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BPS 210: Getting in the Door Screenwriting for Netflix with Alan Trezza

Alan Trezza wrote WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS, a horror-thriller set during the “Satanic Panic” craze of the 1980s. It was directed by Marc Meyers (MY FRIEND DAHMER) and starred Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson and Johnny Knoxville.

The film made it’s US premiere at the 2019 Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin and was released on all digital outlets in early 2020. Alan also wrote the zombie-comedy BURYING THE EX, which was directed by horror icon Joe Dante (GREMLINS) and starred Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene and Alexandra Daddario. The film premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival and received a theatrical run in the summer of 2015.
 
Alan has sold scripts to Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films and is currently developing a LatinX-themed horror film and a supernatural-thriller TV series.

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
Yeah, when you started working that first job as an assistant, what are some of the lessons that you pulled out of there? About just the business in general? What are those things that that they don't tell you about in film school but they you know, the hard knocks the shrapnel as I call it, that you get what are those things that you got in that first job.

Alan Trezza 0:21
Relationships are everything cannot meet enough people, your Rolodex cannot be big enough. Every moment you're not at the desk should be a moment spent having lunch with someone new cocktails with someone new dinner with someone new, or, you know, going on a hike with someone that you hadn't met prior or someone who's a friend of so and so's. So your network can never be fast enough or large enough. It really is a business built on relationships.

Alex Ferrari 0:55
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome to the show Alan Trezza. How you doin Alan?

Alan Trezza 1:10
I'm doing great. Thanks so much for having me Alex.

Alex Ferrari 1:12
Thank you so much for coming on the show man. I appreciate I appreciate you coming on. And you reached out to me that you've been listening to a couple of episodes recently and gotten hooked. So I appreciate that.

Alan Trezza 1:23
Definitely, definitely. Yeah, it's actually funny. It was the episode with Carrie woods that really sort of got me thinking about my crazy journey, becoming a writer and a filmmaker and a producer. Because my first internship during my senior year of college was actually for Woods entertainment, which was Carrie woods, this company. So it just really got me thinking about the old days and the crazy journey that I've been on. So yep. And then, ever since then, I've just been listening to all the past podcasts. And like I said, I read your book shooting for the mob, which I thought was one of the most true accounts of trying to get a movie made. And just been a fan ever since.

Alex Ferrari 2:04
I really appreciate that man. Yeah, I some people after they read that book, or while they're reading it, they call me up and like, I don't know, if you're gonna make it. I'm like, I made it. I trust me, I made it through.

Alan Trezza 2:15
Yeah, yeah, you made a positive out of a big negative, which is a lot of a lot of what it takes to make it in this industry, because there's more negatives than there are positives. But if you can change those negatives into a positive, then you're on the right track.

Alex Ferrari 2:30
So why in God's green earth did you want to get into this insanity that is the film industry, sir?

Alan Trezza 2:36
Why? Well, because when I was 11 years old, I saw a Clockwork Orange, and

Alex Ferrari 2:42
Stop for a second 11 years old, you saw Clockwork Orange?

Alan Trezza 2:45
Yes, I did

Alex Ferrari 2:46
Your parents are, your parents are awesome.

Alan Trezza 2:48
My parents did not know about. It was a big secret for many, many years. But I saw that movie. And for most people that that can also be seen as a negative, but I turned it into a positive because it made me realize that films were not just about special effects, and jokes, it films were a way of communicating ideas and thoughts and taking chances and asking tough questions. And it was really an eye opener. As you can imagine, I had been an 11 year old and seeing that film. Let me just just the first 10 minutes. And I, I just said to myself, how did this come into existence? Who's responsible for this? And of course, it was Stanley Kubrick. So I would go to the library and pull every book on him and then go through his entire ova. You know, Barry Lyndon in 2001, A Space Odyssey and the shining. And each and every film was more experimental different than the last, constantly pushing boundaries and in a way perfect. He made perfect films, in my opinion. You can improve upon them. They're the best versions of those stories. And ever since then, I've sort of been infatuated with films and making movies and that's what led me on this journey.

Alex Ferrari 4:11
So how did you get into this insanity?

Alan Trezza 4:14
Well, yeah, um, you know, I'm from Long Island. It's about as far away from Hollywood as as you can possibly get. But I went to college in New York City at Fordham University, and took every film course possible. My weekends were spent with a Super Eight camera and making movies with classmates. And then also, like I said, you know, getting an internship or was entertainment and working for Kerry Woods, who, at the time was one of the most incredible producers. He was responsible for night Shawn Mullins first movie. You know, Scott Rosenberg's first scripts he produced, he produced scream, Cop Land James Mangold movie. So I really wanted to learn, you know what it was like to get in on the ground. on floor and working for Woods was was incredible upon graduating Karis VP gave me a list of names of executives in Hollywood because I was really thinking about making a move out here where I am currently. And the top name on the list was Robbie Brenner. Robbie Brenner was an executive at Miramax Films at the time, and flew out here with a one way ticket, stayed on a few couches and eventually got an interview with Robbie, and got the job to be her assistant. And the first script that Robbie gave me and this is in the late 90s. I think this is 1999. The first script that Robbie gave me to read and cover was the Dallas Buyers Club. And she said read this Alan, I'm going to make this one day. Flash forward to 2014. It's the Oscars and she's nominated for Best Picture. And Robbie told me a very valuable lesson. She said, This business is all about passion. If you have passion for material, if you have passion for filmmaking and film, and films, you're going to make it and she's been an incredible mentor. Now she's running the film division at Mattel. And she's in London making Barbie right now with a Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie. So that's what sort of got me started. And I was on a executive path for a long time. I was a development executive for Drew Barrymore of flower films, which was incredible. And one day I get a call and it's Robbie again, saying that Tony and Ridley Scott are looking for a development executive. I said, Great. Good luck finding one for them. She goes, No, I'm calling because you're the guy. And I was like, Well, I kind of been hanging out with Drew for a while, you know, working on some rom coms and stuff. She goes, No, no, no, no one loves movies like you. They love movies, you love movies, you have that in common. It's hard to find out here. So four months of interviews later, I was working at scot free with Tony and Ridley, you know, my heroes. And that was an incredible experience. But all the while I kind of wanted to make my like my own stories and write my own sort of tie tales and movies. So when one day I had the idea to write a short film about a guy whose ex girlfriend comes back as a zombie, and can't get rid of our cat killer. So what C to do, and that turned into a short film called bearing dx, which played out a few festivals. And a few years after that ended up getting made as a feature film directed by another one of my heroes, Joe Dante. So that's what got me started.

Alex Ferrari 7:44
Yeah, well, and we'll get we're definitely gonna dive into buried with the axes. I'm really interested in that story. But I didn't know that you worked with Ridley and Tony. So I have to ask, what is it like working with those legends? You know, you know, Tony, you know, rest his soul was he literally changed action movies made. The moment he made Top Gun. Yeah, all action movies changed. And then a few years later, Michael Bay showed up with the rock and bad boys and then all action films, Jason again. But Tony was one of those guys that just even to the very end, he was more experimental than any of his younger contemporaries. I mean, you look at Domino, you look at on fire man on fire. He was doing things that nobody else had the balls to do. I mean, he was he was on the edge creatively and also technically just stuff that he was doing with the film. So what was it like working with Tony and then obviously Ridley's?

Alan Trezza 8:39
Yeah, really changed the game? And in the Sci Fi field, the epics. What was it like, you would not know from being in a room with them that they were the legends that they are. That's to say, the most down to earth, the most jovial, the most approachable, people you can imagine. So much so that I had to like, at times remind myself, oh my god, I'm across the table from the guy who made Blade Runner, or I'm across across the table, from the guy who made Crimson Tide. I remember one day, you know, and they were just like, like Robbie told me they just love movies. So they would come into my office at various times just to talk about movies. And hey, did you see this or what have you seen that you liked? And we were just kind of go on and on and on. And every once in a while I have to be like, Oh my God, that's Ridley Scott talking to me. Because they they're just so so down to earth and they were so cool. And one of the greatest compliments I can give them is, you know, they were very close, but you could not get more different in terms of their art. Right? Or, you know, I mean, most people are sort of, you know, carbon copies of their siblings and stuff like that. But you could not get more different than than Tony and read but they were each incredible at what They did. And just so funny and so witty, but always, always strive for perfection. They always strive for perfection, but at the same time tried to have a good time during that, that that mission that they were after.

Alex Ferrari 10:14
Was there any creative lessons you learned, it's ours, how they worked, how they broke down a script, what they, they looked at, at story, how they trip up, I'm assuming you, you were there, from the script point all the way to when you saw something actually get produced and how it might have changed. Along the line looking through their lenses. What are those things that you learned there?

Alan Trezza 10:35
Yeah, with Tony with Tony, it was a lot about character. It was character, character, character character. First, if we can fall in love with the character, we'll be along for the ride. The character's journey is the story. Ridley, of course, is more of a world builder. So he was really interested in the world and the milieu and the setting and the time period. And tons of research had to go into to Robin Hood and to gladiator and getting all those details correct. If he had a handle on the world, he had a handle on the story. And with with Tony, it was more about character character. So that's that's sort of what I learned from both of them and trying to merge the two in order to make something new, truly remarkable.

Alex Ferrari 11:19
When you started working that first job as an assistant, what are some of the lessons that you pulled out of there? About just the business in general? What are those things that that they don't tell you about in film school, but they you know, the hard knocks the shrapnel as I call it, that you get what are those things that you got in that first job.

Alan Trezza 11:40
Relationships are everything, you cannot meet enough people, your Rolodex cannot be big enough. Every moment you're not at the desk should be a moment spent having lunch with someone new cocktails with someone new dinner with someone new, or, you know, going on a hike with someone that you hadn't met prior or someone who's a friend of so and so's. So your network can never be fast enough or large enough. It really is a business built on relationships. And then again, perseverance, you know, a lot of the people that were coming up back then, who are now you know, very big stars now in the filmmaking world and the producing world, were people that just hustled I mean, they were just constantly constantly pushing that, that mountain that, that rock up that mountain, you know, the Sisyphus example, just constantly, constantly doing and, and then, you know, again, the passion, the people with a passion for it, the people who, when you when they got on the phone, and they were pitching you something, they weren't like car salesmen. They were really, really in love with what the script that they had, or the idea that they wanted to give you. So those were the the main main lessons.

Alex Ferrari 13:00
You mentioned, networking and building relationships, which is such a such a crucial part of our business. And I've discovered that years ago, how do you do it properly, in your opinion, because I found so many young writers, young filmmakers, young actors, they walk up to someone like you or me at a party, and they just start like, hey, read my script, hey, do this for me, Hey, can you connect it to this guy? I mean, you have no idea how many emails I get on a daily basis after like, someone comes on my show. And they're like, Hey, can you send this script to John Leguizamo? I'm like, no. That's not the way the world works. Can you explain to them how you should actually build and actually network and how to build authentic relationships?

Alan Trezza 13:43
Yeah. Well, to go back to Carrie woods, I got that internship from a cold call. I had actually seen screen at a test screening and said this is going to change genre movies. Who's involved in this? Okay, Wes. I know about Wes, Kevin Williamson, this up and coming screenwriter, but who's the person who kind of made the movie who produced it. And I saw that it was Carrie woods. I can't remember how I got the number. But he just so happened to have had an office in Chelsea, you know, not too far from Fordham University where I was going to school. And I found that number and I cold called and I just think there was something in my voice that was very honest, that I was very, you know, in very passionate about this business, and I wanted to be a part of it. And I think that that's something that you can't fake and whenever I'm approached by someone, and I can sense that passion, and I can sense that authenticity, then I'm more than likely to you know, engage. And then as I said, it's the sort of the used car salesman mentality or the people who sort of want to be in it for alternative reasons. They're going to have a more difficult time because we can sense that we have very good sort of BS detectors, right? So if they come at you being honest and true and just authentic and saying, Look, I know you don't know me, but I really want to do this. It's been my dream. And I've been writing scripts for X number of years. I think this one is the one which please read it. That's different than. So this isn't my first script. But it's incredible. And it's a masterpiece. And I'm going to be Kubrick one day, and Aronofsky wants to produce my first movie. And I've got CAA calling me and I've also got, you know, ICM calling me, it's kind of like, right, who are you going to trust more with? So if you're authentic, if you're honest, and if you're respectful to you know, respect people's times, respect people, you know, their privacy, I think you're going to be okay.

Alex Ferrari 15:53
You said something really important that I want to kind of dig into a little bit authenticity, not only the authenticity of when you're trying to pitch to not pitch somebody but trying to build a relationship to be truly authentic and being of service to that person. But do you believe that the reason for the people who succeed in our business is because of their own authenticity? Ridley and Tony, were authentic to who they were, they were not trying to be anybody else. Carrie Woods was not trying to be anybody else. You have not tried to be anybody else. That is the secret sauce that kind of sets us all apart from everybody else. Because if we all tried to be Quentin Tarantino, it's not going to work out.

Alan Trezza 16:30
Yeah, there was already one Quentin Tarantino

Alex Ferrari 16:32
He does a pretty good job with that.

Alan Trezza 16:34
That's right. Well, look, the best example I can give you as a personal example. I've been writing scripts for many, many, many years, and I've sold a few. The two that I've had made so far, were the ones I thought no one would be interested in. They were the ones only I was interested in. Okay. You know, a comedy about a guy whose ex girlfriend comes back as a zombie that was written before the Walking Dead was the number one show on TV that was written before zombie land that was written before World War Z. I wrote that because it was a story that I had that I wanted to see. And if I couldn't see it, at least it'd be there on paper. And if I wanted to see it, I could read it and picture it in my head. That one got made. My second film we Psalm in the darkness takes place in the 80s. It's about heavy metal and the Satanic Panic. That was written before Stranger Things that was written before the whole 80s Wave. I simply sat down and wanted to write a movie, I wanted to see a movie that was personal to me. I grew up in the 80s. I was in a heavy metal band, I had a lot of people thinking that I was a Satanist because I listened to Kane diamond. And I wanted to write a story about that, that ended up getting made. The other scripts that I sold, I've sold scripts to Paramount, I sold scripts to Miramax, those are on the shelf somewhere. They're commercial, for sure. And they ended up getting at studios. But as I said, it's the ones that were more personal to me that there was just some driving force behind them and other people got on board. And we pushed that mountain up that hill, and we got those movies made. So I think there's something to be said about that.

Alex Ferrari 18:14
So let's talk about Yeah, first step first film buried with the X urinate during the ex. That was short that you made first, right? So you produce a short How do you get the short? Yeah, to a feature which so many people listening have tried to do that myself included, by the way, trying to make short films to get an act to get a shot at a feature. So you didn't just get a feature. You also got it directed by a legend by the legendary Joe Dante. So what was the story from the short to the feature and getting Joe involved?

Alan Trezza 18:47
Okay, cool. So, the short, is something I'm extremely proud of. I directed it, I was one of the producers on it, I wrote it. We had a fantastic cast. The lead was John Francis Daley, from fixing geeks fame. Now a very, very famous writer, director. He's directed he's directing Dungeons and Dragons right now with Chris Pine. And one of the other leads was Daniel Harris from the Halloween franchise. You know, one of my favorite actresses growing up because I love those those movies so much. But I hadn't made that film just by calling in favors. As I said, everyone I knew everyone I had met along the way. And every company I worked with, I ended up getting a shot on the Paramount Genesis camera, which was incredible camera at the time. Yeah, my DP had a great relationship with Panda vision. And yeah, we got the panda vision genesis for a weekend. Just kind of checked it out and was like, oh, bring this back on Monday. gave it back on Monday. But yeah, that got made it was 15 minutes and played at a number of festivals, I think I think people really liked the tone, the energy. And of course, the cast was pretty cool and recognizable. We played at ComiCon and several other festivals. But the first step was really adapting it into a feature, I wasn't going to give it to an agent and say, Here's my short, make a feature of it, they needed sort of like a proof of concept, they needed a script. So before doing that, I sat down, and I had to kind of break apart that 15 minute short and see, okay, what's the story here, where's the 90 minute version of this movie, and a lot of changes had to take place, you know, and in a lot of ways, I have to kind of forget the short and start from scratch. But you know, after about three or four months of writing, I came up with a 90 minute screenplay that I gave to a bunch of friends. And they were very honest with me, they said, this is actually really, really funny. I left that almost every page. And, and after that, it was just the search for money. Of course, of course, we tried going out to studios, and there was some interest because at the time, this was at the time when like the studios had like their sort of their mini kind of genre divisions of their companies. I think like Paramount had one Fox had one Paramount Vantage. Atomic, I remember Fox comic. Yeah, they were kind of close on it, they because I mean, you know, it was, could be made for, you know, a good budget and which genre and, you know, comedic, so yeah, it just clicked all the boxes. But at the end of the day, they ended up passing. So we tried the studio route passed, again, is the passion to try to get it made that made me say, Okay, make this independently, you know, a lot of your favorite movies are the independent films and you know, out of Sundance and other festivals, maybe this one could be yours. So went to every AFM, which is the American Film Market that's which is in Santa Monica, California, once a year for about a week. People from all over the globe get together and they sell their movies and stuff like that. So I'd sneak in there because a badge is like $400 or something. So I kind of sneak in or just try to mingle with people. And eventually, thankfully, I did meet some producers, Carl Evanson, and Kyle tequila, they had a company, and they were based out of Texas, and they really believed in it, and they were getting a company together and thought that this could be made for a price. And they came on board and soon thereafter got the Joe's hands. I was meeting with Joe Dante, you know, the next day, couldn't believe it. I screwed up the first two minutes of the meeting, because I sat down and they said, I have to tell you. I was 13 years old when I saw the Halloween. And you could just see Jeremy like, Oh, God, thanks a lot for that. Like that, and I saw how far it goes. Thanks for making me feel alone. I said no, I didn't mean it like that. It didn't mean like that I meant is the best world transformation I've ever seen even better than John Landis is American Werewolf in London. Since then, you know, that was years and years ago, we're still friends, and we still email each other. And he's, he's just an incredible human being. But yeah, it was it was many, many years of just, as I said, networking, going places, meeting new people who's got money, who's interested in a zombie pick, this, this and that. And then finally, I remember you know, the movie had some starts and then stops and then starts and then stops. And then when I thought the movies, when I thought the movie was was basically dead and gone. World War Z came out, and ended up being the highest grossing film of Brad Pitt's career. And the next day, we got a call from some financers, who said, We hear you got a zombie pick. When can you get started? And we were like, yesterday, and they said, Go and we were shooting that movie. And that's how that happened.

Alex Ferrari 24:09
So between the moment that you finished the short to the moment you started production, how many years?

Alan Trezza 24:18
Conservatively five. I would say conservatively five.

Alex Ferrari 24:23
So this is the question I have to ask you, man. And this is such an important question because so many of us have to go through this. How did you get through those five years? How did you get the energy to continue to push this boulder up a hill with no no indication per se that it was actually going to get to its destination you had you had Joe Dante? Great. That's awesome. You had some elements to get the thing going, but even after the first year or two, you're just like, okay, is this gonna happen? Like how psychologically how did you get through it?

Alan Trezza 25:01
You know, I mentor a lot of kind of young up and coming screenwriters because I want them to learn the lessons that took me sometimes years to learn, I want them to learn it, you know, in an instant, to save them a lot of the hardships. The hardest part about making a movie is finding an idea that you fall in love. That's the hardest part. Okay. And if you have that, you're already on your way. Because in a lot of ways, it's like a marriage, there's gonna be some good years, there's gonna be some bad years. But if you truly love that idea, you're gonna stick with it. And that's the best analogy I can give you. Look, if it was an idea that I wasn't truly and head over heels in love with, we wouldn't be talking about this movie right now. Right? But it was a movie, it was an idea that I truly loved. And like with any relationship, there's going to be incredible highs and devastating lows. And it's just a matter of sticking by with, you know, the person that you fell in love with, or the idea you fell in love with. There's something there that keeps you going. Okay, and that's the idea. So if anyone's having writer's block, or, you know, doesn't have the energy to sort of get up and keep going. Odds are, they're not truly head over heels in love with the idea. But this was an idea that I was in love with. So I stuck with it.

Alex Ferrari 26:25
So were you on set, most of the time when you were making that film

Alan Trezza 26:29
Every single day. And Joe was incredibly collaborative.

Alex Ferrari 26:33
So I So question number one, there's always that day that the whole world is coming crashing down around you. How did you see how did if it was something that happened to you? Or was something that happened to the production or to Joe? And how did that person or that situation? How did you get through to the other side of that?

Alan Trezza 26:54
Well, thankfully, how I got through how we all got through was Joe. He was the captain of the ship, and the captain can not show nervousness, anxiousness, anger, or any type of anxiety or doubt. And Joe never did. And I remember I was on day two, which is usually on day two that I have found from, you know, the two movies that I've I've made. That's kind of, it's going to dictate where your movies kind of going day to day one, there's a lot of excitement, there's energy, you know, day two, you're kind of like more into it, but you're starting to kind of see where some of the cracks might be. So when day One day two came along, I remember, one of the producers came rolling up in a giant Escalade, and came and said that they wanted to talk to Joe and I said, Oh, here we go dope. And up until that time, you know, they had, like, happens to most independent films, they had slashed our budget, a pretty good amount. And we could only shoot with one camera. And we only had 20 days to shoot the film. So 20 days, one camera. Two cameras would be ideal, right? So you can get more coverage, you know, half the time, but one camera 20 days. I said, Okay, this thing is gonna look like clerks, unfortunately. What are you gonna do? Right? You can only put it down on sticks and shoot, and then kind of you can't get too creative, right? And I also think they like, got rid of our steadicam. I think they got rid of some dolly tracks.

Alex Ferrari 28:32
The point of doing this, Dennis, come on, man. We're all here. We're on the party's here. Let's all get this just do it. Right?

Alan Trezza 28:39
Well, they just needed to slash and burn. So then day two comes around. And one of the producers comes and an Escalade and wants to talk to Joe and I said, Oh, here it is, you know, he probably saw the dailies says everything looks really static. And what the heck are you guys doing? And I'm going to cut more, you know, I'm going to cut your days. So he asked to talk to Joe and they go in the corner. And I see Joe talking to this producer and the producer is kind of waving his hands like this. I only like that. Oh boy, oh boy. He's asking why the footage looks so static and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then, about two minutes later, the producer shakes Joe's hand, waves goodbye, gets in the Escalade and drives away. And then I said, I went to jail. I said, what's going on? Is everything. Okay? He goes, Yeah, yeah. He says the footage looks amazing. He says I'm making a two and a half million dollar movie looking like a $5 million movie. And how do I get it to look like a $10 million movie? And I said give me another camera. Give me a Steadicam and give me some dolly tracks. It goes cool. You got it. And then the next day we had our the next day we had our Steadicam and we had our dolly track and we had our B camera. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 29:53
That's isn't that the way it works is it is just so fascinating. That's just the way like we are I got producers financier, sometimes it just drives me absolutely bad. What was you know, working with Joe, what was the biggest lesson you took away from just it just working with someone like that it's such a close, you know, such a close collaborative way.

Alan Trezza 30:13
Best idea wins. That's, that's the best lesson doesn't matter if it comes from a PA, craft services, the ad script supervisor best idea wins. So keep an open set, you know, encourage collaboration, encourage freedom with the words with the script. With the story, you'll never know what you might find. The document the script is a is a is a fluid document. So what's funny is when I'm when I was shooting Burien. And when I was shooting, we summon the darkness. The person who asked for the most changes to the script was actually me. Because I was seeing how the actors were portraying the characters and I was seeing what they were bringing to it. And I wanted to bring out more of it. So I would constantly be changing dialogue and pages and have new pages. Because as I said, The movie takes a life of its own. It's not it's not on 120 pages or 90 pages of paper anymore. It's now flesh and blood. So you have to adapt to that. And yeah, that's that's what I learned from Joe.

Alex Ferrari 31:21
Now, how did you get your next film off the ground? Which also sounds like like you said, on paper, you had other ones much more commercial? How did this one get produced?

Alan Trezza 31:33
Right. So with, it's called, we summon the darkness, again, I wanted to write something that could be made. So minimal locations, not a lot of effects. But with really, hopefully, good characters, good story, and, you know, some good twists, and ended up writing we some in the darkness. Same thing, it was an idea that I fell in love with. It was something I really wanted to see come to fruition. So then I started to reach out to some producers that I had met along the way. The first person I called was a producer named Christian or Machida who was a very, very big genre fan, worked on a ton of genre movies. And I said, I think I think this guy might be the right person. I think he might see what I'm trying to do here. Because it was very specific. It was a very kind of specific genre specific tone specific time period. Again, like I said, this is before Stranger Things. There's before at the 80s were super cool. And I remember we had lunch one day, and he walked in wearing a faith, no more t shirt. And I said, Okay, that's cool. I dig them. And we just had a great talk for about two hours. And it was kind of like an informal job interview in a way, you know, because I didn't bring up the script right away. It was only like in the last 10 minutes. I said, Well, I've got something and it's a little weird. It's a little strange. It's a little unique. But here it is. And he said, I think that sounds really cool. And two days, I sent him the script. And two days later, he said I'd like to talk to you about this, I think I think he got something. So we worked on it together a little bit. He helped develop it definitely. And then he sent it out to his network of people. It ended up getting on the blood list, not the blacklist, the blacklist is you know, the list of Hollywood's you know, favorite unproduced scripts. The blood list is the year end list of unproduced genres scripts that people really love. So it ended up on there, which ended up getting more reads. And we just started to put this movie together little by little, we needed some extra help in terms of the financing. So I called up the producer of my last film, I called up Kyle tequila. And I said, Kyle, you know, I know how hard you worked on burying the ex. I know how, like when the going got really rough that you just put it all out there. You just risked everything to get this thing going. Would you do the same thing for this? And he said, he goes, alright, if if I read it, and if I like it, I'm all in. I said, Well, that's why I'm calling you. So he read it. He liked it. And sure enough, he was all in so we had this little team now Christian, Kyle and myself. And then the search for a director began and that that took a long, long time whereas with burying the ex Joe Dante was pretty quick to come on board. We went through I think about five directors. That's including a directing team. So that's two so ultimately, again lot of highs a lot of lows you know you're working with a director one day for several several months only to have their managers call you up and say yeah, they just got offered a film at Universal and it's shooting next month. He's gonna have to drop out. Needless to say that film at Universal never got made. So and And we would say that we would say is it is it real? And managers would say yes, it's 100% real, that film ever got made, but we still lost the director as a as a result. And then finally, when we again just when we thought the movie was done and over, it was just before Christmas break. I think it was 2017 just before Christmas break, and Kyle and Kristian, call me and they said we saw a movie called my friend Dahmer. I said, I know that when they played at Sundance, it's really, really quite amazing. It's about Jeffrey Dahmer, but when he was in high school, told from the eyes of his best friend, and I said, Yeah, that movie is actually kind of amazing. We've been looking at these genre filmmakers, like these kind of genre film festival kind of guys who were making a big splash. But he was like, a real, like arthouse filmmaker, a real sort of character driven filmmaker. His name was Mark Myers. And I said, well, good luck getting him. Because he makes like real movies like we're looking for like a genre fun genre film. It's a no he likes it. And I got on the phone again, it was just before Christmas. Within five minutes, Mark says, I think the script you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of a clockwork orange. And then yeah, I remember. We were all in separate parts of the world. I mean, Mark is New York, New York City based and I'm in the valley in California. Kyle, I think is the most fearless and I remember texting Kyle and Christian, holy shit. And, again, it was the passion in Mark's voice. It was the authenticity. At the end of that call. I said, Mark, you and I will make this movie together. And he goes, Yeah, cool. Let's make a movie. Less than a year later, we are in Manitoba, Canada making the movie.

Alex Ferrari 36:57
That's amazing how. So from that point, because this was done independently. How did you get it to Netflix? Because that's another journey, I'm assuming as well.

Alan Trezza 37:05
Yeah, so thankfully, Mark directed the hell out of the film. We had an incredible cast. Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson Johnny Knoxville, amazing cast incredible production. Incredible acting, just mark made such a fantastic movie that really struck a chord with people. And we ended up getting a deal with a film distribution company, Sivan films, and they were the ones responsible for getting it released all over the world. And on Netflix, it was supposed to have a very nice theatrical run. However, it was slated for a theatrical run in April 2020, just when the pandemic hit. And I remember we got a review from Olynyk Lieberman and variety, a fantastic review. And he said I'm the only sad thing about this is that this, this will get a theatrical review. And if anything is meant to be played in with an audience of raucous film goers, it's this movie. So that that was unfortunate, but who knows, you know, it could still play on the midnight circuit, you know, somewhere down the line as a cult moving?

Alex Ferrari 38:20
Is there anything that you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career?

Alan Trezza 38:27
Just that is going to be 10 times harder than you thought it would be? And that you'd work 10 times harder than you thought you ever would. And not all hard work is rewarded. A lot of the times a lot of the times that we reward a lot of times the reward has to come from the work itself. Right. So as you said, so what kept me through, you know, what got me through the years of trying to make bearing the acts, are we some in the darkness, it was, well, I had this document, I had the script. And I remember, Christian would say like, sometimes he would just read it just to read it because it would make him smile, you know. So a lot of the times the reward comes out of the work itself or the reward comes from, you know, I got a piece of fan art about three or four weeks ago from someone who had seen we some of the darkness and they just loved it so much that they they drew like a mock poster of it and gave it to me and that's it. That's That's an incredible thing, you know, so not all not the rewards won't come in the way that you expect them to. But their rewards, they're just have to know how to recognize them.

Alex Ferrari 39:42
Isn't it interesting that most people in general, but specifically in the film industry, they work towards a goal and if they don't get the goal, they're unhappy. But the majority of people in the film industry don't get to their goals, not the goals that they set out in Maybe other goals, maybe other situations, maybe other opportunities. But generally speaking, all of us, I think, at one point or another said, we're going to be Steven Spielberg, we're going to be Stanley Kubrick, we're going to be Eric Roth, we're going to be whoever that person is that you idolize. We generally, almost always never get to that place. But we get to wherever we're supposed to be. But so much of our journey is depressing. Many times, because we don't focus on the journey, we focus on the destination. And if you would have focused on the destination with these two projects, you wouldn't have made it you were actually focused on like, just the enjoyment of whatever you'd say the joy of it. But the process is that a fair statement?

Alan Trezza 40:47
100% 100% Yeah, it was the, like I said, I wrote the movies that I wanted to see. And even if I didn't get to see them on the big screen, or on a 60 inch flat screen, they still existed in my mind, and on paper.

Alex Ferrari 41:05
Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter or filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Alan Trezza 41:14
Okay, for screenwriters. Find that idea that you fall head over heels in love with? Don't chase the marketplace? Okay? Don't try to be the next. You know, don't try to write the next Marvel movie. Okay, they they've already got the next five years of Marvel movies already lined up. And if you really think about it, if you really think about it, look at who Kevin Feige is hiring to write and direct these Marvel movies. Is he direct? Is he hiring the big tentpole folks, the people who have made those 100 300 400 $500 million grossing movies? Or is he hiring someone like pica? What TD is he hiring someone like James Gunn, he's hiring people with unique and original voices. Okay? That's the trick, find your voice. Okay, if you have something to say, and only you can say it, and you have an idea, and you're the only person that can execute that idea. That's what you should do. Okay? Because that's how you'll get noticed. That's how you'll get a meeting at Marvel or any other place because they've got all the big action guys they've got all the big dialog guys are the the next Tarantino is and stuff but what they're really looking for is a unique original voice who could take a property like for and bring a whole new life, right? Or take a properly like the Guardians of the Galaxy, and just completely up end, you know, that whole franchise? So that's my advice for screenwriters do not chase the marketplace. Work on your voice. You know, when you're talking to friends when your friends are like your seniors, you're so funny because only you do this or you think this way. Okay. What is it that that that that gives you your voice? What is it that your friends are constantly entertained by? That's your voice work on it, find it take chances, don't worry about selling. Okay. And then for filmmakers out there again, it's it's the network of people it's about getting seen by as many people as possible. Okay, always produce find your fight injure. You know, I say a lot of the times making a movie, it's kind of like forming a cult. Okay, you have a you have a document you have words written on paper that people believe in that people trust in and then they the Cabal grows larger and larger and larger. And then before you know what money's been spent, okay? And then at the end of the day, everyone gathers in a room to see what the document has produced, right? It's almost kind of like a cult or religion, right? So find that team find that team of people that you trust, like when I found Christian and Kyle, and you know, the other people that I work with, and you'll be on your way.

Alex Ferrari 44:06
Isn't it funny though, when you watch, you know, when when you watch guardians of galaxy, or or Thor The third one is, you know, Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the oddest properties that Marvel owned. They were kind of like in the bargain bin of comic books. I remember them when I was collecting comics. I was just like, the Rocket Raccoon. Yeah. And he turned it into a huge franchise. And then Thor was pretty much kind of like a almost a third tier character behind all the other ones. The first two movies did you know? But then he's now one of the favorites because of this humor that you bring. And I'm dying to see the new one. Love and thunder it's it looks amazing. But it was because of that unique voice I hope people listening understand that those those to James Gunn, and to keep I can never say his name Taika Waititi take a look at they both are so authentic to who they are. That's what made them that's what made the pop. That's what got them these jobs. That's what got them. The success that they've gotten, they didn't try to be anybody else. So,

Alan Trezza 45:17
And their highest grossing films, which are, I think, still today, Infinity War and endgame, were directed by the Russo brothers who are directing episodes of Community and Arrested Development. Okay, they didn't go and hire the guy who, whose last movie was a huge hit at the box office, they, they hired according to voice and according to a perspective, and a point of view and something unique.

Alex Ferrari 45:43
Right, and they just I mean, and the only time they they've broken that rule once in a blue moon, where they could Sam Raimi with which, but he also but Sam hasn't done anything big in a while. Right. And Sam has one of the most unique points of view in, in, in Hollywood history, honestly, so, but they gave him someone like him, every toolbox, every tool in the toolbox, and he's like, this is great. I want to keep working like this.

Alan Trezza 46:13
The best parts of those of that film, you know, and even the reviewers and audiences agree were the Sam Raimi moments.

Alex Ferrari 46:21
The things that made Oh, that's Sam, Sam brought that in. Yes, this. Like, I still remember in Spider Man two, there was that horror movie in the middle was coming off.

Alan Trezza 46:34
Oh, that was awesome.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
That was literally a horror movie in the middle of it. And we're like, where did this come from so beautifully. That was awesome. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Alan Trezza 46:49
The longest to learn in the film industry or in life? I think that it would be what I had said is the reward is in the doing not in the finished product. That's the longest because you know, you write something you love you think it's going to sell? Not all scripts self, not all people see what you see. Is that mean that the last three, four months or a year were wasted? No, hopefully not. Because why? Because the next one will be better. Write or you learn something along the way. You learned how to write a character better you learn how to write dialogue better, you learned how to add subtext into your dialogue. So hopefully, each script you do you learn something from so that the next one's even better? Don't repeat yourself. Don't say, I'm gonna write, you know, the same thing all over again. You'll never grow that way. They'll never get better that way. And you'll never get noticed that way.

Alex Ferrari 47:55
And even if you are sold, it doesn't mean it's going to be made into move.

Alan Trezza 48:00
Because you have that experience. You get experiences. Well, yeah, few times a few times.

Alex Ferrari 48:07
Hey, listen to as long as the check clears. We're all good.

Alan Trezza 48:11
Eventually, it did eventually. Eventually it arrived. Thankfully, at the clear,

Alex Ferrari 48:17
Yeah, I mean, I know so many screenwriters who, whose IMDb might be short. But they've been working nonstop for a decade or 15 years. Script doctoring working on projects getting picked up. I mean, working with the biggest people in Hollywood, but yet they just can't, they can't get that thing, the pop, and then they only get maybe once or twice or three times in a decade. It's not easy getting a movie made, especially now. I don't I don't want to tell you, sir, I know. I want to tell you this. What is the biggest thing you learned from your biggest failure in the business?

Alan Trezza 48:58
The biggest thing I learned from my biggest failure was trying to chase the marketplace, trying to looking at deadline saying this movie just sold. I'm mad, I'm angry, I can do that. Let me show them I can do that. And then as I said, you know, you wasted six months, because at the end of the day, a that movie already exists and already sold, you know, or that script already existed and already sold or be. There's no passion in the writing because it comes through. It does come through, as I said, trust your voice stick with it. It was the moments when I wasn't trusting my voice when I was trying to be someone else. When I was trying to write something else that I'm not good at. You stumble, you can't be an imposter. So I would say you know, I've written maybe two or three scripts, simply because I thought they would sell and of course First they didn't, because people saw right through it. So I would say that that would sort of be the biggest lesson. And it's the like, as I said earlier, it's the ones that I thought wouldn't sell. And the ones I thought no one would like, but I did. Like that ended up happening.

Alex Ferrari 50:20
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Alan Trezza 50:24
Hard one, but let's go with Clockwork Orange. Let's go with Halloween. And let's go with Punch drunk love.

Alex Ferrari 50:33
That's a heck of a combo my friend

Alan Trezza 50:36
The pop, but the ones that I can see over and over and over again, and find different things in them each time. Right. That's why I think I chose those three.

Alex Ferrari 50:48
And they age. They're different every every decade. That's what great art does. As you change the arches, you watch Clockwork Orange and 11 and you watch it as a 40 year old two very different movies.

Alan Trezza 50:59
Yeah, punch drunk love came out 2003 2004 It's been quite a long time. And I saw that film twice in a weekend because it was just had such an impact on me. It was an experimental film all the way through from wardrobe soundtrack casting ilog casting, stunt casting, incredible stunt casting, and every experiment, every risk he took paid off, incredibly. And now other filmmakers can now benefit from that other filmmakers can cast Sandler in a role where he isn't comedic all the time. JJ can experiment now with lens flares because that film used lens flare as an aesthetic sort of piece of it. People started hiring John Bryan to compose their soundtracks, because they heard the work that he did. I mean, I was watching them some episodes of the flight attendant and that percussive soundtrack that, that that sort of chaotic sort of drum beat. I said, That's punch drunk love right there, you know. And I remember sort of watching it, maybe two or three months ago, I'm like, I wonder if this thing holds up. I wonder if it's still as amazing. More than ever, more than ever. Does that film hold up? It still has the same impact on me it now that it did when I saw it in the theater back in I think 2004

Alex Ferrari 52:26
Alan, it has been a pleasure talking to you, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your journey with us and hopefully somebody's listening has picked up a couple of these nuggets and hopefully won't be you know, have so many so many problems moving forward in their journey. Hopefully they'll avoid some of these pitfalls that you and I have come through over the years. So I appreciate you my friend. Thank you so much for for coming on the show.

Alan Trezza 52:50
Not problems opportunities.

Alex Ferrari 52:53
Thank you my friend.

Alan Trezza 52:54
Thank you!

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BPS 209: Confessions of a Hollywood Writer & Actor with John Leguizamo

Fast-talking and feisty-looking John Leguizamo has continued to impress movie audiences with his versatility: he can play sensitive and naïve young men, such as Johnny in Hangin’ with the Homeboys; cold-blooded killers like Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way; a heroic Army Green Beret, stopping aerial terrorists in Executive Decision; and drag queen Chi-Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

Arguably, not since ill-fated actor and comedian Freddie Prinze starred in the smash TV series Chico and the Man had a youthful Latino personality had such a powerful impact on critics and fans alike. John Alberto Leguizamo Peláez was born July 22, 1960, in Bogotá, Colombia, to Luz Marina Peláez and Alberto Rudolfo Leguizamo.

He was a child when his family emigrated to the United States. He was raised in Queens, New York, attended New York University and studied under legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg for only one day before Strasberg passed away.

The extroverted Leguizamo started working the comedy club circuit in New York and first appeared in front of the cameras in an episode of Miami Vice. His first film appearance was a small part in Mixed Blood, and he had minor roles in Casualties of War and Die Hard 2 before playing a liquor store thief who shoots Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry.

His career really started to soar after his first-rate performance in the independent film Hangin’ with the Homeboys as a nervous young teenager from the Bronx out for a night in brightly lit Manhattan with his buddies, facing the career choice of staying in a supermarket or heading off to college and finding out that the girl he loves from afar isn’t quite what he thought she was.

The year 1991 was also memorable for other reasons, as he hit the stage with his show John Leguizamo: Mambo Mouth, in which he portrayed seven different Latino characters. The witty and incisive show was a smash hit and won the Obie and Outer Circle Critics Award, and later was filmed for HBO, where it picked up a CableACE Award.

He returned to the stage two years later with another satirical production poking fun at Latino stereotypes titled John Leguizamo: Spic-O-Rama. It played in Chicago and New York, and won the Drama Desk Award and four CableACE Awards. In 1995 he created and starred in the short-lived TV series House of Buggin’, an all-Latino-cast comedy variety show featuring hilarious sketches and comedic routines.

The show scored two Emmy nominations and received positive reviews from critics, but it was canceled after only one season. The gifted Leguizamo was still keeping busy in films, with key appearances in Super Mario Bros., Romeo + Juliet and Spawn. In 1998 he made his Broadway debut in John Leguizamo: Freak, a “demi-semi-quasi-pseudo-autobiographical” one-man show, which was filmed for HBO by Spike Lee.

