I need you to play a guy that is going to help young guys make the jump from do I want to what kind of guy do I want to be like you have to they you have to be able to let give them space to ask themselves that question. non judgmental Lee, are you open to that? He was like, um, it? That was right. Symbaloo, same thing. It was. Here's a conversation about representation that hasn't happened. And the similarities between the struggle that the Chinese American community went through the Latino American community is going through now. Like, can you bridge that gap? Down? Right, so that was a type of casting that I did, because they're all great actors. You don't? At that point, like there's no there's not one person that's come into the room that doesn't know how to act. And for me, it's about The core connection and to this day, right, like even new projects that we're working on, what's the core connection because that's what's gonna carry it through. And I think having those conversations was what was able to solidify this cast. And they're just great. They're just great people all across the board.

Alex Ferrari 20:17
As directors, there's always that moment where you're onset. And something happens where your entire world comes crashing down around you. And it's either you're losing the sun the first day D is not, you're not making your day an actor's not doing something, that the location is lost, the camera gets thrown into a lake, whatever that moment is, what was that moment for you on this project? And how did you overcome it? Every day? I was terrified every single day.

Lissette Feliciano 20:50
We were shooting on location in San Francisco. That was very important to me, because I was tired of seeing San Francisco depicted as Golden Gate and cable cars. Because I grew up poor in San Francisco, if you grew up poor in San Francisco, you're going to a bodega. And maybe you go to the Golden Gate Bridge on a field trip that your pastor put together. Like, that's just the reality of that world. So I was like, I'm gonna shoot in San Francisco. And it's Home Team Advantage, obviously, sure, like high school is my high school. So I had Home Team Advantage. The downside of that is that it's very expensive to shoot in San Francisco. And I do have to give it to SFO commission, because they helped a ton. But it's just not fully a city that set up yet for infrastructure, film changing, definitely changing. So we had to move locations every day. So like, every day, we move to three times a day, so I got maybe hours of camera time, camera time, six to eight hours at best. So there's some waters in there. Alex said like I didn't plan for. Okay, what do I have to say? And I have 30 minutes to say it. So that was I think that was definitely the moments where we're just like, like that opening scene. Yeah, that opening scene was shot in six hours. And then we had to go shoot the hospital scenes, the dance scene, we shot the dancing and everything around it all the conversations one night, like we're literally in the school overnight. And then as you get out of there by 7am, because we were leaving and the girls were coming with her class. You know, so that there are definitely moments where you're just like, okay, great, how do I zone this? How do I and I'm telling you, like the cast were so good, because they were such team players in terms of production as well, right? There are things where I was like, you just need to stand here and say this line, and it will work I promise. And they really gave me that trust. So it did help and that is I had a lot of experience working outside of outside of America in places with much less infrastructure like Brazil and Ghana and so being able to think faster and feet and my DP for how to mentality which you guys he's the best biggest thing coming into into the cinematography space. He's worked a lot in India so like we were both very fast on our feet and that I think helped us a ton on the show.

Alex Ferrari 23:03
Do you do pretty much I think the one word that that encompasses what we do as directors is compromise it's just compromise constantly calm you compromise every moment of every day. You know, unless you're James Cameron you know or unless you know your Ridley Scott or Steven Spielberg and even they have to compromise to a certain extent but you know if we only got one we only got a half page today that's fine like that's not the world we come from at all but it's always compromised like every every like you just said like there's some wonders in there didn't plan on it just needed to get a shot you know, and and did you have like a ton of storyboards and shot list and then the first lady's like, yeah, that's not gonna work. I do that all the time. I'd love scaring the hell out of my first lady's

Lissette Feliciano 23:52
Oh my god. Yeah, I send them like to two pages worth of stuff.

Alex Ferrari 23:56
Oh shot listen to like, that's before lunch, Alex. I'm like, Nah, I'm just messing with you, man. But do you But do you agree? I mean, it's just constant compromise.

Lissette Feliciano 24:06
Yeah. I would say for me wasn't compromised because I didn't get set it takes I didn't lose anything that I tried. But you have to adjust so adjustments definitely creative adjustments to get the sample Sometimes it worked out better man like those one or sometimes they're just and they always do. And that's where I think the crew was really came in handy because we have the same crew is like Sorry to bother you. Fruitvale Station like it's the same crew in San Francisco. And this is not their first rodeo moving around every five seconds. So they were very helpful in terms of being like okay, well, we should try it this way. Not not creatively, but being like alright, this is a we can do this like Dolores Park florists Park was hell. It was held to shoot and Dolores Park because it's like surrounded by these million dollar homes at the time. The 70s were like, places nobody wanted to live. So all of a sudden we had it was crazy as we had like, we're trying to shoot a film and all about old Mission Dolores. Tech mission.

Alex Ferrari 25:04
Right, exactly. And now it's Yeah, I was just, I was just we just my family and I went to San Francisco the other day, earlier this year, and I was just walking around over by the Presidio, and we were just checking out real estate prices just for fun. And we're like, how much is that house? How much is are you what? Like, it's insane. But yeah, but like, it's like, you could have bought beachfront property. You could like Santa Monica. In the 70s. It was nothing. It costs nothing.

Lissette Feliciano 25:33
Yeah, it costs nothing. It got well, you couldn't you couldn't, right, like the point of the film is that certain people could certainly couldn't. And as much as the film was about women's rights, and as much as the film was about intersectionality of races, it's also a film about financial literacy and wealth. Because so many of the times we're talking about these things, but we're not talking about how flawed the bootstrap mentality really is. Because not everybody has the same has the same access to anything like you banks were told do not give loans or credit to XYZ people, they were told that, and even to this day, like I'm a female entrepreneur, my interest rates are always higher. Like when I bought my house, I had my fiancee stand in front of the appraiser, because he's British, and he was white. Like, these are just real things that still affect us, and then generationally still affect us. So even me as a filmmaker, my ability to make this film happened because I had a little bit of generational wealth because of what my mother went through that so many times people don't have that and they can't enter this market. Because they don't have that support. Like to be in Hollywood, you have to be kind of wealthy.

Alex Ferrari 26:48
Oh, you do live in LA to live in LA.

Lissette Feliciano 26:52
I live in LA and also to be able to work for no money for 10 years. Like that's not something that is available to a ton of people. It's like not available. Um, you know, and that's why I think the story was so important for me to tell because like, Yeah, I'm here, but I'm here because of the sacrifices that my mother had to make. And that's, you know, I don't know, I just I always think about how many filmmakers and how many creators and how many stories are we not getting, because someone just can't afford to do that. And that really bothers me, especially when there's nothing but well in the industry. And it doesn't take much to give someone a little bit of a hand up, but they do a bunch of stuff with very little, you know, I've been the beneficiary of a ton of pitches and organizations and, and they're all great in a long way. But it also feels a little hunger Ganey. Right, like, standing in front of the biggest, the biggest like, like corporations in America, asking for this much to tell one story that should be one of millions. And you're standing there. And it's, it's a lottery, and it just feels very

Alex Ferrari 28:05
Squid gamey.

Lissette Feliciano 28:07
It's very squeaky. It feels very gamey. And it's, it doesn't need to be that way. Right? Yeah, anyways, go on and on about that.

Alex Ferrari 28:18
But it's you're absolutely right. I think I've never actually I've never actually looked at it like that. As far as the Hunger Games, squid gave me kind of vibe. But you're absolutely right. Because when you're going up, you know, you're talking to these big corporations, you talk about the big grant people or big film festivals. I mean, it looks as if Sundance isn't, you know, The Hunger Games? I don't know, what is it? I mean, seriously, you got what 20,000 submissions, and you know, 110 get picked between shorts and features and South bys. Not too far behind that. So to get there is is pretty remarkable. And the odds are just so against what you're doing, but you got to kind of love what you're doing. It's like I call it the beautiful infection, which is filmmaking. When you get infected, you're done. You can't get rid of it as much as you might want. You know, was there ever. I mean, you did talk a little bit about a moment where you're like, maybe I'm just not good enough. Maybe I just can't go on anymore. I've had that conversation multiple times. I've tried to quit. I've tried to leave. But there's always that voice in the head that says like, well, what are you going to do? Get a real job? So did you so those moments, I mean, did you it? Was it just that time? Or did you have other moments that you were just like I don't think I don't think I'm gonna keep doing this? This is just too hard. I mean, honestly, last week that's what is

Lissette Feliciano 29:40
Like, are we gonna keep doing like I have this conversation with you again.

Alex Ferrari 29:47
And that's a you know,

Lissette Feliciano 29:49
He just nice to tune me out.

Alex Ferrari 29:50
You know, and the funny thing is that in in so many people's eyes out there as far as filmmakers are concerned and screenwriters for that as well, you know, you've succeeded you've arrived because you You've had you've have a very well respected film, and got up on HBO Max, like you're living the dream. But there is a reality behind that, that filmmakers need to understand them. Like, that's not the end of the story. That's now the beginning and you still got to knock on doors, you still got to hustle. You still got to, you know, you got to get and that's when you just said that, like, yeah, I just had that conversation with myself last week. It's true. And I've seen I've seen Oscar winners have that conversation with themselves, because it never gets. It doesn't get any easier than the game the rules might change. But it doesn't seem to get any easier. Even for the biggest. I mean, look, Scorsese was having problems getting financed. If it was, do you think Irishman would get mad if it wasn't for Netflix? Like? No. You know, so it's always like, Yeah, but what he did, but you know, I do agree with that.

Lissette Feliciano 30:53
With it always been hard no matter what. Yeah, it's levels, right. I think it seems like it's levels, like what's the next level and there's always a new, a new challenge at this level. And it's given me a lot of empathy for people who have been in the industry for a long time, because it's, nobody is a bad person. Nobody is, you know, again, back to like, there's no real bill, like, it doesn't seem like there's a villain in the room or anything like that. It's just everyone's doing the best they can with really, really tough situations. And I want to be the type of team player that comes into a room and says, Okay, I see where, how you've gotten to X, Y, and Z, like, can I help get to z plus, you know, like, playing within that industry is really important to me, like I don't want to, I don't know, not not demonize anybody. And I do think everyone's doing the best they can with really, really tough, tough, tough odds. For sure.

Alex Ferrari 31:46
Yeah, no question. Now, I have to ask you, how did your your beautiful film find its way to HBO Max, because that's like, that's one of those, those dreams, those golden tickets is, you know, it's up there, you know, Netflix and, you know, it's how did you get that,

Lissette Feliciano 32:02
Umm, we had a fantastic sales agent, we had a lot of, honestly, I will say that that the HBO max of it all was a group when and when I say group, I mean, definitely the people who worked on the film, but a group when in terms of the festivals, festivals got behind this movie so hard, like the lack of support that I felt making the movie just gone. As soon as the movie was out there, it was like, the festivals have been the champions from day like, they just have completely blown out of the water in terms of how much they've rallied behind me behind the cast behind the story. So it's, it's definitely their win as much as it is mine, because they really, like started handing the gong like, Hey, guys, we gotta pay attention to this, you gotta pay attention to this. And that was that really restored my faith in the industry. In a lot of ways starting obviously with Jana out of South by and then all the way to leaf to Mill Valley, even now, recently, the Mill Valley is an awards festival, it's not something that, you know, smaller films get into, but they open their doors to us. And we're like, no, no, this is we hear we hear what happened, like, Here you go. And so that was really, really great. And we had a fantastic sales agent who came on and was like, this is going to need the support that you didn't have going into this. So we're going to support it now. And they, you know, they knocked on the door and they held their ground. I think a lot of the times, it seems like what I'm learning is and what I had felt prior to this is it, because it's so different from the mold and like I you know, me of being who I am is just a little bit different. The team that you get around you has to understand that they have to understand that if you're getting the no it's not because of the work, it's because of those subconscious things that we're all dealing with. So having a team that's going to stand their ground is the difference between getting HBO Max and not getting HBO Max, I think. And then also, I didn't have to really give it to HBO Max, because there's, they're bold, they're smart. You know, they were very involved from the beginning of like, okay, this is how we're going to position this, this is how this you know, and to have like this huge corporation, like, come to you and say, we like this, this is part of, you know, where our platform is going and what we what we the types of stories that we want to champion and be there for, like that was so humbling. And they have an amazing organization going on over there. There's it's just a very well oiled machine and they really put their money where their mouth is, is what it is like what was my experience? We're really happy to be working with them and we'll do it again in a heartbeat. That's awesome.

Alex Ferrari 34:34
And yeah, I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Lissette Feliciano 34:44
Stand on the shoulders of your giants

Alex Ferrari 34:46
Oh, great. Great. I like that. Can you can you elaborate

Lissette Feliciano 34:54
Depending on who you are and what your background is. There are people who have it already. Facility Do we all based on your background? Follow them. So I love Steven Spielberg, I think he's one of the you know, he's the aggressor. Like he's if my God, you know, like he's an idol of mine, but my trajectory is different than his and it's just going to be because of the world that we live in. So look for people who have done what you're doing in the lane that you're doing. And so I had the benefit of watching closely work, you know, of watching people go from their small indie movie to their bigger mid level movie to their Marvel movie, like I've had that benefit of seeing that trajectory. So when I say stand on your giants stand on someone whose story sort of mimics yours, because otherwise, you're just always going to feel like you're, you're good enough because, well, they did it. How come I can't? Well, they're different. They're different, because they have a different path. And they have a different path based on economics or sociology,

Alex Ferrari 36:00
And also time period. I mean, what worked for Steven Spielberg, in the late 60s, early 70s will not work for somebody today because those opportunities aren't open, those doors aren't open. There's much more competition. Same thing for like Robert Rodriguez in the $7,000 mariachi like that you show up with a $7,000. mariachi today. I'm not sure anyone really notices. It's it's it's harder. It's much, much harder. In today's world, so you have to kind of now the ways in it could be like, Oh, you've got a podcast where you've got on your big on YouTube, or you come into commercials you can there's other ways to get in. But its current, that field is moving every day. And it's constantly shifting and Right Place Right Time. Right product, though we say? Yes. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Lissette Feliciano 36:57
It's a good question. To negotiate, negotiate, I learned that there's always more money. There always is. Will you grow up or are you just happy to get anything done? Right? You absolutely can you get into a room and even if there is an abundant amount of money to be made, because you don't have the tools to know that you negotiate against yourself, right? There's my husband, the the tools to negotiate. And being able to walk away being able to know your worth asking for a little bit more or asking for something that makes it worthwhile. For you also, obviously, don't take advantage. But yeah, negotiating was something I really struggled with, I started getting good at it, I would go grocery store, I'd ask for a 10% discount, just for fun. And nine out of 10 times I get it, that's the crazy part nine out of 10 times I get it. It's weird. So try this, go to any store, retail store, whatever gets the checkouts and ask for a 10% discount. And then they say no, ask again. And then say say no, ask again. Most of the time, you're gonna get it. It's crazy. So I had to learn that I had to learn how to not take food out of my own mouth, by trying to be nice, or trying to be, you know, an inconvenience for someone because it's weird. Like, people can smell that crap on you. They can start like sniff it out

Alex Ferrari 38:36
It's the programming that we were raised with. And it's, it's, it's the same thing I've always tell people, like, you know, have you ever met someone who is very well off, but they're absolute morons? And you're like, how in God's green earth are they serve? Like, how are they successful, and they're just that you could just do it, but they were raised in an environment where a lot of these things, these kind of ideas and things that you know, let's say wealthy people are raised with that they know what a trust is, they know how to build generational wealth, they know how to do because it's just ingrained in their way the same way. You know, maybe you and I you know, and I parents were like, we know how to stretch $1 We know how to there's there's there's lack of this and you've got to you got to there's there's those there's just a completely different mentality and I've struggled with it all my life dealing with that kind of programming, you know, like oh,

Lissette Feliciano 39:28
No, it's I'm just going to agree with you absolutely huge programming right. And on my end, I had two programs I had a female program we had a Latino programming where it's like as a kid that girl grows up Latino, you walk into a house you don't even ask her a glass of water because that's a sign of respect. Now you get into a negotiation table you don't ask for a glass of water they think you're not worth anything they think that you don't think you're valuable enough. Do the Ask the glass of water so it's on programming sort of that and then as women too it's like you know stay small stay a stay malleable, you know, don't be seen as challenging job be seen as difficult to be seen as whatever, right? So there's always that room of being the caretaker that you should adopt and stay out of isn't really I'm not great at it yet, but learning to negotiate.

Alex Ferrari 40:12
Great answer. Yes. It's, it's, it's, it's something and I'm really hoping that everyone listening out there picks up a lot of the stuff that we've been talking about in this conversation because it's, it's stuff that they do not teach you anywhere at any school. And it's stuff that is so valuable. And yeah, sure, it's nice to know what the lenses are. And sure, it's nice to know what the new cameras are. And it's nice to work with not to work with actors, and that's all great. But these little things are what help you build a career and, and break through a lot of the barriers that you're going to run into and there's enough barriers out there without you throwing more in front of yourself.

Lissette Feliciano 40:54
Seriously. Lenses that's a given so many times I listened to you know, filmmakers and stuff like that. And it's like, it's great. Yeah, I know, like Arri Alexa, fantastic camera. Performance, you know, read the David Mamet book, totally get it. But like, politics, tell me about the politics, because that's what it's gonna take.

Alex Ferrari 41:13
Right. Exactly. Exactly. And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Lissette Feliciano 41:19
Life is beautiful, for sure. would be my other one. I have so many hours. Like I'm trying to think like different types. I really like me, Joe, black people don't like that movie. I love it. It's great. It's a great movie.

Alex Ferrari 41:34
I love I do enjoy. I just watched it. Believe it or not, during the pandemic, I watched it with my wife. And I understand it's slow. It's a slow burn. It's a slow burn, but it's beautiful. And, and Brad Pitt was phenomenal in it. just phenomenal.

Lissette Feliciano 41:53
The acting is great. The acting is fantastic. And also like it's not a biopic. How do you play death? Like, it's not like he could go on Ask death? You know what I mean? Like you really had to make choices. And like, Anthony Hopkins, how do you speak to death? I don't know. Has anybody ever done that before? Probably not. So like, when I say they I think is good. It's like, yeah, because they had to really just act. It's not like they have source material for that stuff. That's really interesting. I don't think people give them enough credit for what they did with that. So yeah, it definitely went on my top three. I have a long list, but it's definitely my top three.

Alex Ferrari 42:28
And and then where can people see you wonderful film.

Lissette Feliciano 42:33
HBO Max baby. For a while it was sitting right next to Dune, which was the craziest thing ever for me. I was like, That's nuts. That's and they told me they were gonna do that. And I was like, you guys, I'm telling you, like, it's real. Max really got behind. And they were amazing. They were like, no, no, don't worry, they'll be looking to know what's here. And you know, and,

Alex Ferrari 42:55
And both movies have about the same budget. So it's only

Lissette Feliciano 42:58
Oh, yeah, same budget, same budget, total same budget. Absolutely. Both world building. This is not, but there you go like that. That left to content, regardless of where it came from is amazing. And I really got to give it up to them as partners. But yeah, so you watch an HBO Max roster doing a couple of screenings out in LA, you can go to at official owners losers on Instagram. That's where we post most of like, if you want to come to the cast, you want to come talk to us in person, we're all very open to talking, especially the Renza and Chrissy and Brian, everybody will have just been so overwhelmed and so grateful for the love and support that we've gotten from everybody like truly, truly, truly, truly, truly, like, I could not say gratitude and not because we've made this with no expectations. We made it in our backyard and see people show up for it has just been like, I think it renewed a lot of our faith in the industry. Like everyone's really like, Oh, wow. Okay, that was kind of like that pushed off kind of at her wit's end, when we made the movie were like this is Wait, we've just gone through so much individually as people and then put that into this film, and then to see it. On the other hand, it's been just wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 44:24
It has been a pleasure talking to you. I wish you nothing but continued success. Thank you for making this film. Thank you for putting this out there. And again, I wish you nothing but continued success in your career. So when you do your next big Marvel movie, please come back.

Lissette Feliciano 44:40
Yeah, thank you I will, thank you so much, and I apologize again for all of the family chaos but such as life.

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BSP 159: From The Purge to This is the Night with James DeMonaco

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.

Right-click here to download the MP3


  • James DeMonaco – IMDB
  • Watch: The Purge – Amazon
  • Watch: The Purge: Anarchy – Amazon


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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.

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BPS 158: Inside Writing for Marvel Studios & Spider-Man with Erik Sommers

Spider-Man: No Way Home, Erik Sommers interview, Erik Sommers screenwriter

Today on the show we have one-half of the writing team that wrote the record-breaking Marvel film Spider-Man: No Way Home, Erik Sommers.

For the first time in the cinematic history of Spider-Man, our friendly neighborhood hero’s identity is revealed, bringing his Super Hero responsibilities into conflict with his normal life and putting those he cares about most at risk. When he enlists Doctor Strange’s help to restore his secret, the spell tears a hole in their world, releasing the most powerful villains who’ve ever fought a Spider-Man in any universe. Now, Peter will have to overcome his greatest challenge yet, which will not only forever alter his own future but the future of the Multiverse.

In addition Sommers co-wrote scripts for Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Lego Batman Movie and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with Chris McKenna. Erik started his career in television and wrote on the ground-breaking show Community under show runner Dan Harmon (Rick and Morty).

Erik tells me how working with Dan changed how he wrote and how he uses Dan Harmon’s Story Circle in his writing today.

We discuss how he got the Spider-man gig, how he writes with his partner Chris, what it’s like working inside the Marvel Studios machine and dealing with the pressure of writing Spider-Man.

I watched the new Spider-Man and I have to say it’s the best Spider-Man film yet. Get ready to have your nostalgia heart-strings pulled in the best way possible. Erik and Chris did a fantastic job writing the stand-alone film, while still weaving in the larger MCU narrative, not an easy thing to do.

Enjoy my conversation with Erik Sommers.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome the show Erik Sommers. How're you doing, Erik?

Erik Sommers 0:14
I'm fine. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I've been watching your films for quite some time and stuff you've been writing. I'm a huge community fan, as well. So we're gonna I definitely want to get into the weeds a little bit about how, how that basically, I'm going to go down the rabbit hole in your career, you and Chris's career. Now Chris McKenna, your partner is supposed to be coming in, we're having some technical issues we're gonna get we're gonna start because I use Skype because I'm, I'm back in 1997. And again, MySpace is going to be huge. When we post it there. So if Chris gets back on we'll, we'll bring him in. If not, we'll finish it off with you, sir. But first and foremost, man, how did you start in the business?

Erik Sommers 1:00
Um, I was in college, I was on my way to law school, probably. And just had one of those things where you know, college can be great because you, it helps you sort of get away from your folks and where you grew up and all this stuff and just realize, like, Wait, do I really want to do those things? Or do I just did I just think I want to do those things. And I just senior year realized I don't want to go to law school. And I took my, my college had one film class, it was not it was just an appreciation class, we watched the bicycle thief and racing cane. And I had always loved movies and TV, I had always thought about writing. And I took that class. And it was like, my last semester, and I just decided, that's what I'm going to do. And so I gave my mother the phone call, Every mother wants to get mom going decided not to go to law school. I think I want to go to Hollywood and try to make movies

Alex Ferrari 1:56
As a writer, as a writer,

Erik Sommers 1:58
As a writer, the most respected in the feature business or the writer. So I messed around for a few years before I finally got out here, but I literally clean it was a cliche I had, I had a beat up car and I had all my stuff in it. And I drove out here

Alex Ferrari 2:15
Really? not knowing a soul not knowing a soul.