Utilizing his distinctive vocal talents, he next voiced a pesky rat in Doctor Dolittle before appearing in the dynamic Spike Lee-directed Summer of Sam as a guilt-ridden womanizer, as the Genie of The Lamp in the exciting Arabian Nights and as Henri DE Toulouse Lautrec in the visually spectacular Moulin Rouge!.

He also voiced Sid in the animated Ice Age, co-starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Collateral Damage and directed and starred in the boxing film Undefeated. Subsequently, Leguizamo starred in the remake of the John Carpenter hit Assault on Precinct 13 and George A. Romero’s long-awaited fourth “Dead” film, Land of the Dead.

There can be no doubt that the remarkably talented Leguizamo has been a breakthrough performer for the Latino community in mainstream Hollywood, in much the same way that Sidney Poitier crashed through celluloid barriers for African-Americans in the early 1960s.

Among his many strengths lies his ability to not take his ethnic background too seriously but also to take pride in his Latino heritage.

His new project is The Green Veil premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival:

It’s 1955 and Gordon Rodgers has a dream. It’s the American Dream. And he almost has it made. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and daughter. He goes to church, he works for the government. A respected job for a respectable family man.

Gordon also has a mission. A nefarious secretive mission on behalf of the US government. It’s going well except for one final plot: The Sutton Farm. Owned by Native Americans Glennie and Gilberto Sutton, they refuse to be bought out. So Gordon must force them out by any means necessary. Maybe even abduct them. And it almost works, until the Suttons escape…

At home, Mabel Rodgers is losing her mind. Playing housewife is taking its toll. How she wound up here from a military aviator career, she still doesn’t know. When she discovers Gordon’s’ work folder marked CLASSIFIED she is drawn to the file. When she recognizes wartime friend Glennie Sutton as the mission’s subject, she has no choice but to explore the case herself. And Gordon can never find out.

Gordon’s dream is slipping away. His mission at work is failing. He’s losing control of his family. At what lengths will he go to hold it all together? At what cost to himself and others will he preserve his American Dream? Is this dream even meant for him…or is it all a conspiracy?

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John Leguizamo 0:00
Because I didn't know I was going to be a filmmaker and I thought I was just going to be an actor or writer. And then when I started directing it was like oh wow, I have this Rolodex as How old am I use the word Rolodex I have a rolodex of all this information from Baz Lurman, to Spike Lee to Tony Scott, you know, all their techniques and their problem solving is is all in here, my computer.

Alex Ferrari 0:24
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created Enigma elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like VHS and CRT images, smoke fog textures, DaVinci Resolve presets and much more. After working as an editor colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out and enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. Now guys, today on the show, we have legendary actor, writer, producer and director, John Leguizamo, John and I have a revealing conversation about what it's really like to work inside the Hollywood system, his struggles to get as independent projects made, and so much more. So without any further ado, let's dive in. I'd like to welcome to the show. John Leguizamo. How you doin' John?

John Leguizamo 1:41
Good. Good. Thanks for having me on.

Alex Ferrari 1:43
Thank you so much for coming on the show, brother. I appreciate it man, as a fellow Latino filmmaker, you have been an inspiration for many years for me, my friend. So thank you for all the work you've done over the years and all the doors you've opened for all of us, man.

John Leguizamo 1:56
I you know, it has been easy, but it's been. It's been interesting. That's for sure.

Alex Ferrari 2:02
The Hustle is hard.

John Leguizamo 2:03
The Hustle is real man. The Hustle is no joke. I mean, you gotta hustle. It's so crazy that we're like the largest ethnic group in America, the oldest ethnic group after Native Americans and you know, we're all part Native American, at least I am. And, and just our lack of inclusion is so not so naughty.

Alex Ferrari 2:24
It is pretty, it's pretty sad. But I think things are changing. And I think people like yourself are opening some doors for so many people over the years. Now first question, man, how and why in God's green earth did you want to get into this insanity called the film industry?

John Leguizamo 2:37
You know, I don't I don't think it's a thing that you wish upon anybody.

Alex Ferrari 2:44
Only, your enemies, only your enemies not your friends.

John Leguizamo 2:46
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, it's I never knew, you know, I was naive young man from the hood and, and I knew there was no opportunities. So I didn't do it for fame, money, or, or profit. I just did it because it was my it was the thing that made me feel alive. The thing that made me feel whole that brought me sanity get I mean, and I had 17 I found acting classes, you know, and it was like, Oh, my God, this is incredible. And I started reading plays. And I was a play reading maniac addict, I read so many plays. And I just found it so beautiful that you could capture human behavior in the human condition in dialogue and, and have an experience about life and reveal life to other people.

Alex Ferrari 3:35
Now, was there a film a specific film that kind of lit your fuse?

John Leguizamo 3:40
Yeah, I mean, I loved Streetcar Named Desire. You know, that was really powerful to me. That performance was electric, or anything Pacino and De Niro. Did you know

Alex Ferrari 3:51
Anything Marty did pretty much.

John Leguizamo 3:53
Yeah, yeah, pretty much anything Marty did was was, you know, like, Oh my god. This is like Latin people. You know, like how we behave. And you know, as a Latin person being so invisible. You always try to find links to other cultures to feel seen. You know? Like, for me, Richard Pryor was everything and Scorsese.

Alex Ferrari 4:12
I mean, yeah, you look at I mean, for the longest time, I'm Cuban. So the longest time the only guy I had was Al Pacino in Scarface, I mean, that was it. And Ricky Ricardo, obviously, those are, you know, that's your and so so those are the people I had,

John Leguizamo 4:23
Of course, Desi Arnaz is a beast. I mean, they didn't even show that in that movie that that that sort of sad and Lucy movie was like, what? He's he is the bomb. He invented three camera comedies, like having a live audience and a sitcom of residual. I mean, he created all that. And he created Star Trek, you know, he was the one that was a pioneer and having he was like the first studio independent studio owner and the first Latin guy to own a studio.

Alex Ferrari 4:55
It was no it was it was insane. It was insane. But there wasn't a lot of there wasn't a lot of Latino was coming up. That's why when I always say it on the show is the first time I ever saw I could even direct was watching Robert Rodriguez. When I saw mariachi come out, I was like, oh, oh, so we can do this.

John Leguizamo 5:11
I know, I know. It's crazy. Like, you know why, why aren't we allowed? Why weren't we allowed to do this? I mean, it's so crazy. It's like, I saw so many talented actors growing up that, you know, unfortunately, couldn't this industry just didn't sustain them, you know, and they had to give up and it was sad to see all this wasted talent and all these dreams evaporate. You know.

Alex Ferrari 5:36
Now, early in your career, you had the pleasure of working with Mr. Brian De Palma on a film called casualties of war. Yes, man. What was that? Like? I've heard nothing but epic stories of the insanity on that set, and the brilliance of what they were trying to do and, and Sean and Michael and what was it like being nude?

John Leguizamo 5:56
It was crazy. It was crazy. I mean, I know we're here to talk about greenbelts.

Alex Ferrari 6:00
We will, we will, we'll get to it. We will get to talk a little bit about we're gonna go going down the road.

John Leguizamo 6:05
You know, I love casualties of war. To me, it was it was a such an important film. Because I didn't know Brandon and I are in a bind department. And I sort of started to get to know each other and trust each other. I think that there has to be a trust between a director and an actor. And therefore when I got to Carlitos way, he had this confidence in me. And he brought this incredible performance out of me by allowing me to fail on a Carlitos way, like I did like 30 takes he wasn't letting anybody do that. He let me do 30 takes on film of just my entrance as Benny Blanco. And he would laugh and I will do crazy. I would knock the waiters tray off in one takeout. I would push people out of the way. I flicked what he loved it loved that he was and that love gave me my freedom. That was my freedom. But that was probably his way. Couches was just crazy. It was crazy. Like you were he's a rehearsing kind of direct, you know, they're not too many of those. And he storyboards everything but we drove it himself. I don't even know how he reads it. I saw those hieroglyphics. I don't know how. But he maps it all out. That's the genius you're dealing with. And a lot of people got fired, you know, the rehearsals. Really, I don't know if I should say who but whatever. A lot of a lot of names got fired, and other people took their parts and became bigger actors for it. You know, it was difficult, really difficult. And then the content was, you know, he was our God at that moment, the best actor of the generation. And he was, he was married to Madonna. He was at, yeah, he left the set. We closed for three days while he went to America to see the Sphinx. Tyson fight was lasted 91 seconds. You know, like the shortest fight ever the longest flight or the shortest fight, you know, imagine getting on a plane to Thailand. That was like a 2425 20 hour flight back then another 28 hours back?

Alex Ferrari 8:08
And was Was there a filmmaker or actor that you kind of looked up to as you were coming up like you just like, that really inspired you to do what you do?

John Leguizamo 8:19
I looked at everybody. Everybody was above me. I was down here and everybody was up here and I looked to everybody, man. I mean, I gotta say Richard Pryor to me was was a big inspiration. Lenny Bruce, when I discovered him Flip Wilson Lippmann Yeah, yeah, that was that was gonna say, but I think I can't curse, right? Yeah, because it's okay. I'm gonna fucking was a big inspiration to me, you know? And then, you know, of course there was, you know, I say with Lee Strasberg. I started at HP studios. So these teachers, I work with some of the great teachers in American acting, you know, the greatest teachers. And then when Hamlin you know, who taught Denzel Washington, Alec Baldwin, you know. And then they took me under their wing and I was a big I was a big student. I love learning. It was a place that could act because they there wasn't a lot of opportunity for Latin man. So my opportunities were an acting class. You know, that's where I can do all the big plays and all the big scenes from everything you know.

Alex Ferrari 9:27
Now, there's one part man that I just want to get one of your my favorite parts that you've ever done was clown. On Dude, that was so hypnotic. I remember sitting in the theater watching that performance, and you couldn't recognize you because you know, that insane suit everyone's afterward like who was calling John Leguizamo was that holy crap that was amazing. What did you do to get in the mind of such a psychotic character?

John Leguizamo 9:58
To it it was it wasn't easy. I'm not gonna lie. And, you know, it's funny you say I was unrecognizable because the whole director was like, no, no, we're, we're doing it so we can recognize the principle. But yeah, I'm unrecognizable. I mean, I had teeth prosthetics, I had ginormous contacts, and my whole face was glued with this press. My whole, you know, after the after, like a couple of weeks, I had blisters all over my face, pause. My face is rah, rah. And I didn't know what I was gonna do. And I was kind of Flim Flam and the director was a sweetheart. And he was like, Hey, can we just get a taste of what you gonna do? I go do it, do it. It'll come when we get on that set. And we say, action, but I had no idea what was going to come out of me. And I was panicked, right, bro. And I took cloud lessons. I was doing everything that to help me

Alex Ferrari 10:58
So you were trying to figure so you were trying to you didn't know you didn't know when you accepted the role. You didn't know how you were going to do it. You were just trying to.

John Leguizamo 11:04
I knew I was gonna say some crazy shit that I knew. I knew I was gonna say some crazy stuff. And they knew I was going to ad lib. And we had, you know, I had prepared them that I was going to outlive a lot of stuff. So I was they were cool with that. This was the voice and how are you going to? I had no idea and then the day and they they kept saying please give us a taste of gold. Dude. You're interfering my process because like bullshit, because I had no idea. Action. This voice came out this weird, you know, whatever. But you know, I started and that was that was it just came out. You didn't?

Alex Ferrari 11:41
You didn't practice that prior?

John Leguizamo 11:43
No. No, what I was gonna do. I had no idea. I was like, I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 11:47
So you mean to tell me that you had all the makeup on? You never practiced the word and you're like, okay, something's gonna just come through me the same section. They say action.

John Leguizamo 11:56
Well, I was praying. I wasn't really sure. It was right, but yeah, wow. But sometimes it's moments where you gotta pray.

Alex Ferrari 12:05
Know Exactly. You just gotta like, something has to come through me because

John Leguizamo 12:08
Something better come through because he's in a lot of money. And we're disappointed a lot of people.

Alex Ferrari 12:13
I'm all dressed up. I gotta get I gotta get some I got Yeah.

John Leguizamo 12:19
Go to your wedding. And you know, that haven't made up the mind, in your mind in your head that you gotta say yes.

Alex Ferrari 12:26
Do you do take her? I'm like,

John Leguizamo 12:27
Ah, oh, I never thought about it.

Alex Ferrari 12:32
I knew what I was gonna say maybe when I got up here.

John Leguizamo 12:35
But now that I'm up here, I don't know. I'm having my doubts.

Alex Ferrari 12:38
I mean, so when you approach roles, do you? I mean, do you often do that? Or was that? No, no, no, never. Never. Never. That was just that it was such an insane scene roll. It's a character.

John Leguizamo 12:48
Yeah, just never like I'm gonna add rehearsed i I thought so. I rehearsed, the more rehearse the better I am. I mean, the roll had lived in me for a couple months, you know, I did. I wasn't doing any other job at the time. I was really just living with it subconsciously. And, you know, a lot of actors talk about that. And, and my teachers say that, you know, sometimes, like Meryl Streep will fall asleep with a script and just let her sit there. Let it take her subconscious. So, you know, I do a lot of that too. And I've always done that. It's a strange thing. But you do you, you fall asleep. And somehow you're in this meditative state, and then the character starts taking over you. And so but I was just stating with this character, not wanting to test did not want to try for some weird reason. And then it popped out like that.

Alex Ferrari 13:35
That's awesome, man. That's awesome. I always love.

John Leguizamo 13:38
So I appreciate I appreciate this. I've never shared this information with anybody.

Alex Ferrari 13:41
So I appreciate I appreciate this. Exclusive. I appreciate that.

John Leguizamo 13:43
No, that was embarrassed by that.

Alex Ferrari 13:47
You're good. You've done okay. So for yourself, sir. It's okay. Yeah, you can admit these things now? No, because I always wondered what because I've saw that performance. I was like, Man, that's he I always thought you didn't get enough credit because that was such a rockstar frickin performance, man. And the more you know, blowing smoke up your ass, it was just such like, I remember it so vividly. Doing I haven't seen spawn, since it probably came out. And I still remember the damn performance. And I've seen 1000s of movies since. So it stuck with me. So it was just one of those things just like wow, man, how I just always wondered how we got in there. Because, you know, I would I would ask Joaquin how he helped me to get into the Joker. Like, when you get into psychology and economics.

John Leguizamo 14:28
Oh, my God, that was one of the most beautiful performing. I just got chills talking about that performance. I watched that movie three times because I loved the movie. I love the script. I love the soundtrack. Oh, he is the motherfucking Mac Daddy Daddy Mac of all time.

Alex Ferrari 14:44
I mean, he's he's the goat. There's no question. No question whatsoever. And I always like asking actors this. What do you look for in a director? Because there's a lot of filmmakers who listen to the show and I want them to understand what actors are really looking for in a collaborator.

John Leguizamo 14:58
Well, you know As you get older, I mean, you understand what, what helps you be your best, and helps you. You know, I like to direct your who lets me feel safe that I can fail, allows me to fail allows me to play. And then I'll give you, you know, some horrible shit and some amazing shit. But if you give me the space to, to fail and let me try and experiment before you start giving me your input and before you start shaping me, Nick Multiset, it's so beautifully. And it stuck with me for life, he was with this director and started giving line readings and telling them how to do it. And he said, My talent, my talent is like this feather he had a feather in his hat on the way he carried it from but he said it was like this feather. And when they give me a line reading, this is what happens to my ability. Gone. And I was like, Yeah, that's what happens when, if a director steps in too early and you're experimenting, all you can hear is their choices. You can no longer hear your own impulses or your own intuition. You can't hear it anymore. So yeah, I mean, I love when directors come when I'm dried up, or I'm blind, please come with something. Somebody saved my ass. I'm more than welcome. But let me allow me allow me to do my thing first, and then come and shape it.

Alex Ferrari 16:16
You know, you gotta you gotta run around the room a little bit. You got to bump into some walls, but I saw it and have the freedom to do so as opposed to like, no, no, don't run into that wall. Like let me run into the wall so I could drive it out and hang out there.

John Leguizamo 16:28
That's you know, Spike Lee gave me that Brian De Palma and casualties in Carlitos way gave me that brat feminine the take gave me all that space like that. And Spike Lee on in summer, Sam, you know, he has had so much fun together.

Alex Ferrari 16:47
Is there anything you've worked with so many legendary directors over your over your career, my friend? What is there anything you brought in into your own filmmaking into your own producing into your own writing, that you've been able to bring in from some of these masters that you've worked with?

John Leguizamo 17:02
Absolutely, man, I had no idea, you know, that theory influence would live with me for the rest of my life. Because I didn't know I was going to be a filmmaker, you know, I thought I was just going to be an actor or writer. And then when I started directing, it was like, Oh, wow, I have this Rolodex as How old am I use the word Rolodex have a role that picks up all this information from Baz Lurman to Spike Lee to Tony Scott, you know, all their techniques, and their problem solving is is all in here, my computer, and I can have access to it. And when I did critical thinking, I was like I had all these problems at a tiny budget. I had these great actors, but we had all these problems with shooting shooting in the real hood. And they tried to, you know, put guns at us to get us out, you know, and people were being shot around. It was a madness was happening. You know, it happens in every film. It's like, and but I had the solutions and I had all these techniques and it was great to have all that information from these masters.

Alex Ferrari 18:03
Is there ever a day I have to believe there is as either a filmmaker or as an actor that it was like kind of the whole world was coming crashing down around you you thought at least and you know whatever that might be whatever it was that day was happened to you. How did you overcome those obstacles of that moment of that day? Whether acting or filmmaking?

John Leguizamo 18:44
I mean, critical thinking had that, but I gotta say the take with Brad Furman, that was his first film. And we became buds for life. You know, We're bros for the rest of our lives. I'm doing a movie with him right now called Tin Soldier with Bobby De Niro and Jamie Foxx and Clint, uh, Scott Eastwood. And my daughter actually, nice, but but the take man, everything that could go wrong in an independent film went wrong on this movie. But it made us a force. You know, I stopped by my director and then Rosie jumped in the three of us. We muscled and willed this movie into happening, and you're not protecting the director because because everything was going wrong. The first time we started shooting the chef's that way, because we were in the hood in Boyle Heights, and these these gang members came up and they wanted to eat our craft service. And it's like, Yo, when their hood let them eat the food who gives a fuck? It's like, well, how much does that chicken cost you? Let me let me buy that for you and give it to them anyway, they wanted the food. And he said no, and the kid grabbed it and he choked the dish chef tried to choke the kid kid pulls out a gun. So now we got guns. way, police come immediately shoot a shut down our set. There are helicopters flying around the director. Brad was brilliant. He was like Filming Filming. That's our opening credits.

Alex Ferrari 20:12
Because you got all that extra, all the extra production value and

John Leguizamo 20:15
Amazing production value up the ass. That was day one, day two hair makeup quit, because they can't work in this dangerous set. And Rosie like I got Caribbean hair. I need somebody to do my hair. So you know her hair for the rest of the movies like here and there. Because he's doing it herself. Right right. Now is day two.

Alex Ferrari 20:37
I love I love the idea that you said that I protected my director because on a film like that. That was his first it was his first feature, right? Yeah. So he was his first feature. And I'm sure there was money, people and producers and everything. Oh, yeah. They're looking for a reason to get rid of the director. Especially if they're falling behind or shifts happening,

John Leguizamo 20:54
I think, yeah, they turn the director easily. Yeah, right. Exactly. You know, I'm, I'm old school man, you know, I don't know, I don't know where that comes from, from being grown up in the hood. And you always taught to loyalty is the most important thing. Or being a Latin person, your your loyalty is everything, you know that we do that. That's all we care about. So anyway, all that, you know, I I'm gonna take care of this kid, this kid has hard, he's got talent. And I'm not gonna let nobody take him down. You know, so I just stopped by him and I go, shoot, we're gonna go, I'm going to the hood every day. I don't care. And we're gonna gorilla you know, I still shots and buses. Really? Were still shots everywhere, you know? Yeah. Because the third day, I gotta tell you the third day, the sag comes in and takes away. The kid who was my play my son, he shot three days with him the third day, they said he had forged his a, it was an F, and he had made it look like a and they had to take him out. So we had to reshoot with a new kid. That was it was doing every day. 28 days of madness like that. And he just kept going, yeah, just kept going.

Alex Ferrari 22:05
It's amazing. And that's something that so many filmmakers coming up don't understand the insanity of what it is to make an independent film and, and having

John Leguizamo 22:14
You gotta love it.

Alex Ferrari 22:18
You love the creative and

John Leguizamo 22:19
You're more creative, because you're being pushed against the wall. And you have to solve these problems. And you have to get through your film and you have to get you want to get creative work. You don't want to just shoot something that's average.

Alex Ferrari 22:31
So what I love about your career is that you've worked on indie films, obviously, like a really low budget world. And you've also worked on some of the biggest budget films and with the biggest directors and the biggest diehard every die hard to make every resource that you're described, right. How does, let's say a Baz Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge, which obviously was not an indie film, indie film was such a big subject.

John Leguizamo 22:57
And there was not there's nothing like that or nothing ever will be like that.

Alex Ferrari 23:02
It's one of my favorite films of all time.

John Leguizamo 23:03
Oh my god, it was a game changer. Love, I mean, 27 angles on certain scenes, bro, we would do B takes on certain stuff.

Alex Ferrari 23:14
How many cameras was shooting? How many cameras was shooting?

John Leguizamo 23:16
No, no, yeah, he had like three or four. So you'd move them all around. So it was like, you know, hours and days

Alex Ferrari 23:23
On once it so they need to just to be at the core here.

John Leguizamo 23:28
Then they move into the other section. Then they incrementally not like all the way to the other side. Just incrementally moving it around, up here down. I mean, he got every angle, you know, through you know, the Moulin Rouge I think was very disconcerting for a lot of old school filmmakers and people because it moves so fast. And it was cutting the cutting was so quick and so it made people dizzy, but it was for the rest of us who were young, we loved it. It was groundbreaking groundbreaking,

Alex Ferrari 23:56
And the music the way he was able to incorporate old music and new music and,

John Leguizamo 24:01
He was the first to do that to us all music and then they became like, such an annoying trick that everybody's using now in too much, you know?

Alex Ferrari 24:08
But so so when you're working with someone like like bass or like on Romeo Juliet cheeses, like what was it like reciting Shakespeare, and that is beautiful insanity that he had built for you.

John Leguizamo 24:20
Well, you know, I love Shakespeare, but I don't love doing it. I didn't think I'd love it. I love it. Now, as I'm older, you know, I'm not you know, like, like musicians are either classic classical or jazz. That was more of a jazz instrument. You know, that's what I fancied myself and what I liked. So I was moving towards that. But when I got into the Shakespeare, I was like, Oh, I can I can groove with this. And we did a two week workshop. And, you know, I was tickled and I was tickled too much. I was getting into fights in the street. Had my tongue broken by getting into fights. I mean, it was the character sometimes overtakes you and it makes you stupid. But it was amazing. I mean, He was so specific about his vision, you know, he had a vision. And and, you know, he told me he wanted to be a flamenco dancer and a bullfighter. So I studied that. And I started taking, I took flamenco classes and all that, to give them that, that way of moving, because they are much more much more street and he wanted me to be, you know, very elegant. thing. Yeah, mad,

Alex Ferrari 25:32
Mad. But like, so working with someone like that, who had such a specific vision. I mean, I remember watching Romeo and Juliet when I went to the theaters to see it. And my first thought was like, how did this get financed? How did this get approved? How did this sneak through?

John Leguizamo 25:48
Not easy? I mean, Moulin Rouge was not easy. I saw what that brother had to struggle to get that money out of the studios, you know, it's not just Latin people and black people who struggle to get films of a white folk struggled to a different way. But, you know, he had to prove he had to prove that, that Romeo and Juliet was viable. They don't want to do period stuff. They don't want to do Shakespeare, they don't want to do arty stuff. They don't think it has commercial value. So he did a whole audition with Leo DiCaprio and, and locations and he had lookbooks. And he had the music, he had the had the whole vision. And he had to convince the studio to cough up the cash so that he could shoot this film. And then he has his massive hit. Huge, then he's got to convince them again, that he can do a musical because musicals the last successful musical was Greece in 1972. And we're shooting now in 1999 2000. Yet, so we had to do a do it again. So we had to do you know, visual visuals with Ewan McGregor and, and Nicole Kidman, auditioning and you know, it was wild.

Alex Ferrari 26:55
So that I didn't think about that you're right and wasn't a musical since Greece before Milan was and then after

John Leguizamo 27:01
They all failed. They all fail. So it was like the musical was dead on film. Right. But then after Moulin Rouge, then Chicago ended all he opened it up. He proved that it can be successful. Right, right. That's remarkable, man. No, no, he's brilliant. Man. You can't you can't underestimate his genius. He's, he's one of the one of the one of a kind.

Alex Ferrari 27:20
Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm dying to see Elvis.

John Leguizamo 27:22
I can't wait. Oh, yeah, no, I know, everything he touches.

Alex Ferrari 27:25
It's, it's absolutely remarkable. Is there something man that you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career, like, go back and be like, Man, you know, watch out for this.

John Leguizamo 27:36
I mean, I feel like I struggled with not the acting part. I mean, I didn't realize that the racism, that talent in Trump race, racism, I really thought that I really believed that I was naive, or a dreamer, whatever you just believe you can, you can change the world. But I didn't realize that there was a glass ceiling, I didn't, I didn't understand that I didn't really believe it, I didn't want to believe it, I think it would have disillusion me, but there was a glass ceiling, you just would never going to get you thought I did this role I worked with these great directors. Now I'm going to get those leads, I want to get those important leads that leads you to Oscars that lead you to, to the same equal status as as your white peers, you know, but they weren't, they weren't coming and, and you vie for them. And they don't consider you because your Latin dude or the other was there was a lot of stuff going on that, you know, kept in denial in the writing was the same way too. Like I always had all these great scripts, and I would go around from studios and they were like, all we love it. Well, and then they had no reason why they didn't want to do it. They just were never gonna do a Latin project. Written white scripts boom, there was that I would have been a famous screenwriter, but it was so difficult to get. It's still difficult to get Latin content out there. I mean, I hear the conversations that that they're having, you know, they'll be okay with two Latin people, maybe three. But if it's like, two they want the lead. The two leads to be Latin not so not not so much the money folk that the money's conversation is still like that.

Alex Ferrari 29:13
Really? I think nowadays it's I mean, considering from the 80s and 90s. Were just miles different than we were then. Yeah, as far as that kind of just inclusion in general. And other they tried.

John Leguizamo 29:25
They tried. They definitely they definitely tried but there's still like roadblocks and and yeah, yeah. And silent. You know, unspoken quotas? Definitely. I'm not gonna I'm not gonna lie. I'm being straight up with you.

Alex Ferrari 29:38
I appreciate that. No, I appreciate that. And it's so fascinating because I was like asking, you know, actors of yours, like someone of your statute has done so many things. Hasn't named people know who you are. You still have problems getting projects made, and I want people to understand. It's not like, Oh, you're John Leguizamo. You could just you know, just make a phone call and you can have 5 million and make your own movie.

John Leguizamo 29:57
No, no, I could. I could, but but I don't Want to water down? I'm an artist, I see myself as an artist and as a pioneer. Right? And I don't want to ward down my things. I don't want to have to whitewash everything I do.

Alex Ferrari 30:12
I understand what you're saying, right? So to maintain the integrity of your project, right,

John Leguizamo 30:16
I mean, you know, everything could be you know, one Latin dude and one white dude, you know, like, you know, do the do the thing that they always want. They want to just want to nepotistic Bill business in terms of wanting white actors to be in your projects, because that's what they they still old school mentality. And they think that that's going to sell. But you know, I mean, well, there was a time that Will Smith couldn't get an action film then and then he proved to the world that yeah, black people are box office gold internationally. You know, there was that whole conversation that that era.

Alex Ferrari 30:47
Yep. Yeah, I remember. Yeah. Like I remember you're like, oh, it's African American. You can't can't put them in it. Dude.

John Leguizamo 30:53
Isaac's look at Oscar Isaac, if things were fair, and non racist, he'd be Oscar Isaac Hernandez, but he can't. He is still in this modern day, he has to go by Oscar Isaac, because if he had the Hernandez still on his on his resume, he might not get those rolls those leads, because that's what is going on. That's, that's, that's a sign of the times. That's really fun. And I'm being straight up with you. I mean, most people won't talk about these things because it's ugly, and they don't want to talk about it. But But I want some things to change.

Alex Ferrari 31:24
Yeah, agreed. And that's why, you know, that's one of the reasons why I do the show is I want to educate people about what's, what the realities of this business are. And you can't look at, you can't look at life, you know, especially walking into this business with started. I'm like, I have a dream. Just because I watch movies. It's all beautiful. I watch the Oscars. It's like nice, but I always I always tell people, you want a great analogy for Hollywood. Look at Oscar night. Oscar night. Looks gorgeous. The night after the Oscars. I wouldn't go down to where the Oscars were at night. Right Hollywood, Hollywood Boulevard eat pretty pleased. Except for that one week is great. But that's true. They sell the sizzle, but they don't sell the steak. They're not good at selling that statement. They sell that sizzle. Great, though. Don't they

John Leguizamo 32:08
That's true. It's true. I mean, they I mean, the people don't like to talk about what what is really going on. I mean, and you know, you if you blow up, what's going on, people aren't happy about it either. And they don't usually like that. And you become a little bit of, you know, of a lightning rod. Careful.

Alex Ferrari 32:27
Exactly. But you know, what things are changing. And I think people aren't. They are moving forward. There's things look, like I said before it like in 91 Robert Rodriguez, the first Latin director I'd ever seen in my life, right, though there were others, but he was the first one I saw. And I was like, oh, and he's 23. And oh, I could go on.

John Leguizamo 32:46
Well, you know, you thought that was gonna blow the damn open. You thought Oh, my God. Now every lap director has a chance. And it didn't happen. Which is crazy. And then now you but you got your camera Toros. And you got your Oh, yeah, of course. I mean, of course, they have to like work, you know, white. But you know,

Alex Ferrari 33:06
To a certain extent, yeah. But like, I remember coming up as a commercial director. I couldn't do I was in Miami, and I couldn't do Latino spots and put them on my reel for the Spanish, right? Absolutely. Because Because if I did that, then I would be pigeonholed as a right Spanish director, I put it then do general market.

John Leguizamo 33:25
I was told when I begin, don't change your name, you can almost pass free Italian. If they don't know, then you'll be okay. Stay out of the sun. You know, all these things. You know, work on your accent and stuff like that. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 33:38
It's insane. But look, things are changing. And hopefully they'll continue to go down that path without question. Now let's talk about your new project, the green film and I absolutely love what you're doing with it, that the idea about it? Can you tell everybody what it's about?

John Leguizamo 33:52
Yeah, well, this is another pioneering young director that I'm backing that I believe in. I think he's a great, great new talent. And he's trying this new thing. It's never been done before. It's usually what you do with independent films doing negative pickup. And this is kind of like that old school system of, you know, you shoot your film, because you believe in that you wanted to have artistic integrity, then you sell it, you know, at a film festival. So we did this with a TV series, six episodes. And so we shot that first, raise the money, shot it. And now we got into the Tribeca Film Festival, which is incredible, that they gave us this space, because they love the project. And it's about in the 1950s. And before that the government and the FBI and come in oil companies wanted Native American land. And they started in the I think late 1800s, or the 1900s was taking their kids away from them. So if they took away their culture and their identity, they wouldn't go back to the reservation. And they could take the land from it because it wouldn't inherit If so, and then in this 50s 60s and 70s, they started taking the children from them with excuses and giving them up for adoption. So they could end the reservation, take the land and get the oil. So this takes place in 1950. And I play an FBI guy, a self hating, you know, Latin guy who's taking these native kids from their homes and putting them up for adoption is true story based on Tuesday to events.

Alex Ferrari 35:27
When I was watching it, I was like, I've heard this story. So the 60 Minutes story about it. They did a whole bit. Oh, yeah. Yeah, they did a 60 minute story I thought it was so in saying that they literally just kidnapped kids and kind of put them in like these brainwashing scenarios like, like, just trying to strip the culture out of them. And then the abuse that happened and all the dads Yeah, that they were killed. They were dying, and they were being treated inhumanely,

John Leguizamo 35:53
But it wasn't to get the land it was to get the land

Alex Ferrari 35:55
I did'nt know about the land part. That's pretty

John Leguizamo 35:57
Yeah, he that. Yeah. That the reason was, yeah, it wasn't. Oh, it wasn't like, oh, we want to help them. No, it was to take their land. Because if they if they weren't tied to the land, they would move to cities, they would move away. And they were moving them away into white families that would adopt them that were born nearby.

Alex Ferrari 36:15
Now, Has this gotten bought yet? Or are you now hoping.

John Leguizamo 36:19
No no the first day is, the first day is coming up June. I think it's June 15. So first?

Alex Ferrari 36:25
Yeah. Oh, night and then hopefully, you're you're looking for someone to come in? And yeah, doing XPO or Showtime? Netflix or somewhere like that? Yeah. Yeah.

John Leguizamo 36:36
That's never been done before. So this is, hopefully this, this is a new thing that can be done. You know, like, Epic is sort of the new the new independent film would be like a four part or six part series.

Alex Ferrari 36:47
I mean, I think in generally on the business side of things, there's more value in a series than there isn't a film nowadays. Now nowadays. It's correct. Not artistically talking business wise. Because I you know, in distribution world, like you got more content, it's better. It's a bigger

John Leguizamo 37:04
1 4 5 night experience. Yes, six, nine. They want the quick. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 37:09
They want the Queen's gambit. That's like, yeah, Mini Series or Series that can continue. But no, when I saw what it was about, I was like, man, God bless, John for, for getting this out there, man. Because it's a story that it's just in the mainstream would come out. It just wouldn't.

John Leguizamo 37:25
Exactly. Yeah. And you know, and we have the, the the approval of, of a Native American nation. And we have a few Native American actors in it as well, you know, to keep representing themselves. Sure in lead roles. Yep.

Alex Ferrari 37:43
That's awesome, man. That's awesome. Now, I'm gonna ask you a couple questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

John Leguizamo 37:54
Well, I mean, definitely go to the grade schools. You know, you got you got that's the best place to try and, you know, try to shoot as much as you can, you know, and work with everybody and work with your friends and create a community I think. I think I saw that. We all saw that with Spielberg, and Coppola,

Alex Ferrari 38:18
Marty,

John Leguizamo 38:19
Oh, yeah. Yeah, they all hung together. They read each other's scripts, they helped each other. And then gamla Toro era to enough was grown, had a company, and then they were producing Latin content, they were helping each other out. I mean, that's the thing is create a community. Don't make other directors, your enemy. Make them do your brothers and your sisters, and create those communities that you help each other. You make each other's scripts better, and you make each other's projects better, and you help them make their projects that's you help each other you piggyback and you create better and more content.

Alex Ferrari 38:51
I always love that story of when when George Lucas played Star Wars for that gang of all Yeah. And everyone's like, Oh, I'm sorry, George. This sucks. That's not gonna work. It's not gonna work man at all. And the only one was Steven Spielberg. He was like, You got something here? I think

John Leguizamo 39:07
You got you got dipalma and Coppola.

Alex Ferrari 39:12
School of Film aliens. Yeah, millions, millions. For God's sakes. I mean, can you imagine? What is the biggest lesson you learn from your biggest failure?

John Leguizamo 39:23
That you can't? You can't plan for that shit. You can't You can't go around your whole life full of fear and going, Oh, I got to make the right choice. No, I think you have to take risks. And you got to live. You got to go with your gut. Even if it fails, you got in the failures. They may hurt you a little bit, but you got to keep going and don't let the failures define you. You know, that's what I learned from that. I'm not gonna let you know. Luckily, I grew up in a tough neighborhood. I knew the business was never for me. So I never really embraced it. So I don't really accept their opinion of me. You know, I mean, I just Keep going and do my thing. I'm not gonna let them define me in any kind of way because they've always tried to find me in the negative

Alex Ferrari 40:07
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

John Leguizamo 40:13
Oh shit that's that's a good question. Um well that you know that that writing takes a lot of rewriting that's that's the biggest lesson that writing is just crazy amounts of rewriting and you so you better love your rewriting because that's, that's the better be joyful because it's going to be every you're gonna spend all your hours because I'm a writer, right

Alex Ferrari 40:37
Now, when three of your favorite films of all time.

John Leguizamo 40:40
No, I mean, godfather of course, Annie Hall. And Raging Bull. I guess those are my favorite three films.

Alex Ferrari 40:48
That's a good that's my friend. That's good. True, brother. Man. You obviously have so much passion for what you do. He just it's falls off the screen as I'm talking to you. And after all the years you've been doing this man, you still are so passionate about your project you're still so passionate about what you're doing and about helping people about opening doors about creating opportunities for people man I got to thank you man for doing that and continuing to do it and being a champion for not only Latino filmmakers but for artists man and and get things out there that

John Leguizamo 41:20
I love my artists man. Yeah, I love I love

Alex Ferrari 41:22
I love and I love that you just like you are a risk taker. You have been since the beginning of when you were first on Miami Weissman back Yeah. Yay.

John Leguizamo 41:30
19, looked like such a punk. Yeah

Alex Ferrari 41:33
You know what, but everybody went through Miami Vice brother, everybody.

John Leguizamo 41:36
Everybody did everybody. That was I was like every Latin person that they gave us work. It was the time that it online people were all every actor you ever met that was Latin was working?

Alex Ferrari 41:49
Absolutely. Because it was all going to Miami Vice. I had it almost on a while ago. And he would tell me stories dude. Oh my god, the stories of him and Don Johnson battling it out and his his method and he like owned his character. So like, he just told everybody what to do about his character. And like everybody was pissed off about it. But anytime they had a problem they call Michael man up. And Michael man is like, it's Eddie. Let him do whatever he wants to do.

John Leguizamo 42:12
Oh, wow. How beautiful is that?

Alex Ferrari 42:14
It was like I was I was like, how did you get that? And he's like, I just asked for it at the beginning of my career, and I never let go of it. And I'm like,

John Leguizamo 42:20
Amazing, amazing such a great spirit to I love that dude

Alex Ferrari 42:24
God. So listen brother. Thank you again, man for everything you do. Congrats on your new project. And I hope it sells man. I hope this is the beginning of a new thing.

John Leguizamo 42:31
I know. We'll know soon it is coming up.

Alex Ferrari 42:35
I appreciate you brother. Thanks again, man.

John Leguizamo 42:37
Thank you for having me, man.

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BPS 207: Adventures in Making My 1st Indie Film with Kyra Sedgwick

Kyra Sedgwick is an award-winning actress, producer and director. She is best known for her Emmy and Golden Globe-winning role as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on the TNT crime drama “The Closer” and most recently starred on the ABC comedy “Call Your Mother.” She recently directed the feature film SPACE ODDITY, which stars Kyle Allen and Alexandra Shipp.

In 2018, Sedgwick received a DGA nomination for her directorial debut with the feature STORY OF A GIRL. She then helmed the short film GIRLS WEEKEND, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. She has directed episodes of “Grace & Frankie,” “City on a Hill”, “Ray Donovan,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (on which she also had a recurring role) and many others.

Her film roles include THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, THE POSSESSION, THE GAME PLAN, SECONDHAND LIONS, WHAT’S COOKING, PHENOMENON, HEART AND SOULS, SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and SINGLES.

Planets and lives collide in this Kyra Sedgwick-directed feature. Alex (Kyle Allen) longs to travel to outer space and finally gets the opportunity to do so thanks to a privately-funded Mars colonization program. In the midst of his rigorous preparation, he meets Daisy (Alexandra Shipp), the new girl in town who’s trying to start over. The two wayward souls connect in unexpected ways, both of them harboring secrets that they’re desperately trying to overcome. However, when questions about the legitimacy of the program and the future of his parents’ flower farm begin to crop up, Alex finds himself questioning whether it’s easier to confront his past or fly away into the stars.

In a time where nihilism about the Earth’s future is rampant, it can be difficult to find optimism about what comes next. However, Space Oddity is a heartwarming film that encourages living life to the fullest with those you love the most

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Kyra Sedgwick 0:00
The difference between a director who has really prepared and really has a point of view and really has a vision, and also can communicate it. That's an awful lot to ask.

Alex Ferrari 0:10
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created Enigma Elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like BH s, and CRT images, smoke fog, textures, DaVinci Resolve presets, and much more. After working as an editor colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. Well guys, today we are starting our coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival and our first guest is amazing. We have the legendary Kyra Sedgwick, who you might know from the television show The closer and starring in phenomenon with John Travolta and many, many, many other films and television shows over the years. Now in this episode, we sit down and talk about how Kyra was able to jump from from front of the camera to behind the camera as a producer, director, and we talk about her adventures trying to make her new independent film Space Oddity. So let's dive in. I'd like to welcome to the show Kyra Sedgwick how you doing Kyra?

Kyra Sedgwick 1:43
I'm great. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to talk to you.

Alex Ferrari 1:47
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've been a fan of yours since my days of the video store where I was where I was moving pirates around.

Kyra Sedgwick 1:58
Yes, pirates was amazing.

Alex Ferrari 2:05
So you've had an amazing career, and you've worked with some remarkable people. But before we get into all of that, and especially your new film, which I got a chance to see which I loved Space Odyssey up Space Oddity. How did you get started? And why did you want to get started in this insane business?

Kyra Sedgwick 2:23
Oh, as an actor? Yes. Yeah, you know what I fell in love at 12. I did a play in eighth grade. Fiddler on the Roof. And I played sidle, and matchmaker much less. I mean, forget it. I was that was it. I mean, truly, like, I was not a happy kid, I had a very challenging childhood and home life. And that was like, swish. I mean, that was it. Like I knew this was where I felt I didn't even have the words for it at the time. But I remember saying, I feel like my soul has left my body and it's dancing around the stage. And then like, to this day, I feel like that is such a great, that's such a great explanation of the way that I description of the way that I felt and how it's so interesting to think that as it as I kept acting, you know, forever, and it became a vocation, and it became something I have to be good at. And then after success, and I was supposed to be good. And then I was supposed to be better. And then and then that it sort of lost that initial, like love story that brought me in it in the beginning. And then subsequently, like, falling in love with directing in that same way. It's like, oh my god, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. Like, this is what I've been supposed to be, you know, I've been training for since I was 16, you know, because I started working professionally when I was 16. So I knew I wanted to be an actor. 12 I worked really hard up until 16. And then I, you know, got my first gig and that was really it.

Alex Ferrari 4:02
Now what was it like your first day walking on the set of your first professional? I'm gonna get paid to act day.

Kyra Sedgwick 4:09
Oh, on the day that I was gonna get paid to act. I'm good God, you know, I had like, that stupid beginner's like, ego about it. Like, I mean, I knew, I knew, like, it's very clear that being an actor, because I was trained well is a service position. Because it really is, you know, I mean, it may later become something else when you become more powerful and have actually people actually care about what you think. But initially, like you're there to serve, you know, you're there, serve the writer most of all, and then serve the director. And so I think I felt incredibly stoked, but I also felt like, of course, I'm doing this this is what I this is what I'm supposed to be doing. And I really didn't know that at 12. I mean, like, I wasn't going to take no for an answer. Although I guess I think I thought If I if I try this for six years try to get a job for six years and it doesn't pan out. I'm gonna have to do something else, but I was gonna give it a good six years,

Alex Ferrari 5:08
Six years that's not a bad amount of time. Some people get the Hollywood I'm gonna give it a good year. I'm like, man, yeah, no, no, no. It's gonna take a little longer than that. Now was one of my favorite films of yours. You have so many that I've loved of yours from singles and so many others. But phenomenon. Absolutely. I mean, when you were on that set, and you were working with John Travolta and there's a magic about that movie, and you're in your performance opposite of John was so riveting you balanced his performance as a character. So well. What did what was it like on set when you when you were when you when you read that story for the first time?

Kyra Sedgwick 5:48
Yeah, I really liked the story. It was funny. I remember I really liked the story. And I also got offered simultaneously like a big horror movie. I can't tell you what it was. So I don't remember. But I remember John turtle Taub you know, being like, but I want you to be in my movie. And, and, you know, and I mean, I love the movie, and I loved the part. You know, the other one was sort of my movie, albeit it was a horror movie. But you know, of course, I was going to do phenomenon. You know, I knew it was something special. When I when I went to meet with John Travolta for the first time and he's just heart is just so big, like, his heart is so big. I know, you know, maybe you don't know him or people don't know that about him. But it's like, he's so and he's so porous. And he's so vulnerable. And like, his strength isn't his vulnerability, I there was just something and he was so in love with this story. And so, so attached, so committed to making it, you know, real and, and having it you know, have so much integrity has so much integrity and and it's about this sort of fantastical thing that happens. But he was so committed to making it, making it grounded. Also, John turtle Tao is like the one of the funniest people on the planet. And he also has a big heart and loves really big. And so I just thought I felt like I'd really be taken care of. And I also felt the story would be taken care of. And I loved it. I absolutely loved working on that piece. And my daughter was two at the time. And my Kevin had Travis and I had sosi. And she would come to the satellite, John Travolta was so in love with her. I don't know, it was just like a very loving place and a family. Yeah, it really was. And that doesn't always happen. Especially not with a monumental star like that. I mean, that was insane. But also, we all really were committed. We knew we had something special and we wanted to like, you know, we wanted to make it great. And he did. They did we did.

Alex Ferrari 7:55
There was a phenomenal No pun intended. Wonderful, really, really fun movie now after working on on set for so many years and during your career. What made you say, you know, I think I think I want to get behind the camera. I want to get behind the lens.

Kyra Sedgwick 8:14
Yeah. Well, you know, it's funny, I, I, I've always, I always have an opinion. So I think that you know, it really it was my husband's my beloved husband, who was like, you know, honey, you really should think about directing, you really should think about directing. And I was always like, you know, I was terrified of the concept because I thought I wouldn't be you know, I'd work with great, great directors, and then I'd work with not great directors who will never be great, you know what I mean? And it's very clear, you know, the vast cavernous, you know, difference between the two, two things, you know, and, and so I was afraid I was going to be, you know, the ladder and and I didn't want that crushing blow to my ego, frankly, and, and I so I and I also I didn't see it a lot, you know, I mean, here's the truth of it, right is like as a woman started in, you know, acting professionally 1984 81 1981 Like, I didn't see a lot of women, right? People with a vagina directing, you know, and it was like, when you don't see it, you don't know that you can dream it or be it right. So, but having said that, it was my husband who was like, you know, kind of boosting me along and then you know, I had I had been producing since I was 27. I did my first movie, you know, in 2010 when I was 27, but I produced and we got Helen Mirren and I was in it and Sandra Bullock was in an in Marisa toma It was amazing. And it was Oh no, that was Loverboy that was my second thing. My first thing was losing chase with Helen. And in any case, so I had like balls around that like I had chutzpah about, you know I'm going to produce because I know this is a good script, and I know actors are gonna like it. And I think I'll get a good director. But, you know, a directing just seems so terrifying to me and so much responsibility. But then I had this book that I had bought in 2007, called story of a girl. And we had hired a female writer director to write the script. And we tried to get it made for like, 10 years. And you know, to quote Glenn Close, I wonder why it didn't get made. Maybe it be, because it has girl in the title. But you know, it took a really long time to get it Raven was finally time to get it made, I actually walked into lifetime to talk to them about something else. And you know, they said, you have a passion project. And I was like, Yeah, I have a passion project called story of a girl and I want to direct it. And then I was like, Who says?

I mean, literally, I was like, say, what did that just come out of my mouth. And then they read it. And like, the next day, we're like, we absolutely love this, and we'll make it for a little bit of money, not a lot of money. And I was like, I'm up for that. So, you know, it was beyond my wildest dreams. You know, I I, like I said, I felt like I was in my element. I didn't know until the first day of directing have actually being on set that I was in my element prep was terrifying for me, even though I had been in my head really prepping for this movie for 10 years. I was terrified, rightly so I think, like, Can I do it? You know, I got my husband, they're going, of course, you can do it. I got these actors were looking at me like, of course, I think you can do it, can you but I you know. And then literally the first take of the first rehearsal of the first scene, the first blocking the first thing and I was like, I got this, you know, and it was this very, like, you know, not, you know, just this ease. And this flow, I felt very in the flow, it felt very easy. You know, subsequently, I think it's become harder as again, like that sort of that little girl who's like, My soul is, you know, dancing around. It's like, after a while your ego does come in and start going, like, I don't really know what you're doing. And I know I'm doing and starts to doubt you and compare and despair and all that stuff. But like in that, that that show, I was like, I've got this. And then we were like, I mean, I can remember one day we showed up on set. There was one day that we had all outside stuff on location, and it couldn't rain. And of course, it was Vancouver, and it was pouring. And I remember everyone was freaking out. And I was like, it's going to be fine. It's going to be fine. I don't know where I got that kind of, like trust and confidence and faith that like no matter what we're gonna figure something out. It was amazing. It was an amazing day, we did figure a lot of stuff out. But but the thing is, is that being so much having, you know, I mean, I've spent so many times on set so much time on set, I know what it's like when it feels like a director has the reins and when they don't, and how awful and scary it feels like when you they don't have the reins and they don't have control. And so that was something that I wanted to emulate, but it came pretty easily for me. And also, I had been prepping this movie in my head for 10 years and had been prepping it on location for you know, six weeks. So anyway, I don't know if I even don't know

Alex Ferrari 13:21
You answered you answered the question. And I love the imposter syndrome that came in because of course every every everybody has it. And I always like bringing that up on the show because a lot of young filmmakers and young screenwriters, even young actors are listening. They think that you know, you're you've made it a certain point, you don't have that anymore. Henry Fonda was throwing up right before he went on stage every night. Yeah. And he said he was Henry Fonda. So you said you said that you've worked with great directors and you know what great directors are and you've worked with not so great directors and and you know, what is the difference from an actor's perspective?

Kyra Sedgwick 13:53
Oh, boy, that that's really hard. Because because the director can come over and give you a good note and still like, the it doesn't come together? Well, it doesn't cut together.

Alex Ferrari 14:03
Well, you know, because there could be there could be a performance director who doesn't understand the craft of telling a visual story, or visuals was all visuals. And you're just movable props at that point.

Kyra Sedgwick 14:15
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I don't I think it's really, but But I can tell you the difference between a director who has really prepared and really has a point of view and really has a vision, and also can communicate it that's an awful lot to ask and one, but it feels so good, then we're all like making the same movie. And we're all you know, again in the flow and in the you know, serving the peace as a whole that has a very strong idea and a very strong vision. Like to me that's a good director.

Alex Ferrari 14:50
Now, what is some of the biggest lessons you took away from working with some of the legendary directors have you worked with over the years?

Kyra Sedgwick 14:57
Oh, you know, is that everybody does it Finally, it's very, it's really interesting, you know, on, some people are, you know, super, super hyper focused on detail. And some people are like, just do it again, just do it again. And you know, like Kelly Fremont, Craig on edge of 17 just to pick someone really recent and some a female, like, was very specific, very, very, very specific. Whereas, like, Oliver Stone was like, do it again, or James ivory, you know, it was like, it was already painted the painting, the movie was painted. You were just the brushstrokes, and he was the hand doing the brushstrokes. So it's like, if you had no, it was so interesting, because he you know, he had it so much in his head that like, no matter what you brought to the table, he would always direct you back into that, that version that he had in his head, you know, it's so it was so and I remember looking at at Richard, what God death rate actor, I'm forgetting his name. It wasn't. It wasn't Paul Newman, obviously. And just going like, is it just me or is he already painted the picture? And the guys already painted the picture? Robert, Sean Leonard, he's already painted the picture. And I was like, So what are we even doing here? He's amazing.

Alex Ferrari 16:16
You know, it's really interesting, because I understand what you mean by that, because his movies are so crafted. And they were like, move, they were literally moving works of art. Like, it looks like you could hang a frame every frame, you could hang somewhere in a museum. But I never, I was always wondering about how he worked with actors. Because, you know, some actors like I've had Oliver on the show. And he's an Oliver's. He's Oliver. He's Oliver. And I, and he seems to like just do it again, kind of like any flows with it. But when you when you have a director that flows with it like that, there's such confidence, and they just understand the craft so much, that they're not afraid of what you might bring, that might be different. And I'm not saying that James is like that, but James just had, it seemed that he just had such a clear idea that anything that varied out of that box, he just like, No, this is what I'm doing. And you're just a paintbrush. It's fascinating to me as an actor, that must have been extremely frustrating, because you'd like to bring obviously, you bring something to the table, right?

Kyra Sedgwick 17:18
It wasn't that I saw the movie, and it was so fucking amazing that I know nothing, but that he cast really well. Like he knew he I mean, you know, and I was just listening to Paul, Thomas Anderson talking about casting really well, you know, and it's like, you cast really well, you really have to trust your actors to bring to bring something special. And, you know, and I don't know, you know, I can, I can really see it from both sides. Again, being an actor, I can totally see it from both sides. Because it's like, on the one hand, you know, he cast the perfect people. But he also like, kept them in a in a very strange, very like, like, tight little box. But then someone like Paul Thomas Anderson, like cast really well. And then just goes like, do it again, and try it again and try something different. It really, I think it also it's so much depends upon how much time you have. It's like, you can go like, let's do it again. I don't think I have it yet. But like, let's do it again, I won't get any direction. But if you only have like, four takes that, you know, until you have to move on. Like you have to know people more, you know, and it might make people feel more uptight. But the truth is like, then you hope the director has a plan of like, I know, I got this piece and this scene, this piece, you know, this piece in this beginning of the scene, I just need the middle and now I got the end, let's just do that little, you know,

Alex Ferrari 18:40
Or you could or you could do the Kubrick and just shoot. But he but he also a lot of people don't understand that Kubrick shot with like, you know, 13 crew members. So he had days and days, weeks and months and Eyes Wide Shut. How long do you have like almost a year? That's the longest, longest shooting movie in history? I think it was a quarter because he just locked up Tom Cruise and the cocaine and

Kyra Sedgwick 19:07
I know, it's so funny. It's like I was thinking, you know, I made my movie in 21 days. And, and, you know, I and I heard Paul Thomas Anderson, who I think like made one of the greatest moves. I mean, he's beyond, you know, buddy, but and I was so in love with licorice Risa, and he was like, I have 65 days to shoot and I was like, 65 Anyone can make a good movie and 60 I actually heard myself saying that. I can't believe I said it. But no. Anyway, but it's true. It's like I think it's more fun to the actress when you have more time you can be more Lucy. I think it is more fun for the actors.

Alex Ferrari 19:45
Know how do you approach directing actors as being one for so long?

Kyra Sedgwick 19:49
Yeah. Hmm. How do I you know, everyone's different. I think first of all, you know, making actors are holding a space that feels safe. for them is so key like, and that starts from, like, the first conversation you have with them of like, you know, what do you need, like, what can I do, but also just just making a safe place because actors there's, we are so vulnerable, it is so terrifying, you know, having a giant piece of machinery looking at you. I mean, I don't know, I just think that every actor is, you know, ripping themselves open and like, you know, leaving a piece of their soul on the on the floor for you. So like, you better honor what that is. And I feel like I know that intrinsically. That's not something I had to learn. That's something that I, you know, really, really deeply understand. So I think that's, like, first and foremost, super important because people, I think that they'll feel more people give you better if they feel safe. And and, and I think that, you know, I, I've worked with a lot of green actors in my time. And I think that it's about specificity. And, you know, using all the tools in your toolbox as director, and you know, and trying not to, you know, to give on actionable notes, you know, like, just be faster, just be funnier, you know, that kind of shit is like not I mean, I, I really try not to do that, unless an actor's just like, You mean faster, right? And I'm like, yeah, actually,

Alex Ferrari 21:28
That's what I meant faster, more intense.

Kyra Sedgwick 21:30
Do like pace or whatever. But like, people need different things. Some people like, you know, we're gonna nail it on the first or second take, like Kevin's gonna nail on the first or second take, it's not going to be a warm up, we better be ready, you know, whereas some of the younger actors, it's like, they need you to warm up. And some of them needed a warm up in the beginning of the movie, but not towards the end of the movie. Towards the end of the shoot, like I've been in a great I've been, I've had like a front row seat to see actors grow within a movie. Like it's incredible. You know, and then, so everyone needs something different. Some people and sometimes, you know, you need to be pushed and pushed, just do it again, do it again. And then they start like questioning themselves to death. And it's like, no more questions, you've got to trust me, like, go again, just do it again. You just started watching yourself, because a lot of time the actors are watching themselves. And it's like, I'm watching you. Try not to watch yourself, like, keep going.

Alex Ferrari 22:23
So when actors are in the scene, I when I've worked with actors before, sometimes they get into their own head. And then once they're in their own head, they're out of the moment, and they're thinking about their acting. And then now that's a bad performance. You're not, you're not reacting, you're not in the moment. What do you do to knock them out of that? Because it happens all the times,

Kyra Sedgwick 22:42
I slapped them really hard across the face.

Alex Ferrari 22:44
No, not so much. In these days, seven days, you might have gotten away with that not so much now,

Kyra Sedgwick 22:48
Honestly, you know, I, you know, I think honestly, sometimes you take them aside and like, hey, you know, what do you need or and be like that loving, like mama bear. And sometimes it's like, stop doing that, you know, and you've got to trust me Stop it. Like, you know, I think one of Alex's, you know, one of Kyle's greatest performances was when he was feeling the most self loathing and like, I could see it in him, you know, because I know that feeling like, I suck so bad. And it's like, you know, I just made him do it again, and again, and again. And it's like, it's some of the stuff that we use the most in the movie. And it's, it's the most vulnerable and, and, you know, I just, I just tried to, like, not give him time to be in his head, because we didn't have the time. So in a way, that was a gift, right? Like, I can't, we all can't indulge this, like, I'm not going to let you indulge it because I don't think it's good for you. But we all can't indulge this. So let's just keep going. And again, again, again, and I don't, he never, he never told me he hated me for it. But really, truly, it's the it's the stuff that's like interstitially in the movie. It's the stuff when he's looking in the mirror, and we use it over and over and over again, in the movie, because because it helped it did something for us that we didn't even know we needed. Moments where we were just quiet and landing with Alex and seeing him make a decision to do something different. But for those of us who haven't seen the movie won't mean anything but but but the point being that, you know, when he was at least trusting, and I think that's also the thing that I can speak to as an actor and tell actors, sometimes when it feels the worst, it's the best. And we don't know as actors, we think we know. It wasn't good. I always know but we really don't. We really don't. And I can reflect that back to them. You know, it was good for you doesn't mean it was good for the audience. Just because you really cried doesn't mean that you made the audience cry.

Alex Ferrari 25:15
It's interesting because when you start listening to stories of like David Fincher or Stanley Kubrick where he just they do 70 80 90

Kyra Sedgwick 25:22
Yeah, not that I don't think I'll ever be that person even if it had time.

Alex Ferrari 25:26
Right, exactly. But I understand I kind of understand the mentality behind it, because you're breaking down the actors mind to the point where they can't think anymore because they've done it so much. And they just, that's where the magic happens in their, their process. Yeah. But I believe if you hire good actor, they should get there faster.

Kyra Sedgwick 25:44
Exactly. You know, so funny, because I worked with Cameron Crowe, obviously, yeah, like him. And dude, that guy did like 45 tapes of everything. And every single actor at one point, you know, looked at themselves and went, I must be the worst actor on the planet. And it was so funny, because we all felt like, I talked to Bridget Fonda. And I was like, I know, he probably doesn't do it to you. But he makes me do like 40 takes, like, Are you kidding? He always makes you do 40 takes, but she didn't have that, like, self loathing that I was born with. So, you know, so she didn't take it so personally. But you know, it's so funny because he would come the next day. I remember this vividly. I don't know if you remember the movie, but there's her first scene. I think it's the beginning of the movie. And she's doing the garage door clicker. And he has a little like for like a couple of paragraphs. And then she clicks the garage. He honestly 38 takes and the other thing is that as I'm doing more and more takes, I can feel Cameron spiraling too and being scared that it's terrible, you know, so like, I didn't think it wasn't just me making that up. Like he actually and then he would come back the next day and go dude, do had it on like, the third day.

Alex Ferrari 26:59
But that was like a second movie. That was like a second off.

Kyra Sedgwick 27:01
But then the next day, I'd be like, okay, cool. So he's not gonna make us do so many tastes. Same thing. And then he'd be like, dude, dude, or thick, Jack and Jake. Oh, it's just like, oh, and then it never changed. So I just think that's him, you know, but and he's a great, amazing director. His movies are incredible.

Alex Ferrari 27:19
And that was during the film where that cost every single time it wasn't hard.

Kyra Sedgwick 27:26
Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

Alex Ferrari 27:28
Yeah, I mean, I mean, I remember that very, because again, that's the the, the time of my video store days, like 87 to 90 to 93 hours in the video working, administer. So singles, save, say anything pirates. All that time was during those I'm deadly interested in Trivial Pursuit in that time period.

Kyra Sedgwick 27:51
Awesome.

Alex Ferrari 27:54
So I wanted to ask you to as an actor, what is the biggest misconception that people have about the process because actors from from the outside, you know, especially young directors, it looks like a, an alien. You know, like how you work on the process. And every actor is different, every method and all that stuff. But generally speaking, what do you think is the biggest misconception that directors or just people in general have about the process of being an actor?

Kyra Sedgwick 28:18
And so that's a really good question. I mean, off the top of my head, that it's easy, that people think it's easy.

Alex Ferrari 28:26
Just do it. This is he moved the light. Why can't you just hit the mark and do it?

Kyra Sedgwick 28:30
Yeah, I mean, my, my brother in law's is an eye surgeon. And he's like, what you do is so hard. Are you freaking kidding me and bless his heart. Like he does, you know, big work, and it's amazing. And it's incredible. If I stuck a camera in front of him, he would be like, he would understand very quickly how hard it is, you know, so I think that it's hard is is a misconception. I think that a lot of people and also understandably, it's like, you know, you know, actors are sort of treated like gods sometimes eventually. And that's like really, you're not curing cancer. And it's really hard. You know, so I think that that's one of the things and again, I just keep coming back to this concept of like, it's really vulnerable. It's really it is so vulnerable, it's like most of us walk around with like, we've got a shield on all the time. I mean, you know, one way or the other, it's like there's a front there's a there's there's something going on that like makes me safe in the world. And and you're taught you're really stripping that away. Ultimately, I think when you're in front of a camera for me or in front of an audience,

Alex Ferrari 29:41
But if you only feel comfortable, because if you don't feel comfortable from what I from my experience when you're when you're an actor and you don't feel comfortable, you'll protect yourself and that's when problems occur. On on set. So that's what happens. So when you that's why safe space is so so important for our director to come to come in and out as as I see He's an actor like yourself, you can pretty much smell it on day one. How long does it take you before? You know? Oh, God, this this character has no idea what they're doing. What did I sign up for? I'm gonna have to I'm gonna have to carry this myself. Okay.

Kyra Sedgwick 30:13
Yeah. Oh, yeah, I think you know, really early on Yeah, for sure, especially at this age,

Alex Ferrari 30:20
I mean, God, you know, they want to go.

Kyra Sedgwick 30:23
Yeah. But I also give people a lot of room, you know, I mean, you know, I'm like, okay, you know, this is a new set, like, everyone's getting their sea legs, especially on a movie, like on a TV show, it's a little bit different, because three quarters of the people already hired and we're doing all the work all over the, you know, at the same time, but like, a movie or the beginning of a series or something like that everyone is figuring it out and figuring out the flow. And crews are on unmerged. And, you know, and so I think that, you know, that is, uh, you know, I definitely try to give people the benefit of the doubt for a while, you know, I may have a spidey sense, you know, quickly and go like, Oh, that's a little red flag, but that's okay, I can tuck that into the back of my head for, you know, a minute a minute, you know, and then and then if days go by, and it's just like, it's just a clusterfuck, then it's just a clusterfuck. And, you know, and you're like, Okay, I just have to protect me, you know, in my performance as much as possible.

Alex Ferrari 31:24
Yeah. And I've seen that happen with and you can kind of see when when you see a movie and you see a performances come out, and you're like, wow, she's always good, so good and bad, or he's always so good. What happened here? And then you hear the stories of behind the scenes, you're like, oh, they were just protecting themselves. They were just trying to survive the shoot as such.

Kyra Sedgwick 31:41
Yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 31:43
Now, is there something that you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career about like, hey, you know, can I offer this or? This is not the way it is?

Kyra Sedgwick 31:54
I don't know. You know, I was born and raised in New York. So I had a lot of streets.

Alex Ferrari 31:58
I could tell, I could tell.

Kyra Sedgwick 32:01
You know, I had two older brothers, so I wasn't going to take a whole lot of shit. Like, I'd take some you know, but like, I remember, you were prepped, ya know, like, I remember auditioning for Adrian Lyon, for line for Flashdance, believe it or not, yeah. And I and I had to, you know, I go in there, and I started the scene, and the phone rang, and he went to go pick it up. And I was like, You're not going to pick that up, are you? And I literally was, like, you know, a baby actor, you know, I was like, I don't know, 17 or something like that. And I was like, You're not gonna pick that up? And he looked at me like, wow, like he couldn't believe, you know, that I have, you know, just like, I think that, um, I think that, I think that you have value, I think telling, you know, telling an actor, you know, it's interesting, because I think that on the one hand, you want to say to young actors, like you have value, your opinion matters. But I also think it's so important that our actors know, and I somehow knew this intrinsically, that you are there to be of service, you know, you really are there, you know, I studied with, with teachers who were like, the plays the thing, you know, they mean, like, you're not the thing, the play is the thing. So I think that that's important for actors to know, and you have value, right? Like both of those things at the same time.

Alex Ferrari 33:23
It's so interesting, because you seem, we're, as we're talking, you've obviously had a fantastic career thus far. You haven't it doesn't seem from the outside, that you fall into any of these traps, these ego traps that you actually mentioned, like, oh, this or that, or you become or people think you're a god, and how did you avoid that? Is it just your upbringing in your being a New Yorker, because I'm an east coaster, as well. So I feel you, we could smell our own. So what is it about that, that, that you didn't fall into those traps? And also, your husband to Kevin didn't seem to fall into him either.

Kyra Sedgwick 33:58
You know, I think that, um, you know, I think in some ways, we have always been and always, you know, valued being a workhorse actor, and not like a star. You know, what I mean? I think that we, you know, I think that there's part of me that wished it had been easier for me, I know that one would look at me on the outside and go, God, you've had such a great career, but like, it's been hard, like many times hard and like many years, you know, not working, sometimes between jobs, like two years, three years. So like, I think that while I would have liked a softer, easier way, in a way I feel like because it's been challenging, it has made me respect and value. You know, being a workhorse actor, that's like somebody who never had it too easy. I also will say that like I feel like I'm For whatever reason, I'm like a good citizen. And I feel like it's important to be a good citizen in the world and to be a good citizen on a set and to like, treat people well and treat people the way you want to be treated. And like that kind of diva mentality or thinking that you're better than anybody else. Anybody, including the freakin, you know, crafty man, if you think you're better than them than like your, I just, I just think that that'll end up biting you in the ass, you know, and I and it's certainly not fun to be around. And it also there's humility to being an actor, you have to be willing and open to learning about human beings. And I think that if you think you're somehow better than any human being, then you're not going to be you don't you don't have that humility to observe and to, and to become that person and to represent that person on screen. Does that make sense?

Alex Ferrari 35:57
It makes it makes all the sense in the world. And your what you're saying is the what everyone should strive for. Not everyone gets there, but everyone should strive for that, just that I'm here, I'm here for the for the work. I'm here. I'm glad to be working. I had the pleasure of working with Robert forester years ago. And and not to drop a name. But the reason I'm bringing my friend, the reason. The reason I'm the reason I'm bringing it up is that when I spoke to him after we work together, he said, actors need to remember that there's this many actors in this many jobs, right? And you should be lucky, if you're working to get up and be appreciative and grateful that you get to do what you love to do. And that's what a lot of actors don't understand. And I was like, wow, it was just such a, he was like a sage. And when I when I worked with him was like a sage working. Talking to me about acting, I was just like, ah, and also by the way, when he walked on set, he was prepared in a way that he was so prepared in a way that I wasn't used to work because actors I've worked with the good actors and everything but such an I was like, Oh, my God, he's he's walking in like, I'm putting Tarantino This is amazing. So it's so wonderful when you get to work with really great actors, because then you understand what really great actor can do and bring to your project. Where like you're saying green actors. They haven't gotten there yet. It takes them a little bit of time to get there. Yeah. Now tell me about space audit. oddity. How did that come to life? By the way, I watched it, I loved it. I thought it was wonderful. What an amazing cast by the way.

Kyra Sedgwick 37:39
Thank you so much. Yeah, yeah, we really, we really got lucky. So Space Oddity is a script that was given to me, I think it was 2017 Maybe even. And I loved it. And, and my company, my company, big swing, we, Valerie Sadler, and I worked with the writer for about a year about a year and a half. And, um, and then, you know, the, the little pandemic happened and so we had to push a year. But we, you know, I love the movie, I thought I had something to say I thought it's everything that I love, you know, it's about this family and, and it's romantic. And it's funny, and it's sad. And it also has like some climate stuff in it, you know, which I think is so critical right now and important for us as artists and storytellers to to talk about. And, you know, we got the money together literally, like we were in prep when the last money came in. I mean, it was not easy. There was nothing easy about this, you know, we had someone cast as Alex he fell out like three weeks before we were sparked start supposed to start prep, and then the great gift of Kyle Allen who's like, going to be a huge star, you know, came into our lives. And we had Madeline Brewer really early on the year before in like 2018 I guess we had her 19 I'm getting my I'm not good with dates. But and a lot of people cast and then, you know, lots of people came in at the last minute. And, um, you know, I was one of those things where, you know, I was bound and we were bound and determined, like you were like, not taking no for an answer. I'm making this movie, like, I will do everything I can to and I become the engine of everything that I do, I find and that's like a gift and a power of mine. But also it's like sort of the only way I know how to do it. Like literally, in the middle of pandemic I was doing a sitcom I was starring in a sitcom that only went one season called Call your mother. And by the way, call your mother. Call your mother always call your mother And, and I was like, I felt so hopeless like helpless like I couldn't like I wasn't doing I was in LA you know, I couldn't do anything here and this was what before we even had our money you know, this was the summer before we ended up shooting it. But I was like, I knew I wanted to shoot in Rhode Island because right before March 5 2019 We went on to scout in Rhode Island, I knew they had a 30% tax incentive and I went on a scout with my producing partner with Valerie and we were like, This is the place I found the town I knew with for Rhode Island was gonna be where I wanted to shoot the town and Tallinn is an important part in character in the movie. And then I was like I have to find a flower farm. We didn't find one on that scout and of course the world shut down. So I was in LA and I started looking up you know, farm flower farms on the computer. Didn't realize that it was the day before Valentine's Day cold called you know, robbing Hollow Farm, which was this, you know, I looked I found their website, I looked at their plate, it looked beautiful. So I cold called them and said Hi my name is Kyra Sedgwick. I'm gonna make a movie in Rhode Island this summer didn't have the money didn't have the all the cat. You know, I was like, but you know, saying all this stuff and, and I really loved the look of your flower farm and any chance you might want to let us shoot on it. She goes and the wife who picks up the phone who on the flower farm with her husband, Mike said, Well, you are calling a flower farm the day before Valentine's Day and then I was like, oh my god, I'm so sorry. Hey, Valentine's Day, I always thought it was like stupid holiday and then they start going to this like thing about Valentine's Day. I was sweating. I was so scared to call but but it was it was like magical. It was so magical. Because literally the next day Mike Hutchinson who owns Robin Harlow got on the phone with me and my production designer, Michael. Michael, we got I'm forgetting his last name, but I'll remember it. And we called him and he was like, I did a show for I did a gardening show with Martha Stewart. And so I know filmmaking we were like, we couldn't believe how lucky we were. And he sent us a whole bunch of pictures of what the place looks like, you know, when it's in full bloom and we were like, oh my god, I can't believe it. And this sucker actually, I mean, this really nice guy wants to let us shoot there. And you know, and you know, we turned we ended up shooting there. So it was like, you know, it was it was amazing. A lot of luck. A lot of perseverance and you know, great people supporting us. I mean, you know, it takes a village it takes more than a village it takes like God it takes a takes a planet

Alex Ferrari 42:37
Miracle it takes a miracle.

Kyra Sedgwick 42:39
It really takes a miracle the the idea that anything ever gets to me. We got turned down by so many financiers Do you have no Michael Michael Fitzgerald I'm so sorry. I had to look that up. Oh, my God, the brilliant the brilliant microfiche show but there was a lot on that far from that is that flower farm I mean, you could spend millions of dollars trying to get that look and there was like when a camera and there was me there was a lot of work that Michael did a lot of work but it was a beautiful place to shoot.

Alex Ferrari 43:08
Now what you've directed a ton of television a ton of television over the years what lessons did you bring from television to your and this is your first feature your direct if I'm not mistaken Correct? Is the what were those lessons because television is a whole different beast. A narrative a feature so what lessons did you bring onto your Indie film?

Kyra Sedgwick 43:30
Well, I mean, I think that you learned so much doing television and different kinds of TV shows like going from like Grayson, Frankie to Ray Donovan and sitting on a hill and then you know, in the dark and I mean, you know, I got to play in everyone else's playground and use everybody else's toys. And you know, I know it's only the beginning and and I have so much more to learn but I knew so much more than I did when I did my first movie. So a lot about how to shoot things about equipment a better coverage right exactly or not coverage on or no I'm kind of fast and loose with the coverage we'll take a talk about that another time. But you know, trusting that you know when you've got it you're moving on like that is something that really came so easily from to me from the beginning but I think it's because of my acting background and knowing like especially all those years on a closure like we have this scene we have this this side anyway or you know, and so that I think is such a huge and also being under the gun timelines is super important being responsible for Budget Day all that stuff? You know, I know that some people never had that problem, you know, but frankly, I love that problem. You know, I mean, I'd love to have more days don't get me wrong universe like many more days and all that but like there's something to momentum on us on a chronic crew, and on a day that serves everybody, you know, a serves cast, it serves crew and it serves, you know, producer, I mean, it just serves the piece. So, so learning how to know when I got it. Also being spending a lot of time, on all the shows I did, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time on location blocking. And being an actor, it's great because I can do all the parts, but also I could bring in pas, and you know, other people to come in and be those actors for me, so I could set shots and stuff like that, like, all that stuff. And also like being open to ideas and knowing when to go like, Okay, no more ideas. Like now it's me in my head. And the other thing I've really learned about myself as director, which I've learned through time, is that I have to hear my own voice first, without hearing other people's input first. So that's why I like to go on the on the onset on location onset. Early on, I did it on everything from the first TV show I did. And usually they'll let you like walk the sets and stuff like that, and, and going on to the set and thinking, okay, oh, this is how the scene should be. This is why it should be, you know, it comes at this time in the show or the or the movie, it should be this kind of thing. I'm cutting from this to this. So I want you know, I want to make sure that that works and spending a lot of time with my own voice so that I can hear the input of other people because it feels good for other people to feel seen and heard. That's also really important. And the other thing I know as an actor, specially on my show, the closer people like to hear you say, thank you so much for moving up, like really appreciate your hustle, you know, when you fix that sound thing for us. Thanks. You know, all that stuff is like so it's so key to you know, just give people their due man and they'll and they will kill and die for you. Am I right? crew that you appreciate them and accurately you appreciate them. They're like, that's it. I'll do anything for you now.

Alex Ferrari 47:08
I mean, because that is feeding them well, and that are feeding them well,

Kyra Sedgwick 47:13
Eating them well. craft service is not above you know,

Alex Ferrari 47:19
No crafty is the craft that could kill you. You put a bunch of sugary, buttery sugary stuff on that table. And it's an 18 hour day about 12 hours in everyone's like sugar high fights breakout. I've seen it happen.

Kyra Sedgwick 47:33
It's, it's

Alex Ferrari 47:35
Now as a director, we all go through that, you know, we all understand that the battle of making your day making, you know, cat making sure your film gets done. Project gets finished on time. But there's always that one day, there's that thing. Camera breaks actor, car car broke down. I'm losing the light. What was that day for you? What was the worst day? And how did you overcome that obstacle as a director?

Kyra Sedgwick 48:03
Shit. I know that we had a bunch of days where we were supposed to shoot something and the lightning would start. Everything would stop for 30 minutes. And we'd had to come back. You know. And I think that I think that the thing to do is to Oh, I remember oh, this was a this was a really good day to talk about because me and the actors weren't gelling. It was like they were mad at me which which foreign actor director is like, what do you mean you don't like reorder? Drive? I mean, seriously, it's so and I remember at first with with an actor and I wish I could say his name. But I'm not going to ungraceful, Frankie, because all the actors were like, We love you care. We love you. And I was like, they all love me because, you know, I'm an actor. And of course they love me. And this one actor was like, I don't love you. I don't love you at all. In fact, I think you're annoying. That was just like, say what broke my heart. And I but you know, I was telling him to do something you didn't want to do or whatever, you know. But that day, not only did that happen, where I felt like I was asking for something. I can be very exacting, like a very exacting director like I because I feel like I really know what I want and if I'm not getting it, and I'm losing the light, I'm sure I know I can get you know, I think I'm covering but I'm not that good an actor sometimes. Hard to believe I know. I'm only kidding. But anyway, so this day, it wasn't a good day anyway, we had so much to do and it was this big emotional is that big emotional scene in the fire for the fireflies where he's like talking about brother and it's like it's such a huge scene. It was such an important scene and it was such a beautiful location and I and I was so it just nothing was happening right you losing light before we could ever make this day. It was an insane day. We never could have made it anyway. But then thank God the heavens opened up and the lightning came and the rain we had to shut down. And I remember going, You know what, every time we hit those moments, it always ended up being a gift in the end. And so I had to start learning to just trust that, even though that was so hard for me, because I really do I like to stick to a plan, you know, but of course, you know, you have to let go of that plan. But, but and also there is, I mean, you always think like, there's no way we're going to be ever be able to come back to this location, and then something happens, you are labeled able to go back like, you know, again, it's like about right sizing things like, you know, it's I know, it feels like a movie, but it is just the movie, like you're gonna figure it out, like, you know, and no one needs to get hit by lightning and like, your knowing needs my bad attitude on that day, or like my forcing a solution when like, there's no solution to be had, the person is just not in the mood to take my direction today. You know what I mean? So it ended up being a blessing.

Alex Ferrari 50:53
But it was hard to go there during it because I mean, as a director, directing this compromise, every day, every every moment, it's it's just compromised constantly.

Kyra Sedgwick 51:03
For David Fincher. I really feel like that never open when you hear him talk, because like, I would never do that. I'm just an asshole. And I know it. Like I'm just really Tony's II so open about it. It's like amazing, and I've never worked them. And we'd love to know, I just said, no, no compromises.

Alex Ferrari 51:23
No, I think it was it was No, I agree with you. 100%. I think David compromises at all. I don't think Nolan compromises. But they're playing in such different sandboxes. I mean, you're talking to me, Kubrick never compromised.

Kyra Sedgwick 51:37
By the way, just three men just want to mention, but anyway, go on.

Alex Ferrari 51:39
Right, right. But they don't generally compromise because they are who they are. And that's the way they but they've built that thing about them that they can do things like that. I promise you that. David did compromise on alien three, his first feature, which he had taken away by by his studio, and then after, oh, yeah, there's a whole long story. I mean, I could go on and on about oh, yeah, he was he was he never wanted to direct it. He wanted to say, I'm not gonna go to features anymore. I'm just gonna go back to commercials. And then seven came around. And then he said, if you're gonna, I'm gonna do it my way. And, and then after that, then he start writing his ticket. Same thing for Nolan. And Kubrick, Kubrick wrote a ticket that nobody's ever written before. It's remarkable. Now I had to I do have to ask you, because this is this is, this is a story I heard that you told. And I think the audience would get a big kick out of because I couldn't stop laughing. It's your Tom Cruise story. Please tell the audience that Tom Cruise. It's absolutely.

Kyra Sedgwick 52:43
So you know, Tom and I did Born on the Fourth of July together. So we kind of knew each other. And then Kevin did a few good men with him. And I was seven months pregnant on a few good men. And, um, and back then they didn't have nice looking maternity clothes. This has nothing to do with the story, but just just as a vision of what I look like. And so we got in, we would keep getting invited to like events with like Tom and Nicole, who he was with at the time, and Demi Moore was in the movie. And so Bruce came, and then like, and then Kevin, remind me, What's his last name? Kevin Pollak, thank you. And then like, you know, throwing for a good measure, like Billy Crystal would come and then Rob Reiner, you know, and it was like, We got invited to cool things we got invited over to to Tom Cruise's house for dinner. It was a lovely meal. After dinner, we all retired to the library, where the men smoked cigars, and the women chatted, and I do what

Alex Ferrari 53:44
It's like Titanic.

Kyra Sedgwick 53:47
Well, what I tend to do is and I couldn't drink, I couldn't smoke, you know, because I was pregnant. So I was like, looking at stuff. You know, I looked at like, a, like a photo album of Tom and Nicole skydiving and I was like, Wow, that's amazing. And then like looking at the mantelpiece, there was like a little, you know, a fireplace and I was looking at the mantelpiece. The pictures. Then underneath the mantelpiece, weirdly, like oddly placed was this little button. And I was like, I wonder what that is. And, you know, maybe if I pressed it, like the door, like the thing would shift and like, we'd go into some secret place. And so I just pressed the button, and nothing happened. And I thought, huh, that's a little unsettling that nothing happened to me. You know, I'm just going to mention it to time. So I tapped on, on Tom on the shoulder. He was like mid story, you know, on something and he turns around, and I go, I just press that button under there. And he goes, you press that button? And I said, Oh, yeah, I did. I press up on he goes, that's the panic button. And I was like, Oh my God, and he goes, Why did you press that button? Now? I was like, I don't know. It was there. It was just there, you know, and the cops came, like 12 cop cars came, we were supposed to watch the Godfather one and two, we had to postpone the screening. Because at first he just told his assistants to tell them he was fine. They wouldn't leave, understandably until they saw Tom Cruise, like in one piece. So it's like, oh, yeah, sorry, I have to go upstairs because someone press the cops are upstairs, they won't leave. So we got to hold on the movie. I mean, it was mortifying, and we didn't get invited back.