Erik Sommers 2:18
Luckily, my father lived in Orange County at the time, so I stayed with him for a little while until I could get a place up here and but then I but that was it. I had to get a job. And I I didn't know how to type. I didn't know what about screenplay format. I didn't I so I started taking night classes at UCLA, screenwriting one on one. And eventually I got a job as an assistant on a TV show. And then that really changed everything because I was around the process and around writers and so I was working as assistant and writing on my own and you know, eventually trying to get jokes into the show and become a writer's assistant and sit in the room with the writers and all these things. And within a couple years I you know, I just a lot of hard work and hustling, but I managed to get my first job writing on a TV show. And so I did that for 15 years about

Alex Ferrari 3:09
Which show was that which which is, which is that first show.

Erik Sommers 3:12
Gosh, my first show was called Three south and it was on MTV created by the wonderful Mark hintermann. And it was on about the same time that Clone High was on which was created by our by our friends, Phil and Chris. Yeah. Ben Miller. Yeah, very long time ago.

Alex Ferrari 3:33
Now, when you were, you know, when you got that job in the writers room, and you started becoming a writer's assistant, what was uh, what was some of those lessons? What was like the biggest lesson you learned from the other writers that you might have not learned at school? Like, you know, the, the street level stuff?

Erik Sommers 3:50
That's a good question. I mean, first of all, I learned everything in there. I mean, I, I took a few classes, extension classes, and they were great, no knock against them. But just being in a writers room with a group of funny, talented people and watching them just break story after story after story, just watching them do it. You know, I mean, this was a, I think I was on a network show, I think and it was like 22 episodes. I mean, it's a lot of stories to break. And just seeing it done over and over again, at a high pace. I learned everything, being a writer's assistant. And, and then, you know, some of the writers were very, very good to me and took me under their wing and showed me, you know, I think one of the most valuable lessons one of the writers showed me like, this is my first draft, if you'll notice, it's not good. And he said, I just had to get it out, and then I'll go through it again. I'll rewrite it and rewrite it. It's okay to just just churn out something that's not the finished product don't get stuck. Just obsessing over it just like if you need to get it out. Just get it out. You can go back through it and I mean, I think I thought it was supposed to be You know, ready for primetime the minute it was on the page and and I realized, Oh, okay. And I think that really had a big effect on me that just knowing that you just just write it out, and you can rewrite it, go over it and over and over it. And don't be afraid to just get it out. I would.

Alex Ferrari 5:17
Yeah, that's, that's a big gray piece of advice, because so many writers, you know, think that that first draft has to be perfect. And they'll go back and rewrite the scene again, and rewrite the scene again and rewrite the scene. Again,

Erik Sommers 5:28
Don't do that. Don't go back, just just churn it out. And when you sit down the next morning, don't go back over what you wrote yesterday, just keep going, keep going. And then when you get through it, you can go through it all. Again, I would say the other big lesson you learn being in any writers room is just to have a thick skin, especially in East in a comedy writers room. Because a lot of really smart, funny people who just love to, to just bust each other's chops, I will say, because it's a family podcast. And you just get so much, so much criticism, usually in a hilarious format. And you just can't be precious about your work. And any writer who's in the room, especially on a comedy show, and is real precious and defensive about their work. Just the other writers don't, like, don't like that, you know, that's not playing well with others. And it's just not being it's not the fun writing staff kind of mentality you need to have you just, you work on it as a group, you get sent off, to do the outline, whatever you get sent off to write it on your own, you bring it back, they tear it to shreds, people, and it hurts because these are people you respect. But you just learned to get a thick skin. And I think that's become invaluable, because you just have to be able to take notes and listen to what people think of your stuff and just have no ego about it. And just think about it as objectively as possible.

Alex Ferrari 6:56
Yeah, I've heard I've spoken to many TV writers and showrunners on the show. And when they transfer over to features, or when they start working in features. They're much better prepared for collaboration, where someone a screenwriter who's just on features, gets that precious gets defensive. Like I can't take notes, like, but when you're getting your stuff shredded daily,

Erik Sommers 7:18
Right. I mean, I can't speak to the experience of coming up as a feature writer. And I imagine to me, it would seem very difficult and very solitary, I felt so lucky to have all these other writers around. But I can see where it would just be a completely different experience. And and, you know, so we found the same thing a lot of people would tell us, you know, early on when we were doing features like wow, you guys are just open to listening to us now and think well, who isn't? Who wouldn't? But you know, different strokes for different folks. And and the way you come up and get there is going to have a huge impact on how you take those notes.

Alex Ferrari 7:54
Now, how did you meet Chris? And how did you guys decide, hey, I think we're better together than apart.

Erik Sommers 8:01
We met on a show called American Dad. shoebox Yeah. And, and he was there before I was but we we met there and we became fast friends. I remember it was time for my first episode. And we were trying to come up with a story idea. And I was pitching all these ideas that were getting shot down because they weren't very good. And then Chris I think said like what if it's about finding Oliver North's lost gold from the Iran Contra affair, like turn it into some crazy thing. And I was like, that's insane. I love that. And then we ended up doing it. And that was my first episode of the show. And just immediately I was like, this guy gets me, you know. So we work together on that show as separate writing entities for a few seasons. And then he went off to community and I went off somewhere else did happy endings. And I think marry me was before that. And anyway, um, then we reconnected we always stayed friends. But then we reconnected for Jumanji.

Alex Ferrari 9:09
Now. So but did you guys work together on community?

Erik Sommers 9:13
Oh, sorry. Yeah, I skipped community. Yes. Yeah. Yes, he and Dan hired me for season five, which was Dan's first season back. He had been gone for one season, and then he came back. But then I saw I was there for season five. And that was great. And a lot of fun. And then I moved on to something else. And then they did the sixth season with Yahoo.

Alex Ferrari 9:40
And how did you end what what was like? I mean, I mean, damn, Heyman is like a Harmon is one of the like, you know, legendary. It's show runners at this point in the game. What are some things that you took away from that experience? Like what lessons did you learn working with him in that writers room?

Erik Sommers 9:57
Well, I mean, again, Let's see, one thing I really like about Dan is just just wanting to, he's a perfectionist, you know, like, he'll want to keep going over it and make it and I can relate to that. And so, you know, it's always nice to meet another perfectionist who's like, let's, let's go over it one more time. And that's not quite it, and I want to break it again. And I would say, his story circle, which you've never heard of maybe haven't heard was was really cool, you know, I had read the hero's journey, and I knew vaguely about that kind of thing, but just seeing how seriously he takes the circle. And, uh, it, it was really cool to just break story after story, like under a different system. You know, it was like, I guess a mathematician or something like switching types of math. There's, it's hard to explain, but it was like doing writing but in a different way. And it was really cool and fun to do it that way. And then I actually used his circle to break the story for a pilot that I wrote after that. And it was really cool to apply it to my own thing. And I still carry a lot of the lessons from that. I think one of the best things about his story circles that it really teaches you to pay attention to act to, and to keep things changing and act to and to make sure that characters attitudes change and things like that. And let's face it, that's where a lot of movies really just fall apart, because they just learned out and there's not enough going on, there's not enough change, there's not a and so I think Dan Harmon really taught me how to think about an act two, which has helped me in everything I've done since then,

Alex Ferrari 11:38
Now with, with writing with a partner, like how do you guys physically do it? Like, do you guys sit down and outline the project together? Do you like you write something and then send it over him? And he looks at over? Are you guys both writing different things and swapping it like how was the actual process of working with a partner,

Erik Sommers 11:57
A lot of just sending documents back and forth, or putting them up, you know, on the on the cloud, and like, check this out, and then just rewriting each other's stuff. And a lot of back and forth, a lot of texting, a lot of calls. And a lot of we're both, you know, have kids and busy lives. And so one thing that is really great about working in features is that if you're if you're just on a deadline, you know, as long as you get the work done, you can decide when you can create your own schedule and, and so we don't find ourselves together that often physically together. Sometimes we'll be together to break a story up on a whiteboard, or index cards or something like that. But even then, I think we've we've graduated to more of just like writing beats out and outlines and sending them to each other and just a lot of back and forth.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
Now, is there anything you wish you would have been told at the beginning of your career? If you can kind of go back in time and just go, Eric, man, this is if I can give you one nugget. This is the thing.

Erik Sommers 13:00
That was a good question. Save your money.

Alex Ferrari 13:05
Buy Apple Buy, buy this link called Netflix.

Erik Sommers 13:11
In two years, there's gonna be a freckle. Weird on your arm get it checked out, get immediate. Wait. That's funny, I think, um, gosh, I don't know, I feel like I had a lot of great writers and people really good to me and teach me a lot. And I'm really grateful for that. I wonder like, what is the one thing? I? I mean? That is a tough question.

Alex Ferrari 13:41
Yeah. Because I mean, a lot of times when we start off, you're like, I wish I could I could have just I would have gone back to myself and just said, it's going to take twice as long. It's going to be probably 10 times as hard as you think it's gonna be right. You know, and I'm sure like, because you're you're 20 you're like, next year, I should be writing Spider Man.

Erik Sommers 13:57
Yeah, yeah. I think write fast. Don't Don't dwell. I mean, I think I was telling you about the guy gave me his first draft. And I think even then it took me a long time to just to just get to a place of like, well just just write it out. Like don't sit there and think about it forever. And and, and if you have something that's not working, don't just obsess and stay working on it, be willing to give something up and step away, and just go work on something else, or try something else, do something else, maybe in a month, or working on a different script will give you some inspiration, and then you'll come back to this thing. And you'll realize, you know what, this was my problem. And I think early on, I had a few things that I just thought like, Oh, this is so good. This is this is my openness, this

Alex Ferrari 14:46
They will recognize my genius,

Erik Sommers 14:48
And I just have to keep rewriting it over and over and in the end of the day, I should have just like, Okay, you you did that you're done. Put it in the drawer and do another one. You're going to learn more by doing by writing Another one, then by just keeping working on this one over and over and over.

Alex Ferrari 15:04
Right! Exactly. Because you could only sand that wood so many times, you sometimes got to build out a new house,

Erik Sommers 15:10
There's something to be said for rewriting. And I'm a big fan of that. But at some point, you know, you just have to recognize and put it in the drawer and start working on the next thing. And you're gonna learn more by doing that.

Alex Ferrari 15:21
Now, it's so many so many writers that I've talked to, I always am fascinated with the creative process of writing of like, how you tap into that flow, that that creativity that we all kind of the Muse where, what how do you get the muse to show up for you, in your process? Do you just show up every day at a certain time? And just do the work? Or do you wait to be tickled fancy, like I always love asking writers with their processes.

Erik Sommers 15:47
Sure. And and I think, again, it has to do with the way that that I came up, I came up through TV, and in TV, you go to the office, every day, and at 10 o'clock, you start writing, and it doesn't matter if you're happy or sad or tired or what's going on, you're expected to be there. And you need to perform. And, and so there was no like news. Look, we all have good days and bad days, we all have days like that in any job. You know, but But ultimately, it was really just that training that just taught me to look at it as a job and work and like you just have to do it. It doesn't matter what's going on in your life. You're being paid. There's a deadline, you have to do it. And so that I've carried with me and and even to this day, yeah, no matter what's going on I, I have a routine and I come to my office here and and I just tried to get it done. And certainly, there are days where it's it's not going great. But I come and I try and

Alex Ferrari 16:51
See you're telling me that every day that you sit down to write, it's not genius that flows out of you. Is that what you're saying?