Alex Ferrari 55:35
What? And finally, what did Kevin do during this time?

Kyra Sedgwick 55:39
Like, what did you do? Why would you do? I don't know. And he was like, it's just I can't believe you did that. What were you thinking? You know, he was just completely like, on one hand mortified and shocked. But on the other hand, like that's so you, you just do that kind of shit. Like, just, there's a button. I'm just gonna press it. You know?

Alex Ferrari 56:00
I think you're a victim of your industry, which is the movie industry. And you've seen way too many movies. And when you hit that button, cool stuff happens in movies, right? Of course, there's just not a panic button that something opens you go into secret passage, you find the Ark of the Covenant. There's things that happen, so I'm waiting.

Kyra Sedgwick 56:19
I'm waiting. I am completely with you.

Alex Ferrari 56:22
I probably, I'm not sure if I would have touched the button. But boy, whatever got close. Like curious. People. I just want you right now. But imagine if you hit the button and a door open and you'd be like, oh, hell, what would you have done? You're like, Tom, Tom. The dungeon is visible for everybody. Where are you? Oh my god. But Kira, where can people uh, when is this coming out? I know you're at Tribeca right now.

And what? What was it like? What was it like getting that call?

Kyra Sedgwick 56:56
It was great. It was so so so great. Actually, it was kind of a kind of anticlimactic because I call Jean because I hadn't heard and I know Jane Rosenthal. And, you know, I was like, This isn't right. You shouldn't call her and I was like, You know what, no stone unturned, like, you got to do it. And I just want to just tell her how passionate I was about, you know, my hometown of New York and what I felt about the Tribeca Film Festival, just the way I feel like it's a it's like a you know, I mean, it was it was conceived as like New York coming back from 911. And I kind of feel like I'm reinventing myself. And like, I don't know, I just like I had this whole spiel to give her you know, and then I was like, hi, Jean. Thank you so much for taking my call. You know, I just wanted to just one more, you know, just once again, tell you how pass it's just like, Oh, sweetie, you know, you just such a great job. We absolutely want to have you I'm so sorry. It's taken us so long. And I was like, Yeah, but I got a spiel, I got a hold about the phoenix rising from the ashes. But anyway, no, I mean, I'm so grateful. Because the truth is, like, I think this can play in the theater, I think it should play in the theater. And it probably won't, or may not do to, like the world that we live in. It'll, you know, I mean, I would love to have a window of theatrical anyway, no matter what. So, but I think that people seeing it in an audience, it's a joyful, meaningful movie about love and loss at a time and fighting for like, what's here at a time when I feel like we're all feeling loss and wanting to fight for something, you know, better and different. And, and, and within our means and within our grasp to fight for. So I think that I think it's an important movie, it feels like and it's fun, and it's entertaining. And it's, and it's romantic. And it's about love and like fighting the good fight, and you know, and grief. And I just think that who can't relate to that.

Alex Ferrari 58:50
Absolutely. Well, I am. I am so happy that you made the film. It's a fantastic film. I hope everyone goes out there and sees it. Kyra, thank you so much for coming on the show. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. So it's so entertaining. It's so much fun. Thank you and best of luck, continued success and go out there and tell some more great stories. So I appreciate you.

Kyra Sedgwick 59:08
Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

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BPS 206: Lessons Learned: Being a First-Time Writer/Director with Sarah Elizabeth Mintz

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz received her BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she completed her thesis film Transit, starring Dakota Johnson. After graduating she mentored with filmmakers Cary Fukunaga on True Detective, Joachim Trier on Louder Than Bombs, and worked with Alejandro Inarritu on The Revenant.

Sarah was a Sundance Fellow in the 2017 Writer’s Intensive and 2018 Sundance Strategic Financing Intensive with her project Good Girl Jane. She completed a short film of the same name starring Rachelle Vinberg (Skate Kitchen, HBO’s Betty) and Travis Tope (American Vandal), with cinematography by Jake Saner (Ghosts of Sugar Land).

The short premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London. Good Girl Jane recently wrapped principal photography in Los Angeles starring Rain Spencer, Patrick Gibson and Andie MacDowell. Good Girl Jane is inspired by events in Sarah’s own life.

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Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 0:00
I think I was like, Okay, I'm not making any progress, but it's not. But I can write a little. And then and I was like, okay, the script needs to be better. Like how do I make it better? And yeah, kept redrafting and I kept sending up pieces and finally and it's funny because like it wasn't getting anywhere but then it got into the Sundance of writers and pensive. And I was like, Okay, if it's gonna get in nowhere and then get in here like, I'll take it, you know?

Alex Ferrari 0:29
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage. We're screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com. Now today on the show, we have writer director Sarah Elizabeth Mintz. Now Sarah's new film, good girl, Jane is premiering at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Now her journey and how she got to this point is pretty remarkable. She had the opportunity to work with Oscar winning writer director Alejandro Ruutu on the set of The Revenant the stories alone are remarkable. So without any further ado, let's dive in. I'd like to welcome to the show Sarah Elizabeth Mintz how you doin Sarah?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 1:10
I'm good. Hi Alex thank you so much for having me.

Alex Ferrari 1:13
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm excited to talk to you about your your new film Good Girl Jane and, and your your adventures in the film industry which have have been you've got some shrapnel along the way.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 1:27
Yeah. Yeah, sure. This is not my first rodeo. It is my first feature that I've written and directed.

Alex Ferrari 1:35
But you've been you've been you've been in some battlegrounds over the year. So we're gonna get into that. So before we get started, how did you and why God's green earth did you want to get into this insanity called the film industry?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 1:46
I'm just jumping right in, right. So it's like, I don't know if I really had a choice in the matter. Exactly. I actually, I thought I just loved movies. And when I was in high school, I would you know, do the thing where you like, buy a PG to get and sneak into the movies. I think it was like 2002 2003 I really started sneaking into all the movies. I remember I was it was like the dreamers came out to the club where Lucci like that's so cool, like 13 and ghosts, were all like Hedwig and the Angry Inch like I was, I was a teenager and I was like, I would have spent all my time watching like the weird movies that that are at the Lemley, which was like the art house theater by my house. And so at first, I just thought it was like a fan. And it was kind of shy. I was pretty shy, actually. So I spent all my time watching movies, like all night, I didn't sleep and would go to class and super tired. But I was like, Well, I spent all night hanging with my friends, you know, on the screen. So I think that I thought I was chip in. And I also didn't really know that women directed like, there were very, there were very few female directors that I was aware of. I was aware of like Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola. And truly, I think that was it. Like, luckily, later I was like, oh, Andrea Arnold. Like slowly, people started trickling in. But I didn't know that was an option at all. I did grow up in LA. I did grow up, you know, around people that wanted to act or like people's parents were in Hollywood. But my family wasn't at all and in the film business at all, in the film business at all. No, my mom's a therapist. My dad was he was in entertainment. He was in talent manager for musicians, but not, not different.

Alex Ferrari 3:46
Different worlds. Different crazy, but similar worlds. Different crazy, but similar worlds.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 3:52
Definitely crazy. Around the crazy, but not quite the film crazy. And then I went to college, I went to UW Madison for a year and a half, and I studied Russian language and political science. And I woke up one morning, sophomore year, and I was taking off film classes it like happened really slowly, sort of overnight. And I was like, I'm not going to be able to graduate. Like, I'm not this isn't my major. I can't like figure this out. So I transferred to NYU. And once I was at NYU. I was like, Okay, I'm going to direct but it didn't happen overnight. I didn't feel like it was an active choice in that it just sort of like it was always where it was headed. It was

Alex Ferrari 4:39
You were being pulled into that into that world regardless of whether you want it it was like a vortex like a black hole. Yeah, just sucking you in. That. That is the feeling that many filmmakers have. It's just like I worked in a video store back in the day so I just you know, surrounded by and that one day, I said What am I gonna do Hey, I just looked, I said, I guess I'm gonna direct movies. And that's literally how I got my start as well. It's just something that and then once you're in you wouldn't you get bitten by that bug? I call it the beautiful illness, you can't get rid of it. You can't get rid of this the feeling of wanting to as much as you might want to leave.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 5:19
Yeah, it's so hard to get rid of this. Please give me a call. You now have my number.

Alex Ferrari 5:29
No, no, it's true. And I've talked to I mean, I've talked to so many filmmakers over the years, and everyone suffers from the same illness, all of us, all of us suffer the same thing. And there's no way out and many of us have tried to leave. And many of us wanted to leave. I've tried to leave. I've been doing this for almost 30 years now. And I've wanted to lead multiple times, because it's just so hard. It's just so brutally hard over the years. And it's that insanity. That keeps you going. That makes you think that you like yeah, can make this happen. Yeah, I can get the financing. Yeah. can cast that actor. Yeah, I can get it to this festival. It's it's insane.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 6:07
It really is. And I'm not trying to pivot prematurely, but service, the movie that I the good girl, Jane, is it tackles substance abuse and drug addiction. And I definitely think there's a lot of that, in pursuing a career like this, like that sort of, I mean, the highs and lows. It's just it really mirrors. Like any addiction. It really does. It's not

Alex Ferrari 6:33
You're not wrong, you're not wrong. I mean, I mean, I have been around the block a couple more times than you have. But I've seen it as well with young and old. It is that kind of addiction to it. You just have to kind of keep going you wake up in the morning thinking about it, you get to sleep at night thinking about it. It is it is it's all encompassing, but that is art that is an artist's life. And for better or worse. That's why we were put here. We have to we have to walk this way. We have to walk this path without question. Now it was you was talking about a few film? Was there a movie that specifically lit your fuse?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 7:10
Some of those movies that I listed earlier for sure. You know, hmm, outside again, I probably that's probably the movie that I watched, like on a loop. Freshman year, like when I was like 1415. Just the the youthful energy and like that the very tight the Verity vibe, and that film that was new to me. I like hadn't really seen anything like that before. There's also sexy and I was like, you know, a teenager. I just loved that movie so much. And that yeah, probably that one, but also Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I'd say that movie really did change my life. Because it was the first time that I saw a film where it felt like anything was possible. Like you can tell any vulnerable story you want. Like there are no restrictions. Just tell your truth. Like get it out there. And that that movie changed my life like John Kerr Mitchell was my favorite director for a long time when I was when I was younger because of his bravery. And that's inspiring to me.

Alex Ferrari 8:14
Oh, no, there's no question. Once you see that movie. You go. Yeah. Oh, yeah. You could tell them your story. Today. If this has been if this has been put into the world, the doors swung wide open. Anyone can walk through?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 8:28
Absolutely. So even if it's not, even if that film didn't look exactly like the films, I mean, I knew I wanted to make it. Yeah, it changed my whole life. It was like, Oh, you could do anything telling it.

Alex Ferrari 8:42
So while you were at NYU, you made a short film called transit. And it starred a young Dakota Johnson, who was still a seasoned actor at that point. She cheated. She hadn't hit fifth. What is the gray? 50 Shades of Grey yet

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 8:58
No, no, she was on Ben and Kate, which was a Fox sitcom at the time,

Alex Ferrari 9:02
Right. But she was wearing a working actress. So yeah, you know, for a young director like yourself at the time. What was it like? Working with a seasoned actor? How did you approach that process? Because I know a lot of filmmakers, young filmmakers listening, that they get an opportunity to work with a seasoned actor. And I remember when I most of the actors I worked with growing up, were not seasoned. They were young kids like me trying to make it happen. But when you get in a room or get on a set with a real, a real actor who's got some jobs, where he got some chops, it can be intimidating with filmmaker, or it could be exhilarating. How was it for you? And how did you approach working with her?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 9:41
Well, I have to be completely honest. So I made that film, like about a decade ago. And this is really the first conversation. This is the first press I've ever done for it. Because that film, it did jumpstart my career in a lot of ways. And I did work with, you know, some really talented actors to code included, I did that movie with her. And that was, like, gigantic for me. But it didn't do a big festival run I do didn't do a big press tour. So it's like, whoa, a transit like, takes it back. Working with the coda, I mean, so I went to high school with Dakota. And, and we were, we were close. And I knew her and her family. And she had seen me go through a lot of becoming age, that coming of age that I was trying to, like capture in that film. And you're, and she was one of the only actresses that I knew that I that I could ask to do it. Like I was like, Okay, this is a close friend of mine. She is clearly like, I had a hunch about her, you know, when I was little, she wanted to act. And I was like, okay, this person is so talented, and they're going to act and like, I got to get in there and work with her. And we just cared about each other, we crafted a story that was again, very personal. And it was it was a little intimidating, even like asking him to do it, even though we were friendly. Because I remember I took her to the Greenwich hotel. And I had like $4 to my name is through the Grand Hotel. And I was like, let's get like a drink. And, and even just in that meeting, I remember thinking to myself, like she's been in so many more of these meetings than I have. And I was really trying to put like some shoulder pads on and like pitch the film to her and professional way. And anyway grateful to her, she decided to do with me, she trusted me. And it was a really fruitful like that movie, even though, you know, it's definitely a student film. It's not like my finest work yet. Sure, of course, really. It's something that I'm very proud of. And I'm proud of what she gave in that film. And it was, it was a really, it was very, it was dramatic and personal for her to like there was a lot of stuff that I think she hadn't quite put on screen yet at the time. And it was moving to dig that deep with her into that.

Alex Ferrari 12:07
Now I wanted to bring that up, because so many filmmakers, you know, it's all great and dandy when you're making getting you're in Tribeca, and you're at Sundance, but to go back to those first days, you know, working on those first short films, that's when a lot of these lessons the foundation, the bricks of the foundation are starting to be poured, or the cement is starting to be poured in that foundation. During those early short films and getting an opportunity to work with Dakota someone like of her caliber for talent is a blessing. And also, I'm sure a learning experience as a director.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 12:37
It absolutely was. And I I really I did study her on that set, because she grew up on set, and I did it. And her and you know she, she was always on time, she was always so friendly to the casting crew really collaborative. But it was also just like, I felt like I really needed to, to I keep saying this. But like I really need to do my homework in order to like have conversation with her on set. I couldn't just wing it because she had done the homework. And I did my first I directed my first love scene on that short, it was like very quick, and it wasn't really graphic. But I had to really make a safe space and a safe set for everyone. And it's actually I worked with the same cinematographer on that short as I did on the Belgian feature.

Alex Ferrari 13:29
Nice. So you brought so you brought him along? You brought everyone Yeah.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 13:33
And like that idea of safety. Yeah, no, no, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 13:37
I mean, anytime I've ever had to shoot a love scene. It is horrible. It's horrible. for everybody involved. It's not sexy at all. It's just about trying to keep a safe space for the actors. And but it's just like it's uncomfortable. Like as a director, you're like, Alright, can you caress the back of the neck more here? Like it's just weird. It's a weird, unsexy, awkward scenario to do.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 14:00
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I had no idea. And I remember both actors I was working with Steve had done love skins prior. And they were definitely like, oh, like, they knew how it went. But I really had to go in there and be like, Okay, I need to choreograph this ahead of time and be very clear on what I need, but they're not just like, uh, you know, and you're right. It's not really a sexy time. The whole point is just that you need to make sure these people feel comfortable and safe and really be clear about what it is that you want. And now we have these intimacy coordinators that are on all this. Gotta say that's profoundly helpful. Very, very profound with the awkwardness with it.

Alex Ferrari 14:44
Yes, absolutely. Just having a middle person to just kind of talk to somebody and go, please help. I don't know. What do I do here?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 14:56
No yeah, but go I want to you want to make sure that doesn't look like they are you know, playing Twister like the angles really matter and these people have to give you that insight. Sorry, that's not very important, but funny.

Alex Ferrari 15:11
It is. It's funny. It's kind of the lunacy of the Carnival that is filmmaking. You know, we are carnies. We're just carnies. You know, without question. Now, you you have, you've had the opportunity to work with some very interesting people over the years. As you were coming up as a director specifically, you got to assist Alejandro Ruutu on the Revenant. What the hell was that? Like? Because all I've heard is, I've heard I've worked with I've talked to some people who worked on the movie. I've seen the documentary, I've heard stories. It was an insanity from what I heard on set in a good way, but just the nature of the kind of storytelling. You were there assisting him at that point. Were you on set? Did you were you did you watch? What was going on? What did you learn? Tell me tell me everything.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 16:01
Wow. So I was on my job in total, I think like three months, so I was not there as long as any anyone else I like I came in near the end. There was quite a, there were quite a few assistants, there was a large team of them, some had, you know, come on earlier and left. And I had, I got that job because I was in high school intern at anonymous content for Steve Golan. And he, he was producing the Revenant. And he and I had stayed in touch. He really been a mentor to me for a long time. And, and he thought it would be good for that job. Given how tricky it seemed like it was going. And so I flew out there and I was in Calgary, so yes, I was on set. I was in Calgary, during all of those like crazy snowstorms we've seen in the pictures you've heard about. And I had directed, I sorry, I guess to sit a few directors prior to that. So I did kind of know the drill. But this was a unique experience. For sure. It was I had to wear essentially like a spacesuit on set. It was that cold I had, I remember just buying out the I landed and then I had to get to set in the morning. And I didn't know how I could get to set and be on set. Like in the clothing I brought. I didn't have like a spacesuit yet. So remember showing up but I just like looked like a dodo. You know, like I was like wearing everything I owned. And everyone else just looked like they really had it down. And I just didn't have it down yet. And I'm carrying like all under his lunch and like all his bags, and I'm I just didn't look cool and like, didn't look ready. So it took me a minute to kind of get into the swing of things. But But I got to see Chivo do all those winners and I got to see natural light being shooting and after late. The day's shooting very short, very little light. Because of the winter, and it's just like the conditions we really only had a few hours to shoot each day. And it would take like two hours to get set. So it was it was a different type of thing than I ever done. It was also the biggest movie I'd ever worked on. It was like $200 million. I have no idea it was in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And the most stress I've ever seen at like for them in the produce. I saw some producers like actually just go gray like in front of like, you know, I read a sure I like I probably aged quite a bit in just that short amount of time. But it was also truly inspiring. You know, so ambitious, but really, it's an art film and it's It's gigantic. And that's rare, a rare breed. It's insane did what was like the biggest lesson you learned watching him direct. Did you get a chance to watch him direct? Yeah, and I would say that's probably about all of the directors that I've worked for. But I mean, specifically all 100 Just an uncompromising creative vision. Like there. I mean, you've probably heard there was a really big challenge there wasn't enough snow on the ground for a lot of the toward the end of student was enough snow on the ground. And it wasn't like okay, you know, we'll we'll we'll create some fake snow put on the ground and like that's that you know, the texture of the snow in the way it read on camera. Like if that wasn't as authentic as possible if that wasn't reading correctly, like we would you know, be flew somewhere else. Simple as that. Yeah. Just fly through. And it's not and by the way, it's not just like you know, you you're dp and a couple of other people on the crew you're talking about 100 people plus, plus all the gear in the most insane environment ever tried. I mean, yeah, Leo almost died for God's sakes. I mean, yeah, I also remember seeing all of the mock ups of that horse carcass and and just the artistry in there's yeah so many people building such a universe and I just had never been on set like that. Like it was really stunning the amount of crops people and the amount of talent that was that was on that project.

Alex Ferrari 20:43
Same same kind of setup. Good girl, Jane, right. Obviously, just, you know, hundreds of people on set

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 20:51
Shooting for months on end

Alex Ferrari 20:53
Months on, if you didn't like the way the garbage was landing in the back alley, you would just go to a rally?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 20:59
Yeah, yeah, definitely. No, I would personally move the garbage.

Alex Ferrari 21:05
You know, it's so fun. It when you're when you have the ability or the opportunity to be on a set like that. It's just so remarkable, because you're right, it's an art film at a level that no one gets to play. And that's a that's a that's a sandbox that a handful of directors in the world get to play and literally a handful of directors in the world because,

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 21:26
Like, let go like I yeah, I mean, it was that was so cool. Because I had really I had worked on arthouse films, like that's what I had done for the most part. And this was that it was just giant. Yeah, it was just on such a bigger scale. And, you know, it's like, yeah, I'm working with see one. You know that there is a producer that does big movies, like, Yeah, but yeah, but like, but also like Michelle gone refill. And it's so it was, it was a really unique experience. And it is the last movie I assisted on. So I really did. Like, I was like, Okay, I've seen it all I've seen it all is nothing more than can be seen. Usually,

Alex Ferrari 22:15
I need to move on. Now. This is this is the next this is the next step. No, it's pretty. It's pretty remarkable. Now, how did Good Girl Jane come to life?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 22:25
Like, from like, day one?

Alex Ferrari 22:29
Well, I mean, I'm assuming I'm assuming they just throw money at you, right? Because this is obviously

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 22:33
Oh, yeah. Like I'm gonna make I'm gonna make a movie out of it directly one before and I'm just gonna find a million bucks. And then Oh, and there it is.

Alex Ferrari 22:42
Right. Right. And there's like God just just showed up. Right? And then you could just start working at the next day.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 22:47
Yeah, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 22:51
That's the story. And that's the story. And that's the story I'm sticking to.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 22:55
Yes, exactly. So, um, so I'm talking to you, I'm in this living room, this apartment that I'm submitting, and it's, um, I'm in I'm in Brooklyn. And I started this whole process in Brooklyn, seven years ago, sorry, in Manhattan seven years ago. So I, I was, like I said, assistant directors, and I finished the Revenant. And I was like, Okay, I'm going to write, I'm going to write a movie. What do I know? You know, that's, that's, they tell you to start there. That, so it's, I had one option. And I was like, so I sit down and start writing and I'm in living York, and I'm like, Oh, I can't, I can't actually write this. Without going home. Like took place in LA. It's like about my childhood. I have to go home. So I moved to LA. I didn't want to live in LA, I wanted to live in New York. But I moved to LA. And I wrote the whole thing in my mom's backyard in like a little truly like a good like, storage closet like thing in her backyard. And I wrote it and then I took me a while. And then I sent it to a bunch of like labs and screenwriting competitions and whatnot. And got a bunch of rejections. Like how it goes, nobody wanted it. But but people liked it. I think I was like, Okay, I'm not making any progress, but it's not but I can write a little. And then. And I was like, okay, the script needs to be better. Like, how do I make it better? And yeah, kept redrafting and I kept sending up pieces. And finally, and it's funny because like, it wasn't getting anywhere, but then it got into the Sundance writers intensive. And I was like, Okay, if it's gonna get in nowhere and then get in here, like, I'll take it, you know? I'll take it so, so I had a feature script. I brought it there. It was called Junk food diary at the time, it was like very kind of like punchy and like completely different had voiceover like top to bottom. And I got a bunch of notes from the finance advisors and throughout the script entirely. And they gave me a little bit of grant money for being the program and I went and made that short film. But the proof of concept short film. And I guess we're like three years in at this point, I make the short film I, I partner to make the short with this producer and Lauren Pratt. It was her first movie, but I had met her while I was assisting directors and I was like, I think she's gonna be the killer producer. I'm a partner with this girl. And so we partnered together, she helps me develop the project into the short and then much bigger. And then Sheikh senior who shot transit with me, I brought him on shoot the short and, and then after the short was made, again, still seeing this transit. It got me some attention. Like I got a manager off of it. And it played three months but had no life on the festival circuit. Like I would get emails back from programmers like good job. Like it didn't play anywhere.

Alex Ferrari 26:17
The most. The nicest of us ever.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 26:21
Totally, like people were engaging to tell me that it was really like affecting or like it really shut them or something. And I'm like, nobody's playing this thing. Like, literally nobody's buying it. So although no budge put it in like a little like a showcase it in Brooklyn. And I remember that was a fun thing. Because I was like, okay, playing in the theater, like, it's good. I got it. But took the short film, to Sundance with just like, brought it with me to say my backpack, you know, and Lauren and Jake and I, we we paired with a sales agency at the time. And they put us on a bunch of like, speed dating, basically with financiers and one of the financiers. Just money.

Alex Ferrari 27:10
So back up the speed dating with financers. I've never heard of this. Where can I sign up? Where's the speed dating for five dancers? I've heard of this is fantastic. What is that?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 27:25
It's a really, it's a really, really good question. Well, I'll back up two steps. One is that Sundance for me. And one other program, which is called like the, forgive me, it's like the women and film strategy and financing and tax of something. And so they put me into that program with my producer. And that was the first finance your speed dating. You did. So we did two. This. We did two. And this first one. It was I mean, Lauren, and I prepared. Like, as if it was the bar. It was instant. And that sounds probably like really crazy of me to say. But it's we studied for so long. We had this whole pitch memorized. We were like, it was a whole thing. We it was a whole show that we were. So we went and we pitched him on to people. And we got a bunch of meetings where we didn't get the money. But we did take a bunch of meetings, a bunch of places because of it. And we got sort of out of that a sales agent. And that sales agent, we, Lauren and Jake and I that percentage, Harman producer and I, we were like we're gonna go to Sundance, we want to make this we want to get this movie put together and the sales agent was like, Okay, we know some financiers will set you on, like two days of meetings. And that was what the speaking like,

Alex Ferrari 28:44
That's amazing. I've never heard of that called investor speed dating. That is,

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 28:49
I probably shouldn't call it that, then.

Alex Ferrari 28:51
It's fantastic. It's actually awesome. I've never heard of it that way. And it should be. There should be more of it. I think we should all have access to speed dating for investors. I think that would be a great company.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 29:04
Yeah, I mean, and it's not to say that, like again, at this point. I'm what it's like four years in like it's not overnight overnight is what you're saying overnight? Yeah, overnight. But once we sat down with a student films, which is the company that ended up financing the film, we sat down, I think on day two of the meetings, and I pitched them the movie and Lauren and I were talking about it, and they just agreed to finance it within a few moments of talking. Really? Yeah. They were kidding. They were kidding. And I thought I was going to like be physically ill because I was so I was like I don't want to get excited you know I didn't want Oh yeah. And I was like no I only here knows this like can't actually be real. And remember they took us I met with Dominica remember like to the producers over there. And they needed to take us to Fredbear and see who was the one that was gonna, like sign the check. And they're like, Yeah, we're gonna go over to talk to Fred. So it's like, I like had it. Like, I just had it prepared. I didn't know who this person was. I was so nervous. I was like pinching myself. Like, as I was walking over there, like, please just don't like fall over just stupid. Anyway, it was totally fine. He, he wanted to make a movie, too.

Alex Ferrari 30:27
It's, it's fascinating that we as filmmakers constantly are getting nose most 99% of the time we get nose most nose the most. Other than actors, actors get more nose than filmmakers do. That's true. That's a fair. That's a fair statement. That's a fair statement. But it just in the whole process of filmmaking. There's nose all the time. No, no, no, no. When someone says yes. And in the way that you just stated it like so quickly. So like, oh, yeah, let's just let's go out and you're just this cat. This was

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 30:58
Absolutely not. Like, now I'm now I'm skeptical of you.

Alex Ferrari 31:08
I was pitching myself to you. But now that you actually liked me and want to make my project, I don't trust you.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 31:15
And it's not just like, I knew I was gonna make this movie, because I was going to keep trying to make it till I actually die. You know, I was like, I'm gonna make this movie. I'm gonna figure it out. But, but it was just Yeah. I was getting a little numb from the nose at that moment.

Alex Ferrari 31:33
And at that point, and you're at this point four years in, at least Yeah, at least four years at this point. Yeah. Now, one thing about this project that when I was when I was pitched to me, it was based on on true life events. So I've seen the movie. And I was telling you earlier, like, I hope it was very loosely based on real life events, because it's a pretty, it's a heavy film. It's a heavy film, and it was based on true events of your own life. So how much of that? And how much did you want, want to expose about your own life in your storytelling? I've done something similar. I wrote a book about a horrible experience I had with making a movie for the mafia, when I was 26. And that's a whole other conversation.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 32:16
Be easy go right? Writing about

Alex Ferrari 32:18
Route your own life. Yeah. So like, you find like, I for me, I always found that, like, I got to put it all in, I can't hide anything. And I just let it all out and let it let it hit where it hits. Because if I start editing it, it's just it becomes on on authentic. So what was your experience with it?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 32:38
I'll tweak the language slightly in that it is inspired by my freshman year in high school, essentially. So my freshman year in high school, I did fall in love with a drug dealer, and I was addicted to meth. And I did have, like this sort of trajectory that we see happen in this film. But I, it was, it was not too challenging to fictionalize the narrative, really, because even though there's, you know, many, many drafts and stuff, but it was like, Okay, well, how can I? What am I trying to say, with this film, what I'm trying to do is kind of like I was talking about earlier with them, like in 2002, when I was sneaking into all those movies. I just wanted to offer that. That kind of that feeling of being seen. I wanted to offer that to the to the Jains out there, if there are any, because I was, you know, one of them. And so I was like, Okay, it's not so much about, like, what is the essence of my experience? Is it like the monotony of the day to day or is it the feelings of isolation, and the feeling a lack of intimacy, and the loneliness and the shame? And the desperation like, those are the things really that are the truth. And so the people like the characters that you see in the film, like they're definitely amalgamations of people that I was around that year. But it's all kind of like, like a new puzzle that like this stuff, that's that's really Jane is is like those, those struggles. And that love story is it tracks pretty closely.

Alex Ferrari 34:36
Very, very, I mean, applause for being so honest and authentic with your storytelling. And I think honestly, that's probably why I got the attention I got is because there is authenticity behind it. And, you know, from someone who's been in the business for a bit, you start getting jaded by stories, by movies by scripts you read, but when you find something that is off Benteke pops, for whatever reason is, you know, you want to get metaphysical on it, the energy coming off the screen off the pages. There's something about it that you just, there's something there. And I saw that in the film. I was like, There's something here. I just was like, praying. God, I hope it wasn't all this. God bless her.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 35:22
I mean, yeah, like, it's the the timeline of the film is probably it's about a year, and this moment in my life was probably was a little longer than that. So everything's kind of condensed Of course. Yeah, condense. You know, I'm alive.

Alex Ferrari 35:42
Hey, you know what, what doesn't kill us? makes us stronger. No question about it. Now, as a director, we all go through this. We all understand the insanity that is a set, especially your first movie is even more insane. And like I said, we didn't have revenant money. So there wasn't an endless amount. Not quite. When we didn't have craft certain revenants craft service budget. We didn't even have their travel budget.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 36:14
Hobbit in plain sight somewhere else.

Alex Ferrari 36:17
Yeah, there's Where's there snow, Antarctica, let's go. So, so there's always that one day, if not every day, but there's generally one day that's even more extreme that you feel like the entire world is coming down crashing around you that you're gonna lose the light, you're gonna lose your camera, financing drops, the actor can't show up for whatever reason. There's that one day, what was that one day for you? And how did you overcome it?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 36:41
So we had to, okay. First one is so, so that so I've done this. So this movie shot over the course of a year. We shot we started shooting, I'm gonna mess this data, but it was like March 3 2020. Which is like the best week in the history.

Alex Ferrari 37:03
Absolutely. shoot films. Absolutely. is the best time to start a movie. Yeah, absolutely.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 37:07
Right. Like so like seven years into this process. We like get greenlit, I like on the set, you know, 10 days in the film was supposed to be 20 days shoot already, like very quick. No 10 days in. And they're like, whispers of an issue, like a virus. I may go home after Friday. I think it was like Friday, maybe Friday the 13th emergencies, obviously. Yeah, I go home anyway, wake up on Saturday. And they're like, we're gonna furnish that back. Right. And I was like, okay, yeah, yeah. Just make sense. We're gonna shut down. Yeah, I think that makes sense. Totally. That tracks with the struggle of all of this. And like, let's do it. I mean, we had to keep everyone safe. But like, of course, that's the choice you're gonna make. But it was crazy. And it felt like we might not come back up. Definitely.

Alex Ferrari 38:05
Right. No, I've had, by the way, I've had multiple filmmakers, on all levels of budgets. Come on the show that started in March, April, May have their movie was made. And then it's gone. And they just like, I don't know, if we're in a year later, they come back. Yeah. How long did it take you to come back?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 38:24
We started shooting the second round of production March 3 2021.

Alex Ferrari 38:30
So literally a whole year, a whole year of you sitting on half your movie. Yeah. I'm assuming you're editing, maybe some scenes, maybe you're rewriting some of the script. You're reworking stuff. You just that's all you could do. But as a filmmaker psychologically, I can't even imagine just the brutality of that year for you.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 38:50
So a lot of compartmentalizing and like, like a lot of what is it like cognitive dissonance, I was just like, we're going back and that is its denial. That's what it is. I was in denial. I was just like, planning my return. And I Yes, I was editing the film. I was shortlisting with Jake. Constantly, constantly, we reworked to our shots. I rewrote the end of the film. I was texting with my actors being like billbergia You know, like,

Alex Ferrari 39:24
I'm still here. We're making this

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 39:27
And I was like, don't get a face tattoo. Literally. That's a lot of what I was doing. I was just

Alex Ferrari 39:33
Don't change you're haircut

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 39:36
Because I had like, you know, 10 20 year olds that I was like, for a year

Alex Ferrari 39:45
Like, like herding cats like herding wet cats.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 39:48
Yeah, it was a tough like, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 39:50
So that was the first day. So that was the first thing what was the second day?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 39:53
Oh, yeah, right, the second day. So then the second day, and you've seen the film. So there are chip shots in, in a car. The whole half third film was in the car. But there's there's some shots in the car that were processed trailer shots. And man if I knew some stills and send them to, but we had, like revenant style day One day, like it was a massive rigging team and Jake was strapped to the top of the vehicle. We had like six cop cars circling. We had we were on like, I don't know, it was extended Sunday or Wiltshire like a thoroughfare in LA, with like six kids in the car. And we end the rigging took so long. We have like an hour to hour to get the all the shots.

Alex Ferrari 40:53
It takes nine hours to rig and an hour to ship.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 40:58
And then there was a lightning storm. Of course it was. And so my ad came up to me like sweetest, sweetest man, I was just like, insurance day like go home. We go home, right? And of course like we're not going to shoot anything. If it's unsafe as a processor. There is metal like it's all metal.

Alex Ferrari 41:18
No one can be done to China Denna.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 41:21
Yeah, so we had to track the weather, like to the second get people in the car, shoot for you know, two minutes, get them out of the car, wait till the rain stop, get them back in the car. And we already didn't have enough time. That was a day where I was like, huh,

Alex Ferrari 41:40
I don't think I'm gonna make. Yeah, but you made it through. And that thing, that's the thing with these kinds of things is generally speaking, it works out in some way, shape, or form, but definitely didn't work out the way you want it to do.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 41:51
Works out better. It works out better.

Alex Ferrari 41:53
It always does. I always does. It's just so weird. But those when things happen, I just, I now just go okay. This is obviously where the universe wants to take us right now. Yes. Let's see what happens.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 42:04
That's true. It's woowoo. But it's true. Like there are so many. We like when we shut down. We had one false start. We tried to put the production back together. And I got a call from our lead actors team. And they were like, he just got booked for six months on a job in I don't remember where it was like in Europe. And it was like, Okay, well, so never getting him back. You know, it's like, there's just there have been so many, so many times where I've thought okay, this is the worst day ever. This is the worst case scenario, like shutting down for a year. And you know what, it really benefited the movie? It really did.

Alex Ferrari 42:48
It's a painful way of doing it's a painful way of doing it. But it does. It does do it absolutely. Every time there's ever been a complete disaster and anything I've ever done. It's generally works out better, generally, almost always works out better. Now, after after this whole experience, you've you've made your movie now you've you've been around the block, you've, you know, on the Revenant and on True Detective and all these others and all this stuff that you've done over the last decade at this point. Is there something you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of this journey?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 43:23
Well, I wish someone had told me sooner that women can have this job I like it didn't. I wasted a lot of time thinking that because I was an introvert. And I say that like in a very literal way. People say that all the time. But I just like, I'm not a very social person. I'm very shy. I was a like, I mean, you'll see them. I mean, it's like I was Jane, I was like really hard to hit off like most. But I was like, okay, that person can still have this job. I did not know that. And obviously someone can't give you permission to like live your destiny. But you can go and add information. But I wish I could see you know what, it's not so much. I wish someone had told me this is changing. But I wish I'd seen women just directing seen female directors seen directors that didn't all just looked like one day. And that would have changed the game a little sooner for me.

Alex Ferrari 44:17
I was lucky enough that I'm a Latino man. And I had not seen any Latino directors growing up. This was just I just didn't know anyone. Where are they? Where are they? And then all of a sudden, Robert Rodriguez showed up in El Mariachi showed up the year that I was in high school thinking about being a director and I said oh oh there's there's the one dude he he did it and he did it in an insane way. Okay, this can be done. So you do need to see you need to see you need to see other people like yourself doing what you are doing just to give you the confidence to go if they could do it. Then I have a Shot to do it as well. And that is so, so important to be represented out in the world. And then sometimes you see these directors who, who were just breaking down doors to get to be the first to do something is so what's the word? You know, so amazing that they were able to do that and have the grit and hustle to be able to do when they didn't have anywhere at all. But I agree with you 100%. Now, um, and this is coming out on Tribeca, right, you got into Tribeca, and that was what was that phone call light.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 45:40
So it was an email. And it was was really funny. I remember what, okay, so we got an email from them. Again, after you know, some rejections get email from them. And they asked if we were still available for a world premiere, if they hadn't, like often, they're like, this was a very long time ago. It was like, it was in December, I was like, not not thinking about this festival. Yet. It was so far away, and read an email. And they're like, is goodwill Jane still available? And so I talked to my producers, and I was like, Yeah, we're still available. And then I had, like I said, I'd been in the Sundance intensive. So I spoke with the lab people at Sundance, and I was like, you know, I think like, Tribeca might want this film. And we were just like talking about the festival rent the lab, people are different from the festival, they just sort of like, they just give advice, and they're just like, really, the loveliest anyway, I was on a call with them just being like, Help me God guide me, like, how does this work? And my producer called me was like, actually, we got in and we're going, you know, like, we just got invited. I mean, she didn't say we're going, but she was like, we just got officially invited and like, congrats. This is happening. This is actually happening. They're not just like, a little interested. I think what I was asking the Sundance people is I was like, How do I convince them to take me or like, I never just like if they reached out to you, they say like it, you know, like, festivals. Yeah, I was like, oh, like, do they mean it? I'm just clearly a little skeptical. I was like, do they mean is this real? But know that they Yeah, but evil. That's the artist the spot. And then the second I spoke with the programmers, I was just, like, changed everything. They They are the perfect home for this movie, like New York is the perfect home for this movie festival is the perfect home for this movie. This is my favorite city in the world. Like, there, my whole family can come to the screenings, my producers rarely come to screening. But like a lot of the cast was here. It just it ended up just like it's one of those divine things that we were talking about before. Like, I didn't know what the future was gonna look like this movie, or where it was gonna play. And I knew it, it really needed to play somewhere. And then it's playing in the right place.

Alex Ferrari 48:08
That's fantastic. That's fantastic. Well, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 48:18
If you can do anything else, then you're probably trying to do the wrong thing. Like, if you're like, I want to make movies, and if it doesn't work out in a few years, like, I'll go do like social media direction or so I don't like creative, a doctor, whatever. Anything else, then, like, I don't know, it was real. I don't know. I mean, I'm not to discourage anyone. But I think that's actually like a fun thing to think about. It's like, if you know, this is like, everything, and this is 100% What you're you have to do, then you're gonna figure it out, because you just won't stop. That kind of passion and that kind of like true. Like that type of dream. That's, that's rare. And if you have it, you have it.

Alex Ferrari 49:10
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 49:16
Still learning. So I spoke like, briefly about how this this movie is about a moment of time in my life that was like, very shameful. And I had it felt that yeah, I felt a lot of shame at the time of like, when I was younger, and when I was pitching this movie a lot. I had to kind of show up in those meetings and pretend that I had no shame or like, you know, act very loving of myself. And it's actually just really okay. To be whoever you are, like, this process making this film has taught me that I don't know if I knew that going into making it. I was faking it. And then making it making the film has been like, cheese, it really is fine to be exactly who you are like, you don't need to put on all these errors or like pretend to be someone else, or it's going to work out if you're exactly who you are. So

Alex Ferrari 50:27
I'd argue that the key to making it work out is to be yourself. It's the only thing that makes you stand apart.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 50:34
100% it's Yeah, I mean, all you have is you you're not going to be like a great version of someone else. You're gonna be only a great version of who you exactly are. But I didn't I that took me a long time to figure out

Alex Ferrari 50:48
Oh, yeah, agreed. I know I, I, you know, I I'll never be a great invitation of Tarantino or Rodriguez or Fincher or Nolan or Spielberg. Because they're good at what they do. And they're pretty much the best at being them. Yeah. So but you can only be the best version of yourself. And that's a key and when and I think any, anybody who has any success in any avenue of this, in this life, is true to themselves. Generally speaking,

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 51:16
It's true. And, and this, like, this moment of my life that is very dark, has been the inspiration for the thing that is the most stunning and the most beautiful thing in my life, like, like this, this experience that I had, and the struggle that I had is, like, you know, I wrote this movie about it. And now, I'm here, like, I'm so happy that happened. I'm so happy that that I'm that I made it out of it, for sure. But I don't wish I could like carve some pieces out of me and take some of my history away. And it's like, what's the use of that? It's not at all.