Erik Sommers 16:58
I and anyone who's ever worked with me will tell you that yes. 100% Yes.

Alex Ferrari 17:05
I forgot who said it is like if if writing is easy for you. You're not doing it right.

Erik Sommers 17:10
Yeah, maybe

Alex Ferrari 17:12
I think it's very true.

Erik Sommers 17:14
I also know a bunch of writers. I know several writers who are very good, who hate writing. They're like, Oh, the worst part is when you have to write,

Alex Ferrari 17:21
But you're you're a writer.

Erik Sommers 17:24
But I'm grateful that I enjoy it. I love it. I love immersing myself. The only thing I love more than immersing myself into writing something is just sitting down on my butt and watching it. You know, watching something that's you know, just just real, but it's I just love sitting down and doing the work. And it is work.

Alex Ferrari 17:46
It is and a lot of people like oh, you're just typing on a keyboard. I'm like, But Nah, man, this is sitar anyone who's ever written a script. Knows. And by the way, most people listening have written a script without knowing that there's going to be 150 to $100 million budget, sitting on their shoulders, as writers or or leading a franchise or you know, or writing something that is beloved by you know, billions around the world. There's a tremendous amount of stress that comes along with that. I think you could speak to more so than

Erik Sommers 18:18
You're doing fine until you started saying

Alex Ferrari 18:21
I don't think I'll ever write again Alex thank you so that brings me to my next question. How did you increase land The Lego Movie about the Batman Lego Movie?

Erik Sommers 18:33
Lego Batman movie? Yeah, um, but I don't remember

Alex Ferrari 18:39
Was was that the first feature? Or no, you did other features.

Erik Sommers 18:42
The first one was Jumanji,

Alex Ferrari 18:43
Right! So Jumanji came out before Batman or you worked on.

Erik Sommers 18:48
I think the order in which they came out isn't saying that in the order in which we worked on them. Okay, but I think we worked on on Jumanji first then we worked on Lego Batman for a while and then we went over to I think the next one after that was was Spider Man homecoming.

Alex Ferrari 19:04
Alright, so then with Jumanji, how did you approach? How did you How did you land that job? You know, coming out of television? And then how do you approach board game as a script

Erik Sommers 19:17
That one Jumanji, I did the old fashioned way, which is to just be sitting there minding your own business and have a friend call you and say hey, I sold an idea for a new version of Jumanji, will you help me write it? And then I said yes. So that was Chris. I really earned that one.

Alex Ferrari 19:40
So Chris is the one who sold the idea.

Erik Sommers 19:42
Yeah, he had pitched them an idea and they bought it and then community was brought back for another season on Yahoo. And he knew he wanted to be doing that. And he had a deadline for Jumanji and it's just inhuman an impossible amount. have things to do in the amount of days. And so he asked me if I would help him write Jumanji. And I had only written one thing with a partner before I had just been a solo one man writing entity. And but we started writing, we had just had a great time. And and we had a great time doing it. And it was really great. And, you know, we did a couple of drafts of that. And then they moved on to some other writers, which is fine, that happens. And then I don't really recall exactly how we got involved with a Lego Batman. We do. We do know, Lord and Miller. And it might have been just that they needed someone to come in. And and they knew that we were doing features now. And there might have been something through the agents.

Alex Ferrari 20:52
Gotcha. But you got it in there.

Erik Sommers 20:54
As we were brought, we went over there. And it was already in process. And Chris McKay, the director, who was just a brilliant, brilliant, talented guy, was already, you know, plugging away and so we were happy to join that team and be a part of it. And I still love that. I love that movie. My kids love it. So, so

Alex Ferrari 21:14
So good. So how do you like with with a world like that as a writer, which is essentially infinite? You know, it's like the Lego world in the Batman Lego world is fairly infinite. How do you deal with that kind of like, just, you know, when you have so much to do, it almost kind of blocks you because like, I could go anywhere with this?

Erik Sommers 21:37
Absolutely. When you have a I can say in general, when you don't have any limitations it can it can be its own overwhelming limitation. And having having some limitations put on you can oftentimes be the best thing. As far as that specific movie. We were not the first writers and and so the previous writer and the whole creative team in general. And Chris McKay had had already figured all of that out for us so so that when I can tell you was easy, because I didn't have to.

Alex Ferrari 22:09
That's awesome. So then you get the call for Spider Man. And I got to ask you, when you got the call and said, Hey, man, you're going to write the new Spider Man, which is going to be the crossover between Marvel and Sony. And Iron Man is going to be in it and it's the brand new split the geek in you. I'm assuming there's a geek in you. What what was that? Like getting that phone call? Like you guys got it?

Erik Sommers 22:34
I mean, when I was a kid, I had Spider Man comics. I'm old. So I had the Spider Man doll that was like plastic and this big. Oh, yeah. It was like made of fabric.

Alex Ferrari 22:45
You don't look you don't look as old as I do, sir. And I was probably the same age if not older than you.

Erik Sommers 22:52
And I still remember that thing. It was such a strange accent.

Alex Ferrari 22:56
I remember it

Erik Sommers 23:01
But then his face was rubber was the rubber Spider Man. So like the costume was fabric cloth.

Alex Ferrari 23:09
It was it did nothing has no I mean no kung fu action

Erik Sommers 23:13
To to suddenly know that, that I was going to be writing. Spider Man was yeah, it was overwhelming thrill but also daunting. You know, just when I had gotten comfortable as a TV writer, you know, and moved over to features and then just now had a little feature work under my belt and was starting to feel more comfortable. And then boom, this thing comes along. And as you know, you're going to be working with Marvel and you're going to be working with Amy Pascal and and and, and this this venerable, Venerable hero that that is so beloved. And yeah, so it was intimidating but equal parts intimidating and exciting.

Alex Ferrari 23:55
And and when you I mean, because you had obviously Jumanji was a big hit and Batman. Lego Batman was a big hit. And then you got Spider Man. And then Spider Man was a huge hit. So I'm assuming at this point in time, you know, in town, you're getting offers, you know, you're getting offers, you know, people are like, Hey, you guys are magic. We want to be in the Chris and Eric business. Did anyone ever say that to you?

Erik Sommers 24:18
I know but I've always wished that someone would

Alex Ferrari 24:25
Say that to you.

Erik Sommers 24:28
It would be great to hear someone on ironically say that would be pretty amazing.

Alex Ferrari 24:36
That would be pretty it cuz you only see that in the movies you like I want to be

Erik Sommers 24:39
Absolutely. It's one of those things you wonder like Did someone it sounds like the kind of thing that maybe someone really did say yeah. And then people talked about it in a writer put it into their script, and then it got a life of its own. And now it's like the phrase that means that kind of intention. So who was the first one who really said

Alex Ferrari 24:58
I would love because someone's in here. Bro smoking a cigar. At the time in my bed in my mind like I want to be in the Chris and Eric.

Erik Sommers 25:05
Yeah, exactly. I can see that.

Alex Ferrari 25:08
So how did you approach writing Spider Man? Did you kind of go into? Did you just go into the archives of Marvel and just start pulling story ideas? And then mixing it with your own ideas? How did that whole story come to be?

Erik Sommers 25:23
That one again, we were not the first writers on that project. So there had been it, there had been two pairs of writers working on it. Okay, a few teams that worked on it before. So it was actually pretty late in the game. And right up in late pre production, they were we're not that many weeks out from shooting, that we came on board. So we didn't have any any of the challenges of, you know, taking all of this source material and honing in on one story or trying to figure out what story we were going to try to tell or anything like that. I mean, it was all there. We were basically rewriting, doing a rewrite on an existing an existing story.

Alex Ferrari 26:03
And how about did you did you start off with Ant Man and the Wasp?

Erik Sommers 26:09
With Ant Man and the Wasp, we were also the second in in that case, they decided to they kept some elements of the first script, but we changed it it was it was earlier on. And then we had just to change to make bigger changes, some more sweeping changes. Just because of the the time available. And for various various reasons. The guys who did the previous draft did a great job. No knock against against issues, what was decided and so we we dug in a little bit more into into RE breaking a story.

Alex Ferrari 26:43
Now, how about no way home? Like what did you guys started off with that? And I mean, that that's such a see if I'm going to watch it tonight? I haven't seen it yet. I'm going to watch it tonight. The trailers make it seem insane. It seems so big, so many things going on? How did you even handle dealing with timelines and characters from different timelines and keeping it all together in your heads? How did you guys do that?

Erik Sommers 27:13
You're stressing me out again, describing it.

Alex Ferrari 27:15
It's done. Eric, it's done. It's over. It's done. Yeah, it's done. It's over. It's come it comes out Friday. Don't worry about it. Don't worry, I won't talk to you before any project ever again, don't worry.

Erik Sommers 27:28
Um, I mean, it was, of course, we we didn't start off knowing that this is what we were going to do. The one thing that was fixed at the beginning is we knew how the last one had ended. Right? We we knew that we had had to deal with it that that was going to be the story engine, you know that that that? Clearly the repercussions of that were going to have a huge impact. And that was going to drive this story. The question was, what impact exactly would it have? And what would Peter want to do about it? What he set out to clear his name? Would he you know, what story? Would we be telling what he'd be setting out to clear his name and really leaning into? No, that was a lie. And I'm going to prove it. And that's going to be this whole story? Or is it going to be he's trying to maintain the balance now that he always tries of being a normal kid and being a superhero, but now it's impossible? Or is it going to be some crisis comes up that has nothing to do with any of this, but it's harder for him to do his job now, because he's, and so it was a lot of conversations with the creative team. You know, we are in a room with John, the director who's really great on story. And Amy Pascal, Rachel O'Connor. And if we're lucky, Kevin fygi will be in there. And really just rolling up our sleeves and thinking what is the best story to tell here? Well, and so it was a long process. There's a lot of blue sky just thinking before we even came down to the idea that it was going to be this.

Alex Ferrari 28:57
So on the swamp. So when you guys on the SEC at the end. And this is a spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen the second Spider Man. At the end, when they reveal who Peter is. You guys didn't know where you're going? Like the studio didn't know. Like, because you always look Marvel looks so well put together. And this sense of like, Oh, they've got scripts for next 10 years. It's all connected. They really it was like, Okay, we'll figure it out. Yes. Amazing.

Erik Sommers 29:24
We you're obviously we want to think about the greater Oh, yeah. Like there's forest and things like that. But at the end of the day, you really just have to focus on your story and what is what is the coolest ending, most satisfying ending for your story? And that idea had been kicked around. And it's the kind of thing where some of us were like, No, we can't do that. That would be that kid. And then some people were like, Yeah, we shouldn't we should do it. That's it. Yeah. And we just it was a lot of conversations and ultimately, the creative team came to the conclusion that that would be the ending that story With Mysterio, and everything that finally Peter's gonna get to a place where he realizes I don't have to step into Tony shoes, I can be Spider Man and I can play a larger role out there, but I can do it my way. And he was finally starting to seem comfortable. And he had his girlfriend and everything did seem to be going great. And of course, because it's Peter Parker, then you have to pull the rug out. And and things have to take a turn for the worse. And that was like the the best version of that we felt that, oh, you're happy with everything now. And great. Well, guess what the whole world knows who you are. And it's all ruined everything that you saw today. It's all ruined. And so we did not know that what it would lead to we knew that it would be a story engine for the next movie. And, and but don't forget, at the time we did, there was only a deal, right between Disney and Marvel. For far from home. No Deal existed for a next. So it's also one of those things where you have to write what is you think is going to be the best version of your story. But also you can't, you can't hold things back thinking like, oh, we'll do that in a sequel. Or we'll do that in this because you don't know if that'll happen.