Alex Ferrari 52:00
Agreed you are, who you are. And whatever happened to you and your past is what made you who you are today. And I've, I came to grips with that a long, long, long time, though, just like, if I had to do it over again, I would go the same way. Because that's who I am. And if you take that away, you take a big chunk of who you are away, and you wouldn't have been able to make this movie you wouldn't have, you wouldn't have done any of this stuff. So where would you have gone in might have been a different world might have been better? Might have been worse? Who knows? But this is the path that you would put on and embrace it without question. And last question. three of your favorite films of all time.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 52:34
Should have prepared for that one. Well, I eat a lot. I mean, it's definitely one of them. I would say fish tank entry Arnold. And there's so many but I'm gonna say reprise your country or the I worked with yo Keem on louder than bombs. And he is brilliant, brilliant director. So yeah. Really, really anything.

Alex Ferrari 53:04
Sarah I appreciate you coming on the show. It's been an absolute joy talking to you. It's your energy is infectious for what you're doing. So thank you for coming on the show. And congrats on all your success so far. And I know you're gonna do a lot of amazing things and tell some really remarkable stories in the future. So continued success, and hopefully, there's a little girl out there who's gonna see this and go if she could do it, and if he could do it, I mean, I got a shot.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 53:37
Oh, man, that's, that's what this is all about. That's what this all about for me, for sure.

Alex Ferrari 53:42
But I appreciate you my dear . Continued success.

Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 53:45
Thank you so much.

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BPS 205: How to Cast, Finance and Package a Film Project with Courtney Lauren Penn

Courtney Lauren Penn co-founded and runs the multi-faceted production company Renegade Entertainment with her co-founder Thomas Jane. Courtney oversees content: producing film, series and hybrid new media projects alongside Jane. Renegade is a pioneering outfit that has been among the most active production labels since launching in late 2019. The company is active in several verticals – feature films, streaming and TV series, and comic book and graphic novel publishing and production.

Since its inception, Renegade has produced a slew of independent feature films, a short form comedy series, a television and streaming 8 episode series for the ABC in Australia and IMDBtv/Amazon alongside AGC Television, is currently in production on a comic book series THE LYCAN for ComiXology Originals at Amazon; 3 features the duo produced releasing in 2022 and in pre-production on several films for 2022.

The first film the duo executive produced was the western thriller THE LAST SON, starring Thomas Jane, Sam Worthington, Colson Baker (Machine Gun Kelly) (released December 2021), followed by horror comedy SLAYERS, starring Abigail Breslin, Thomas Jane and Malin Akerman (releasing September 2022). Courtney and Jane further produced DIG starring Emile Hirsche, Thomas Jane and Harlow Jane, bowing in June 2022, as well as MURDER AT YELLOWSTONE CITY, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Gabriel Byrne, Isaiah Mustafa, and Thomas Jane, set to premiere June 24, 2022. The company just wrapped on ONE RANGER for Lionsgate in March 2022.

Among the myriad projects currently being developed by Courtney and Jane is the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s FROM A BUICK 8. The duo have a large slate including several best-selling novels they are in development on. Adopting a material-first, platform agnostic philosophy, Courtney embraces the growing disruption in the entertainment ecosystem and together with Jane have built a selective slate of compelling stories and edgy material with global commercial appeal. She takes a transmedia approach to cultivating IP and collaborating with gifted storytellers and partners to build out her company’s diverse content slate.

Courtney attended the University of Pennsylvania and subsequently studied Filmmaking and Direction at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts. She is a former National Chess Champion, Top 50 Women’s Chess Player, Visiting Committee Member of Hematologic Oncology at the Dana Farber Institute, Platinum Member of New York Women in Film & Television, Member of the Producers’ Council of the Producers Guild of America, and proud mother to her son. Courtney began her career in sell-side mergers and acquisitions and corporate restructuring on Wall Street.

Renegade participates annually in charitable giving to institutions who directly participate in “research to bedside” care for children with cancer and vulnerable children in high conflict zones. In March 2022, Courtney & Jaime King teamed up and used Instagram to promote the booking of AIRBNB’s in conflict zones in the Ukraine as a means of getting funds directly to the people mid-conflict.

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Alex Ferrari 0:15
I like to welcome to the show, Courtney Lauren Penn. How you doin, Courtney?

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:08
I'm great. Alex, thank you for having me on the show been a big fan for a long time.

Alex Ferrari 1:13
Oh my god, thank you so much. That's extremely humbling. I always find It's so insane when people of your magnitude and and statute in the business say that to me, because I'm like, I don't know who's listening. But occasionally I'll get somebody's like, I've been listening forever. I'm like, what?

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:29
All of those that have done the hustle appreciate the indie film hustle.

Alex Ferrari 1:35
I appreciate you coming on your partner in crime in a new era in your company renegade entertainment came on last last week. Mr. Thomas Jane, the incomparable Thomas Jane, which was an amazing conversation about about his perspective on producing and, and bankable actors and all this kind of stuff. So today, we want to get into the weeds about producing and working in the budget levels that you're working in, and the kind of projects you're working with Tom, and so on and so forth. But before we get into that, Why in God's green earth did you want to jump into this business?

Courtney Lauren Penn 2:09
It's a great question. Um, I was told not to for a really long time, which probably fueled my, my drive to do so. I, I grew up on the East Coast and played chess actually. So through chess, I met some really interesting filmmakers. Who are there's a really interesting camaraderie in the between the film and chess community, believe it or not, there's a lot of actors who play a lot of directors. There's something about the discipline and I got exposure in high school to a man named Josh Waitzkin, who was the subject of unity. You know Josh?

Alex Ferrari 2:50
I know, I know, I don't know him personally, but I know of him. Absolutely. He's an MMA or champion. Yeah, he's I read his book. It's amazing book, The Art of The Art of Learning. Oh, so amazing. I love that.

Courtney Lauren Penn 3:03
Okay, yes, I got to read one of them, because he was a good friend of mine. So he sent me the early drafts when he was like, pending and all that stuff. But I met Josh and I am a huge fan of Tim Ferriss and Tim and Josh are sort of very close. And their podcasts together are like, just there's some of the Gold Well, yeah, completely. Josh lives lives full, like he lives life, you know, incomplete. But anyway, I met him. And I was probably 10 or 11. I was a young chess player. And I met him at the time when all the hoopla of searching Bobby Fischer was sort of was sort of happening. And I watched this film, and I'd already played chess, but it was so incredible about this movie, was how if you play and if you're part of a family of chess players, or if you're around it, and you know how familiar the community requires you to be if you're a kid playing, it just got to the heart. And I think that that screenplay, and what that film accomplished, felt so deeply powerful and emotive, that I just remember thinking, that this crossover was really, really powerful. And then what that film did for the chess world was so incredible and powerful. And then through that, I met my first mentor, Josh Waitzkin. And, you know, and, you know, ultimately, you know, played chess, I always loved film and storytelling, and I was and I started writing short stories, but I never imagined I would end up creatively, sort of in the business. And I went to school, they were recruited me for chess, I got to go to school and play and all of that, and I was always writing. And then I ended up going to Wall Street and doing investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, which, you know, transactionally speaking, you know, very much like setting up and creating a film. Every film is a small business, as you know, very well, you know this better than anyone. And so you're starting a business from scratch. You're ramping it up And then you're selling it and parsing it off. And so it's sort of, you know, it was very similar to this transactional understanding that I got from m&a. So in terms of the structured finance side, I kind of got a lot of understanding basics from my role, my time in that world. And then I kind of followed my heart, I left banking, and I went and studied film at NYU and broke the news to my parents, I wasn't going to go to medical school for an MD MBA, I was going to go pursue film. And I, you know, I did, I just, I didn't really know anyone in the business at all, and sort of just went and started the learning about where the intersection between that creative process that happens over here, and then the business side that I had, you know, understood this entrepreneurial mindset of how you know, businesses start running it sold, where does where's that cross section, and I found independent film finance and started a little company and eventually, now we're here full fledged renegades.

Alex Ferrari 6:00
So you you jump, but you weren't you also did a little acting along the way.

Courtney Lauren Penn 6:04
No, no,

Alex Ferrari 6:06
You never did any acting. I saw your IMDB I saw you you played some parts?

Courtney Lauren Penn 6:12
No, no, I mean, because, um, we met Ron Howard through chess. And so Ron was gracious and super kind. And I became friendly with Bryce and Paige and actually taught page chess on occasion. And he invited us out to the movie set for Ed TV. And I was there sort of as a child, I was playing in a chess tournament nearby, and then the days off, we'd be going to set with Ron and it was a surreal experience as a kid, you know, watching we were walking through the streets of San Francisco. And we have people opening their windows and shouting down to them and following us on the street. And it was a really, it was the first time that I've walking with Woody Harrell, it was Woody Harrelson and Brian Grazer. And Ron and me and I just remember this weird, you know, moment of wow, this is what it's this is what that's like, this is what you know, when you're no longer have a private life. That's what this is, you know. And they were calling him by his name from the show, and it's by I'm blanking on it right now. Ron, when he was a kid

Alex Ferrari 7:17
OP OP,

Courtney Lauren Penn 7:18
OP, they were calling OP OP Yeah, that's what they were doing. And I and on and he was so gracious. But I just remember, it made a huge imprint. And what what really was interesting is because Ron Howard, to me was just this really nice guy who had this fascinating job. And he was so sensitive and gentle. And he allowed us to come into his editing room, and he would show us how to craft a scene and cut a scene. And the art of it was such a beautiful thing. And he was so humble about it. And I couldn't connect that, you know, the cacophony of that public experience with the actual like, art, you know, how private the art form creation was, it was just, I'll never forget that experience I didn't run on that set was like, Hey, court, do you want to would you like to be in a scene, you know, so he put me in some, some scenes and you know, I was background or whatever. And then. And then recently, I did a scene with my son at the end of a film, and we my son and I, because I wanted to memorialize my son at such a young age in film. And Ryan Kuantan, the star of this movie called Section eight that has yet to come out. His entire journey is about the loss of his son. And so he gets into a bus at the end. And he sits in the back and he sees a young mother and her son kiss and it wraps his story in about and it's really, it's really sorry, you get teary eyed, Dizzy, but it was really powerful. So yeah, that was just something I wanted to do for me and my son.

Alex Ferrari 8:49
How you're fastened to your story is fascinating. Because you live in the world of chess, and I am a I wish I could play chess at the level that Josh and you guys play. I was Josh, you, and then I'm somewhere on the floor. But I'm fascinated with like, it's one of my searching for Bobby Fischer is one of my favorite movies of all time. I've seen that movie 1000 times. I am obsessed with Bobby Fischer in general, I saw the documentaries. Oh my god, the Queen's gambit. I couldn't just I mean, I'm, I love chess. And I love the idea of moving chess and thinking 50 steps ahead and all this kind of stuff. How did your training and chess help you navigate the sometimes treacherous world of filmmaking of the film industry, especially coming from a female perspective, which is, you know, not generally, you know, especially in the producer, female producers situation. There's not a lot of you. There more now than there were before but as you were coming up I'm sure that wasn't many Things that you could, like, speak to and talk to, and I've had a few on the show. But there, I can count them on one hand, as they were coming up, like, it was a tough situation. So how did chess prepare you for that?

Courtney Lauren Penn 10:11
You know what, I think you've kind of nailed it. Um, you know, there weren't that many women in chess. Now, there are so many more, you know, so when I started playing was the early 90s. So I remember playing in Washington Square Park, as Josh did, actually. And playing with the guys he used to, you know, he used to just be chess. And that's where I, and I remember being this, you know, young girl, and then it was just, you know, they would come around, you know, all the guys in the park. And they would say, this girl, she's playing, you know, Can she really play and, you know, okay, you know, I, I started to do better and better, and I did win, but there was a, you know, it wasn't the most common thing. And then I remember going to play in tournaments. You know, I did, I did play, you know, scholastic and traditional tournament. So I would play in New York at the Marshall Chess Club in the Manhattan chess club, and there were no women, there were no girls, there were about three, you know. And, you know, you're always playing against men. And I think that that's was very similar to, you know, investment banking was still pretty male dominated also. Then, when I was when I was in it, I think I was the only woman banker at my small firm, it was a boutique firm of less than, like, 15 people. I was the only, you know, on the banking team there was, and then going into film, same, same sort of idea. Now, there are many, many more women, but I think that the preparation was just in the practice and the exposure and getting used to it and being judged for being you know, woman, absolutely. Or being, you know, presumptions made, of course, and that works to your advantage or disadvantage. You know, it really does and on all in all spheres.

Alex Ferrari 12:07
So by the time you got to the film business, you were all tat between finance, chess, you were all had like, like dealing with this situation.

Courtney Lauren Penn 12:15
Yeah, I was, I was sort of accustomed to it. Although, you know, there is a significantly more cutthroat, as you know, there's more of a cutthroat world and film, unfortunately, and TV entertainment, you know, in general. And so I think people are so much when you're, when they meet you, they're so anxious to put you into a category.

Alex Ferrari 12:41
They have to put you in a box, immediately, like

Courtney Lauren Penn 12:43
They shake your hand and you're, you're in this, you're in the silo and, you know, they don't want to move you out of it. And it's and that's, that's one thing that's different. You know, in chess, if you beat it, if you beat you know, an older male Russian master, and everyone, you were at the tournament, you you own, that was your accomplishment, people looked, you know, recognized it,

Alex Ferrari 13:02
You know, what's funny, I had, and please forgive me for dropping a name. But when I had Jason Blum on the show, Jason is revolutionized Film, film finance. And his deal is obscene. And it's like, how he got what he did. And he said that he still is not respected in town, Tyler Perry, is still not respected for the insane things that he's done over in Georgia, and built his career, because he's not in a box that makes sense to anybody. So there's no respect in many ways to these, these, these kinds of people who have been able to do things completely outside the system, and able to do it. So you're right. And if they don't, they gotta put you in like, Okay, you're the girl producer. Okay, great. You're the Latino director. Great. You're the this. They can't just keep it open. Why is that you think?

Courtney Lauren Penn 13:56
I think that humans are predictability seeking machines. And I think, I think there's a, because of the business, because of the business is cutthroat mechanism. I think everyone went through it on their way up. So once they've reached a certain level, there's like a, just a, you know, well, this is how I was perceived. And so therefore, I will continue on that to protect sort of my my world I've carved out for myself, I think that's part of it. I've seen I've noticed a lot, that there's a lot of earnestness that you, you know, you come into this business with and you recognize it in others and over 15 years, you can recognize it maybe, maybe having become, you know, a little bit more embittered, you know, you can see that and then that in turn causes you know, changes in behavior. And so you kind of, you kind of have to keep that tension of, you know, you know, of of keeping your eye on the cries wanting to be productive, keeping good relationships, but also standing, you know, being able to stand up for yourself. And so it's a constant tension, you know this?

Alex Ferrari 15:12
No, it's It's insane. It's like this the pressure that is applied. Your the pressure you apply to yourself, first of all is one thing. You throw your own obstacles in front of yourself because of your own monkey brain and negative thoughts that you have in your own head. But then, the business just pound you like I was watching, I think was Dave Chappelle, who was on the actor studio. years ago,

Courtney Lauren Penn 15:36
That was a great actor studio.

Alex Ferrari 15:38
Isn't that amazing? And he's like, there are no weak people in our business. Like if you if I'm on this, if you're in this stage right now talking to you, James, there's nobody who's talking to you. That's weak. And I was like, it's like, you know what? He's right, it because to be able to achieve a certain level of success in this business, the amount that you need to the amount of punches that you need to take. And even if you achieve success early in life, like look at like, Josh, Josh, you know, he really was thrown into the spotlight at a very young age,

Courtney Lauren Penn 16:14
He did not like it.

Alex Ferrari 16:16
I know. He hated he hated it. But yet, there's still punches that come even at that level. I mean, you see children, child actors and people that start up. But I think that's the thing that a lot of filmmakers getting into the business and people trying to get into business. They don't are not aware of the amount of punishment that you will have to endure, to continue in this business. And the ones who adore the longest is not necessarily the most talented, right, the most moral or the nicest. It's, it's really, it's really a question of how much can you endure and I always use the Rocky Balboa quote from the front when he was talking to his son and Rocky Balboa. It's like, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. And that's, that's what this business is. It's like you're constantly getting punched. You're always being brought to your knees.

Courtney Lauren Penn 17:11
Oh, Joe Carnahan said it on your show. I think it's like running the gauntlet. You think you're gonna run that gauntlet and not catch some scars and horse like,

Alex Ferrari 17:19
Exactly.

Courtney Lauren Penn 17:21
He visually got it. Absolutely. I love that. I love I love Joe. I've got you know, one of my favorite films, is the gray and one of the greats right?

Alex Ferrari 17:33
Oh, amazing. Amazing. Like what it like it's Liam Neeson with glass wrapped around his fist fighting a wolf.

Courtney Lauren Penn 17:41
Thomas was supposed to do that show

Alex Ferrari 17:43
Was he? Wow!

Courtney Lauren Penn 17:46
He was supposed to play the role that I think Frank Grillo ended up playing. And it's like, you know, that funny funny world. But anyway, I love Joe and he's been in it and knows knows that. But you're right. And I think that you have to try to steal yourself. I know, I like the measurements, I'm always kind of taking is okay. This terrible, you know, thing happened or a punch was thrown to us your your turn of phrase on you? How are you going to let it impact you? You know, and so I think that you have to be so aware of how you let it impact you like eat there's things you know, you never you never pay that stuff forward. You know,

Alex Ferrari 18:24
You shouldn't you shouldn't

Courtney Lauren Penn 18:27
I see people who that does happen and you're and you kind of it's sad because you say oh, when they entered the business, they had this earnestness and now they've got caught up in the wounds of coming up, you know,

Alex Ferrari 18:40
You know, it's, it's, it's, you know, and I that's what I do the show for really, is to really let everybody know like I always say most filmmakers don't even know they're in a ring, let alone in a fight. And then all of a sudden they just get punched out of nowhere the liquid that punch come from I thought we were in a nice you know, in a rosy field. I'm like no.

Courtney Lauren Penn 18:58
Your audience creative filmmakers, directors and writers are they are they find it producers,

Alex Ferrari 19:02
Everybody I've taught. It's fascinating, because I talk. I've, you know, in the business and I it's a small it's a small town. Everybody knows everybody. It really is. It's so true. So as I've been making friends over the years, I find out who listens to me. So like you, you know, I'm a fan. I'm like, great. Ed burns. been listening to me for years.

Courtney Lauren Penn 19:24
I'm Oh, really? Oh, that's so great.

Alex Ferrari 19:25
I'm like, why?

Courtney Lauren Penn 19:27
Indie creators Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 19:28
So there's producers, there's financiers that reached out to me, there's distributors who reach out to me. So everybody from every aspect of the business, either listens to the show, or watches the show, there's a segment represented in it. So it's not specifically just creative. It's because we, we talk about creative, especially when we're talking to you know, certain directors about the craft and stuff, but really, it's about the business, about how to succeed how to break through your own imposter syndrome, which we all have and, you know, in listening to journeys of everybody and I try to to humanize these giants in the business to like, you know, when you're talking to Joe Carnahan and Joe tells me the story of how he, you know, he left Mission Impossible three I'm like, what, like how that worked out and, and his whole story and like so it kind of humanizes him and lets everybody know what the realities of the business are because I never got that I had to learn it the hard way. You know, my first book was based on me almost making a $20 million movie for the mafia, when I was 26. So I have a lot of shrapnel along the way that I've picked up. And I wanted to, you know, kind of give that information out to the audience. And, you know, that's, that's the reason I do it. So anyway, but let's go back on track. So, when you're when you're producing, what do you look for in a director, because a lot of directors are delusional. And I was delusional as well. We think that, like, you know, we think that we're like, I, it's my genius, when are they going to recognize my genius? What are the traits that you look for in a director that you're going to help produce a film for?

Courtney Lauren Penn 21:10
Oh, let's see. It depends if you're talking about film or TV. So, you know, luckily, we've we're, so we're sort of in several, you know, production categories, where we're, you know, doing TV and streaming series. And then we're also doing, you know, independent film. And we're also we're in a, we're in a few categories. So on the film side, you know, well, on the TV side, it's interesting, because you have this really interesting tension, again, between whether it's a showrunner, who is known for being, you know, an incredible director as a standalone, and then you work with, you know, show runners who can support sort of their vision, or it's the showrunner, who is the whole thing, you know, who sort of is in the writers room is also going to direct at least two of the eight episodes, if it's eight, you know, and is rotating with credit with the writers, you know, and that's sort of like a completely different beast. So it really depends on what on the TV side, like, where the investment on from intellectual property development it's coming from. And I mean, I mean that creatively, not just financially, so. So we have a we have a book that we've optioned from Stephen King that we're in development on called from a Buick eight. And for us, looking for the partners to crack it, we actually sort of went for a tastemaker filmmaker, who's more he's a he's a writer, director. But he, he's happy to direct this more, and let to really, really well known writers write the whole thing. And so we So we approached it from how are we going to approach the whole series? You know, do we want to find the one guy that showrunner that and that certain network loves, and that he's going to take charge ownership of the whole thing, and we're going to kind of be a part of that are we going to piece this one together, which opens up the world of directors in a more open way. And so it's very specific to what the IP is, and where you were, how you want it to live, ultimately, on the film side, you know, we get all kinds of packages that come to us, sometimes the directors on a script and approaches us, sometimes we're developing a script from the ground up, and then we're gonna go look for a director. And that takes that's quite a process. You know, I mean, sometimes it happens very easily and quickly. And then sometimes you're still looking, there's a couple of projects that we've been looking for a year for the right creative partner, as a director, and we're looking for someone, you know, bit, not just genre, but also wants to get into the weeds in the trenches and wants to either make it at a certain budget level and, you know, and then, you know, so it is, I'd say that navigating that and finding the right director is one of the hardest parts of producing.

Alex Ferrari 24:15
What advice would what advice do you wish someone would have given you about being a producer in Hollywood?

Courtney Lauren Penn 24:23
Be skeptical. Great advice. Abb skeptical, because I've had so many people offer to you know, help board say they were going to help and the motivations you know, are not what you would hope that they are. And I mean this for men and women. This is a this is a universal blanket truth. I I also believe and I believe in not becoming in bittered, which takes hard work so work there is I sort of employ the Tim Ferriss and Josh is like they have a great conversation that I think was very helpful to me as a producer, their conversation about Josh's trainer. For his type questions, championships, I forgot his name, but he's, he's a legend. He's like live streams, his training sessions.

Alex Ferrari 25:23
And it was never it was not push hand. It's the other one. Got Brazilian jujitsu. Okay, yeah, he live streams, he live streams, his fights and his practices so his opponents can see all of his techniques.

Courtney Lauren Penn 25:35
Yes. And Tim says, I will help anyone and I apologize, my cat is going to just sort of arrive here in my lap, that he's I will help anyone and give them the tips that I wish I had when I was creating my four hour workweek when I was creating this. And I'll just, I'll just give it because if someone can hack it and do it better than me, I can maybe learn from them. So I think that being less precious, because you're going to meet so many people who are very precious. I think that if you try to fight to stay precious, I think you can lose yourself and become hardened. So I would say be healthily skeptical. And don't worry about being precious. Because there's a I mean, there's a few straight facts, right? I mean, a film makes money if you make it for, you know, for less than if you make it for less than what you're gonna sell it for, like, this isn't, you know, it's not rocket science, but people act in it. So, you know, actors values, like all that information is actually quite accessible. So I'm sort of always been an open book with my with my, with my knowledge, and so I think that that helps us all kind of get to a better place. So be skeptical of you know, of what, be skeptical, healthfully skeptical, heightened awareness, and then you know, don't be don't be, don't be so focused on being precious.

Alex Ferrari 27:06
You know, a lot of people I find that interesting, because in the film industry, there is that level of being precious with like, Oh, I know something that you don't and if I give it to you, you can overtake me, kind of attitude where the opposite happened to me, the second I started giving away all this information to people, doors started swinging open, and I get to talk to people like you now that I would have never, if I would have just been a filmmaker trying to hustle it out like everybody else was, and I just started trying knocking on your door, I met you at a party or something, it'd be so much more difficult to sit down to have a conversation with you. But yet, now, I can have a conference and ask you any question I like about the business, any question I like about the business. And I benefit from it. And then I as well I recorded and now the rest of the world that's listening gets the benefit from it as well. So I found that they'd be the complete opposite. Just like the more you give, the more you connect with people, the more you're able to help other people. Yeah, some of its going to go off and be done. You know, people are not going to be nice about you know, holding on to it or something like that. That's just human nature. But a lot of people will will remember it and help you along the way and, and open doors for you.

Courtney Lauren Penn 28:19
And like you were saying earlier, that competitive advantage is like long term tenacity. You know, and so that's really the competitive advantage. You know, it's sort of like, oh, gosh, I don't want to bring up the trial. But Johnny Depp did say something really interesting the other day, he says, he said, lies, run a sprint, the truth runs a marathon. And I think that brilliant. That's great. Right? And that's that that goes to so many things, right? Everything from you know, personal conduct, professional conduct. And I think that that speaks to that openness, right? It's sort of like, if you've, you know, if you're willing and have the ability to, like stick it out and kind of stay tenacious. And you're able to the more I think you give, I really agree with you completely. The more that doors open, the more opportunity presents itself, and growth happens.

Alex Ferrari 29:18
Now, we all have been on set and the world feels like it's coming crashing down on you. You're you've lost location, the actor don't come out of the studio out of his trailer financing. You can't pay the crew that way because the finance that the money didn't drop that you were promised that was going to drop, whatever the scenario is, what was that worst day for you and how did you overcome it?

Courtney Lauren Penn 30:24
The worst day? Really when so when I first came into the business, I was sort of helping rescue films that that were had already started going. And my first big opportunity was to go and help up, helped clear up the finish out their production and help clean up a film that was already in bankruptcy. And because of my background in finance, the investor who I met, you know, said I really need help. I'm in over my head this film and several others are in bankruptcy, can you help me and it still needs to be finished. And it was a film called Gallo Walker's with Wesley Snipes. And Wes is actually a friend. And he is a terrific guy and I I just respect the heck out of him. He's G is unlimited talent. And he's like, got a very, very peaceful soul. But in the making of that movie. He had to fly back for legal reasons, most of the way through production to the United States. And that film was very compromised. As a result of producers poor conduct, fiscally. The challenges there, it was a really, it was pretty much everything that could go wrong on a movie set. Think the accountant died on set in production. I mean, it was Yeah, and I mean, I came in now I came in, after this all had happened. And this poor investor had millions of pounds invested in the film. And he said, You know, I don't know what to do. And he said, I've entered it into a bankruptcy proceeding to help clear up chain of title, what, what, you know, how, what can we do to maximize it? And I said, Okay, well, let's talk it through. Let's look at the legal agreements. What does bankruptcy in the UK look like? So in the process of, you know, cleaning all that up, we had to address the missing footage. We had to recut the film. We had to deal with existing sales and licensing agreements that are predicated upon the earlier producers and what they had papered. And it was, you know, there there were there were just some of the Titanic mammoth issues that, you know, I remember waking up one day and just thinking this film is never going to see the light of day. And, you know, we have to do the right thing for this main investor. And, you know, ultimately, sort of figured it out, started just making phone calls, looking at the paperwork, learning about contracts, got it resold to Lionsgate. It did it. But it was just I remember, there was just a cacophony of things that happened, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, sort of all in a day. And, and, you know,

Alex Ferrari 33:13
You got through it, though.

Courtney Lauren Penn 33:14
Yeah, you just, you go, okay. It's not gonna look like how we expected. But there's always a solution.

Alex Ferrari 33:22
I mean, I've been involved with projects that, you know, over, you know, a couple million dollar years.

Courtney Lauren Penn 33:28
I want to know, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 33:29
Well, my worst day was you know, almost making the movie for the mafia and you know, being stuck in that for a year and a half of my production office is being in a, in a race track and, and my life being threatened on a daily basis for about a year from a psychotic guy who was basically Joe Pesci from Goodfellas. So one day, he's once a moment, he's super, like the funniest wonderful guy in the world in this bipolar next second. He wants to he's threatening me to throw me in a ditch. And that's all great. But then I get flown out to LA and I meet the biggest movie stars in the world, the biggest power players. I'm at the Chateau Marmont, I'm at the ivy I'm doing all this, that, surviving that being that close to your dream at 26

Courtney Lauren Penn 34:10
Oh, wow. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 34:11
So sitting across the desk from Batman, I actually met one of the actors who played Batman, and him telling you I want to be in your movie do you want to sleep over tonight? So we can work on the script. So when you're that close, and then everything gets completely yanked away from you, the psychological trauma that took me two years to get out of it, literally, I almost went bankrupt. I just my whole life got destroyed. So that to me was the lowest point in my entire life. So that's the biggest everything else pales in comparison to that. So I think that was also a way the universe was like, let's give him like the most ridiculous situation up front. Because he's never going to run into something this bad again. And so for me, everything else is yeah, I've had problems and I've been part of projects that have you know, fallen around or the you know, the The set gets flipped during and flips it. And yeah, but then they lose their money and they have to wait a year and a half, two years looking for money to finish it in the in the footage is on my hard drive. And I'm doing all the posts on it. And then I'm like, there's some major stars in this movie, you guys get fined 100 grand a financier. So like, all sorts of crazy stories over the years. But yeah, that's my I mean, there's no way of I mean, I always tell people, when I when I wrote that book, and it came out, I tell people, if you want to know why, what what's the source of the grizzled voice? On the other end of this microphone, read the book, you'll understand

Courtney Lauren Penn 35:39
I sounded like when I was 26. And then hear me

Alex Ferrari 35:43
I really used to talk like this. But then. So you talk a lot about you came from the financing world. So financing is the the alchemy of our business, it is turning brick to gold, and you know, and turning led to gold, excuse me, what advice? How do you approach financing? What is needed in today's world, because financing five years ago, it's a lot different in financing in today's world pre and post COVID. How the landscape has changed as far as who's buying how much they're buying for how much more competition there is, is there as much money and finance available. That means that many people jumping in 21 jump into film, because the word is out? I mean, it's not the easiest ride for financier sometimes, unless you know what you're doing. Like yourself. Right. Right. So how do you so how do you how do you approach finance? And can you give any advice to to the people listening?

Courtney Lauren Penn 36:44
Yeah, you know, I think it depends if you are financing, or if you're looking for financing. Um, you know, and I would say that, if you're looking to finance a track record, doesn't necessarily, you know, mean that there's a financial track record. So, you know, you can have, you know, a track record as a producer of a lot of credits, but you know, what, with those films and how they look, you know, in the financial waterfall might be different. Or on the other hand, you might, you know, have done very well as a producer by helping investors find pieces of films, and that have been brought a wonderful return, and it may not be the top tier credit on the movie. So I mean, I know that, you know, I had, I had raised money, and we did, like revolving credit of around, you know, between six and 10 million revolving sort of senior debt, and it was secured monies. And we did really well with that model. While you know, this was in the post 2011 era. So before, again, the streamers came in, and, you know, film became international sales, were, you know, deeply impacted by the advent of more upfront, just transactional buy outs from the streamers, you know, and TV, you know, purchasing prices fell internationally. And so, you know, you're you were starting to deal with margins for sales that were just more and more compressed. So your financial models just look different. And I think I think that if you're looking to raise money, and you're looking to finance film, in this current marketplace, I think you have to just be much more on the dime in terms of what the market is right now. Because it is different for now than it was three months ago. And it's gonna be very different at this upcoming can that it will be in three months, because the pandemic really, really did impact things in a massive way. And so, you know, people really didn't know what was going to happen to TV, was there going to be any theatrics? At what point? So I think, I think you have to be so much more nimble for each project. And you have to be able to just say, you know, what, that film a few years ago would have been financed at six or 7 million and today, it's only three or four, can we really make this movie at that level? And if we can't, okay, you know, what, we have to maybe rethink it. So I think I think flexibility and you know, I I'm a big proponent of holding back domestic and not pre selling domestic as much as you can nowadays because I do find that if you you know what your minimum sale is. So truly, if you are just have someone financing against a minimum sale, there's there's tremendous upside, if you're working with trusted director, trusted filmmakers.

Alex Ferrari 39:40
So let me ask you a question then. So I wanted to jump into distribution because distribution is also another mythical land, land field are minefield of situations. And I've talked about distribution at nauseam on this show, because it's the one place that most filmmakers get taken advantage of You know, Hollywood accounting, all of this kind of stuff. And there's a lot of there's our good, there are good players out there. But I've, in my experience have discovered that more of more or less, more, there are more bad players or, you know, great players, and there are good players in the space. And I tried to warn filmmakers about what, what the marketplace is. And a lot of filmmakers come into the business today thinking it's 2005. And, you know, there's DVD pre sales, and those days are gone. And there's also the amount of competition that's out there for product. Right? I mean, there's just 10s of 1000s of features being thrown into the marketplace, some with major stars, you know, good stars, others that will never see a dime come back. How do you navigate the distribution fields? And I'm assuming that there's, I'm assuming before you answer, I'm assuming you've been taken advantage of once or twice along the way. Sure.

Courtney Lauren Penn 41:05
You know, I think, of course, I think I have never, ever, ever, ever provided a financial model to anyone for a project that involves any economics downstream of the initial mg for upfront sales. So I never ever provided a model that promised you know, that, even that, but even even when you know, I don't even model in what it looks like when let's say you're licensing the film for seven years domestic, your return in seven years could then be an additional X percent. Even though that that is there, I don't even don't even evaluate it, I don't discount it. I don't even I don't even do that I you know, for our purposes, budgeting is completely based off of just the upfront, mg. Or if you're able to say, this is our minimum sale, we do believe you can sell it up to this, here's the here's, here's the minimum, and here's the maximum. And I really like I always recommend holding back domestic if you can, if you again, if you understand that that's truly your minimum, you know,

Alex Ferrari 42:14
So to explain to the people, so when you're saying that, because I know, some people might be confused by that, when you're saying the minimum. So let's say you made a movie for a million dollars. And, you know, you have Thomas in it, or something along, you know, a bankable actor, and you go, okay, based on the cast that we have, the genre that we have, and the director and other a couple a couple other elements, we can forecast that in the marketplace, we'll get an MG at the low end, maybe a 1.5. High and maybe three. And that is that's an MG, which is a minimum guarantee. So that's upfront check that they're going to give you then everything that comes afterwards, which is you know, after after they recoup that minimum guarantee, all the money that come afterwards, technically, you're supposed to get a split of. But a lot of times Hollywood accounting makes it that it's almost impossible. So the game that the the season producers make now is like all the money you're ever going to make. Generally speaking, there's exceptions, generally speaking, is the upfront cash, anything after that, you will probably not see a dime. Until the until until you get the movie back. And let's say seven years, and maybe you can re license it at that point.

Courtney Lauren Penn 43:28
Yeah. And that's just for the financial model. You know, and I just think that's the most straightforward way and then anything else is a bonus. I mean, if if you know we did you know, for gala walkers we did we did actually get overages from Lions Gate. We did. I think it's the only film we've ever received overages for

Alex Ferrari 43:47
Wow. That says that says a lot. Because you've you've made a few movies.

Courtney Lauren Penn 43:54
But you know what? We have three releasing this year. So but yeah, but I mean that they did provide, you know, we did get overdose from Lions Gate for gala walkers. And so you know, that was a happy surprise. But everything was based off of you know what, like, and then so any modeling that we do now for sales and for financing, absolutely just based off of like what I believe the true minimum and we'll actually get that information will work with we have wonderful sales partners that are really trusted. We have a great, our agencies wonderful. I love our team at paradigm. And you know, so between them, and our trusted sales partners that we work with, and the distributors who we actually, you know, cultivated and great relationships with some of the distributors that we you know, I've had had a wonderful experience with Redbox we did the last son of Isaac LeMay with red box and their marketing department and the way they ran the release of that film so impressed with with them. They're doing another film right now that Thomas is in called Vendetta. It's been it's been tremendous. So So, you know, I just think as you get more comfortable with certain distributors, I think, too, there's just that, you know, the ability to say, okay, you know, we have a film that we're looking at doing. Where would you guys feel comfortable, you know, oh, this is the range, it helps you back into your model sort of more.

Alex Ferrari 45:16
It's funny, because I've heard Redbox is one of the best kept secrets in distribution. I've heard nothing but good things about them. And the deals that they keep out, because they buy DVDs. Still,

Courtney Lauren Penn 45:30
I guess so. Yeah. Actually, yeah, actually.

Alex Ferrari 45:35
So it's still old school DVD. So like, if you get a full buy, it's a nice chunk of change, you know, for a smaller film, like, it's my personal

Courtney Lauren Penn 45:43
Yeah, I think that they're very fair with their evaluations, you know, because they, you know, and so, you know, we did our film with Machine Gun Kelly and Sam Worthington, and Thomas, and Heather Graham, I mean, just an incredible cast. And we shot that in the middle of the pandemic. And, you know, I was just, they did such a great job with the placement of it, and, and how they promoted it. And I, you know, and like I said, we're gonna be repeat business, I really, really enjoyed working with them. Not to say that I haven't been working with our other partners, shirt market, and so on. But just recently, I looking back at the last couple of years, I just, I was really, I was, you know, what it is to I was appreciative, because there's so much content, you know, in the world so much, that I think that it's really hard for all of these distributors to really even get their finger on the pulse of what's worth marketing and for how much and how long. And so, you know, in the old days, you know, executives would swear fealty to a project, right, and they Shepherd it through, and it was theirs. And they would make sure that it got the marketing that it deserved, and get the biggest push, and, you know, sort of that was part of their commitment and their job. And so now you have, you know, executives at the big streamers and big companies, they've got so many things that they're, that they've got in front of them, you know, it's it's overwhelming. And so, you know, it's when you see a company that has the capacity to focus marketing efforts behind, you know, a film that you really believe in, you know, it was really rewarding with with roadblocks.

Alex Ferrari 47:15
And I think that's one of the things that a cast a bankable star, or or bankable cast, does for distribution company, because they'll go, Well, we're gonna put money behind Thomas is moving because we know Thomas is gonna get X amount of because he's Thomas, or it's Danny Trejo or it's, you know, you can name a bunch of, you know, bankable stars. And we'll put money behind these these names, because, at minimum, we know that people will recognize it. And it's a low lower hanging fruit for the distributor, as opposed to the old school 90s way of like, let's take slacker and put it out into the theaters and see what happens. And the John Pearson, John Pearson times, you know, like all that kind of, you know, let's see what happens with that this clerks and this El Mariachi, like, those days are so gone, that so many filmmakers still hold on to those days. And that's not the reality of where we are right now. Which brings me to my next question, when you're putting together a package as a producer, not only how important is the cast, but can you express to the audience, how invaluable it is, depending on the budget, you're making $100,000 movie, you are a lot more free, you're making a $5 million movie, anything north of a million dollars, you you got to be very responsible with what you're doing. So cast is what is one of the ways you hedge your bets. So can you talk a little bit about that,

Courtney Lauren Penn 48:50
You know, it's become harder and harder, you know, margins are just more compressed, because the amount of content and because of the impact of the pandemic to use feel to split rights and get great split rights deals, international territories that aren't necessarily there, you know, in the same way that they were so, you know, you're you're much more beholden to understanding what you're putting who and who and what you're bringing together in the package for a film. So, you know, you're thinking you're thinking strategically for your for your casting, as well as creatively. I mean, it was it was a huge boon to have someone of the musical caliber and presence internationally Machine Gun Kelly and less than of Isaac LeMay. You know, he acts under the Nicholson Baker. But you know, because of his, his overall brand and presence, it was a very different sort of, you know, it was an outside of the box casting decision. And he worked so well, you know, he nailed the part he was phenomenal in the movie, but it wasn't it wasn't what you would it wasn't the first you know, instinctual thought maybe for casting. And so I think that you know, you when you're, when you when you're saying, Okay, I think you have to be much more strategic and think, you know, outside the box sometimes that when you're when you're looking to cast and justify certain budgets and also to think about other audiences and who, who transcends, you know, a certain box, if you will, you know, we're working with another an upcoming project, I can't say it hasn't been announced, but another musical icon, who's also an actor, and, you know, we're thrilled, because now she is a phenomenal actor, but she's also got this incredible presence on the international stage. And, you know, it's a really interesting opportunity. So I think you've got to, you've got to really just put things together. And it'd be a little bit mind bending, and how you, how you and how you approach it.

Alex Ferrari 50:55
Now, you know, you've made a bunch of movies over the years, and many of them are in the, you know, the action genre. There's a lot of testosterone in some of these films. How how I have to ask, I noticed, I have to ask this for the female producers and directors listening, how do you navigate a testosterone heavy set production, because I have to imagine that it comes with a different set of challenges, let's say, then, you know, a normal a normal scenario, you know, and I, because I'm just like, I that was the first thing that was so impressive about like, while she's made a lot of like, action packed, like really testosterone, film filled movies, I love this, hear her stories, and how she's able to do all of that, and have fun doing it and doing being successful at it.

Courtney Lauren Penn 51:50
So much fun. I've always loved action films, I was always a little bit of a tomboy. And but you know, I think that, though, I think that we can with anything, balance is wonderful. So when you have, you know, this heightened energy on set, and you've got, you know, horses and gunfire over here, and you've got, you know, these incredible titans of talent over there. And you're, I do think that there's a wonderful, I think, I think, I think women are really good producers, not that men and men are wonderful producers too. But I think women have that because they tend to be more mothering in some ways. And I think that they bring, like maybe maybe a level of like, more, a little bit of softness, or there's something you know, or a good ear, I just try to be a good ear, when there's when there's a problem. So, you know, there was one actor on a film who, you know, just sort of, he was shooting some very intense scenes. You know, I don't know if it was part of his part of his style. But he sort of was became very aggressive and loud. And he did not want to come out of his trailer after that moment and left the set. And I think that, I think that if you can, you know, remove ego, and remove impulse, and you can just try to connect to the person as to why, in the moment, this is happening, I think you can try to communicate. And I think that that's been really helpful on a number of the films I've been involved with, actually,

Alex Ferrari 53:31
Can you tell me about your new project with Thomas Jane Tropo. It's part of your new company, right? We're gonna get entertainment.

Courtney Lauren Penn 53:38
Yes. So it's our first series. And we're so lucky and happy. It's going to be sort of one of the first releases for Amazon's free V brand, which was formerly IMDb TV. And so we're, it's a Bosch spin off show and troppo are launching the retitled brand freebie on May 20. And it's been such an adventure because it came to us as a book and a draft of a pilot. And it was submitted to us a few years ago. And I read the, the draft of the pilot first. And I don't want to give a there's an opening sequence to the to the show, which I never even ever seen in film before. A little bit ala Jaws, opening of jaws, and I just remember being grabbed and reactive and responsive. And I read that pilot and I called Thomas. And I said, you know I'm going to read the book, but we need to we need to look at the whole project because we haven't seen something like this before. And read the book. I think that night did sit up all night reading it. It was called Crimson lake by Candice Fox and Candice is this incredible true crime writer called true crime but also fictional crime and she used to write with James Patterson and co author with him. And so she has this beautiful like metric and style of telling stories. It's so direct, but just so great and raw and cool. And you know, it's a woman writing cry. I mean, she just is just a great crime writer, I fell in love with the story of crimson Lake, and it's about this. It's about this American who's been in Sydney, he's a former detective, he ended up joining the force there, and ends up getting accused of a horrendous crime that he, you know, didn't seemingly commit. And sort of similar to the world that we're living in now where, like, if something is printed, or stated on Twitter, or the internet, or if someone prints something, it's just assumed to be true. Before you know, it's guilty until proven innocent. Now, and so we're seeing this play out right in front of us in many ways. And when I read this, this man's life was torn apart by an accusation, and an arrest gone wrong. And then his life was destroyed his marriage, he had a young daughter, his whole life falls apart. And he he goes up to North Queensland to escape everything and maybe it ended all and let's where we meet him, and we meet him in this strange place with wild creatures where everybody goes to kind of hide away from their, whatever they're trying to get away from. And it played like a drama, like a true detective style sort of drama. And, you know, having, you know, seen so many genre pictures get made and being a part of that, to see this great drama that was given the time to play out over eight episodes, and that we could come in and work with the writers and crack it and focus on TED and Amanda, the the woman who he meets and they get into this industry together up in Queensland, it was such a rare, really incredible experience and really rare. And so we got into it with AGC, television steward for this company and great group of executives there. And then Yolanda ranky, was brought on to show Ron and Jocelyn Morehouse directed the opening pilot episode. And we shot it in Australia during wild lockdowns. And that was a whole experience in and of itself and, you know, posted very quickly and and here we are. It's sort of like a pinch yourself moment.

Alex Ferrari 57:30
If you ask it's very jungle new war in the war, that's a new term. It's very jungle new war it's it's brilliantly done. And I suggest everybody listening definitely check it out on on freebie free V. on Amazon, just go on Amazon, look it up, you'll you'll find it there.

Courtney Lauren Penn 57:51
It'll be on it'll be on the banner, they'll be on a big banner.

Alex Ferrari 57:55
Now I have to ask. I didn't get to ask Thomas this. How did you two get together build renegade entertainment? Like, you know, after talking to him, and after talking to you, you guys have such different energies that I'm just curious how that meeting happened, and how you've been able to build this up?

Courtney Lauren Penn 58:12
It's actually a great story. It actually speaks to what if you're having a hard time in the business? What gravitational pull might keep you in it? So I've gone through some really tough stuff in the business like we all have. But Thomas, you know, there are so few people who are completely who they represent themselves to be. And Thomas Jane is one of those rare people who is who exactly who he is. And so I met I met him. It was really funny. Someone I was I was working on a project, gosh, back in 2012, you know, and it was a small film horror movie. And they see seed me on an email where they say, Oh, we're going to offer Thomas we want him to come in and play the father in this horror movie just for a day. And then, you know, I'll email him directly. And so they emailed him and they made the offer. And I think Thomas wrote back and you know, it's not for me, I don't want to play that that kind of thing because I have a young daughter and it was very personal to him, which I respected. He it was about young children in the woods being Trump Tara and he said no, not for me. I have a young daughter I want I can do it. And so for some reason I read this script, this Gothic prohibition era action script which we are we've been working on for a while and God when it finds the light it's an incredible it's such an incredible action piece. It's like John wicks that and prohibition era Chicago with an undead Al Capone it's amazing. Anyway. It's pretty it's such a cool it's just one of the one of my favorite projects. So, you know something about Tom, as I just I emailed it to him. And I said, TJ, on column TJ, I said, you know, dear Thomas, you know, we were part of this interaction over this other film, but neither of us ended up doing. Would you be interested in looking at a directing or looking at this film, it reminded me of the Punisher a little bit character. And he wrote back and he said, Yeah, come over for tea, and we'll talk about it at the house. And so, you know, I've never met Thomas. So I said, okay, okay. You know, he's so direct this way. And usually, you know, in the business, you as a woman, you wouldn't say yes, and go to anyone's house ever for a meeting. Oh,

Alex Ferrari 1:00:42
I was about I was about to say that was didn't sound on paper. This is not it's not going well.

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:00:47
No, no, exactly. I, you know, I said, I don't know him, you know, so I, I got a friend of mine, who had met with him before and said, He's really nice. I said, Come with me, we'll go and we'll suss out the situation from the front door.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:03
So if he shows up in a robe, not happening,

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:01:06
I'm there with it with a tall man, you know. So, so because so went the doors wide open, you hear like operatic music playing, and there's Thomas holding cups of tea. And, you know, amazing and come on in. And so, you know, we sat down on his deck, my, my, you know, my friend, myself and him. And we talked about the project. And, you know, it was, he was just so brilliant. He's Encyclopedia of filmmaking. He is the most sincere guy, I really one of the most sincere people I've met in the business. And, you know, so we started talking about that project, and, you know, left, just kept in touch via email about the project. And then we started talking about it more and more, and then he went off to shoot predator, I think, something else and while he was up there shooting predators, and then the expanse, he and I would do phone calls, and we break down and everything was just about he was so invested in getting the character write the script, right. And so was I. And he and I, together, rewrote the script, over over a year and a half, and it was like, beat for beat. And we would, we would just get into it. And it was like the was, you know, what the purest creative experiences I had had in the business. And so ultimately, I'm running a little long on the story, but it's all good. Ultimately, when, you know, ultimately into in 2018, I ended up hospitalized for about four and a half months when I was pregnant with my son in a really difficult situation. And Thomas, and I, while I was going through that really terrifying time of not knowing what was gonna happen, and my son was born healthfully, and everything that he was there through that in the sense that he said, the projects were working on court, they will wait, there is nothing more important than what you're doing. And the team at paradigm said the same thing. And while I was there, going through this really deeply personal very difficult time, Thomas was just like, doesn't matter. We wait on all protocol projects we've been talking about till after, till this is all finished on its matters is this. And I've never seen anyone really do that, like actually take, you know, professional interests aside to respect, some, you know, and so that happened. And then while I was there in the hospital, a chaplain came in, I was going through with this, you know, and I had this Chaplain come in, and I just started talking to them about life and many different things. And the chaplain sat back and said to me, character is revealed in a storm. And I said, it is it is, and I said, and I my mind, I said, you never know who you're going to be on the other side of the storm, or who's going to be with you. And so, you know, when all of that resolved, we ended up creating a company called renegade you know, the following year. And the IP that we had talked about previously became formally optioned and part of our company and our logo is a horse sewist fashion from the thing that it is afraid of most you go through the fire and what happens if you become the fire, the character is revealed in the storm. And so Thomas and I, you know, have a you know, that deep, long standing kind of loyalty and trust that is really rare in the business.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:46
That's amazing. That's an amazing story. I was wondering what that logo was about. So thank you for sharing the story. Now I have a few questions. I asked all my guests. If you've listened to the show, you know what they are? What advice would you give a few Don't make you're trying to break into the business today?

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:05:02
Director or producer,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:05
Any filmmaker dealer's choice.

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:05:10
Stay curious. Reach out to as many people as possible and you will find the authentic person who does want to help you find your way. Don't stop.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:23
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:05:29
Sometimes people do not care who they hurt. And that can be one of the most profound disappointments both professionally and personally. So,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:41
That's a good that out of 600 plus episodes I've done that's I've never heard that answer before. I was a very good answer. Very true, though. Very, very true.

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:05:51
That's that goes to that. Stay skeptical, but stay open.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:54
Right! Because if you lock yourself off, you can't move forward. Exactly. But if you're too open, you're gonna get a lot of punches are gonna come in. Lots and lots of them. Now, what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:06:08
Oh, okay. I was looking forward to this one. All right. Well, I already gave you one searching for Bobby Fisher, obviously. Casino Royale. So good. And actually Finding Neverland.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:24
Johnny's no Johnny movie. Yes, there was

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:06:27
Kate Winslet.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:28
And that's right. Kate was in that as well. It's, or it's my daughter's color rose.

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:06:34
Yeah, I really I really wanted to, you know, Titanic, I mean, Gladiator and Titanic. And of course, Star Wars are like my three like, they changed my life. But these were more characters I wanted, you know, Finding Neverland never gets, you know, a shout out. And it was such a beautifully crafted film.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:50
And Casino Royale is the best James Bond movie ever made,

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:06:53
Ever ever made. You know? That script? Oh, my God.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:58
And that's the thing about and I always tell people like, why is that the best one is because that's the one that he became vulnerable. We just We he's not just a dude that sleeps with beautiful women and goes kills and saves the day like in the all the other ones. There was no character development. He never He never arct you never aren't.

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:07:15
But you know, they gave the woman Eva Green. I mean, oh, so she's the most complex, one of the most complex, you know, women we've seen on screen, you know, and that's what allowed him to become vulnerable. And it's very easy. You know, the other night I had, I just, I felt I had this moment where I just needed to watch something that was made caught 510 years ago, but Skyfall you know, the making in the craftsmanship. That movie is so mind blowing. And I had to go back and watch it just to remind myself like what you know, the craftsmanship is because we're so busy chasing budgets down. You know, you just wanted to go and eat and it wasn't there's all that fancy CGI, it just got it Sam Mendes at his finest with with just the most incredible production. So

Alex Ferrari 1:08:08
When you give when you give masters a really good set of brushes and a great canvas, they can do some amazing things. I mean, really, really, Scott, you know, I don't care what anyone says, Yeah, anything he does I watch

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:08:20
Alien. You three movies have a fair to ask just three

Alex Ferrari 1:08:24
Throw Blade Runner in their matrix in their fight club. There's a bunch of them in there. As well, but listen Courtney it has been an absolute pleasure and honor speaking to you. I hope that our conversation has helped a few filmmakers out there, understand the business a little bit more. And thank you for the inspiration and for the films that you're making. So thank you so much for everything you're doing.

Courtney Lauren Penn 1:08:45
Thanks so much for having us and happy to answer your questions. Anytime.

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BPS 204: Screenwriting, Hollywood & Blumhouse Machine with Marcus Dunstan

Marcus Dunstan’s screenwriting with his partner, Patrick Melton, include such horror films as FEAST 1-3, SAW IV-V-VI& SAW 3D THE FINAL CHAPTER, PIRANHA , GOD OF WAR, FINAL DESTINATION 6, and SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Marcus Dunstan’s directing credits include THE COLLECTOR, THE COLLECTION, THE NEIGHBOUR, BLUMHOUSE’S PILGRIM and this summer’s BLUMHOUSE PRESENTS: UNHUMAN.

Dunstan is a producer of THE CANDIDATE, and executive producer of 2022’s horror-thriller TAKE BACK THE NIGHT. Currently Dunstan and Melton are collaborating once again with Blumhouse and Disney + on a soon to be announced suspense thriller series, as well as the horror film ESCAPE: HALLOWEEN with Live Nation and Insomniac.

The dead will have this club for breakfast. Blumhouse Television and EPIX bring you the story of a high school field trip gone bloody awry. Seven misfit students must band together against a growing gang of unhuman savages. The group’s trust in each other is tested to the limit in a brutal, horrifying fight to survive and they must take down the murderous zombie-creatures… before they kill each other first.

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Alex Ferrari 0:25
Today's guest has a special place in my heart because he got his start in the film business the way I want it to back in the early 2000s. He was on the show Project Greenlight where he was the writer of the film feast. Now he used that and parlayed it into writing assignments to create and write multiple soft films. He used that to make his own film The collector series of films actually, and his new film on human four Blumhouse. Now we not only talk about his journey through the filmmaking world, as a screenwriter, and director, but also what it's like working inside the filmmaking machine that is Blumhouse so let's dive in. I'd like to welcome the show Marcus Dunstan how you doin' Marcus?

Marcus Dunstan 1:59
I am grateful. How are you sir? Thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 2:02
Oh, thank you for coming on the show man. I had a friend of mine work. He was a visual effects artist on one of your first movies, the collector went on. And I knew him. He and he told me all store all sorts of creatives, like was first big VFX job now he's working for Marvel and bond. And all this stuff. But his first thing was big, big thing that he did was the collector. So that's our connection, sir.

Marcus Dunstan 2:28
Oh, right. Oh, well, hey, special thanks. What is this person's name?

Alex Ferrari 2:32
His name is Dan Cregan. He's been on the show a bunch of times as if he's one of my best friends.

Marcus Dunstan 2:37
I owe my gratitude to Dan Cregan and because that Thank you. Thank you, Dan.

Alex Ferrari 2:44
So far, so first question, sir, how did you get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Marcus Dunstan 2:50
Well, it was an absolute. It was a it was a it was a desire, a joy I don't know it was a conversation in the dark of adolescence where I had horrible acne. Didn't want to go outside. I was embarrassed of how I looked and everything. And then I start recognizing the work of this really talented artists named Tom Savini. And oh, man, he could change the way he looked and we rang cover up my face too. And what oh, he does special effects. Well, then there's this movie, oh, this Friday the 13th. That's pretty cool. And it was a springboard all the way up until when he directed and none of the Living Dead 9090 and his episode of Tales from the dark side or episodes, I believe he did a couple and I just he was the reason he was a gateway because what I loved was this ability where the the fake traumas of life might be able to be a gateway to a little bit of healing, understanding. And maybe if you show the world everything scary through this lens that is not actually going to harm you, then maybe you can approach the next day of your life not being afraid of anything. And if you make that audience jump, maybe they're gonna jump closer together. And we'll all we'll all face the dark as as the best we can and will become light.

Alex Ferrari 4:12
That is the the most beautiful description of horror I've ever heard in my entire life. It's wonderful. Thank you very much. First, it was a very spiritual aspect to the horror genre. I've never heard it put so eloquently before. So that's awesome. Thank you.

Marcus Dunstan 4:28
Thank you very much.

Alex Ferrari 4:29
Now another connection we have, sir, is you got your start on a little show called Project Greenlight. The day Yes, well, sir. I was for five or six seconds in Project Greenlight Season Two. Okay, I made it to the top 20 of season two so I almost I almost made it onto the show. And I've had Chris Moore and I've had Chris Moore on the show and I first words out of my mouth like Dude, why don't I get into project

Marcus Dunstan 4:58
Right on okay.

Alex Ferrari 5:00
So you got your start on Season Three if I'm not mistaken with the feast, right?

Marcus Dunstan 5:04
Yes. And I was working at a blockbuster home video in a Kenyan restocking seasons one and and then to the screening the hey come see this movie screening passes we were asked to hand them out they're going to do a sneak screening of the Battle of Shaker Heights and in a theater out there and then on the radio Patrick mountains wife even heard that there was going to be a three and they'd be widening the net into potentially you know, something more genre could be you know, the at the time the the the gross out teen comedy they could do drama, suspense thriller or maybe a horror movie.

Alex Ferrari 5:47
Yeah, and it worked out that you got to it's so funny to so I did my time in a mom and pop video store for five years in high school.

Marcus Dunstan 5:56
Okay, now what have you and what

Alex Ferrari 5:59
You and I are similarly vintage, sir.

Marcus Dunstan 6:00
So we got your nametag, though.

Alex Ferrari 6:02
No, I actually was a mom and pop I didn't even have names. I didn't name text.

Marcus Dunstan 6:07
Let's not even my name. That's how this this blockbuster was struggling so I was Jamie with like a philosophy rafter scratch through. That's awesome. That's what happened to Jamie.

Alex Ferrari 6:17
That is some street cred right there, sir. That is, that's a major street cred for all the kids. For all the kids listening Google what a video store was. Yeah. Now. Now when you work with on that show? I know you were on it for a little bit. And you wrote the script helped write the script for you. Did you write it by yourself? Or did you write it with them?

Marcus Dunstan 6:35
With Patrick Mountain and it was we were adapting a draft written by Pulseaudio

Alex Ferrari 6:40
Okay, so what was your biggest lesson you learned? Which is essentially the first experience in the business? What was the biggest lesson you learned working on that?

Marcus Dunstan 6:50
Oh, wait, are you talking about feast or on human? I'm sorry. Oh, sorry. No, feast was an original creation of ours. unhuman was based on a story about Okay. Wow, it's been oppressed de la hmm. And then this is the one Okay, got it. You know, feast was entirely a reaction episode where we, you know, we took the bait of what do you want to see? And I asked, like, why don't I keep wanting to rewatch Evil Dead two. And then why? Well, because it had this endless fountain of creativity, no matter what were, the budget didn't I didn't think of what the budget was, I just knew I was entertained. And it just didn't waste a molecule without finding the most creative way to bring it. And I thought it had it was ferocious in its ability to protect the attention span to galvanize the, the eyes, the brain and rope you into it's it's wonderful narrative. I just thought, This is great. This is this is all the this is all the inspiration and hope and that, you know, to really get us going. So then we felt like okay, well we know that kind of make things in the realm of a million bucks, we know. And we actually tried to enter it in Project Greenlight Season Two against the whole advice. And at that point, you do it there, we kind of do a digital submission, we'll somehow we got the whole submission wrong. And it turned into you know, 2000 pages of triangles and squares or something. Who knows? We it is the early internet, it was early, that wild frontier. And so then by the time this came around, we thought I mean, we were certain this draft that we had worked and worked and worked on could be made for $1 million and the budget came back at 20 Oh do a little more work

Alex Ferrari 8:51
So it's still when you were working on on with on the feast Did you did you I mean I gotta imagine was kind of a culture shock for you just to kind of like a shock to the system working even with the Chris Moore and you've been watching them on the on the show for a couple of seasons and all that kind of stuff.

Marcus Dunstan 9:09
Yes, well in fact it but yet at the same time, there's a lot of small world stuff and that is I lived in Melton and I lived in the same building on tamarind in it ran around Hollywood. So there's the like the Scientology celebrity center birds lapu Bell, and then there's Tamron. And we lived there for a while. And so we had a shared computer he had this one but it would overheat because we could type faster than I could process so it would overheat. We have to turn it off every 20 minutes and we'd run it up and down the stairs depending on who could have enough time to write that night. And so then there's this Willy Wonka moment and you know your life could change if the day is of West Craven, Chris Moore, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Nick Phillips, etc. Would would dare anoint you and invite you to that side of the room. But the location of that conversation was like 16 walks away. It was just, it was just in a hotel. We didn't know anybody and couldn't get into and couldn't afford to stay there anyway. So it's kind of like, you know, an absurd way. It's like, so we're going across the street were like, really, it's been here the whole time. That's, that's, that's awesome. And then the, and then like, oh, my gosh, there's this, the attention and there's cameras and whatnot. It's, it was a lot. And I would say thank goodness, we were, we kept our Midwest in there. Like, this was a wonderful area right before the instinct would be to be to want more camera than and lose sight of the opportunity at hand. No, we were there to make him. We were there to exist and help. And the fact that the cameras were there, you know, he learned later in life that those cameras were to keep probably a lot of the other people in line that had been in that industry a while and protect the innocence of it. So I really I that was a an absolute, it was a Willy Wonka moment, it was a miracle and for a first time experience to have it documented. I mean, at some point, I'll go back and watch that show with the memories of being on the other side of that. And that I mean, how that's just whimsy, man, that's great.

Alex Ferrari 11:13
Yeah, no, I mean, I've gotten close. I got close to many times to mention on both that and like on the lot if you remember that show.

Marcus Dunstan 11:21
Absolutely I remember

Alex Ferrari 11:24
I was flown up. I was flown up to to me, I was like right there about to get in? Oh, yeah. So I've always fascinated about the whole cup project green light and the whole on the lot, that whole reality stuff. But there was really, you know, to be honest, it wasn't a lot of people that came out of those shows that had like built a career. You're one of the few that really have you made it out?

Marcus Dunstan 11:46
Well, it was you know, and we were very fortunate I really got to think not not only luck but also thank being prepared for luck because before feast came out the show when it was when it was depicting us well, that was then attractive for you know, agents etc to want to take a meeting and we had a we had a we had an agents agents at this one of the big agencies, and they dropped us when the when the cameras were off, and we were unrepresented. It was July before feast had ever come out before anything had happened. And Patrick and his wife were expecting his little boy. And if they as a couple agree that if they don't figure out a way to stay solvent in the entertainment industry, he was he was going to he was gonna just have to change. Do something, do something, you gotta you got a family now. So over the July 4 weekend, he had this idea and he wrote the first draft of what would be the neighbor. Then we have this, this premiere in Vegas. For feast we're now feast is finally coming out after 18 months of us not knowing and the separation of Disney and dimension and Weinstein and whatnot. But they took us along then now the cameras are back on then, you know all of a sudden there's attention and all of a sudden like hey, and this wonderful agent by the name of David boxer bomb.

Alex Ferrari 13:11
Dave has been on the show.

Marcus Dunstan 13:12
Oh, he's awesome. Yep, David Cheryl Debbie Doble. All of a sudden, we've got this marvelous team that you know elected to to roll the dice on us knowing that way. There's potential here you guys will actually work for this. Like you're not just being you know, needed to be handed to you know what worked for it, like, let's go. And sure enough, at that premiere party, I stepped into the back of it to do a verbal rewrite on the ending of the neighbor. So then dimension buys it. Melton breathes a sigh of relief because he's now a writer supporting his family. And then there's this movie that comes out and within a week we set up the Midnight Man, which would then become the collector and whatnot. And David, Cheryl and Debbie, it's like Thank you. Thanks for Thanks for catching us in freefall. We weren't gonna give up on ourselves and it was great to have them as team to do so that's a long way to long winded answer. But you know, it's there. There is some humanity in the in the realm that can sometimes be like our movies title on humans.

Alex Ferrari 14:13
Yeah, absolutely. Now you also got a gig, writing a sequel to one of the most successful horror franchises of all time saw? Yes. How did you how did you get that? Because you were still fairly young writer at that point?

Marcus Dunstan 14:26
Absolutely. Very. So that all happened within eight weeks of the fuse premiere. Now, we had a little bit of street cred the movie was getting, you know, favorable reviews, word of mouth, whatnot. And we and due to the sale of the neighbor, that takes a little time before the WGA makes it official. So the sophomore deal. They did not want to go with the union writers just yet. They wanted to hire three different writers with the task of writing a script called sophomore and And each of these writers or teams would be given a set of rules to follow because three hadn't come out yet. For some reason, we didn't get the thing of the rules. But it didn't stop us and wouldn't you know, we end up accidentally writing something that we got yelled at, because the budget was going to be too big. And then it then they went with it. And that was pretty cool. And then, you know, and we were able to make a deal with them to to keep working on that. I mean, my goodness. So in the span of a year, it was because they would make this movie so quickly. And you know, so efficiently. I mean, like, my gosh, we had oh my gosh, we're gonna we just got dumped dropped by our agents. This whole thing might be overweight or movies coming out. I was playing twice. And midnight. Did it say it really just gross? Like $5? Like, what is that? Wait, we got to X rating? Oh, we gotta cut Oh, we Oh, man. Oh, and then oh, and then the next year? It's my parents, my hit my world history teachers to on recommend at about a big ol premiere for a horror movie that folks have heard of. And that's it's another like, how did we get here? It was just awesome. But you know, we did. It's we've worked really hard.

Alex Ferrari 16:14
That's the thing. That's fascinating, because a lot of people listen and be like, Oh, these guys are just lucky. They just fell into it. I'm like, That's so much. No, you work hard. But the point is that you were ready for when the opportunity presented itself. Like if you would have just been sitting there like, oh, I have no other script, I don't have the neighbor, I don't have anything else I have ideas you actually will prepare for when these opportunities present. And then serendipity just happens. And after doing so many interviews on the show and talking to so many, you know, amazing writers and directors like yourself. I just realized that luck has such a big part to do with sustaining a career in this business. But every single one of them work hard. It's not like just sitting around in the middle of Ohio somewhere and an agent knocks on your door. Hey, I hear you have some ideas. Can I help you now that doesn't work that way?

Marcus Dunstan 17:06
Absolutely. No, you got to it's not it's like and you know, continues to this day, you still have to go for it. You still have to I this this experience with unhuman reminded me a lot of feast and that I wanted to bring some of the zeal and and creativity that John Gallagher did and try to say like, well, what if we were taking some of the expectations tropes stereotypes of the high school genre and flip them kind of like John was able to do with feast and what we were doing with the Creature Feature? And in doing so, can we sneak in a theme about bullying and and, and try to punch above our weight in that regard, but just can we stick this landing so this the narrative will have competent adrenalized attention span friendly stimulus, but nail that if we get that right amount of sugar, we can put in something of substance that could really keep us around for a while and bestow a lesson as some of the great horror movies had done to us.

Alex Ferrari 18:11
Yeah, and I think that's one of the big mistakes that screenwriters make with with horror movies is they don't put in that deeper underlining thing, they just do Gore or they just do the scares. But if when you're able to enter one intertwine or weave in these kinds of deeper themes and ideas, that's that's when those things become classics. And they just keep going and going and going. Yes,

Marcus Dunstan 18:35
I hope so. I mean, that's, you know, I mean, you sound like you don't have a goal to really set up we're gonna make a classic today but originally if you stick to this, this this goal of I want to get this message through no matter what can every performance synthetic in the production design, bolster it can the score enhance excellent and then oh, hey, if it's if it's lucky to earn that moniker All right, we did it right.

Alex Ferrari 19:00
Now how how did you get the collector off the ground because it you know, you guys are just at this point, just writers. So you got to direct the movie and it was a fairly decent budget and it was you know, it was by Studio and and so on. So how did you get that off the ground

Marcus Dunstan 19:17
That required outsmarting the system once again and the way it was I pre directed some stuff and I came up with a marketing and and so it was back in the day if I had a smartphone man I think would have been done in a second. But no this is when you needed to get cameras favors etc. And thank goodness it was the Gulag or family and it was after feast and fortress so this be Brett Forbes and Pat Rezai help provide a budget of about 7000 bucks to execute a scene that would show Oh, this guy can write a few words but he's he's good with actors and are like can can can accomplish the goal of the scene and And then it becomes a trailer. So then I wanted to get to jumpscares and set up the plotline. And then I wanted to earn a tagline at the end. And give it a whole sense of like if make it feel like a growing threshold event to lead up to someone that is introduced as a bad guy meeting a worst guy, and then bloodied in a rainstorm run out caressing a kid that's not his own, just with only breathing as a soundtrack. You know, just because he's like, not tonight, you know, he's he's reached a point in his criminal career where he finds something so awful. He'll stop.

Alex Ferrari 20:33
That's, that's awesome. That's a great story, because so many screenwriters want to direct. And they just, you know, you have to figure out how to get noticed. And that's a great way you shot that little demo. And they gave you they gave you the budget to do it. It's, it's so interesting, because we all have to come out when the collector came out, what were you what year was that?

Marcus Dunstan 20:54
That came out in 2009. But it was also similar to feast and that it took a while to get out there.

Alex Ferrari 21:00
So I remember when my buddy worked on it, he told me what can I use this on my demo reel? I can't use this on my tomato.

Marcus Dunstan 21:08
So like it was amortized with the production of two sequels to Paul's two sequels to feast. And then we were the last one. At this point, I felt like, Oh, this is awesome. I'm the last one, you know, everything's gonna be great. Well, learn the hard way that went into the last movie in an amortized situation. That means all the overages from those movies come out of yours. So whatever budget was supposed to be there wasn't quite there. Whatever schedule was supposed to be there was kind of cut in half. And then by the end, I had a lot of middle of a movie, I had some ending, but I took every penny I made from writing the Saw movies then and funded two weeks of shooting on my own. And now we had at the beginning, now we had a middle and we had the ends. And with that it was it was done. Because I felt like you know, I didn't come out here just to do half of a first movie. I got to you know, do the whole thing. And a wind that was exciting, like the whole cast and crew coming along for that meant a lot. So then dimension, we got a call from Bob Weinstein saying, hey, and I got my money tied up and Inglorious Basterds and you know, if you want to put the movie out yourself, I dig it. You can, you can, oh, I can self release this movie. Great. That sounds like a deal. And so thank goodness, we had the wherewithal to be like, well, what would you sell it for? If we found a buyer? Oh, let me go away, all of a sudden the budget more than doubled. You know, all of a sudden, I couldn't get a copy of the budget that I knew we had. Now I know that I'm sorry, we can't give it. And thank goodness, we had two weeks to find a buyer. And on one of the last days of that possibility, Mickey Liddell came in, watched it left the the editing room, walked around the block and said, Okay, how much and that's what led to LD hiring freestyle to release a movie that was called The Midnight Man now is called the collector courtesy of Bob is now an LD movie. It and then so then it came out in the summer of 2009. After they you know, Mickey put in even more bucks for some more spit and polish. That was awesome. And like, the songs you hope to get. I mean, here's what I just so loved and appreciate it is. He understood that when you put an attempt song, you don't want to find another song, as in these things to this song. And they and even if you can't quite understand the why it does something, they all hold hands, you can kind of tell when something has been replaced at the last second because it's like, well, it's okay, I guess you know, it's up tempo, but you know, we have relationships with all forms of art and these things. And he got it and let it be so so now then we come out. And unfortunately, he would like to do another one and that led to then the collection and so on. So yeah, it was a an absolute for, you know, fortuitous time. But again, it was I thinking about it now. It's insane. Giving Yeah, I you know, whatever little nugget I had was just instantly vanquished in the hopes that something and then oh, yeah, I you know, guess what, you get to make a movie where you get to make half of it. And if you can finish it, you can release it yourself, if you can afford it. And if you can't find someone who paid double that, and to release it on their own, and maybe you'll get a sequel or maybe you know what, I'll hear from you again, who cares I love you know what it is?

Alex Ferrari 24:32
You know, I'm so glad that people are are listening to this story because you put your money where your mouth is, and that's so many filmmakers don't do that so many people don't take the risk to do that. And in this scenario, if I was consulting you back then it was the mind that I have today. I would say absolutely do this because this doesn't happen. You don't get this scenario. It was a very fortuitous It's also very kind of lottery ticket scenario where all of these things lined up. So, so beautifully.

Marcus Dunstan 25:07
They it was it prepared for serendipity?

Alex Ferrari 25:12
Exactly. Now, it what was on that shoot, what was the you know, as directors, we always go through that the worst, there's always a day that we remember, if not every day, but there's always a day that we're losing the sun, camera breaks, the actor can't come out. The car accident happened somewhere and we lost the camera in the truck. I've seen it all. What was that day for you? And how did you overcome it and make your day?

Marcus Dunstan 25:40
Thank you for that question. Because I think, you know, every day has its challenges. But really, it's in the survival of those challenges. And the way to assess that and and outsmart it, you don't have to overpower any of this stuff. But you do have to, you do have to add smart things because ultimately, an image has to exist, that conveys some information. There's several ways that can be done, you can do the expensive way you can do it the in many more modest ways. So one night, I'm in it. Josh Stewart is masked up. It's going to be the stocking casing of the house. He's assessing it, you know, Brandon Cox, beautifully lighting these things and we're getting all this awesome imagery. And then it's about you know, we still have another little sequence to do. And I remember one point, it's just quiet turn around and where is everybody? Everybody had quit because the strike had ended. And so why stick around for the the pennies of the indie budget when the commercial jobs are now flying everybody Yeah. So if the folks that stayed you've got Brandon Cox so a wonderful camera crew. But a most of our crew just up and watch.

Alex Ferrari 27:31
Walk in the middle of the day or walk like the next day or something.

Marcus Dunstan 27:34
No like that night we didn't I just we moved some lights and shot some stuff ourselves just to like do something with the time. I was like hmm, so now how did I overcome this? I couldn't overcome this. This was this was a moment where Courtney Ballack or Keith border the producers came through and Vince Palomino, who was our line who's you know, everybody that stuck around there essentially, as you know, lifelong friends, these are the metaphor. And so, what could have been an absolute cavity crushing events is turned completely around with the arrival of one person who had become a rider die. And that is BJ McDonald's, a a who has showed up as a Steadicam operator in his cut off camo shorts and is converse and his Danzig wristband and his faux hawk Mohawk what is that hawk? He's like, I didn't worry about it, man. We're gonna get we're gonna get it we can do like this. Excellent. We the movie couldn't afford him. He wanted to get out of town for an adventure. And so I that's how I met he and his now wife, Adrienne, who was in makeup. And all of a sudden, this is a transformative event. And it was BJ who talked me out of the shakes and the shivers of like, I don't know, it's like I thought Why did I have this whole thing? storyboarded I can't do it. Like hey, it's like hey, don't worry about let's have a beer and go bowling. And you know what you don't worry about it. You go have a beer and you go bowling. Because in that action, you the mind gets to settle and you get to realize no no, you're still creating just yes those storyboards whatever whatever you put in wherever that plan is, that is on the wayside, but that doesn't mean you still don't know what you need to execute now in the moment to challenge yourself to find a way to do so. And that that has been the most rewarding lesson of all is IT professional studio big yeah that you get more toys but the lessons they get you through even those moments were learned when you had nothing but that desire and and hope to to convey a story convey an image and get it drag it into that lens however possible. And you do it again and again. So you find success what you like what you're comfortable with and and hopefully people are there with you for the ride. And it's so exciting because BJ is is now the director and that he his last film studio 16 Six. Right? So how cool is that to see him, you know, from from converse to the universe, he's out there.

Alex Ferrari 30:07
That's amazing. That's a great story. And you said something really interesting. And I think something is so important for filmmakers to listen to, is please let them know, every single moment of every single day as a director on set, the biggest thing that we have to do is compromise. Because you said I had this long storyboard list or a shot list, and all of it's out the window. Just days of working on it. You had the Kubrick, you had the Kubrick shot, you had the Sam Raimi shot, you had the oh, you know, all of that stuff. Yeah. And Gone. Gone. Can you tell it to you tell? How can you explain to people that process internally as a director, because that's what I think that's really what makes a great director, one of the elements is to be able to compromise on the fly with what is given to him or her on the day, and just flow with what you have on the day and not be so rigid that you're like, No, if I can't get my shot, I don't want to shoot it and Bolton, you're not going to work?

Marcus Dunstan 31:10
Well, absolutely. Well, this happened with this happened with unhuman. And in the way, like, we had to deal with weather, we had to deal with lightning, that could shut us down. And then our entire ending had to be reconfigured. Because the entire ending was built around a certain ability, I like a certain location, a certain aspect of the location. That was cool to look at Vintage Gray, talking about an old school amazing elevator. Well, of course that breaks. And anything that came along with it is instantly out the window. But thank goodness for 10 years of experience because you like it's not about an elevator, it's about falling distance, if it's not about the what. And then I by that point, courtesy of those Paulito are one of our producers on this on the site there who leaned in and said like, this elevator was built in the 30s it's being repaired, you might want to have a plan B at the ready just case. Now if I was a naive person that knew no, it has to be this I must stand my ground. But now it's your I asked to be an elevator, there would be no ending there would be nothing but instead courtesy of Paul and also courtesy of enough experience to listen to someone who's giving you good advice. We were ready and it and the solution wouldn't you know Eureka, it's a heck of a lot better. And we ended up getting more motion more movie more. There is it just it just it works. And everybody was on the same page because I think people get excited by talk of solutions. There's nothing more wasteful and disparaging. And that talk of just the problems like okay, well everything's got a problem. But what if we try this? Can we do this and then instantly you get everyone's back in the creative mode of of willingness thing into being and that was nice that that that allowed a lot everybody to shine.

Alex Ferrari 33:18
Now, is there anything you wish somebody would have told you at the beginning of this whole journey? That little nugget of man, this is going to do this, this and this man, you really should look out for this.

Marcus Dunstan 33:31
There are a handful of things. I'm gonna keep the two big ones to myself.

Alex Ferrari 33:39
You all could suffer?

Marcus Dunstan 33:41
No, no, no, no, no. In that sense, it was like no, you know, what if I want to find the positive not the beware but the positive and that is regard your inner voice, you know and lead in and when the when the inner voice when the little voice says something? What is holding it back from entering volume? Is it fear that maybe the collaborator won't hear it? Is it hesitation because you're not sure is it? Well, why don't we try saying and see what happens? And wouldn't you know or if you're thinking like you know, second guessing can be okay, but why are you second guessing what doesn't feel right? Do you feel you did not get that shot? Do you feel that? The the just wasn't quite there and like okay, then then respect that respect your own? I mean, no matter how overwhelmed you could elect to be no matter what happens if the little voice is just saying no, no, this is fight for this. No, no, protect that. And just have the patients and yourself to understand why explain why and you're going to find that the right team will will always understand you and give you a shot. You know, and I thought that that was good because the last thing you want to do It is have someone in editorial go. Well, I kind of wish we had that shot. I know I knew it. I know. Once you say anything, you're right,

Alex Ferrari 35:14
Oh god as an editor, I used to do it to my directors. And that is when I worked with editors they used to do to me, I'm like, I should have gotten that. It would have taken me another five minutes to get that shot. Why did I have to move on? Yeah, you know, it's sometimes when you're on set, you've got to fight, fight for the vision fight for those that coverage. You're like, I need the closeup of the spoon. If I don't get the closeup of the spoon, I'm not going to be able to cut away and I'm going to be stuck on this performance. I need this cut away. And everyone on the side and on the sets look like you're insane. It's just a spoon shot like No. If I don't get the spoon shot, it's not going to work. And that's only experienced over years of being in an edit room. Understanding like I need I need some safety. I need some escape hatches, just in case. My brilliance doesn't show up on screen.

Marcus Dunstan 36:02
Yeah, yes, absolutely. Great, Scott. I mean, you know, we and that's the that's the fun of it, too. It's really always touching that third rail.

Alex Ferrari 36:13
Yeah, no, no question. No question. Now I have to ask you, you know, when you're on set, even at the beginning, on the collector when you were first onset, or later now with your new film on human? Do you ever get impostor syndrome? Do you ever get that thing that you deal with? Like, oh my god, security is gonna come in at any moment. And go, what are you doing here? You don't belong here get out. kind of vibe. But I know a lot of artists deal with that.

Marcus Dunstan 36:38
No, no, this one it was entirely someone's gonna tap you on the shoulder and say you have COVID And then you're

Alex Ferrari 36:45
That's even scarier than imposter syndrome

Marcus Dunstan 36:49
Because imposter syndrome. I'd be like, I'm already confidently trying to, like, do an impersonation of all the great filmmakers before, like, I all admit that I want to, I want to impersonate their success and convey the story. They want their ability to scare, convey, share, you know, get get these things done. But no, I mean, on the first I would say on the first one I was I was just kind of terrified because I thought I had a really good plan. And then the plan had to be abandoned. I didn't. And that was a crash course and plan B. And ever since then, I was you know what, but I want to say like, I want to say when it comes to what's a good why, like, Why Why am I feeling I don't say yes, it is probably because of the writing part. Whereas if I was not already imagining the story, but I was putting myself onto another story, then the the footing isn't quite there. Like I don't know, I'm doing and I'm doing an impression already of what I think the writer minutes. But I know exactly what I meant, when I would be writing on this. And so then all I had to do was have a quick meeting with my own brain, it'd be like, alright, you know how to pull this off, if not rewrite it. And then and get it to that point. So that that was neat. The the writing the rewriting really of this because it was a real rewrite from scratch allowed me to almost be off book with the screenplay, and and constantly be living in it. So it wasn't I didn't feel anything other than trying to be a bit of a tour guide or an audio book for anybody just to constantly keep them informed of something that was moving at such a clip and attempting to you know, wrestle wrestle a kind of a bigger a bigger hitting movie over the line in a record amount of time.