Alex Ferrari 31:13
Right! You're playing in somebody else's sandbox as a writer, so you're kind of, you know, like you said, those forces are beyond your control, like, totally completely outside of your outside your control,

Erik Sommers 31:25
There would be another movie we didn't know, we would be hired to write it. So I mean, we just so everyone that that ending is born of a group of people working hard to come up with the best way to end that story. That's it.

Alex Ferrari 31:41
That's, that's remarkable. And that, which brings me to another lesson, I always love to tell film, filmmakers and screenwriters, the best advice I've ever heard in the business is don't be a dick. And because, you know, there's a reason why you guys are keep getting hired, again to do because it's not, it's not usual, you know, to write multiple tentpoles generally speaking, I haven't seen a whole lot of that where the same team is writing or are on the same projects. And that that's a testament to you and Chris, that you like, but these guys obviously are fun to, to work with.

Erik Sommers 32:18
I hope so I want to have fun when I'm working. And I want everyone who's in the room with me to have fun. And I think again, and so just Chris and I think again, that comes from TV, because we were we were we came up in, in comedy writers rooms, and it's just really fun to be in there. Yeah, no, and you're working and you're being creative, but you're joking around, and it's just really fun. It was a fun, fun job. And I'm so grateful that I got to have that job. And I think we we try to bring some of that with us. And so I think it's it's that spirit, but also again, just being willing to collaborate and take notes and not not be defensive and not push back all the time for just for its own sake. And I think you know, I can't say and I'm not I can't say I'm and I'm by nature, not someone who wants to toot their own horn or anything like that makes me comfortable. So I'm sure I couldn't see why people keep fires. I'm glad

Alex Ferrari 33:22
I'm glad I'm glad and humbled by it.

Erik Sommers 33:25
I mean, it gets back to Lessons I was taught early on I think one of the writers when I was assistant he just said like, work super hard. Be nice and friendly with everyone and like to

Alex Ferrari 33:40
Work hard and be nice. Work hard be nice.

Erik Sommers 33:43
I mean that probably is good advice for any job but

Alex Ferrari 33:47
Is there any is there any screenwriters that you kind of looked up to in their style that you know when you were coming up

Erik Sommers 33:55
I can't say that was anyone I I think I just had lots of stuff I enjoyed watching but I you know I didn't read tons of scripts and think oh I love the technical way that guy writes or this or that you know i mean i i I had shows and movies that I loved and in probably subconsciously I was like aping that kind of style or sure sure it's on me but I I can't say there was anyone where I was like you know on a technical way the way this guy writes his action lines are his dialogue sure like um I think it just a lot of it just comes down to half hour comedy influence probably just like keep things snappy, keep moving go and fewer long speeches keep them shorter and it's probably a lot of stuff like that, that I don't even realize I'm doing that's just I was influenced by that's how I learned to write you know, in in writers rooms of half hour comedies.

Alex Ferrari 34:57
Fair enough. I'm gonna ask you a few questions ask all my guests What? What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Erik Sommers 35:06
Work hard.

Alex Ferrari 35:08
Be nice. Fair enough. That's a good answer.

Erik Sommers 35:11
Work hard, be nice. Just Just get it out. Don't sit there and think about it forever. Just get out your first draft and you can always write another one. And then, at some point, be willing to put it in the drawer, put it away and move on to the next one. Don't Don't linger on one script or one idea for too long. And because you'll learn more by just moving on and doing the next one.

Alex Ferrari 35:35
What lesson what lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Erik Sommers 35:40
Don't beat yourself up.

Alex Ferrari 35:43
Good advice

Erik Sommers 35:44
For all of us to learn in life and in writing.

Alex Ferrari 35:48
Yeah, especially in writing. And three of your favorite films of all time.

Erik Sommers 35:54
So many predator

Alex Ferrari 35:59
Oh, thank you.

Erik Sommers 36:00
Arnold Schwarzenegger seminal just a moment in my life, I can still remember going to a drive in movie theater and seeing it with friends. And it's just such a big deal. Aliens. I still remember that night to go in with a friend and go into a movie theater. And you know, I just remember that experience and how special and amazing that was. And I would say the Karate Kid.

Alex Ferrari 36:26
Wow, man. Those are three great, great lists, man.

Erik Sommers 36:30
That's it so many. I don't know that that's what I could pull from the top of my head

Alex Ferrari 36:34
Predator is arguably one of the best action films of all time. And so as alien aliens is a masterpiece. So good absolute masterpiece. Erik man. It was a pleasure talking to you, man. Thank you so much for being on the show

Erik Sommers 36:46
I hope I didn't ramble too much.

Alex Ferrari 36:48

Erik Sommers 36:50
Old tendencies I have.

Alex Ferrari 36:51
No you did fantastic. And I can't wait to see Spider Man. No way home. It looks amazing. And continued success my friend and I wish you continued success. And please keep writing these man therse are so much fun.

Erik Sommers 37:06
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you. And thanks for having me. And I hope you enjoy the movie.

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BPS 157: Screenwriting Red Rocket and Guerrilla Filmmaking with Sean Baker

Sean Baker, Red Rocket

You are in for a treat today. We have returning champion writer/director Sean Baker.

Sean Baker is a writer, director, producer and editor who has made seven independent feature films over the course of the past two decades. His most recent film was the award-winning The Florida Project (2017) which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was released by A24 in the U.S. Among the many accolades the film received — including an Oscar nomination for Willem Dafoe for Best Supporting Actor — Sean was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle.

His previous film Tangerine (2015) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won an Independent Spirit and two Gotham Awards. Starlet (2012) was the winner of the Robert Altman Independent Spirit Award and his previous two features, Take Out (2004) and Prince of Broadway (2008), were both nominated for the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award.

His remarkable new film is Red Rocket. The audacious new film from writer- director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine), starring Simon Rex in a magnetic, live-wire performance, Red Rocket is a darkly funny, humane portrait of a uniquely American hustler and a hometown that barely tolerates him.

I watched Red Rocket and I have to tell you it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

Sean and I discuss his creative process, how he shot Red Rocket with a 10 person crew and a very limited budget, during COVID.

Enjoy my conversation with Sean Baker.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I like to welcome back to the show returning champion Sean Baker. How're you doing, Sean?

Sean Baker 4:29
Hey, how are you? It's great to be back.

Alex Ferrari 4:32
I'm good, man. I'm good. Last time you were here. You had that little iPhone film that did okay.

Sean Baker 4:38
Yeah, remember?

Alex Ferrari 4:40
It did all right. Um, but we're here to talk today. We're gonna go a little bit into your process. And we're also going to talk about your amazing new film red rocket, which I had the pleasure of watching a couple weeks ago and I was just of course floored by it. And it's so funny because I literally just moved to Austin. So I was out I was in Texas, and I was just like, wow, this is just another part of Texas. I did not know about

Sean Baker 5:06
Well Texas is so big. I mean, you talk to people in West and West Texas, and they have no idea what's happening over in East Texas. So, I understand, did you watch that AFS?

Alex Ferrari 5:16
No, I watched it at a press screening. There was a press screening. Oh, okay. Okay, I went to a press, I went to a press screening at it. And they're like, do you wanna see Shawn's new movie? I'm like, Yes. And I went in there. And it was it was a it's an experience, we'll talk about it. But for for everybody listening who might not know what you've done, how did you get into the business? What like made what drew you in?

Sean Baker 5:37
Well, I, I've wanted to make films since I was six years old when my mother brought me to the local library. And they were showing clips from the universal monster films. And I fell in love with an image from James Wales, Frankenstein, the burning windmill sequence At the end of the film. And I remember that night, the day before, I wanted to be a construction worker. And the next day, I was like, I want to be a filmmaker. So that's the way that happened. And I went through the cliche, you know, that that shooting Super Eight film until VHS rolled around, I'm showing my age right now.

Alex Ferrari 6:14
You me both brother, you, me both.

Sean Baker 6:17
You know, just just just taking in as much film at the time as I could, being in suburban New Jersey. So being exposed, you know, using the video store, essentially, as my, my education, making, you know, VHS films in high school, doing my yearbook, my video yearbook for my high school, you know, the geeky AV club thing, then I'm then going to NYU going to NYU. You know, I applied to USC, UCLA and NYU I forgot if I got into the other two, but NYU is like the one I really wanted to because to go to because at the time, you know, it was really Spike Lee and John moosh had made such an impact. And I was so I don't know, there was something that was that was telling me, you know, I'm already close to New York, I really want to embrace that New York indie thing that these guys have going on. So went to undergrad there. And during those four years, I got being in New York, you know, this was still pre internet, but I had access to a lot more towards in terms of repertory houses and Kim's video store. Yeah, and being exposed to not only much, you know, the greater world of independent film and discovering passive Eddie's was etc. But also foreign film barn film was made its impact. So going into NYU with like, aspirations of doing, you know, making robot cop or Die Hard down the line, you know, it turned into me wanting to make mystery train down the line, you know, like, by the end of those four years, and yeah, and then shortly after NYU, I pulled together enough money out shortly, I guess it was a few years. But we, we scraped together $50,000 by doing some corporate videos and commercials, enough to shoot my first film, four letter words, and 96 on 35 millimeter, actually, and it's being released this upcoming year finally restored, you know, it's not a very good film. It's a young, young movie. But it got me started, it took four years, you know, I was in my 20s Things were crazy. But, you know, I eventually it premiered at South by Southwest in 2000. And that was sort of my entry into that world. And, and yeah, and then I'll wrap it up really quick by saying that dogma 95 was really, really important at that time, and it made me shift my, I'd already, of course, was in it and wanted to be continue and really, you know, my goal was to become an established filmmaker, but that really changed my focus. And that's what led to us making takeout and I think ever since takeout. There's been sort of like, I've been finding my way in that world of exploring, you know, stories that you know, of communities of, you know, of subcultures that I'm not a part of, you know, that I that I wanted to, to to explore myself through these movies. So, and that has sort of been the through line ever since.

Alex Ferrari 9:26
But I just want to put this out there. I do want to see your Robocop and your diehard. If you want to remake them, I will be I'll be first in line to see your Shawn Baker's Robocop. Very interesting. Starring Simon Rex, obviously.

Sean Baker 9:39
Yeah. Because Verhoeven was like, that's the impact he had on me in high school, but then discovering his other films later and his earlier Dutch, you know, I guess, sex focused movies. You know, they were unfairly called sexploitation back in the day, but like films like you know, Turkish dilla and spiders actually had a major influence on red rocket. So all these years later, it was his other movies that that have had a direct impact.

Alex Ferrari 10:12
Yeah, no question. And and if you anyone looking at Robocop now it's just not just an action movie, there's so much commentary, so much commentary in a film like that.

Sean Baker 10:22
And I have my tickets bought for Benedetta already wrap house this weekend.

Alex Ferrari 10:27
That's awesome. Now I also remember watching the Florida project, which is your last film. And I don't know if I told you this, but I actually, I actually stayed in those hotels. Oh, yeah, not but as growing up as a kid, because I lived in Florida, and we would go to Disney World. And that's that row of hotels that you just you just park and go in and go out. And you wouldn't even realize what you know, I didn't even know that there was a subculture there. I just was a kid. So I was there. So it's amazing how you're able to capture these kinds of subcultures in a way and you shine a light on on subcultures that really don't get light shined on them at all.