Alex Ferrari 38:40
Now how did you get involved with Unhuman

Marcus Dunstan 38:44
I was it was a phone call out of the blue from I think Alex crooner began as a producer and seeing if, if I if I you know, be available up for coming aboard. And you know, is it was definitely a gap me at hello moment because the first time I ever felt that there were more resources than I could know what to do with there was enough time to do everything I possibly wanted. And enough support to to constantly, you know, hang the sun and the moon every day was on the Blumhouse production of Pilgrim which if you look at the budget, it was it was a very modest budget, but simply taking the advice and having a crew with a second second hand way of communicating as super passionate, experienced producers. It was an education in that. Yeah, you know, if you don't need more, you've got plenty. And in that case, we did not need any more than we had a great script from Noah Feinberg. We had it just we just had everything we needed and could actually add things along the way and they would inspiration was encouraged. So then with this, it was like wait, I get to go back and play with you guys. And there's even there's a bigger boat If there's a little more time, and there's gonna be some familiar faces, yeah, I mean, let's go.

Alex Ferrari 40:05
Simple as that. So, can you tell everybody what the movie is about?

Marcus Dunstan 40:09
Yes. unhuman the first title card says a Blum house after school special and yes, this one is going to Sledgehammer your eyes like no other as the characters who probably were intending to be in the genre of the teen comedy find themselves on a fateful field trip, designed to bring them closer together and understand each other and maybe get over the bumps and bruises of combustible adolescence. Instead, run smack dab into the rules of a horror movie that shows up in the form of a possible zombie plague invasion with a twist. Will these this breakfast clubs survive? Or will they be devoured by the on human?

Alex Ferrari 40:45
First time you've done that, right? You've never you haven't? First time, right, I was.

Marcus Dunstan 40:50
Stammering I should have been a little more polish.

Alex Ferrari 40:54
That is amazing. That is amazing. Now, what was it like, again, working inside the Blumhouse? Machine, because I've had Jason on the show. And I've talked to Jason. I don't I love Jason. It was interesting human being on the planet. He's just so much fun to talk to. And I'm just always fascinated with his model, his model of how he does it. And everyone thinks he's crazy. And he doesn't get the respect in town that he deserves to be honest. Because he's just pumping out stuff, left and right. And the way he does it is it's so I asked him straight up like, Were you afraid that once you let everybody know what you were doing that everyone was going to copy you? He goes, yes. But no one has, like, you know, the basic rules are all out there for everybody to do. But no one does it because no one has the balls to do it like he does. So what was it like going in that machine and working on the creative side?

Marcus Dunstan 41:48
It was wonderful. Because how about this, I would say in terms of the respect for him, looking at the cast that shows up looking at the crew that's dedicated to it. There is a lot of respect for this guy. Because that moniker of Blumhouse means people show up. And they they know they're getting into into business with somebody who is great at the business. And that I mean, the ripple effects of that name alone. It was just wonderful people, the recognition of it, and all it it's man, it's yes, there's a lot of steps up to the plate with with the company. And that's also marvelous, like they're the loudest voice, I watched that series three times, I never would have guessed it was a Blumhouse joint. But it is because I think there was always an evolution happening. There's always a push into different spectrums. And I also love that what started it with an even more modest kind of budget paradigm is getting bigger in certain regards, is it has figured out a way to work within COVID has has grown and blossomed. And it's awesome to give opportunity, as well. There, there's a lot of it's resulting in art, you can't instantly put a pin in it. No, no, it's they're gonna do something that surprises you all the time. And how about that? The black phone's gonna come and ring in this summer. And eventually, it's gonna be a wonderful new pillar in a palace that is Blumhouse are?

Alex Ferrari 43:20
Yeah, no question. And I mean, and a lot of people don't even know that he's been nominated three times for an Oscar. Yeah. As a producer, you know, and it's fascinating. He's such an interesting, interesting character and what he does, and I love his his technique of just like, giving opportunity to directors, just play, and he really let you play and let you go out and just have fun. And you could see it in the films.

Marcus Dunstan 43:51
Absolutely. No question. Now, that opportunity is just priceless.

Alex Ferrari 43:53
Now, you know, as a writer, you've written obviously, a lot of horror. I mean, this is this is this is your, your sweet spot? What, in your opinion, are the key elements in writing a good horror movie?

Marcus Dunstan 44:06
Well, in this case, I mean, my goodness, it what are the what are probably the three lines that have always been there? You know, and, you know, there's some there's some fairly obvious answers to go to, like, Well, you gotta give a care about the characters, you have to you have to you have to have a threat. That's a legit intimidating presence of some sort. And, and if you put as much care into the scares as you do in the creation of those characters, then maybe you've got something that will resonate and really pop. Well, then what I do like, is this this other element that sometimes comes and goes, and that is embracing a theme, what is the movie, actually suddenly teaching? What is what is it saying? And so for us, for example, is like yes, we're going to take some three familiar elements. Teens, Woods zombies. Oh, okay. Now how is that going to be any different any spent anything special to really earn the attention span? Well, one, my guy when you see Bran and you understand these characters and what they're trying to reach for and be an identifiable reflection of the high school experience in a way that hasn't quite been depicted before. Great, then next, well, what can we do with the, you know, go into the woods? Well, it's not a traditional woods in the sense that it's sort of a bridging zone between two genres the bubblegum teen comedy getting invaded by the horror movie. And then the last thing is, what are we doing with the zombies like, well, once you see once you see this sucker California is his alacrity. His wickedness, his cunning is something else this this thing seems to be working out some rage issues, and wants this to happen with some sort of other engine other design in play. And this thing is smart. Why how why does it know more about us? What that that gives us that little hook that little step into into another place, which leads to the final thing, which is, what is our theme that well, it was it was a chance to talk about bullying, and peel the layers back and not not just for a singular character, not just the typical victim number one that asks for it loud gets it nasty, and is out of the movie by you know, the first act break, but to go in and really find the hero, the victim the bully, throughout. And so by keeping that conversation, maybe, you know, maybe someone sees this and feels a little better that they can, you know, stand up over above a bullying episode that may have happened, like, I still harbor mine, I remember. And I just needed to figure out how to turn that wound into a weapon. And this this, this opportunity allowed me to really get it out, go back to high school, leave some damage there and bring some hope out that there was a I do

Alex Ferrari 47:19
It sounds like I mean, I always find that some of the best horror movies and movies in general but the best horror movies are when they slam together genres that generally have not been slapped together before so like the first thing that comes to mind is army of dark an army of darkness but well army of darkness. Darkness is definitely one of them. Army of the Dead the new one by Zack Snyder. A heist movie with a zombie movie you're just like, why hasn't anyone done that before?

Marcus Dunstan 47:48
It's fun I really enjoyed that but I also I mean I what a what a gift. Just that trailer I'll watch that trailer man the time to listen to it with its use of the gambler and this is tastic and I really love how you know now that I want to say that his his arrangement with Netflix has even given him more freedom to really make the the beautiful covers of heavy metal magazine comes to life. Yeah, there's nothing other about them that is that is cool. And yet you know, they they're they are only as impactful as the heart He's protecting as well.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
Right exactly. And I and I forgot which one it was it was either Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead. But the social commentary the one in the mall

Marcus Dunstan 48:36
Gone yeah, that was his interpretation of Don was what

Alex Ferrari 48:40
Was x was and then but the original as well but Zach's was Yeah. Oh my God, it was amazing.

Marcus Dunstan 48:46
Well, I quote was it a Stephen King and I want to say Roger Ebert both were like Hey, check this out. Whereas both were in a position Roger Ebert gave you know the original four stars and I was like this thing is amazing. You know, Stephen King Of course, your friends and collaborators with George Romero. But the but his but Zack Snyder's reinterpretation was I thought was so smart because it took the same situation and a location but did make a different movie. If you could see I would pay homage here and there with a glimpse of the chopper the reprisal of some of the actors from the original and in different notes and then if if George Romero was was was the commentary of consumerism and this was more of the commentary of of almost terrorism like at some point something's just gonna come out yet. What what do we do you know, and I man and that Screenplay by James Gunn was friggin awesome. I mean, it's that was smart. That was that was a that was just loved it that was a Droid and

Alex Ferrari 49:54
So in the in the pantheon of zombie films, because I do I do like a good zombie film and I I loved many of the seasons of Walking Dead what do you what do you think is on the top three of the zombie on the Mount Rushmore of zombie films?

Marcus Dunstan 50:12
Okay, well I mean I this is where I get super familiar by Dawn of the Dead the originals the one I keep going back to like it's opening 20 minutes I love listening to it I love the just the sense of building chaos and collapse and I also like how you know typical of the Romero verse It was bold and it's casting and lead decisions and how I think it was Miss Ross who plays our lead how she makes kind of a an utterance or not quite a scream at the beginning more of a gasp but just didn't want this this character to scream and this character would become a pilot in this yet we there's there's just respect in there amongst all that I you just love it I mean and I man the Dan Krauss Romero book The final one you know the the living dead is is just phenomenal it's it's man we've been trying to get enough people together to try to get that thing made for so long and it's just it that would I think be the ultimate because it's his voice it's him you know go on to the end. That would just be manna from heaven so come on Netflix I know you can do zombie bank heist can you do one from the from the godfather of the whole genre? Can you do that? That'd be great. So then that leaves open some other ones I want to be let's see if I can be somewhat what is the best way to do this movies okay, it may be easy to say night and then day I think but okay night and day are pretty I find does someone count dead alive? Because I just loved it yeah did alive. It's vicious dedication to you know, gruesome shocking or criminality and momentum I think that was a lot of fun. And then I would like to say ash and I want to make sure I get this one right because this is a this is a this is a very precious top three and as maybe because I recently kind of watched it and and really appreciated what it was doing but I liked WARM BODIES I thought it was such an unexpected take and in kind of how it it had something to say about romance and whatnot. So the now the more like verbose answer is like Well ideally just go anything Romero that's that's the cream so have that cream of the crop down in the desert one that still resonates with me dead alive for like, Hey, you don't have to be boxed into any corner just because it says zombie. You can have a giant mom beasts and chainsaw, you know, fights and whatnot. And to that regard I'd even say like, I think neither the creeps had a wonderful take. Well, who doesn't like thrill me and then warm bodies? Because who then what expect such an affectionate moment, you know, and something that had a genuine? Gave a genuine and literal metaphorical heartbeat to the

Alex Ferrari 53:12
No, no pun intended, sir. Yeah. Have a fun time now. Now where can people watch Unhuman

Marcus Dunstan 53:23
Unhuman begins on Paramount June 3. And then I think we'll be coming out swinging again in August. So we want to scare the kids who are graduating and then scam again when they're going back to school. June 3 is when is when we come out to roar courtesy of paramount. Thank you so much.

Alex Ferrari 53:41
Now I'm going to ask you a couple questions as well. My guess? What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Marcus Dunstan 53:50
Oh, goodness. Well, okay, in terms of a practical bit of advice, if you can answer that question, what do I want to see? Like what type of movie do I want to see? And like really be specific about that? Like, I want to, you know, and then all right, then challenge that. I mean, let's just say what I want to try to pivot into is because the theater stratosphere and the streaming stratosphere seems to exist. And there's like the Marvel Universe where it can be $200 million, or whatnot. And then there's other tiers that are depending on their budget or their need, or if it's Star driven or something all the way down to a budget that can give them a greater chance for existence because the idea while not expensive, is big an implication IE, sci fi horror, in some cases, groundbreaking action like the raid, and can you come up with something that fits in that that you haven't quite seen before that acknowledges what is kind of popular that that is something you really want to seek Chances are if you write something that you really want to see with respect to kind of a budget that is making up a larger percentage of things that actually get produced, because it's a safer bet. And you know that the imagery in there if you can then watch the trailer to that in your head and say, like, would you still see that movie? Is it about someone, you know, stuck in a bland room with, you know, interfaith? I was like, No, you're not, that's not going anywhere. Right. But I every movie that inspired people to get from A to B probably came from a point of someone just saying, I know what my resources are. And I'm still going to out create out imagine and out deliver the potential of of that, you know, Evil Dead to, like, come on, like, what do we have, we've got a similar task, we've got the same location, we've even got kind of the same plot. But we got cameras, and we got imagination. And we got to go for broke aesthetic, we're gonna do it. You know, fine. I there. It's inspiring. So Gosh, I wonder if that's be enduring if that's helpful. If that's whatnot.

Alex Ferrari 56:02
No, it is helpful and the director of evil that you did, okay. He's done okay. for himself.

Marcus Dunstan 56:07
All right, you know, yeah, the kid panda.

Alex Ferrari 56:09
The kid the kid, the kid made it, sir. The kid made it. And what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life, the one

Marcus Dunstan 56:19
I got right right away, was that was on the set of feast. And this would be the last one of my last conversations with my grandmother, who procured my first issues of Fangoria walked me into dirty comics and said, this kid reads anything from that same magazine, gifted me body parts and put a camera in my hands when I was a kid. Last conversations was, Hey, there, they're making one of our movies. You know, it's it's this monster one. And boy, it's, it's, you really love it. It's just absolutely disgusting and offensive. She was, Oh, I'm so tickled. So then, you know, this is now we're on a set. And I was I went up a staircase, which the staircase didn't go anywhere, as movie set staircases kind of go and I went around the corner, I shut my eyes. And I thought, I'm going to take a soul photo right now. And that means I'm going to create a time machine right here. And I'm going to remember how it smells, how it feels. And what I see. And I will always be able to come back to this moment, if I ever need to recalibrate, my hopes, my dreams and whatnot, because right now, everything just came through. And how absurd is that? So that's been helpful along the way, was the one that took me a while to figure out I mean, that's just many like, hey, you know, maybe make it make some make a little more time to have, you know, go on more adventures in between these things. Like, you know, travel more. Yeah, it's it's pretty, pretty ordinary. And,

Alex Ferrari 57:59
But I gotta tell you about that answer. I've had, I've had six 700 800 shows at this point. That's one of the best answers to that question I've ever heard. Oh, thank you. It is so it's so beautiful. The soul photo, it is such a beautiful thing because we as filmmakers forget when we're on set, we're the luckiest people on the planet. That we as directors as filmmakers have all these other people around us, helping our vision our dream come true in front of our eyes is a very rare place to be as an artist and as a human being with massive amounts of money. I mean, even if it's half a million dollars a million that's a lot of money you know that's a lot of money for a lot of people so to take the you have the insight to go man i I've hit where I was going for it. Let me get up I love the soul photo that you can go back now now I'm sure as you were saying you were back there. As you're saying you smelled it yourself. And I have images like that in my head of like the first time I was on set the first time I got to do this the first time I'm meeting this big actor this big situation I'm in this big meeting or something like that, that you're like, oh my god, I'm I'm sitting here talking to what legend or something along those lines. But to actually have the insight to stop for a second, close your eyes and go take this Take this with you. is fascinating. I think we all need to stop for a sec because we're always hunting for the the next thing we can't stop in the moment and enjoy the insanity of where you were at at that moment, which was on Project Greenlight, getting your film made on a set and you were in you were literally you know, moving those seasons on the video store shelf a year earlier. Like that's insane.

Marcus Dunstan 59:55
It's there's a number of stops along the way where like so hoped for any of this would have been in Audacity on parallel. So if you're lucky enough for some of it to happen regard,

Alex Ferrari 1:00:09
Marcus it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you my friend. Thank you so much. Thank you for so much for coming on the show man continued success, my friend you're, you're a hell of a guy and I wish you nothing but the best. And by the way, everybody who's not watching this, Marcus has arguably one of the coolest rooms I have ever seen. Oh, my life has so many geek things around everything. I'm seeing the Django the Django is guys the action figures. I see rock guessing GI Joe. I see a Yoda see original Star Wars, some et I mean, all sorts. It's like the 80s exploded in your room. Thank you for that, sir. It was a joy just because I was talking to you. I was glancing over and like, is that what I think? Senator Rocky? Holy cow. That's a rocky action figure.

Marcus Dunstan 1:00:59
Yes, it is. Absolutely. And that one with the right here. This is a Place Beyond the Pines action figure by Erik Moreno. That same artists made action figures of the cast of unhuman for the movie,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:15
You see you see this is this is what it's all about, sir. I appreciate you coming on the show brother. Thanks again man.

Marcus Dunstan 1:01:21
Absolutely. Bless you have a great one.


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BPS 201: How to Get IP and Life Rights for Your Screenplay with David Kessler

Originally from Philadelphia, David attended that city’s “Fame” high school, Creative And Performing Arts, where his classmates included QuestLove and Boyz II Men. He then graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York, and worked as a graphic designer for ad agencies, designed book covers, movie posters, and indie film titles.

He impulsively moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and became a stand-up comic for a while, performing at The Improv, The Vancouver Comedy Festival, and in sketches on “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” and “The Showbiz Show with David Spade”. But he tired of comedy clubs after a few years and focused on writing instead. In 2006, his “Will & Grace” spec made it to the semi-finals of the Warner Bros. Comedy Workshop.

Switching to drama, he optioned the book “Minamata” (and the life rights of the author), about the experiences of journalist W. Eugene Smith photographing mercury poisoning victims in Japan. He wrote the screenplay in six weeks, and it got him a literary manager. Then Johnny Depp’s company came on board to produce with Depp himself as the star. Filming on MINAMATA completed in the Spring of ’19, with an expected release in Fall 2021. “Minamata” premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020 and has since been picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films for domestic distribution. It also stars Bill Nighy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, and the singer Katherine Jenkins.

His follow up, DREAMERS (based on the book John Lennon Vs. The US), is about John Lennon’s immigration battle with the Nixon administration which legally set the stage (many years later) for DACA/The Dream Act. 

David was recently hired by the director of “Minamata”, Andrew Levitas, to rewrite a script about the two brothers who owned Adidas and Puma and who battled each other for decades. That project, “Adidas V Puma”, is currently out to actors and mentioned in “The Hollywood Reporter” in early March 2021.

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David Kessler 0:00
Depp put a lot of them himself into the part and into the production of the movie. You know the movie was made I think the budget was $11 million. Maybe it was.

Alex Ferrari 0:12
It looks a lot more expensive than that.

David Kessler 0:14
It looks amazing.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
This episode is brought to you by bulletproof script coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome to the show, David Kessler, how're you doing, David?

David Kessler 0:29
Great.

Alex Ferrari 0:30
Thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I think I appreciate you reaching out to me, man, I get reached out by as you can imagine a lot of people want to come on the show. And very blessed with that. But when I saw your story, and I saw the films you worked on, and I just found it interesting to see your perspective on on the craft on the business and so on. So first question, man, how did you get into this insanity that is the business?

David Kessler 0:57
That's a this is this is my fourth career. So I have to have to make this one stick. I went to art school and went to Parsons School of Design. But I was always I was always I was trained to be a designer, but I was always writing on the side. met again many years ago, I wrote a short story for an NYU film application. And a friend gave it to a woman who came into her Cafe she was a waitress. And then it turned out that she then this woman wrote me a letter so I got a letter in the corner to Janklow and Nesbit Oh no, I'm getting sued. I'm gonna have to leave my apartment or something. You know? Like, it turns out Marchenko is an attorney and the logo looks very much like a law firm. But it turns out there they are, like the biggest literary agency in New York, they represent the represented Michael Creighton, they represented Richard Price who was my favorite author at the time. So yeah, my, my, my, my journey goes goes goes way back. So you know, that was sort of an inkling that maybe I had something that you know,

Alex Ferrari 2:11
Started yet someone's yet some some of the juice some of the magic

David Kessler 2:15
I had some of the juice. Yeah, I don't even think I don't even think I think I was still 21 I just graduated college. But yeah, I got I got rejected by NYU. I don't even know I don't even know how I could have afforded it. But

Alex Ferrari 2:29
So it might have been the best thing for you not to go to NYU because you might be still be carrying around an obscene amount of debt.

David Kessler 2:35
Probably Probably. But actually, I got to know a lot of NYU. People from that time. I was doing film titles for NYU students. So I put like fliers all over NYU like hey, I'll do your film titles for $99 or whatever it was. And I got to know some really interesting people. One of the people I got to know the first film title it was a guy named Randy Pearlstein Pearlstein he and his roommate, Eli Roth does later did Cabin Fever

Alex Ferrari 3:09
Wow, very cool. Now is it true that you also went to the same high school?

David Kessler 3:15
I went to the Philly version of the same high school

Alex Ferrari 3:18
So you went to the same high school the the Philly version? Yeah, but while you were there some of your your your co your students that you went to school with is a tree went to school with Boys to Men and quest love. Yes, yes. Yes. What was that like? Dude? How were they back then?

David Kessler 3:37
I think I was bullied by boys to men's like associates, freshman year. I remember somebody pushing me down on the roof. We had our we had our playground on the roof because it was in a city. I didn't and then yeah Questlove was a year below me. He was a mere Thompson then I didn't wait they were on a different floor. So they you know, they had they you know they had a music floor and then they had like, you know, rehearsal spaces in the basement you know that were soundproof so but yeah, I mean, I knew sort of a mirror in passing but I don't think he'd remember me.

Alex Ferrari 4:17
That's funny man as funny now from what I understand you also became a stand up as well. Yes. And you did some stand up work now I've had decades of experience with stand up so I know the creature very well.

David Kessler 4:32
It is. It is a beast. It is.

Alex Ferrari 4:36
A stand up the standup it is it is the comedian the stand up comedian is their own species. I you know the sad clown is very, very true in many in many cases. What drew you to stand up and because look, I was shooting a special once I was shooting a stand up special directing it and I just got up on the on the stage. age with nobody in the audience just to set up for the camera. They're like, Okay, I'll stand in. And I freaked out, just standing there in front of nobody in front of and I just I'm like, Oh no, I can never like it. It's it takes such a level of, I don't know, courage or insanity to try to go up there and entertain people with a mic for an hour. So what drew you to that insanity that's even more insane in the film business.

David Kessler 5:29
Indirectly, a therapist, Kaiser permanency drove drove me to it. I had just gotten to LA, I had moved to LA because I moved. I moved here because I met a woman on the World Wide Web, which is what we called it done. Yeah, and that that relationship crashed, like, I think on the fifth day, or the fourth day I was here. So I was here for about a year and a year and a half, two years. And I just was like, depressed, I couldn't get out of bed, and I went to Kaiser and the therapist was like, you know, what, you have no support system? No, you, you're kind of moved on a whim, you know, you need you, I need you to come back next week with a list of classes that you want to take. So you can you know, find some friends and you know, you know, build the community. So I think two minutes before the next session, I was like, stand up cooking class, acting class, writing class, dance class. And yeah, stand up was was the first thing and she goes, I think that might be good for you. And then like, probably a week and a half later, I was on the stand of class.

Alex Ferrari 6:37
Oh, my God. And then you went out and they started, you started doing stand up. Now you had some success and stand up a little bit and got some work in writing comedy and so on. Right?

David Kessler 6:47
Yeah, I got a manager. Probably within 20 months of the class. I was I was signed with Messina Baker they represented Tim L and Drew Carey. At the time. Yeah. So the representative, Tim Allen, Andrew Carey, and then there was like a bunch of people. Like, you know, there's the a list and then there were so like the E list I was I was sort of in the E list. There was no there was no mid there was no mid talent at the time.

Alex Ferrari 7:22
So when you were working in stand up in working in comedy writing, how did that help you in your dramatic writing that will that's where you are currently today?

David Kessler 7:31
Yeah, I It's hard to say I actually the first script I ever wrote was a biopic which is now my thing. But I wrote a biopic in the mid 90s, about Frankie Lymon and the teenagers. Frankie Lymon was the kid who sang Why do fools fall in love? So that was my first script. So I wrote that in the mid to late 90s. Yeah. And then I was doing standup in the early 2000s, mid 2000s. I don't know, for some reason, the comedy thing. I stopped doing stand up. But I was still writing romantic comedies and comedy scripts. And just it just wasn't sticking. I just I just, you know, there were some nibbles and some bites and, and then all of a sudden, I just made this. I think I think I stopped. Yeah, I stopped. I stopped all entertainment. I was in the laundry business for a long time, which is, which is career number two, career number three, you know, I was like, because I was in my early to mid 30s. And I was like, Okay, I need to grow up. Like, you know, I, you know, I need to get serious about, you know, trying to stay alive. And yeah, and then I just I did a hard pivot to drama and true stories. And that was the thing that was the thing that stuck.

Alex Ferrari 8:47
But you and you were you've been drawn to true stories pretty much ever since it's kind of like you're you've kind of niched yourself in that space.

David Kessler 8:53
Yeah, yeah. I've gotten sort of a semi reputation as the, you know, the doctor of broken biopics. So yeah, there was there was like, I gotten a couple or two or three freelance jobs where producers had come come to me with with a piece of IP or a book or an idea or a true story. And they're like, we've had other people work on this and we have this script and you know, Can Can you try and fix it?

Alex Ferrari 9:20
So, so your script doctored a bunch as well?

David Kessler 9:23
Yeah, in fact, the director of Minamata hired me to rewrite a script he had called the data is V Puma, which was about the two brothers who own those companies who are at war with one another for 30 years.

Alex Ferrari 9:38
So Adidas and Puma had, they were brothers, the owners of this company,

David Kessler 9:42
Yeah, one guy, his name was Adi Dassler. It does it does it this got it? And the other guy was Rudolph, Rudy Dassler there with the Dotzler brothers. And then he founded Puma so they they so yeah, they they had they had a shoe company in the 20s and 30s called the docile shoe company. And then world war two kind of split them apart. And then yeah, one, one.

Alex Ferrari 10:13
That's an interesting story.

David Kessler 10:15
I did a page one rewrite on that spirit. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 10:18
Oh, that must I can't I hope it gets made one day. That'd be a fantastic

David Kessler 10:22
My manager called me about a month ago. And she goes, Oh, yeah, the script you wrote has come back to the agency because they represent directors and and they had it. It's sort of like went out in the world. And it came right back for another client.

Alex Ferrari 10:39
It's interesting how that works is like is a writer, you write something or you're hired to write something and you've no idea what's going to happen to you kind of, you know, you pray to the Hollywood gods, that someone's going to produce it. And I've said this on the show so many times that there's I know writers who might have one, one really popular movie on their on their resume, or are actually produced one or two things. And they're like, oh, they haven't done anything in 10 years. I'm like, No, they've been working nonstop. They've probably written 10 or 15. Paid been paid to write 10 or 15 scripts that just haven't been produced, let alone Script doctoring.

David Kessler 11:15
Right, right. Yeah, I had. I called I call the company that owns the manage the estates of rock bands. And I got a guy on the phone. And I said, Yeah, I've done the Johnny Depp movie, Minamata. Yatta, yatta yatta. And he goes, what else have you done? And I go, Well, you know, being my first movie starring and produced Johnny Depp, I don't think that's too bad. But he was very quick to dismiss that I only had one, right. Oh, but I made that one. But you know, to start with,

Alex Ferrari 11:48
It's not a bad it's not a bad hit to come out with. So let's talk a little bit about Minamata. You are the producer of that, as well as the writer of it, one of the writers of it as well, and one of the most of it. So you're the one who started, you're the one that went out and optioned the book. All that how did you decide to option the book? How did you option the book? And can you explain to the audience of screenwriters out there and filmmakers who might want to Option A book what the process is like?

David Kessler 12:19
It was just it was just a few years of crawling over broken glass. That's all it was. That's it really was really overnight. Really, it was really easy. I had known of the photograph, there's a very famous photograph of this Japanese woman bathing her severely disabled and deformed daughter. I knew that photograph when I was at Parsons, because that was in like, every the best photo journalism book, The Best of, you know, time life. It was it's a haunting picture. I don't know if you've seen the

Alex Ferrari 12:55
No, I've seen. I've seen the picture.

David Kessler 12:57
Yeah, it's and yeah, so that was taken by Jean Eugene Smith. And I didn't, I thought it was in Hiroshima, because it was from black and white. And, you know, it just felt like it was from long ago. But it was only taken, you know, a decade and a half or two decades before I was in college. So then, you know, I discovered the story behind the photograph and the story behind Jean Smith. And then I actually got the Minamata book out of the Los Angeles Public Library. Luckily, it's still in circulation because some books you you can only get at the downtown library, you know, the reference, you know, so that I have to travel, travel, you know, 15 miles and find parking in downtown LA, which I really loads. But yeah, so then I tracked Mrs. Smith down, Mrs. Smith had a, a website where she, you know, answered questions about photographs, or if people wanted to license to photographs. So I reached out to her. January of 2011 never wrote me back. I tried a full year later, just January 12. I was like, I'm just gonna send the same email. And then she wrote me back a few days later. And that this was a big leap of faith for her because I'm not Steven Spielberg. I'm not Bob Zemeckis. I'm not Eric Roth. I don't you know, I don't have Munich behind me. I don't have Schindler's List behind me. I was a guy who did stand up and wrote romantic comedies so and had never made a movie before. So it was a huge, huge I owe Mrs. Smith a huge gratitude, and a debt for trusting me with her story and her husband's story and the story of the community that they lived in. But yeah, it took two years. It was two years of she lives in Japan. She's half Japanese. So it took two years of emails and Skype. phone calls at midnight and letters back and forth. And sometimes she would, you know, decide, um, you know, maybe this isn't a good idea, maybe this is not something I want to revisit, and it brings up too many bad memories and, and then I'd have to reel her back. You know, I think it's a good thing. I think it's a good it would be a good thing for the world to be reminded. Yeah, so it took it was a year and a half of convincing her. And then it was six months of legal wrangling. So yeah, it was it was it was 23 months before she signed on the dotted line.

Alex Ferrari 15:33
So you, you were like a dog with a bone for a year and a half, essentially, and didn't give up. I did not give up on this process, which is a very important lesson for everyone listening. It doesn't happen overnight. Yeah, how? How much are you willing to endure? Because most people would have given up after six months after a couple months there would have given this this lady just doesn't want to do it. It's not for me. What? Who am I? How did you I want to ask you, I'm assuming during that year and a half of you trying to convince this lady to give you the rights or husband's amazing story and book

David Kessler 16:08
And her story.

Alex Ferrari 16:09
Yeah. And her story as well. There had to be moments that you said to yourself, in the quiet of the night, who do you think you are? How dare you think you could even attempt to do something like that? There have been some negative talks and impostor syndrome flying around? How did you overcome that?

David Kessler 16:27
I have a little have a little like sticky on my, my computer, you know, the digital sticky, you know, yeah. And it says, Don't give up on something that you think about every day. So that that that that little digital Mac sticky kind of kept me going on? Because I do you know, I did think about it every day. And I did think it was an important story. And I was just like, You know what, I'm just, I'm just gonna give

Alex Ferrari 16:57
You just kept going, you know, no matter what did you write the script before you had the rights? Or as even as an exercise? Or did you wait,

David Kessler 17:08
I waited, I waited that I had written the Frankie Lymon script on spec, but I hadn't had the rights. And then as soon as I finished that there was an announcement that Gregory Nava was going to do what it was fall in love. And then I had 120 pages of garbage. So I didn't want to make the same mistake of putting all this time and effort and creativity into something that that could go, but I did in my head. I did have like, Okay, this could be the first act, this could be the second act. This is the theme. These are the things I want to talk about, you know, these are the scenes I want to have. So I did I did have it cooking. And I might have written you know, a one page.

Alex Ferrari 17:48
Maybe something something just to like, I don't want to lose this that stuff. Yeah, there was like, Oh, that would be a good scene.

David Kessler 17:54
And then I would maybe write it down. But I didn't. I didn't like I didn't hit fade in and start start writing. I didn't do that.

Alex Ferrari 18:00
So Alright, so now you've got the signature, you've got the rights. Yeah. You've never produced a movie before. You've never made a movie before. That's right. What is the next step? Like? How did you get this thing off the ground? Because you're now one of 1000? If not 10,000? guys running around Hollywood with life rights or book rights or things like that? What made you able to what, how did you get it off the ground? What made you stand above everybody else, at least just to get this thing going?

David Kessler 18:34
You know, I shook the trees of use of you know, friends of friends, co workers. And I remember talking to a woman who worked at participant films, because this seemed like it was up their alley because it had a social environmental component. And she was very blunt and impatient, and she was kind of like, you got rights, that's great. But it's not a script. You know, like, it's not a commodity, you know, like, it's something but it's not something anything. She was basically say, like, turn those rights into a script, you know, or find a writer. So then I wrote the script and six weeks.

Alex Ferrari 19:22
You wrote the whole script and six weeks. I mean, but you've been cooking on it for two years.

David Kessler 19:25
It was it was it was cooking. It was cooking. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 19:28
So you were cooking it for two years, but you actually wrote the draft that went out in six weeks.

David Kessler 19:34
First Draft six weeks, maybe I wrote a bunch of revisions, but it wasn't that different than the first draft.

Alex Ferrari 19:42
So you're the bulk of what you the bulk of what the script was, was written in those six weeks. Yeah. Yeah. That's That's crazy. All right. So now that you have the script now, you're now you're a guy, a screenwriter who has a script who has life rights, again. 9000 of those.

David Kessler 19:58
Right, right, right. Ah, right now, now I'm just one of 50,000 people with a script, but I have the life rights what's actually, you know, meant something that actually had, it had some currency that, you know, there's IP, you know, it was, it was a book, you know. And then I own the rights, you know, so like it gave me it sprinkled a little, little magic dust on on it that, you know, I have the Moxie and I have the entrepreneurship of, you know, getting the rights. You know, like,

Alex Ferrari 20:36
As soon as a writer though, and I want that's one of the reasons I wanted you on the show, because I wanted writers to understand the importance of what you've done with this with this project, specifically, because you did, what basically 1% of 1% of all screenwriters do, which is take control of their of their career, and give themselves a better shot by going out and becoming a producer and or entrepreneur, and going after life rights going after IP going after something that makes you stand out of the crowd. And that's, that's why I'm kind of really examining your process and really, hopefully inspiring somebody listening.

David Kessler 21:20
That was one of the smarter things I've done in the last few decades was, was was was Yeah, being being an entrepreneur, slash producer, in terms of of getting the rights.

Alex Ferrari 21:35
So you've got the rights and that you're running around town. How did how did you? what point did someone say, hey, let's, let's make this

David Kessler 21:45
Well, I have the script and I have the rights. And then I had a friend who I met actually, this is one of the reasons you know, it's great to take classes and you know, meet you know, find comrades and collaborators. I met when I hit I after the Scanner class, I took a sketch class sketch comedy class within beats, who actually passed quite recently, and she was one of the original female writers of SNL. The original SNL the original 75 Yeah. 70 to 80. So she wrote the NoGi sketch, you know the, with Bill Murray and, and Gilda Radner. She had previously written for the Lampoon the National Lampoon. So I took, I took a sketch class, and in that sketch class, a woman had taken the sketch house before me. We had stayed friends. And, you know, now this is 15 13 15 years later, she had a manager. And so I gave her Minamata. She gave it to her manager, she nagged her manager to read it. Her manager had once worked for a photographic photography magazine, in the 70s, in New York City. So there was this kind of like, Oh, I know who, you know, Jean Smith was I, you know, I worked at this magazine, you know. And then finally she read it, and then she loved it. And then and then I got signed by her. And then she was sending out the script.

Alex Ferrari 23:24
And then how did Johnny Depp get involved?

David Kessler 23:27
She sent it to Johnny Depp's company. This is kind of a funny story. She said, she sent it out. And she's ended the journey of the company. And they passed. Past. Simple, simple pass, you know, they might have said they liked the writing, I don't remember. But then nine months later, or 10, eight, eight to eight to eight to 12 months later, I think it was under a year. She calls me on a Friday and says you're not gonna believe this. But Johnny Depp's company has called maybe somebody new RedHat. She says, they think you can win an Academy Award and they and they want us to come in on Monday happened.

So we had, like we were there on a Monday and there was a guy, you know, we have a meeting in a conference room. Now I've since found out what had happened. I have now pieced together the these little threads. So what happened? It turned out he had read it months earlier. He had loved it. He brought it to his boss, his boss, passed for whatever reasons. And then I think he had gotten a promotion, you know, eight months net 10 months later. And then he was told that you know, I hoped apologies to Jason I hope I'm getting the story the story correct. But he was told that you know, he could I'm spearhead a project. And he said, You know, I can't stop thinking about the Minamata script, which is goes to, you know, the earlier thing, if you can't stop thinking about it, maybe it's something you should, you should, you know, you know, go after with with with, with all the love in your heart. And then she goes, Well, if you can't stop thinking about it, maybe, you know, take the lead. And then he called, he called me and told me and then we were in the office on Monday.

Alex Ferrari 25:32
And what point did Johnny read it?

David Kessler 25:35
That's a good question. I don't know, I'm gonna have to go back and piece together the puzzle on that. But maybe for a year and a half to two years, it was never talked about that he would star. They just they just did it was they were just developing it as a production company. Now. It's possible. This was being groomed to be a project for Johnny. But I wasn't privy to those conversations. And it was never mentioned to me.

Alex Ferrari 26:12
So So I want I want, again, people listening just I think there's a lesson here to be to be pointed out. So nine months after they said, No, swing back and say we think this could win an Oscar, you come in on Monday. That's right. That is something that you can't plan for. No, can't prepare for. There is such an element of luck in this industry, that after talking to so many people over the years, who have been at high levels in the industry, luck plays such a big part. But with that said, you had a script, you had life rights, you had you had done a lot of the legwork to get you to that place. So in other words, that phone call would have never come unless you have gone through those two years of over the glass trying to get the rights and all this time and effort trying to get this thing made. But because you did all that work at one point or another, literally luck. Just opened that door.

David Kessler 27:15
Yeah, a lot of things needed to fall into place at just the right time. I mean, I'm not going to discount the amazing luck that has befallen me and Kismet you know, because I took this sketch class, but this this, this woman, Moira, she was in the sketch class, not this guy. She was in the sketch house before my sketch class, but happened to go to our performance, who I met after the show. So the serendipity of her coming to my class, even though she wasn't, you know, coming to the show, even though she wasn't in my class. And then us, you know, staying in touch, and remaining friends for 15 years.

Alex Ferrari 27:53
So long con, it's a long con.

David Kessler 27:56
I was I was inadvertently playing the long game. And so then yeah, so then, you know, she gets a manager, the manager worked at of photography magazine in the 1970s had a personal interest in the subject matter. Read the script, you know, gave it knew the person who ran Johnny Depp's company gave it to Johnny Depp's company. And then and then there's other things that I found out much later was, you know, Johnny Depp had come in the office because he was, you know, off making pirate movies. As soon as someone dies, he's not in the office every day. So he came in the office, and then you know, they have a they have these meetings of, you know, what's going on, you know, what are we developing? What are we looking at? What are we producing? What are we thinking about? You know, and they said, well, well, Johnny, you know, we have this script. It's based on a book. It's called Minamata. It's it's about the journey of this photographer named Eugene Smith. And apparently depth goes I know that Jane Smith is I mean, he didn't say that the be a jerk. He was just saying, like, you know, I'm a, I'm a fan. You don't explain it to me. So it turned out Depp had been a fan of Jean Smith. I, he he had known. You know, he'd been a fan of the photography. He'd been a, you know, sort of aware of Jean Smith's reputation. Jean Smith was a was an eccentric. He was a tortured artist who drank a lot and did drugs and, you know, burn bridges. I think it was in the pantheon of people that DEP admires you know, your Hunter Thompson. Say, you know, your your Keith Richards you know, he just

Alex Ferrari 29:36
You're Jack Sparrow, if you will.

David Kessler 29:38
Jackson Pollock, you know, he just fell into into the boat that kind of self destructive, you know, tortured artist. And, in addition, he had been depth had been friends with a woman named melee Mary Ellen Mark, who was a documentarian, who made a document who made a A doc document documentary about street kids in Seattle in the late 70s, early 80s. She later made it into a feature with Jeff Bridges. Do you remember this movie? Jeff, I forget what the movie was called Jeff Bridges is in it. Edward Furlong plays his sons. And then it was loosely based upon the documentary, I remember that that she had made. So yes, she was. She had taken classes from Eugene Smith in the late 60s, early 70s, at the New School for Social Research, where he had gone to college where I had gone to college. And she had told depth these stories about Jean Smith, you know,

Alex Ferrari 30:37
So it's kind of like the universe was like, building up this, this, this, this, this a maximum point, this turning point where all of these things would just come to a head and you just, yeah, there's no time.

David Kessler 30:49
This was a 50. This was a 52 years, it was a decade long, long game.

Alex Ferrari 30:54
That's what this this was you you had no idea you were part of it till later on.

David Kessler 30:58
I didn't.