Sean Baker 11:08
Well, in that case, it was actually crisper, gosh, who brought that idea to the table because he sent me an article about the children living in the extended stay motels in the shadow of Disney World. And I just found it incredibly compelling. And then also I didn't even know the term hidden homelessness. So it was something I was learning an issue that I was learning while while you know, developing this film and, and so, so just, I just wanted to give you a back ground of like how that came to be,

Alex Ferrari 11:39
Right. Now, how did you how did Red Rocket come to life?

Sean Baker 11:44
That was actually based on research we had done for a film I made before tangerine called starlet, which was also focused on the adult film world. And during a 10 years ago, when we were you know, making that film, we got to meet many people from needle film world and we realized that there was this archetype that existed men, usually male talent, who live off of female talent in and you know, exploited use them in the adult film world. So they don't represent all men in the adult film world. But there is this archetype even have this slang term applied to them suitcase pimp, which we use in the movie. And I have to say that, like, it was something that even being on the set of starlet 10 years ago, thinking, there's a whole other movie for, you know, that can be made based on one of these guys. And so it was about five years later, when we finished up Florida project, that we were entertaining a bunch of ideas. And that's when we said should we tackle this? Alright, let's start fleshing it out. And we fleshed it out. It took a few days, because we already knew these guys, and we had interviewed some of them. So the we had beginning, middle and end. And it was even when I actually thought about Simon for it, because it was during the days of vine, and he had a vine presence. And he was making he was entertaining the hell out of me. So I thought I even remember texting one of my producers saying and if we do make red rock, it's going to be this guy and I I texted them one of Simon's Vine videos, and they laughed and said, okay, cool. It's set. Now, that's unique casting. But then it was all put on the backburner. Because we had moved, we decided to move forward on another idea. And then COVID hit, and COVID shut down that idea because it was something that couldn't be made during a pandemic. And we pivoted back to red rocket, which was sitting on the backburner, and all it required was really just fleshing out because again, we had beginning middle and end broken down, we kind of knew we knew the character and knew the supporting characters. So it was really about finding our setting, and just getting this thing spit out on paper.

Alex Ferrari 13:56
So you so you cast it, Simon via vine, essentially.

Sean Baker 14:02
Yeah. And also, um, Joseph bought Joseph cons bodied. It's a small indie, by music video director, primarily music video director, but he's an indie isn't an indie filmmaker by the name of Joseph Kahn.

Alex Ferrari 14:16
He's a fantastic Yeah,

Sean Baker 14:17
Yeah. Yeah. And Simon had quite a substantial cameo in that movie. And I read I didn't you I forgot about, I forgot about this. There have been people who who alerted me that I did this. But on letterbox back when I watched Bodhi back in the day or a couple years ago, a few years ago, I actually wrote like, Can somebody give Simon Rex a dramatic role already? You know, and so I think that that may have been the one that really was like, you know, that made me that cemented the idea that I want to work with this guy. So um, and yes,

Alex Ferrari 14:54
So when you when so you when you're working when you're casting because you have some of the most impeccable casting Decisions of your generation of filmmakers honestly, like you pick up like there's no, there's no place that Simon Rex is on the list for this for this part, but yet he should get an Oscar nomination. There's no question he should get he's,

Sean Baker 15:17
Thank you. I agree.

Alex Ferrari 15:18
He's brilliant in this. He was like born to play this part. And I don't mean that in a negative way, because of the part of the he's not playing the nicest human being on the planet. Right? Right. What how he's able to bring that character to life. Can you can you give any tips on on your process of casting? Like, how do you make the decision? Because I'm assuming, you know, after your success with tangerine and Florida project, I mean, you probably get pitched constantly like, oh, this actor and this actor, and this is the this disguise or as a bigger box office? or this or that? What how do you?

Sean Baker 15:51
Yeah, I actually have returned emails to agents saying, Sorry, your actor is too famous.

Alex Ferrari 16:01
Which I'm sure they love. I'm sure they love that.

Sean Baker 16:03
But it's only me it's shooting myself in my foot every single time. But um, no, no, I love the fresh faces, I actually take that cue from Spike Lee, you know, Spike Lee, always, even if he put A listers in his films as the leads, he was always surrounding them with fresh faces. I think I saw Samuel Jackson for the first time in Jungle Fever, and being like, Oh, my God, who is this guy, thank you for bringing him into the talent pool. I mean, he's incredible. So that's what I look to do every time and also, I just, um, you know, I read, you know, regarding, you know, my, my first timers, I've just, you know, keep my eyes open, you know, I just keep my eyes open i st cast even when I'm not in current development, you know, Susanna son came about because we saw her at the Arclight Hollywood in the lobby, and she was coming in those glass doors while we were over near the ticket booth. And we looked over and saw her and just thought she had that, that that quality that can't be defined, it's that it quality, it's an aura, that energy that says I'm a star, and you want it you can see watching that person on the big screen for two hours, you know, and wanting to see that person on the big screen for two hours. So you know, you exchange information, you keep that person on file, and then you hope that everything comes together, they have the enthusiasm to do it, and they have the talent to do it. And I've been very lucky, where I've surrounded myself with these first timers who all have that.

Alex Ferrari 17:35
How do you I have to ask you, because the performances that you pull out of, of your actors, or the collaboration that you have with these actors, how do you approach directing actors? Because I mean, their performances from tangerine up until you know, just just your last year tired filmography but the last three films specifically, some of the performances you've pulled out, they get not they get nominated. Not that means anything but they're really good. How do you approach the acting, directing actors?

Sean Baker 18:04
Thank you. I mean, every every individual is different, even if they are experienced, you know, very, like well, like well, but will are like I consider my three leads actually experienced actors in Red Rocket because I didn't mention that. You know, even though I met Susanna son on the street casting I discovered after the fact that she already had an Instagram presence and the reason that she was in Hollywood is because she had just moved there as an aspiring actor. So you know, I consider her and Brielle rod who plays Lexie in the film, she's had a, you know, two decades of theater experience, and she was in a small role on Shutter Island. And then Simon You know, who's been in this world for quite a while, they're the experience actors, they're the ones who come with like, years of experience are not yours, but you know, they come with that. And then you have first timers who have all different levels of, you know, experience aspirations, you know, comfort levels. So each one is different, everybody's different and it's really just about becoming friends, being very casual, being transparent, making them feel comfortable becoming a family unit in which nobody is embarrassed about anything I do I do actually encourage improvisation in my films all the time. I love it. You know we have pretty much you know, we do have a fleshed out script and especially with Red Rocket because red rocket was shot in such a fast it was COVID and small, you know, small budget so we had very limited amount of time. So out of all my films, probably Red Rocket is the most scripted. With all those Mikey Sabre rants and everything, those are all but I still allow I want my my cast to improvise, and you never want them to feel put on the spot. You know what I mean? I can't you want them and never feel embarrassed about trying things and experimenting And so, you know, I have my incredible actors who are so incredibly brave and bold, they'll go in front of a camera and they'll try something. And if it doesn't work, who cares? It doesn't work. Let's go for an outtake and try something else. And, and, and getting everybody in that place where everybody's comfortable and feel safe. And red rocket was perfect for that, because it was like a small 10 person crew. Tiny we were a pod, we were very isolated. And it just allowed for that it was a good environment. And then, uh, one more thing I want to add, you know, since Florida project, I've been working with a coach, my wife and producer Samantha Quan. And she worked with the two children, or the three children on Florida project, but it was during our project that I told her, I have these, you know, the two moms I, I decided that I'm going to cast them with it's essentially first timers. So can you help me out the moms, and because Samantha's female, there's that that really helps as well, you know, they, they might feel more comfortable at first with another woman. And she's also very maternal. So there's, you know, it's it that that really showed me during Florida project that, Sam, Samantha brings a lot to the table there. And so with red rocket, I was able to give some of the first timers to Samantha and say, why don't you guys workshop? Why don't you guys try these scenes out? I'm focusing on this, tell me when you're ready to, for me to watch it, I would come in watch where they were going, give them tweaks, give them notes. And it was really a great day. So So Samantha has been very much a part of that new process?

Alex Ferrari 21:40
And is, are there any other tips that you can give about directing non actors? Because you've had a few of those are films over the years of neither new actors specifically, but but more like non actors of the people who just don't act?

Sean Baker 21:56
And yeah, it's always saying, Hey, if you don't feel comfortable, if the scripted dialogue is not rolling off their tongue, you, I'm told I'm never precious with any of the stuff we write, except if it's unless it's a really good line I'm proud of, or it's exposition. Sure, I'm okay with saying, put this in your own words, or how would you say it, especially if they're from that area, or part of the culture that we're focusing on? It really is invaluable? Because they'll bring stuff that you never would have they elevate your script, they make it more realistic, they they bring in slang that you didn't know about, there was plenty of that in Red Rocket, plenty of it. Like Britney Rodriguez, just just asking her in a moment saying this scene isn't there's something about this line that's playing a little bit like an East Coast, New Yorker wrote this line, can you help me out? And she would think about it for a little while, and then come up back with some ideas. And so there was that collaboration out? Should I give you an example from Russia? Be No way. Okay, cool. So when we Andrea, who is who plays her mother in the film, I'm talking about Brittany Rodriguez plays June, her mother is leandria played by Judy Hill, Judy Hill is talking to Simon and realizing that he has dropped his Texas accent. And in the script, it was just like, you know, where's your accent? Or where's your remember, go a very bland, boring line. And so in the moment, we just, I said, you know, I don't like this, it doesn't, it's not exciting, let's just bring some local color to it, Brittany anything. And Brittany was like, he sounds brand new. And I was like, perfect. Alright, leandria that's what you gotta say you so you sound brand new and stuff like that stuff like it those little, you know, that just that little, those little details, you know, add so much and, and that's what you get out of sometimes working with these, you know, the first timers who have a parallel life experience and can actually bring that to the table.

Alex Ferrari 24:03
Right! And and I love that you and you could tell in your films that you are not precious about the dialogue, because it just seems so natural rolls off the tongue so much. And you can just you know, as a director, you look at things you're like, okay, that either that was an amazing performance, or they're just kind of rolling with it in our in the moment. And you can tell that, especially in Red Rock, there was a lot of that going on in the background. But with with the input, a lot of the improvisation that's going on on set. What is your writing process? Like? How do you start writing a movie like Red Rocket?

Sean Baker 24:37
Well, each one's different. Each one is different, like this one was, I didn't even see Chris. I mean, Chris and I were basically zooming. Right and then we had a shared Google Doc. So it was one of those things and because we had broken it down years ago, and I already knew beginning middle and end is more about just like taking on these these major rants and Taking on the dialogue. And so, you know, we just write it out and share it with one another and give each other's notes. And, and yeah, so So in this case, it was very remote writing and a lot of writing in Galveston, Texas actually in my Airbnb, you know, weeks before we were actually shooting and but everyone's every every every approaches everyone's different Oh, the one thing I do want to the one consistency of all the my writing experiences is that we always have the end worked out in our heads before we even open up Final Draft ending is a very endings are very important for me. They really you know, at my favorite films have very impactful endings that keep you thinking as you're exiting the theater and interpreting and, and right sometimes writing your own ends. And I appreciate those movies. And so I always keep that in mind. I mean, I won't, I won't open up Final Draft until we have beginning middle and end worked out.

Alex Ferrari 26:04
Now, I always love asking creatives this what what do you do to tap into the zone that creative? Well, that we all have in? You know, we all have I always say we have our personal creative wells that we can tap into. And sometimes you're in the zone. And sometimes you're not in the zone. What is there something that you do in your writing process that you get into your mind for in a mind frame where you can then accept a muse, if you will, the Muse shows up and starts helping you.

Sean Baker 26:32
I wish I could say there there, there is something it usually it's usually a producer holding a gun to my head. Better get done now. So it's actually there's a lot of procrastination, a lot of napping, but I think moments of inspiration come where you're not least expecting it sometimes when you're in a movie theater watching somebody else's film where you're just like, now I got I got that figured out. Okay, I can't wait, you know, so. It's really just, um, you know, I'm sorry, yeah, I can't tell you one specific thing. It's more about like just allowing it to come and giving time and also cutting yourself deadlines, we have to get as human beings, we have to, or at least for me, I have to have deadlines. So in order in order in that crunch time seems to speed things up, you know, seems to speed up the creative juices that they get down during the crunch time. So it's really just about discipline, quite honestly, it's about discipline. And yeah

Alex Ferrari 27:28
Showing showing up in the Muse will show up with you.

Sean Baker 27:29
Yeah, yeah, essentially.

Alex Ferrari 27:33
Now, I you know, as directors, you know, there's always that one day on set, that the entire world is coming crashing down around you. You're losing the sun, the camera broke. There's an elephant running through your shot, something. What was that day on Red Rock? And how did you overcome it?

Sean Baker 27:50
Well, I realized I couldn't overcome it. So it was an acceptance during pre production, okay, right, I was going to have to accept all these freakin limitations. And I broke a chair, I never do that I'm not a violent guy. I don't get physical. But one day, that my, my, my, essentially, this whole scene that I had written would be impossible to do based on our budget. I can't tell you what it is. But it was a big set piece that required stunts and everything. And I'm just like, I realized at that point that I have no choice. I'm I locked myself into this budget of a type this type of movie. I'm these COVID. And everything else is, is imposing these limitations. And I lifted up a plastic chair and I broke it on the front porch. That was it. That was like the cathartic like, okay, I get that. Because from that point on it, we had disasters every three hours where we would like lose something or this and that, but it was it was chill, it was like, we're not gonna freak out. Because we realize we do not have the money. And we do not have the time to throw at problems. So instead of tackling those problems, we'll pivot and go another direction, and then all the serendipity and all these happy accidents started coming our way. So every day even though there was like a problem, every three hours, there was also a miracle every three hours. So I was every day I was getting these miracles where I was like, Oh my God, that happened today. Like that happens. The whole thing with the train. And the proposal that big scene was of course, it was timed. We knew it was coming, but we only had one chance to do it because the train came in once a day. We had 20 minutes prep, and like things just worked out. So wonderfully in that moment, like the conductor was blowing his horn at the perfect moment that it would complement the dialogue and the scene. So a lot of the gifts from the film gods came our way as soon as I was open to them.

Alex Ferrari 29:57
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You know, we're used to, were you essentially running and gunning, like an EMG crew almost sometimes. I mean, there was obviously a plan for your day. But you pivot, you're like, Okay, we're gonna go do this. Now let's go and you kind of come up with it on the fly almost

Sean Baker 30:20
Yes, there was a lot an incredible amount of running and cutting it felt like a gorilla film making from well, I guess you could say it was like, very much like tangerine. We were just on the street. And we're like, oh, this dialogue scene. We're not feeling this right now. So let's just do this instead. Or like, you know, let's just, let's just follow Mikey on the bike for three hours, see what happens, you know, um, you know, there was a lot of that a lot of stealing scenes, you know, meaning that we didn't always have permits.

Alex Ferrari 30:49
I was gonna ask, I was gonna ask you that. It seems like when you're watching the movie, and you basically have the run of the town, but I'm assuming like, they had to, like, just kind of grab some stuff here and there that did they technically a lot of it

Sean Baker 31:03
A lot. And you know, it's as long as you do it safely. There's no problem with that, you know, of course, against the law. So, you know, we were, we were always doing it safely. And we were, and I think we just embrace that spontaneity. We were saying there's, there's improv in front of the camera. So Why can't every improv behind the camera. And that's great. I love that line. I love and also drew Daniels and his team are just, you know, they're just they're geniuses. I end up back that they pulled that off a four person camera crew pulled off those images. Yeah, Drew Daniels, you had a first AC, a second AC and a gaffer grip, meaning one person doing both gaffing and gripping Chris Hill who worked on Zola recently as well. He's amazing. So those four guys, and then you have the sound? Yeah, when you had our sound one a one man. Sound team. Alex.

Alex Ferrari 31:58
He did the mix mixing and booming at the same time.

Sean Baker 32:01
Yep. Yep. And then you had my sister who is Stefanik. And she is the production designer on the film. And then every other role, which is only four right? Because those are six people. And then you have four others making a crew of 10 the other four members were just producers wearing many, many hats, and they were all wearing them so well. I mean, like, you know, I'll give you an example. She Cheng's. Oh, who is actually in the film? She plays Miss fan at Arizona. Hello, what? She's wonderful. Yeah, well, she's also doing continuity while acting. And she's also doing costume design. And she was also responsible for, you know, a little bit of transportation here and there. So you know, you can see like, how much everybody is given their all

Alex Ferrari 32:47
It was an indie movie. It was it was it truly wasn't a new movie. And what I love about your career is I've been following it is that you know, after success of tangerine, and then of course, after Florida project, you can easily go down, the bigger budget roads, I'm sure they've been offered, those kinds of films might have been offered to you. But you get you really still want to stay in the world that you have 100% control over and explore stories that might not be, you know, doesn't have a superhero in it.

Sean Baker 33:15
Yeah. Yeah. You know, I just I know, I know, it's tempting. You know, I know, it's definitely tempting. Sure, I'm sure there's a monetary purposes. You know,

Alex Ferrari 33:27
The, the checks must be insane.

Sean Baker 33:29
Yeah, that's the big thing that I'm, I'm always conflicted about, like, should I make my life easier and make a film for a studio or more, you know, go to a series, but I've been starting to work in commercials, which have been really helped. That's like, my side hustle, which is like, my main bread and butter. And even if you get one spot a year, it's gonna pay you a lot better than working in indie film. But then on top of that, but it's more than that. I just, it's about like you if, you know if you if you if you? Yeah, I'm the type of I'm so neurotic. And it's like, I just want to I just want to sleep at night, you know? And not beat myself up by you know, I feel like I you know, I want to tell personal stories, I want to tell I want to films take a long time they take over two years, you know, you put all of your energy all of your heart into them. So why not tell it make the movie you want to make? And so I look at the I look at the, you know, the filmmakers that I admire, who had personal visions, and each film is different and each film is unexpected and, and yet they stayed true to their vision. The germ whooshes you know PGAS Spike Lee's you know, they these these these are the people who molded my career and and so I just no follow I follow their path.

Alex Ferrari 34:52
Fair, fair enough. Now, do you do you rehearse with your actors?

Sean Baker 34:57
Yeah, yeah, we do. We do. sometime not too much. I don't I don't like to over rehearse. I think that that's dangerous. Sometimes with first timers, you want to over rehearse it all comes down to the all comes down to the individual. And yeah, and as I mentioned earlier with Samantha Kwan, she's been wonderful now because sometimes it's not really for me, but it's more for the actors just to make them feel comfortable, you know, so just doing workshops and doing repetition of the scenes is I don't even have to see them all the time. As long as they're just they're doing them. Yeah, but the rehearsals for me, it's usually just, it's just about, I've already been, I'm already confident my actors can pull it off. They're already 95% there. So it's, my rehearsals are about just tweaking and maneuvering and guiding. So yeah, I do

Alex Ferrari 35:50
Now, I have to ask when you pitch this project assignment, and you sent him the script and the role like cuz this is a this is a challenging role. And it's a very exposing role. And in many ways, did he kind of was he hesitant or he's like, Oh, I'm so it.

Sean Baker 36:10
Who's pretty much all in? I mean, you know, he, he did. I honestly don't remember many of our early conversations, except for the fact that we just like he was on board, he was excited. And we we discussed the character discussed sort of the character traits that I saw in the Mikey Sabres that I had met and said to him, you know, this is like, you know, you're going to be playing a manchild here. You're gonna, you know, and all of those characteristics that come with the suitcase pimp and, and he had watched some of the interviews I had done of some gentleman from that world, so he but he didn't watch too much. He was like, I don't want to do a carrot. I don't want to do an impersonation. But I got the vibe, I got the Energy Plus he said, I you know, I've been in Hollywood for like the last three decades, I can pull from a lot of that I can pull from the narcissistic sociopathic jerks from the industry, and really use that. So I think he used that quite honestly. And again, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 37:16
You mean to tell me there's egos in Hollywood and, you know, stop it. Now, do you? Do you ever storyboard Do you shot list? Or do you just kind of flow with it on the day?

Sean Baker 37:27
I don't storyboard simply because I can't draw. And I haven't had the budget to hire sorry. But I've storyboard it on spots, commercial spots, and I really like I like it. But I also just, like, just just, you know, I, I'm my own editor, I edit all of my film. So I always have my editing hat on all the time. So when I'm, I'm shortlisting, I'm, you know, I do shortlist, especially on a film like Red Rocket in which we've had to, we had to run and gun so that, you know, sometimes it's a week before, sometimes it's a night before, you know, where I'm sitting down with my producer. And we're figuring out all the coverage of the scene. And sometimes with my DP as well, like how we're going to cover this and, and so it's it, even though there as I mentioned earlier, there is improv behind the camera. There also is a control behind the camera and we know how we're going to, you know, expect especially if it's a controlled scene, and there's a set piece Yeah, we will have it worked out. And then there are other scenes, like say, the sabotage moment at the end of the movie, in which you have to profess to seasoned actors in there and the rest all non professionals are first timers. Sorry. First timers, I don't like using the word non professional.

Alex Ferrari 38:41
Because they were professional first timers.

Sean Baker 38:45
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Um, we were in a tiny room together, and there's a lot of chaos. And in that moment, I was like, you know, it's best just to do what they call hosing down. So Drew, you're gonna hose down every we're gonna do multiple takes, where you're just all over the place, and I'm not going to tell you where to go. You just go where you want to go. Or sometimes I'll, I'll guide you but you know, it's more about just being as spontaneous with the handheld camera as the actors are being in the moment. And so that there's that but then there's also the very controlled, you know, I think you can see with red rocket, we were pulling a lot from the controlled cinema of Spielberg with you know, Sugarland Express and Bill moose, Sigmund. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So we have dollies, we have very controlled camera moves, very controlled framing. And so it's really about it's, it's, yeah, it's about mixing it up and finding a way.

Alex Ferrari 39:38
Yeah, it was it wasn't it wasn't like you just it was all handheld the entire time there was very, it had a very Sugarland Express vibe to it. That was a grid with think about because it did have that kind of control vibe, but yet it still had that kind of on the moment. EMG documentary five almost sometimes as well. And you just said if I'm not mistaken, you shot this on film right?

Sean Baker 40:00
Yes, we did. Primarily, I mean, there was some night scenes that had to be shot digitally because of low light. And then we had to do a tremendous amount of treatment in post for it to match the 16. Which I think you know, my incredible colorist Arnold at photochem did wonderfully. But yeah, super 16 I'm sorry. 16 anamorphic. So we were using anamorphic lenses for 16 that haven't is very rare in VR making. Yeah. I think the lenses we actually used from what I know and I might be, I might I don't know if I'm I still I haven't gotten confirmation on this. But I think we are the only feature to have used these phantom vision 16 And a Morphix. They've been used primarily on commercials and music videos and fashion films. But but we were able to capture a look with this that I think is very different from the average 16 millimeter look, it's a real throwback, it has this the proper scope of like a, you know, a Hollywood film in some ways, yet, it's still very gritty. The way it captured that landscape, you know, we needed that 235 aspect ratio to do that. And Drew Daniels is so fast on 16 that he would have a setup ready to go before I knew it. And usually he was waiting on me you know, on it's usually on a set it's like how long is camera going to take or? Sound? Yeah, yeah, Andrew would just look at me he's like, I'm waiting on you. I'm waiting on you did.

Alex Ferrari 41:34
Now, there's another part of this movie that you have forever changed the meaning of instincts. Bye bye bye. For me forever and ever and ever. Because it's a no win. Win Win win because I think it's in the trailer too. Right? They use that

Sean Baker 41:53
Yeah, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 41:54
It's they use it so when I saw it in the trailer, I'm like, Okay, this is gonna be a lot of fun. But then as you use it and the way you use it in the movie, is it's the only song to use right?

Sean Baker 42:05
And yeah, well you know we have so we have music coming out of radios and that big puddle of mud song which actually costs a lot for the strip joint but besides that yeah, no Nsync's bye bye bye

Alex Ferrari 42:19
Is the score is the score Yeah, so there was no there was is there any reason why you didn't want to fill it in with some score or other music?

Sean Baker 42:26
You know what I haven't used the score ever actually and I even though I love soundtracks I some my favorite films have incredible lush wall to wall soundtracks. My subject matter I'm usually you know, I It's hard to go with with the overly scored thing is something I you know, I try to avoid this because it's, it's what will age the fastest with your films, I think scores age the quickest. And then on top of that, is that manipulation, it's a very blatant manipulation that it comes with scoring. And these days, we're, I think films are kind of overly scored. And I don't mean to slam any movies, but I mean, like, the constant strings, I get, we get it.

Alex Ferrari 43:10
I know, I need to be sad here. I need to be excited here. I get it

Sean Baker 43:14
Yeah, this is how you should feel. And I that's the last thing I want to do. I want to you know, present, you know, a very objectively my stories and characters and without judgment. So So I want I want the audience to, you know, to I want to allow the audience to feel what they are feeling without manipulating so. So, you know, the closest I ever came to a score was I think in starlet where I kind of had a repetition of, of one track by an artist by the name of manual. And, and that was like a consistent repetition to the point and it was ambient, it was an ambient track. So it became sort of a score, but I've been avoiding that with my work and I don't know whether that'll change soon.

Alex Ferrari 43:58
Okay, sure. Yeah. Now and when you were editing cuz I've been an editor for 25 years, so I know that I know how the process of cutting it goes. What is your process as far as like, you know, do you just do a rough cut? Or like you just like assemble it all? Are you What did you cut on by the way did you cut on what did you

Sean Baker 44:16
We put on Adobe Premiere

Alex Ferrari 44:19
Oh okay, so yeah, so you know, do you jump in and out of color you know to see if things work out what is your process

Sean Baker 44:24
Well are are wonderful colors so I mentioned earlier our our Arnold, he gave us a lot that kind of worked universally. Okay, good, but so I didn't have to worry much with color. But then, um, I am kind of, I'm kind of crazy. I go right to a fine cut. That's my that's my Yeah, I know. It's weird. I don't do an assemble. I don't do a rough. I don't even I don't even move on to the next scene until the scene that I'm tackling is polished and I'm talking polished. I mean, tight. Yeah, yeah, no, I'm even doing sound design on that on that scene before. Moving to the next scene. So tell you the truth. I don't know whether the movie works as a whole until the last day of the edit. Until I've like locked the fine picture, the fine cut. And so, um, yeah, it's kind of nerve wracking for my producers especially and for me, I'm just like, well, I lose my mind. I'm, every post production is been a little difficult. I've been getting better, but I go into that whole like living, you know, nocturnally I become a vampire. I, you know, it's it's it's a few months of insanity. But, um, but yeah, it's something that I find necessary because it's like my I put my signature on it. I find my film ultimately in post production. And it's like, it's like 50% of my directing in a way so. And you know what, these days I have to say, with Florida project, I've learned a lot about what I can do in post like we're living in a day and age where you used to say Never say you can fix it in post because you can't now you can. Now there's a lot you actually can do there is and I'm doing a lot of cleanup. I'm doing a lot of split screens and visible split screens. I'm doing mats that you would never see but stuff that is really allowed me as a director to even be directing further and post and manipulating even for timing of performance sometimes and so that's that's been really like this new it's brought it's made editing fresh for me again.

Alex Ferrari 46:29
Yeah, it's kind of like what Fincher Fincher LA. He's just days and weeks and months. Yeah, exactly. That's like doing split screens, changing performances, adding one performance from here and another performance from there and mixing different takes and like really, you're directing you're still directing at that point.

Sean Baker 46:44
Exactly. I watched the manque. DGA q&a he did and he said that almost every frame of that film was manipulated to some degree in post and, and that's incredible. You know, I and my, I was doing so much of that with red rocket, you know, cleaning up little things in here and there. Like for example, with red with donut hole, which is almost supposed to be this. It's supposed to be otherworldly. It's supposed to be almost it could be seen as as Mikey's fantasy, you know, just doesn't, it's not totally based in the real world, I'd be cleaning up stuff that just, you know, just made that, that that space, less congested and prettier. So I would take away you know, electric cords, I would take away a sign I didn't like, you know, and so this is that's possible these days. And it's really I don't know it's inspiring for me because it's like a new way of filmmaking and,

Alex Ferrari 47:38
And, and I see a sense of theme with the donut shops in your tangerine, which is no longer a donut shop.

Sean Baker 47:48
I think it still is it did change

Alex Ferrari 47:51
And they change it because last time I drove by it was closed and then

Sean Baker 47:54
When did you buy it like a year ago? Oh, no, no, no, open its tray. Whoa,

Alex Ferrari 48:01
Oh, Trados donuts? That's right. That's right. Yeah, yeah, that Danny did something there.

Sean Baker 48:06
Yeah. So um, you know, I am going to disappoint you now because I wish I could tell you that the that doughnut hole was written in the script, but it was actually something found during pre production and worked into the movie, we had written it for a food truck outside of the refineries that strawberry would be working at. But when Alex cocoa one of my great producers, and I were driving past donut hole and groves, Texas, which is right next to Port Arthur, we saw this, we saw this incredible donut shop called donut hole with like, right next to the refineries with the perfect colors and this great parking lot. And, and, and this, this little wink that it does to one of my previous films, and maybe even the sexual connotations that come from, you know, the doughnut hole. Exactly. Everything seemed to work so wonderfully that we were like, This is a gift from the film gods and we better accept it.

Alex Ferrari 49:07
That's awesome. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Sean Baker 49:13
Yeah, it's a very, you know, I It's it the the industry is changing all the time, and right in front of our eyes. So it's so hard to the advice that I would have given maybe even five years ago has changed it. It really you have to decide on what you want to do. Number one, do you want to make feature films? Do you want to make a series Do you want to you know, there are different ways there. There's so many different avenues these days, web series, etc, etc. But I think what's important is just to get started is just to get going in some way or another work in some aspect of the industry. I mean, for a long time. I was doing everything I could do work doing corporate videos, editing wedding videos, just so that I could actually have practice. And at the time, yeah, you're beating yourself up saying, Oh, wow, this is I feel like I'm so isolated outside the industry, but But you are practicing your craft. And that's very important to keep practicing your craft. And then also, don't wait. That's another thing, that's the biggest thing for me, if you're gonna make a feature, don't wait, you know, meaning the tools are there. Now to do it, you can pick up your iPhone, you can shoot a film, you can edit it around at home on premiere, and you can present it to the world and see whether the world accepts it. Yeah, you may want a $50 million budget, but let's be realistic, that's not going to come right away, you're gonna have to build to that. And I and I always remember my a friend of mine, from way back in the 90s said, I don't want to make my first feature until you know, I have the $20 million to do it. Right. And unfortunately, that guy still hasn't made a film. And that's that that always is like, you know, I had to make these scrappy little movies. You know, my first film tiny little thing I shot my second film takeout that I co director was shooting. So we made that for $3,000 on a mini on mini DV. And, you know, that's being you know, that that's now? Well, it's being restored and put out into the world next year again, and so, you know, so yeah, yeah, it can be done. Just do it and do it. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 51:32
Just Just go basically just just be Nike, just go do it. That now um, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Sean Baker 51:43
Oh, gosh, I think one thing that I'm still learning is just that Carpe Diem, or, you know, just live in the moment, to appreciate the moment to be full of gratitude, you know, as human beings where we sometimes, you know, fall into the pity party thing we sometimes like, compare ourselves to other we always compare ourselves to others we have MB. But you know, you know, I, I'm, I feel that, you know, it's taken me a while, but I just want to like live in the moment and appreciate it and be happy about you know, where you are, I think that that's an important thing. And it's something I'm yeah, I hope I answered that.

Alex Ferrari 52:22
Perfectly fine. That was great. And three of your favorite films of all time.

Sean Baker 52:27
Oh, you know, it changes all the time. Sure. My top three but uh, but I I always look at Lars von Trier as the idiots which was like, I think dogma number two, as something that just is inspired me so much and continues to inspire me. So the idiots Harold and Maude, I think you can see Harold and Maude over Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And then just how Ashby in general in my films. And then, um, Chang Dong Lee's Oasis is such an incredible film that's underrated because a lot of people know Chang Dong Lee's films he made after Oasis, but I think people should go back and, and watch oasis. It's such a bold film that would never be made in this country at this time. And yet, I think is a necessary film and a film that really is profound. So So Chengdong Lee's oasis.

Alex Ferrari 53:22
And where can people see your film? And when is it coming up?

Sean Baker 53:25
Well, thank you for asking. A24. Is is is starting a limited run on the 10th of December so it'll open up in New York and Los Angeles on the 10th in a few select theaters, and then the next weekend, start to roll out into other cities. So you know, I would just say check a 20 fours website and Check local listings but it just let you know though, it's a it's a it's a an exclusive theatrical run, which I'm so happy about and so thankful to a 24 for allowing this in a day when you know there's a lot of day end dates and a lot of you know a lot of streaming titles that are just going directly to home video. This is what we shot this for the big screen is as you can tell we really wanted this to we I know it looks great on the big screen because I got to see it at the new Beverly last night on 35 millimeter and and so I hope people you know if they feel comfortable and you know if they feel safe to go to the theater see it on the big screen and it I think you know and yeah, that's all guy but I truly I truly hope people are able to see this on that big screen.

Alex Ferrari 54:43
And I second that because I did see it on the big screen and it is it is like for 16 millimeter film is part one of the more epic epically shot 16 millimeter film even super 16 but 16 millimeter films I've ever seen, especially projected is gore. It's absolutely stunning and gorgeous to look at. And you really do feel like you're there. So, Shawn, I truly appreciate you being on the show. I wish you nothing but continued success. I'm sure the film's gonna do very well. I hope Simon gets that Oscar nod. Because God, wouldn't that be amazing if he did.

Unknown Speaker 55:17
But we're even in the discussion is like, when the very fact that we even made this film is a win for us. I remember when we were going to can it was like we already won just by being here. So we're in a very good place, and however it plays out. It's this gravy at this point.

Alex Ferrari 55:33
Yeah, congrats, my friend. You're welcome back at any time for any of your feature films. So I do appreciate you. And thank you for all the inspiration that you've given filmmakers around the world because I hear constantly Well, you know, Shaun Baker did tangerine. And I mean, you could just grab an iPhone, I hear that every day. And it's and it's so there's a lot of inspiration you put out there. So even though while you're doing your work, you are inspiring another generation of filmmakers out there. So thank you again for all you do my friend.

Sean Baker 55:59
That's nice to hear. Thank you very much.

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