Alex Ferrari 31:01
Alright, so I have to ask you. So you know, there's been a lot of talk. There's been over the years have done a lot of talk about Johnny, and how he works with his, his crew and how you worked with writing. What was it like producing a movie with Johnny Depp? Especially something like this? How involved is he in the script is the scripting process? Because I mean, he does take a character and this is obviously based on someone real, but he does take a character and kind of go with it. I mean, I mean, he made the Pirates of the Caribbean without Johnny Depp, there is no Pirates of the Caribbean. I don't care what they do after now that they're not going to have him back or anything. There is no parser therapy without Johnny Depp. So without Jack Sparrow, so how, how did he approach this process with you?

David Kessler 31:43
Yep. That was really that put a lot of himself into the part and into the production of the movie. You know, the movie was made? I think the budget was $11 million. Maybe it was it was looks, it looks a lot more expensive than that. It looks amazing. I mean, it looks amazing. The cinematographers may Andrew did an amazing job. Stunning. Richie Sakamoto did the music. I mean, like, if you've made a list of like, who should do the music, like Ricci Sakamoto would be like, top of that list

Alex Ferrari 32:21
Yeah. Bill Nye and you have

David Kessler 32:22
Oh, yeah. Bill Nye. So yeah. Deb. You know, again, Deb had this personal connection, you know, to Jean Smith, as an artist as a person. So you know, I mean, I mean, I don't want to say he did the movie for scale. But he did the movie for just a fraction of what he used to get to be a pirate.

Alex Ferrari 32:44
Basically, a bunch of lunch money lunch money for Jack Sparrow.

David Kessler 32:48
Yeah, we shot in Serbia and Montenegro. You know, we couldn't even afford to shoot it in Japan, unfortunately. I think although they did shoot some plates in Japan. So yeah, I mean, this was a personal this was a this was something personal for for Johnny. So yeah, I was I was on set. I'm in a minute scene in the movie. There's a scene in Life Magazine, you might have seen the clip, where he's like, kind of walking around this conference table and lecture lecturing us. Yeah, I'm at the table. But if you sneeze or blink, if you do one of those two things, you will miss me. But yeah, I mean, he, he looks, he looks like Jean Smith, you know, with a beard, and he's got his age spots. And he's, he was the same age as as Smith was at the time. You know, there's this world weariness that Smith had, but Johnny just sort of has, you know, being who Johnny is. Yeah, of course, at the age that Johnny is. And you know, he just he just embodied the part and then on onset, he was called gene. He was called, on the call sheet says, like, you know, Gene Smith as Gene Smith. He just took it really, really seriously.

Alex Ferrari 34:13
So you so you're there watching him? I'm assuming you were there almost every day on set, or were you on set a lot.

David Kessler 34:18
I was there for a week. I was I was just there for a week in Serbia. So I only saw some some scenes.

Alex Ferrari 34:24
Okay, so when you're on the set and watching Johnny work, what did I mean? You know, he's our he's arguably one of the better actors of his generation. Without question, what's it like seeing him work and also bringing your words to life?

David Kessler 34:41
It's, it was the latter part of your question. It's sort of an out of body experience. Like, I like I like I don't know how I've gotten to this point. You know, I mean, things were not going well for me and my laundry business until the end. I had $50.12 in the bank before they wired in the money or the movie. You know, like I was going to have to move back to my parents house in Philadelphia like things were not you know, my pivot into the laundry industry was was ended up not not being a good one. So

Alex Ferrari 35:19
I thought my pivot into the olive oil and vinegar business was rough.

David Kessler 35:24
Yeah, my my last gamble was making a movie. I like it. Like, it's weird that this this, this worked out the way you did. But but to your earlier point, Johnny Depp's is amazing. That one scene took about eight and a half hours to shoot the scene in the Life Magazine. I'm sitting at the table. I'm sitting at the table the entire day, just watching him work. Essentially. I'm sitting next to Bill Nye. He is He is to my right. Katherine Jenkins, the opera singer and performer who's the director's wife is sitting across from me. And debt, that's the depot supposed to walk around the table and lecture us all. And, you know, when we start, you know, 830 in the morning, and depth is, you know, Okay, I gotta say this when I hit this mark, okay, okay, you know, and he's, he's got a long monologue, maybe it's a three and a half minute monologue, I don't remember. But he's got a lot to say, in a short amount of time. And again, he's got a hit, you know, Mark's gonna hit the marks, and you know, the camera, people are following him around and, you know, boom, people. So in the beginning, you know, it's like, oh, no, you know, is is, you know, it's he's kind of kind of rough going, you know, the first first, you know, 30 minutes or hour, you know, and if you're, what's the line? Okay. Okay. But then, the course of the day, I am watching. Like, it's a masterclass, I am watching Johnny Depp, like, find the meaning in the words, you know, like, find the meaning behind the meaning, like, I'm watching him, connect with Bill Nye, you know, who he knows? Yeah, he's here with Bill Nye, who he's known for 20 years. But in the movie, Jean Smith obviously knows the the editor of Life magazine for probably as long. So like, there's these kind of mirroring, like, parallel relationships that are happening, you know, so he's, you know, he's, you know, playing this bitter photographer who's angry at the life. Like, I was just like, minutes before we shot. I don't know, Bill gave Johnny or bill or Johnny gave bill, a book was like a nonfiction book, I thought you would really enjoy this. So good to have this relationship. Then I'm watching this relationship play out with my words and the words of the script. And I'm like, This is amazing. You know, like, there's, there's history there. Like, there's real life history that they are sort of pinging back, you know, they're, they're mining from it was kind of extraordinary.

Alex Ferrari 38:08
That's amazing. No, it was, it was amazing. So let me ask you, do you have any advice for people who are adapting screenwriters who are adapting a true story? What advice you wish you would have known when you started adapting these kind of things? That's a different art form than writing something from scratch.

David Kessler 38:27
Yeah, it's funny. Just this weekend, I taught a one to one day workshop, a three hour workshop called The Art of adaptation. And I had about two and a half hours of it advice. And I think the first chunk of it was like, you know how to win over people who own the IP.

Alex Ferrari 38:49
That's, that's a class in itself. It is.

David Kessler 38:52
It is. It's not easy. It's really not easy. You know, it's, I mean, it's easier now for me, you know, oh, I made this movie with Johnny Depp. And

Alex Ferrari 39:03
Oh, yeah, the doors open a little bit wider. Yeah. Like, like, Hi, I'm Steven Spielberg. And that's what you need to say.

David Kessler 39:08
Well, it was even a little tougher. You know, when like, the movie hadn't been made yet. So it was just kind of theoretical. It was just like, movie Johnny Depp Minamata. You know, people really couldn't like they could watch it. They could see it. Sure. No, it wasn't, it wasn't tangible. But now I can say oh, you can look at it on iTunes and, you know, amaz Amazon Prime and, and whatnot. Yeah, so part of it is, I think the first part of the class was, yeah, adeno identifying IP, where you could find it. It's everywhere. I mean, like, oh, there's

Alex Ferrari 39:40
1000s 10s Hundreds 1000s of bugs, comics and gate. There's just so much

David Kessler 39:45
There's, there's 400,000 recordings that you could put you could you know, you could write a movie based on a song and use the actual song. So there's almost half a million songs that you can use the actual recordings of anything before 1926 In America, but interestingly, you can't the UK and Canada have different public domain rules, which I found out about that's like, it's like, the death. It's like the life of the author plus 50 or 70 years. You know, which is which is different than the US. So it's like you whatever was published in Canada or the UK, that might you know, that stuff might be available 10 years before it's available. Domestic.

Alex Ferrari 40:41
So how does that work, though? So like, I'll go over the Canada by the rights of Canada. And can you play it out here? You can't do that?

David Kessler 40:46
I don't I don't know. Yeah, that's yeah, that's what I do know this. I have I have a friend who's a Broadway producer. And he's, he's doing a musical of the Little Prince. Yeah. But he's only doing it in like Europe, because the rights are available. Yeah. Like, you couldn't do it here. And you could I like, I think, even think he's doing it in Hungary or Poland or something. There's like

Alex Ferrari 41:16
Some place that's like, so specific that you can't get out of that. Nobody.

David Kessler 41:19
It's like, he's got a full production. And he can do it. And he can perform the shows on that IP, because he's, you know, he's found the loopholes of the countries that you can. So yeah, there's all these like, you know, very interesting. There's all these like, very interesting, like, little like, you know, loopholes that you can sort of like slide through. Even in my research, you know, about the Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Dollar Baby thing,

Alex Ferrari 41:52
Ofcourse, yeah. Let everybody know. But yeah, that short film thing. Yeah, I've heard that forever. But go ahead.

David Kessler 41:56
He still does it. I thought, Well, he did like the middle does it.

Alex Ferrari 42:01
So for everybody listening, Stephen King will allow you to license a short film that is not licensed by a major company or a short short story, a short story, excuse me of his of his that can be turned into a short film. And you can't make money on it. You can't sell it. But the only prerequisite is you could send it but not the festival, show it off as yourself. But he needs to get a copy of it. So you can watch it. That's right. And there was a couple guys who got their starts like that fair, Frank Darabont. I think yeah, I think Frank Darabont Frank Darabont started his whole journey with that that's how he was able to license Shawshank Redemption not for $1 Obviously because but he had a relationship already with Stephen King and then that then went on to the Green Mile and and then missed in all these other things.

David Kessler 42:47
The missed the Miss gave me nightmares.

Alex Ferrari 42:52
Dude, I just had Thomas Jane on. Oh, wow. You can listen to that episode. It's so awesome. Like,

David Kessler 42:57
Yeah, so you can you can go to Stephen King John says last dollar, baby. And then all the rules right there. Yeah. So there's, there's, there's there is IP there is and then, you know, in my, in my class, I was breaking down, like all the things that are inspired. But you know, like, there's so many things that are Frankenstein, like, Oh, my God, Ex Machina. Frankenstein. Like, you know, Shakespeare. Oh my God, there's so many ships. Oh, you know, they did the hip hop a fellow, you know, 1010 Things I Hate About You. And then they did the meta Shakespeare, they did a Shakespeare play about a Shakespeare play

Alex Ferrari 43:42
Taming the shrewd. It's, there's so much IP out there that if you are a new writer wanting to get into the business, if you can come up with a new unique twist on a obviously successful IP, like a Shakespeare play, but just turn it and flip it around in a way that makes sense for you. It makes sense that's something new and fresh, which is hard to do and those kinds of IPs. But that's just an example. You can get the ball rolling on it, you can get your career off the ground, you can create a writing sample based on the structure of some of the greatest writers of all time.

David Kessler 44:18
You cannot you can take a Lovecraft story and Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, I mean, there there are lists. And I sent this out to my class. And actually, I'll forward it to you that are just like, they're the websites that just keep track of like what's fresh in the public domain? Oh, that's nice. You know, like Eugene O'Neill stories, and the way novels like there's just all this stuff that is just just like what is alien, except it's a haunted house story in space, right? Like Outland is a Western in space. Like just take something and put it in Space.

Alex Ferrari 45:01
Well, and it's a little bit more expensive to shoot stuff in space, but generally speaking, yes. Or you could just be a desolate. Poke post apocalyptic, post apocalyptic.

David Kessler 45:11
I mean, look, the abyss is a haunted house story in the water

Alex Ferrari 45:16
Again, again very difficult to shoot. But But yes, no without without question and all those. There's always I mean, look at and I've said this before and I'm not the first to say this. The Fast and Furious is point break. And it was based on an article, right so but the Fast and Furious No, no, no, no, but the Fast and Furious. Yeah, the Fast and Furious first movie was based on an article, but the structure of the movie is point break.

David Kessler 45:44
Oh, okay. Right.

Alex Ferrari 45:45
I mean, just look at it. Just look at it undercover cop the girl extreme infiltrating secret. It's point break point for point beat for beat, you just go through it. There's videos on it on YouTube. It's just point break. It's all it is, is Point Break, and you're just like, me Can't believe now. It's like some sort of James Bond Frankenstein that they turned it into.

David Kessler 46:11
But to your point, it's like IP of IP, you know,

Alex Ferrari 46:14
I mean, it was they used to structure but they use the structure of another movie. And completely, I don't know how they got away with it, to be honest with you. But, but things like that. There's always stories out there. And if you can attach and in the world we live in today, IP is king. Everybody just wants IP, everyone wants a best selling book. Everybody wants something that they can hold their hat, they could do that get the give an executive and out if all goes wrong. So in other words, hey, I we put this movie into production is based on a Shakespeare play. Who knew? You know, they have to have something to escape hatch? If not, they don't take risks on original IP as much anymore. Because if they fail, they're gone.

David Kessler 46:59
I mean, what is AI? If it's not Pinocchio with robots, you know, but, I mean, there's even a Blue Fairy in it. I mean, and Jude Law is like a handsome robot Jiminy Cricket. I mean, you know, but um, yeah, I just read somebody's hard script. It was it took place in a single location, I found on the blacklist website. And then I got the guy on the phone. And I said, Hey, you know, what's, what inspired this? And he goes, Well, this this serial, the serial serial killer did this, like one thing? You know, like, I don't know, if he put people in the basement. First, I forget what it was. It was something benign. I mean, not benign, but not something, not something like, Oh, my God, that's horrible. And I can't I don't want to think about it. But it was just like, you know, maybe it was the van. I don't know. It was something small, right? It was something small and not pedestrian. But you know, and I said, Listen, I'm gonna, I'm gonna raise the value of your spec with four words. Okay, open up final draft or Highlander, whatever it is. Okay, right under your name. You're doing this inspired by a true story. Oh, yeah, that's, yeah, it's not wrong. It was inspired by this one little thing that this terrible person did, you know, one or one or two times, and I was like, Dude, that's the inspiration for your script. And, you know, people will be interested. It's got some magic dust on it, you know, inspired by a true story.

Alex Ferrari 48:27
It's so it's so true. And now you see that everywhere now is everything's inspired by a true story inspired by true story. I look, again, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show is to talk to you about IP about how to get IP. And it's so important in today's world, because you need something make you stand out as a writer and as a filmmaker. And if something as simple as the Stephen King Dollar, baby thing. I mean, if you're coming up as a filmmaker, and you're like, I don't have anything, I don't have a story to tell him I go read one of the best authors of his generation of the 20th century 21st century Stephen King. And he's how many stories short stories.

David Kessler 49:03
Yeah, hundreds and and you can make it on your you can make it on your phone,

Alex Ferrari 49:07
Which, which I've seen by the way, I've seen him by the way I get I've get pitched Stephen King projects all the time. Like those short bit like I just made a Stephen King short film, and they're using Stephen King's name to try to open some doors. Oh, they're like, Oh, it's a noose, a new short film by Stephen King that he wrote it. And I'm like, Yeah, I'm hip to the game already brought it I think.

David Kessler 49:28
I think that violates the dollar maybe rules, because he's got specific rules that you like, you can't you can't you can't like, oh, Stephen King authorized this or something like yeah,

Alex Ferrari 49:38
No, no, yeah. But nowadays, everybody knows about this. I mean, everybody in the business kind of knows about it, but it still opens. If you want to be a director and want to show off what you can do. Why not on a Stephen King movie. I mean, it works with Frank Darabont back in the 80s. I saw his his his Stephen King adaptation

David Kessler 49:54
It was was it was a chore. Or was it something

Alex Ferrari 49:56
Oh, no, no, it wasn't Shawshank. It was a think it was the one it was called the boogeyman, I think was the book, The boogeyman, the boogeyman, I remember I wanted to make that back in the day I wanted to make the book and I was How was his short? Is it the ad? So is it you know, the technology wasn't that it was shot on 35. I think he shot on 60. And one of the two, it was good, it was well crafted. It was, you know, he was a writer wanted to be a director. And then he put he pulled this obscure short film, which was the Rita Davis, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which nobody in there, who's gonna make a movie out of that short film. And then Frank actually filled it out and build out a feature based on that short film. And then Steven was so excited ecstatic about it, then he's like, Hey, I'm writing this thing called the Green Mile. And he was giving him the Green Mile episodes before anybody. So he was already he's like, Steven, I need to I need I need to make this. So it was that was why it was right. After Shawshank. He went right back to the prison and made Green Mile, which is still is one of my favorite movies of all time as well. And then he went back with the mist and, and so on. It's just, it's fascinating. But that's, that's one of those success stories of someone using IP. And God bless Stephen King for doing it.

David Kessler 51:15
Yeah, I'm glad you brought up short stories short stories are, they're, they're a great, they're a great place to mine from because, you know, they're not on everybody's mind. You know, I mean, they might be in a collection that's out of print. Right? Oh, like, you know, who reads short story collections anymore? I mean, I remember the last time I read one, but you know, Stephen King, son, Joe Hill, they're making a movie. I think it's called fun. Oh, my God, that was an amazing short story. I went back and I read the short story, but short stories, you know, it's not it's not on top of mind, right? You could get a famous author to, like Stephen King to maybe license the, you know, allow you to, you know, you know, option, their short story, an author of a short story might feel less. They might be less, you know, yeah, less precious. That's I was gonna say proprietary, but less precious about like, wow, like, you know, it's only 15 pages or 20 pages short.

Alex Ferrari 52:15
It's a short film, what are you going to do with it, you want to make a short film, knock yourself out,

David Kessler 52:19
You know, but love versus like, oh, I spent 10 years writing this novel, I don't want you to change a word. You know, they and then that way, you have more you have more I can flesh it out. It can it can be more of your own, you know, you can add stuff to it. Yeah. So you know, I mean, if I had more time and more inclination, I would probably go into your short story. collections.

Alex Ferrari 52:40
So what are you working next man? What are you working on next?

David Kessler 52:44
I have a Kubrick I mentioned this. Before we got on the air. I have a Kubrick themed script. What else am I working on? They're all they tend to be true stories. I'm reading some nonfiction books, ones ones ones about has to deal with UFOs. Awesome I'm working on. Oh, yeah, I have reached I reached out there, there are some big properties that I am like I'm swinging for the fences for one's a rock band. One's a rock band. Who has already had, you know an adaptation of one of their things made. There's there's another rock artists of the 60s and 70s and 80s. I just want to make a movie of a chapter of his biography, you know, just just just one of the chapters, you know, not the whole thing. You know, because that has a beginning and a middle and end. That's that's another thing I love about true stories and IP is that structures laid out for you. But yeah,

Alex Ferrari 54:04
We had somebody who came on the show who wrote The Motley Crue biopic for Netflix. Oh, wow. Yeah. And he but he'd been on it for 15 years, somewhere that like it took forever to get Yeah.

David Kessler 54:18
I had the the rock stars people bid for just a moment. There was a moment where like, all the conduits between me and the rock star, you know, we're all like, Oh, he's interested. And now now now. Now now now, I don't know it just it just it just kind of, kind of like they say in the dating parlance kind of I feel like I've gotten ghosted, right but but now that Minamata is going to come out on DVD, I'm literally buying like, you know, 20 copies of it and I'm just gonna mail it to the people that I want to get the IP from gone. There's a movie for you to watch it If you'd like it, let's talk.

Alex Ferrari 55:01
Yeah, that's a that's a Yeah. Well, I mean, you've got a heck of a calling card. Now, that's a really Heck of a calling card to rock it out. But man, listen, your story has been so inspiring man. You know, it doesn't happen very often. Your first first movie out of the gate is of such magnitude, such quality and, and working with one of the biggest movie stars in the world. It's a pretty amazing story. I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

David Kessler 55:30
Find some IP not not just for the, you know, magic dust that that you know, having, you know, some, some some intellectual property, you know, it eases the writing, you know, it eases the pulling your hair out and trying to figure out how God what's gonna happen now, what's my character's motivation? You know, who's the bad guy? A lot of it is already laid out, you know, in the

Alex Ferrari 55:59
Oh, yeah, a lot of the heavy lifting has been done if you're picking up somebody else's IP. I mean, it's a lot of heavy lifting has been done, you just now have to, as opposed to trying to build something you're trying to now you're taking things away, which is a lot easier. You're editing versus creating scenes, like I have 400 scenes to choose from, but I really only got 27 I can actually put in the movie.

David Kessler 56:18
Unless you unless you're adapting a short story then it's a different edition novels are about or, or about subtraction, right? And, and often nonfiction is about addition, there are a lot of stuff I had to add Minamata the book is basically it's almost like a travelogue. It's and then it's you know, it has it's kind of a photo essay.

Alex Ferrari 56:44
The meat is there. You're just seasoning there.

David Kessler 56:46
Were there were some I mean, there's some scenes and stuff, but I relied on, you know, Eileen, you know, gave me a lot of stories. And I relied on there's, you know, an 800 page, Jean Smith biography. But there was a lot of filling in ahead of it. So yeah, so So yeah, find find some some IP and again, anything before 1926 Depending on your country.

Alex Ferrari 57:11
Don't make a movie about Mickey Mouse. No, that's, that's not going to work.

David Kessler 57:15
I mean, I don't know if you're aware, but Steamboat Willie is up, is is almost in the public domain.

Alex Ferrari 57:23
It's almost it's almost in the public domain. And I promise you best of luck putting it out. I don't know why. I don't know. I don't know how the mouse is gonna

David Kessler 57:34
I'm not I'm not advocating that I'm just I'm just being informative about the, the copyright deadline.

Alex Ferrari 57:43
It's coming, they'll probably extend it somehow, again, I'm sure. Like, yeah, it should have been issued a public domain 20 years ago. But there's that. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

David Kessler 57:59
It does also include romantically

Alex Ferrari 58:01
Whatever in life life for, or the film business, don't move to LA chasing a woman, that's probably a good one.

David Kessler 58:09
Moving moving to LA is not a bad thing that I will never regret that, that, that that was that was the impetus for this entire journey. I mean, I would still be living in my rent stabilized, you know, apartment, you know, on a fifth floor walk up, you know, just, you know, decomposing. And if, if, if I hadn't hit, you know, that button on that dating website, you know, in 2000 What advice is, um, you know, I'm learning now is just, like, you know, I'm older, and there was a period, until quite recently, I was looking for a full time job. And that's not gonna happen. Like, like, you know, I'm building the plane in midair. I see that. And, and sometimes you just have to, you know, just like, trust your gut, like, Oh, that's not for me. Like, I don't fit. Like, that's not gonna work. Another No. So like, only a few months ago, I was like, Oh, this is it. This is my life. Like I'm like, every day I am you know, hustling to make movies and you know, get rights and you know, charm charm, the IP holders. It's like, and there's there's only you only have one lunch.

Alex Ferrari 59:35
This is it. This is it.

David Kessler 59:37
I mean, I'm not saying you know, you know, leave your wife and leave your kid and you know, go out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back. I mean, you have to be responsible. But, you know, you just have to carve your own carve your own path.

Alex Ferrari 59:53
Very good advice. Now, what are three of your favorite films of all time?

David Kessler 59:57
It sounds trite. But I don't mean it to be Meet the Parents is what is in my, in my in my top three, the pan i i I talk about it in my, my I teach for the script anatomy. I break it there I have to go back because they videotape the classes for people have missed it. I have to go back because I expound I go deep, like you've got that Kubrick book I, like I have talked about Meet the Parents in such granular like, deep in that there's so many things going on in that movie, you know, in terms of theme in terms of like, the theme behind the theme. Like and it's it's so like, deceptively simple, like, you know, like I once had a meeting with a producer who made a lot of big movies in the 80s. And every time I pitched something he would be like, execution dependent. All right, okay. But like, Is it everything? Like was it like, yeah, what isn't? You know, like, you know, alien, okay, it's an alien and a thing. And you know, there's this woman and she's trying to fight the execution dependent. I'm like, I'm sure it would have to be like, you know, on what the alien look like. And you know, if you know, HR Giger is making the alien. But, like, meet the parents is so deceptively simple, like, a guy goes home to impress his girlfriend's parents. Like, like, if you pitch that to me, you get thrown out.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
Right, then no, you're absolutely right, that it's deceivingly simple, and yet complex.

David Kessler 1:01:48
I also have like this, like, it's not a conspiracy theory, because, like, it's also a movie about a Jewish person, like trying to marry into a wasp family. That's also like one of the themes behind the themes. And again, it's not like a conspiracy theory that I've liked thought of, and, you know, in the dark hours, like, it kind of comes up a few times in the movie. Oh, more than a few times more than a few times. Oh, it's this what you guys call a Hapa. Like, you know, well,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:22
I have I have Nicolas Greg, can you milk me?

David Kessler 1:02:26
Even in that scene, you know, he gets asked to say the prayer over the me like, well do Jews pray over meals, don't they? Like, again? It's it's, it's more than subtext is text.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:39
So what are the other tip?

David Kessler 1:02:43
haven't watched it in a long time, but Raging Bull Raging Bull really knocked me out? When I was in my 20s. And when I was in college, that's a hell of a movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:54
Of course it is.

David Kessler 1:02:56
Social Network.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:58
Oh, god, that's a masterpiece. So it's Quinn, Tarantino say that was his favorite movie of the 2000s. So far, between 2010

David Kessler 1:03:07
Oh, I guess I would say Pulp Fiction too. Well, yeah, me, not me. Well, one of my prized possessions is I got to, I worked at Miramax for probably 72 hours. Okay, like, at a time when they still pasted things up, like on art boards, you know, and I befriended the art director, we were still friends. This is like 25 years later, maybe longer. I was able to get the original poster for Reservoir Dogs. Wow. Written like the original like, like off the press for the first, you know, run of it. And also, he sent me a Pulp Fiction poster. Again, like off the press for the first, you know, when they first like, you know, first, and I'm sure there's some code or some number, maybe on the back that says, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:04:04
So things don't work out eBay.

David Kessler 1:04:07
I do have a poster tube of posters that you know in case of emergency brake.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:16
It has been a pleasure talking to you, man. It's been a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming on the show brother and continued success and I appreciate you, hopefully inspiring some screenwriters out there some filmmakers out there to go out there and get some IP and make their dreams come true. So I appreciate you my friend.

David Kessler 1:04:31
Super let's keep in touch!


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James Cameron Masterclass: Learn Storytelling & Filmmaking

From The Terminator and Titanic to Avatar, James Cameron has directed some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Now, for the first time in his 40-year career, he opens up about his process. Through behind-the-scenes breakdowns, James shares his approach to developing ideas, storylines, and characters; harnessing technology; and worldbuilding on any budget. Explore the innovation and imagination behind epic moviemaking.

“Every filmmaker stands on the shoulders of the filmmakers who came before them, and I hope that my MasterClass will allow members to filter and develop my techniques through their own subjective lens and experiences.”

Using specific scene breakdowns from his renowned films, including Aliens, The Terminator, Titanicand Avatar, Cameron teaches members how to identify stories that demand telling, build tension, create compelling characters—whether man, machine or alien—and harness technology to fully immerse audiences in imagined worlds. Cameron also offers practical advice that applies to all levels of film production, no matter the budget, big or small. Interlaced with intimate insights from his storied career, from how dreams inspire his work to lessons on leadership, Cameron’s class will leave members inspired to share the insider knowledge they’ve learned with others and empowered to make their own movies.

“I’ve been directing films for almost four decades, and if there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that learning is a constant process,”

Cameron’s prominent filmmaking career has given the world many cinematic gifts, starting with the breakthrough box-office success ofThe Terminatorin 1984. Following the mainstream hit with a string of celebrated science fiction action films, including Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron wrote and directed the epic blockbuster film Titanic, which shattered all box-office records, nabbed 11 Academy Awards and became the highest-grossing movie of all time.

You can ENROLL in James Cameron’s Masterclass now and join this game-changing course. Click here to gain access

Cameron then surpassed his own record with the 2009 sci-fi blockbuster hit Avatar, which blended live-action sequences with digitally captured performances in a 3D-generated world that blazed a trail for innovation in film technology and visual effects. As a three-time Academy Award winner and a six-time nominee, he’s earned the rare achievement of having directed the first two of the five films in history to gross more than $2 billionworldwide.

Cameron most recently executive-produced the National Geographic docu-series Secrets of the Whales, and will release the long-awaited sequel Avatar 2in December 2022.

James Cameron’s Masterclass includes: 

  • 15 video lessons
  • Over 3 hours
  • Lifetime access, with classes that never expires
  • Learning materials and workbooks
  • Accessible from any device
  • Watch, listen and learn as James Cameron teaches her most comprehensive filmmaking class ever

To ENROLL in the course now to get access to this game-changing course. Click here to gain access

BPS 197: From Broadway to Hollywierd with Tony® Winner Stephen Karam

Today on the show we have writer and director Stephen Karam. He is the Tony Award-winning author of The Humans,  Sons of the Prophet and Speech & Debate. For his work he’s received two Drama Critics Circle Awards, an OBIE Award and is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Stephen recently directed his first feature film, a rethought version of The Humans for A24 films, to be released in 2021.  He wrote a film adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull starring Annette Bening, which was released by Sony Picture Classics.

His adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard premiered on Broadway as part of Roundabout’s 2016 season. Recent honors include the inaugural Horton Foote Playwriting Award, the inaugural Sam Norkin Drama Desk Award, two Outer Critics Circle Awards, a Lucille Lortel Award, Drama League Award,  and Hull-Warriner Award.

Stephen and I have a great conversation on how he went from Broadway to Hollywood, adapting his award-winning play to the big screen, his creative process and much more.

Erik Blake has gathered three generations of his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter’s apartment in lower Manhattan. As darkness falls outside and eerie things start to go bump in the night, the group’s deepest fears are laid bare. The piercingly funny and haunting debut film from writer-director Stephen Karam, adapted from his Tony Award-winning play, The Humans explores the hidden dread of a family and the love that binds them together.

Enjoy my conversation with Stephen Karam.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome the show, Stephen Karam, how're you doing?

Stephen Karam 0:16
I'm doing really well. How you doing today?

Alex Ferrari 0:18
Good brother. It is Karem. But it's Karam in the motherland. So I was trying to be authentic.

Stephen Karam 0:28
You actually nailed it. You nailed it. No I'm doing great. I'm excited to be here and, and be on the show.

Alex Ferrari 0:37
I appreciate that man. Listen, I just got done watching your film literally 10 minutes ago, cuz it's been it was it was I was like wanting to do as fresh as humanly possible. And I absolutely loved it. We're gonna get deep into that the humans and how you came up with it and all that stuff. But first things first, how did you get started in the business?

Stephen Karam 0:58
Good question. Um, I fell in love with storytelling in Scranton, Pennsylvania, not through any formal education or i My sister was in a production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Scranton Intermediate School. I remember seeing the movie and kind of just being blown away and wanting to get as many VHS tapes as I could. So it started just as an interest Public Library. How many videos can I take out how many plays can I read? And because what was going on in my high school where student theater, I started imitating whatever playwrights, you know, I'd be reading in in Scranton, high school, whatever we were doing. So my first like memory of like creating stuff and participating was both was both acting in school plays and then and then trying to imitate writers that I loved. So just writing skits sketches. In eighth grade, I made a film version of The Cask of Amontillado for a school project with three of my classmates. I didn't know how to I had no editing equipment, so I had to using the crazy heavy camcorder I had to film it. The only way I could figure out how to do was to film everything on the tape in order. So it's like I didn't think right you had to go back.

Alex Ferrari 2:26
And then try not to eat into it. Try not to eat it to the previous steak. I feel

Stephen Karam 2:35
I aggravate my first that was like my first like stab a dragon. But you're laughing Do you have any? Do you have any similar Oh, my experience

Alex Ferrari 2:43
I've first I've been directing for 25 years, my friend and I lived in a video store actually worked in a video store in my in my high school day. So my editing in college, before college was to VHS tapes to VHS decks, and I just would crash. So I was I was just a step ahead of you. In the huge step. It's it is like my hero. But but the first ones though, the first very first thing that I did in high school, because there was no technology was exactly your technique. I would I didn't know how to add. I didn't know what editing was I didn't even understand the concepts because it was no information about I mean, the only information I had was the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark VHS and the Making of Star Wars VHS. And that was essentially all that film education I had at the time, not so much on the editing. So I just kind of just like well, if I shoot it in order, and you would see it and I actually watched it the other day, I don't know why I pulled out my old high eight tapes. And I would see where the splices would come in because I hit the record button. And if you don't hit pause, it would be like a janky cut Oh was just horrible.

Stephen Karam 3:46
Janky cut you get the spice. You know you have to run with it. But it was the there was a there was a moment where the splice was so bad. I remember we added like I couldn't figure out how to bridge it and so we added a commercial so that it would seem like the staticky slice was like stooping us into genius sponsor

Alex Ferrari 4:06
Oh so you were doing you were doing like crazy transitions even in camera.

Stephen Karam 4:11
No, it was we there was this really? I think the like I remember the special effects I remember was like we I did no learn how to there was like a fade button and so there was a great sequence where if you know that truth story, he's it is a horror story. And it's basically like he ends up these these friends end up like one he ends up burying the other alive we walling him up brick by brick, and my sister's like playset like play kitchen house had like there was one section of those brick exterior so I kept like gently fading with this trial like losing my my dad's like trowel, and then we'd like fade back in and just felt like cardboard bricks would be a little higher, with the trowel and then we fade out fade back it

Alex Ferrari 4:56
Well, you know, but the struggle was, this is the struggle was real the struggle was real.

Stephen Karam 5:01
It's also just, I guess the short answer to your question is that this was not my entryway into making plays and films was not that sophisticated route. It was sort of, I was at a public school, there were no artists in my family. So I had wonderful arts educators here and there, and that sparked the love. But I was like a, probably later than a lot of when I think of what, just incredible access young people and film students now have, oh, technology wise, and it's just, I'm giddy, like when I met people outside of the Paramount last night, and just talking to students who, you know, at that time, I was, like, you know, talking about, well, I still don't have the money to buy anything else. And I don't know how to, I can't make any more movies on my parents recorder, because it takes too long to edit it. Now you're just talking to kids where it's like, it's just incredible, like the technology is there it's in if it's not there, it's in their hands on their phone. And so they already know, and are able to do so much. It's just is really just completely thrilling. I don't want to get too far ahead of me. But I felt like the recall that these early experiences was in pre production, like using my iPhone and Artemis Pro on my phone to just go and line up those opening sky shots of the opening credits. And just not taking any of that for granted. It's like I can't imagine being born into that technology. Because doing it was just such a sense of wonder, I'm just sharing that with my cinematographer like the back and forth. And I like to be able to map out something in a way that feels pretty sophisticated, especially once you figure out like what the, my, my oldest iPhone is like an iPhone eight s whatever, you know, I think the focal length, it approximates, like 18 millimeter. But you know, like, I did have a lot of recall, like, How incredible is this, that that I can be having these discussions like and I remember just not being able to figure out how to do anything other than making the movie perfectly in.

Alex Ferrari 7:07
No. But you learned though, I mean, doing the that's the thing. I think a lot of times, filmmakers nowadays and even writers, they don't, when you when you're when you're doing like I sound like to old farts. But like when you do the struggle, like when you're struggling through that kind of technology, you're forced to learn things that you might not if you have everything at your disposal. So even if you even if you using your iPhone, they're still you know, it's a lot different than shooting with an airy or red, you know, so. And if you're editing on on your iPhone or editing on, you know, Final Cutter DaVinci your premiere, you're learning things and you're right, I can't even comprehend what I would have done with this technology.

Stephen Karam 7:50
In some ways, I guess it's like everybody makes the most out of what? Yeah, the pros and cons of where of what you know. And to your point, I think it's interesting. Like, I think about my being unafraid of like, starting from not being seduced by the technology, like I feel like I wonder if I would be so seduced by if I came of age at a time when I knew how like just maximizing the amount of like coverage you get, especially like, over the shoulder over the shoulder, then we'll go and close, then we'll get the established if I was like really married to how, cuz I would have been an obsessive editor as a kid, I imagine I might have just been so attuned to that, that I would have abandoned shots that might have required a little more thought like, like, lost out on the joy of that. And when you start by being like, the only way to do it is to like rehearse and get things ready. Suddenly like the idea of doing like a two minute shot where you have to like coordinate six actors like it's so much of the way that humans is filmed. It's like I sort of love that I feel like you end up your weaknesses become your strengths because you sort of have both in your arsenal like I'm so in awe of how a movie you know with a lot of coverage could be taken away from a director and and maybe to a different movie by someone imposed Oh yeah. That I feel like my focus I'm grateful that I also like know the benefits of what even on movies have to move so quickly like just the benefit of what you can get from if there's a reason for it for like a longer take or what what that emotional read resonance the payoff of those moments can be because I could see myself just being like oh my god just literally cover everything from every angle so that you know I could make this movie you know, into it doesn't even have to be about a family if I decided to add enough voiceover in post.

Alex Ferrari 9:51
Now when you when you go when you start your writing process, how do you approach the process in general do you go with Characters first plot first. You know, how do you actually approach the process in your world?

Stephen Karam 10:08
Ah, it's a little different every time I it ends up being centered around the characters. But in this case, I the initial impulse was like, I was feeling a lot of fear and anxiety about, you know, I was that my day job just about life in general financial crisis and just hit I was an assistant at a law firm thinking about writing my next play. I always like to write from fear or questions I can't answer. I guess that's not character. But in that realm, I was thinking like, Well, why I guess I should be. A lot of things are keeping me up. And I should maybe, what would it mean if I decided to write about these questions I can't answer or these fears. I'm having money, anxieties, worries about health and health insurance, and they'll feel so mundane. And I've always loved the psychological thrillers horror genre, I've always loved being scared, I was always the person who wanted to go on the Haunted Mansion ride or the haunted house. And I just thought, I've never written anything genre, but I was like, what if I write a play about people I love are the things that are keeping me and people I know up at night. And it's actually like, somehow the story itself is like, actually scary, like viscerally scary. And so I was like that, I think I might like to see that. And it might, might be my interest might. So I thought I was going to do something away from character super genre. Almost almost like a slasher movie, like where I would put a family in a haunted house and watch, go jump out of closets and, and I still want to see that movie. And maybe I will see that movie. And those movies exist, but but I just when I put the people into the house, I started to really love them, they got more and more complex. And that kind of like three 417 layers deep kind of layers of character doesn't necessarily lend itself it sort of almost takes it out of being pure genre, even if you're trying to make it pure genre. So that was the origin of the humans on stages, sort of it went from being what I thought was going to be more of a camp, stage thriller, like death trap, like a throwback to these like sleuth, yeah, those old commercial Broadway hits that didn't really exist anymore. And it just kind of in spite of myself, I ended up with with a bit of a genre collision with something that that really was a family drama, comedy, but also completely infected by my love of the horror genre.

Alex Ferrari 12:39
Oh, there's no, there's no question that the horror genre is like drizzled all over the place. Because I'm watching the there's certain scenes in the movies. I'm watching and I'm going, is there I mean, am I safe? I mean, I walked in with with this movie, I felt like I was watching this movie, then all of a sudden, it's like, I he's not gonna there's no monster is it? There can't be a monster. But it was just so brilliantly done that at any moment, like you got me on edge. And I'm like, no, no, I trust the director. He's taking me to cetera as a storyteller. The I can't believe like, you know, an hour and something in they're gonna show the monster like, that doesn't make any sense to me. And, and the monster wasn't in the trailer. So that I

Stephen Karam 13:21
Well, what's crazy is I so somebody who loves more genre, but also loves like, like stuff that's subtle and skirts around the edges. It's like I, I, you know, you're always like, create, I think it's like I was talking about students. It's like, you just you make the movie that feels like the only one you can make. And part of that is running, writing towards what you want to see and what you love and what scares you. It's excited to you and I love movies, even when there are like literal ghosts, but I'm always disappointed. Always and with With few exceptions, like like, even a movie that I'm obsessed with, like Rosemary's Baby, you know, early plants can repulsion of course all these great movies but eat the Rosemary's Baby. My least favorite part of part of that I think is the least scariest when you see the demon baby right? Of course, you get the peek into the crib. And I don't even want to call it a misfire because when a movie is that brilliant, you don't need to you don't need to fix anything, it is exactly what it should be. But it is funny that like that impulse even in movies that I hold up as like, you know, like pinnacles of the genre. It is funny that I'm always like, just as a personal like clocking where I feel like a little less scared or like Oh, my imagination was going to such a more interesting place then that demon that little like the puppet baby with the makeup and

Alex Ferrari 14:43
Oh, yeah, let me you don't want to see the shark. You don't want to see the shark in Jaws,

Stephen Karam 14:46
You know, but if you watch the end of the humans again, I promise you you will see something that will shock you that you will you're going to be shocked that it's hidden in there so explicitly and that you didn't see it.

Alex Ferrari 14:59
Okay,

Stephen Karam 15:00
It helps when you see it big cuz you did. Did you see it on a movie screen?

Alex Ferrari 15:03
No, I couldn't make it to the screening last night so I saw Yeah, I saw

Stephen Karam 15:06
Just to say that there is something there is an effect of a potential I don't want to say a faceless entity coming out of a wall in a way that on a rewind or on that.

Alex Ferrari 15:17
Oh, no, I saw I saw the thing that scared them.

Stephen Karam 15:21
You guys saw the thing that scared of it at the end?

Alex Ferrari 15:23
Yeah. I know. I saw I saw no, I saw that. I know. I saw that completely. Yeah, when he drops us. Okay, we I don't want to. I don't want to give away too much.

Stephen Karam 15:31
So let's we shouldn't spoil it. We shouldn't. Yeah, okay,

Alex Ferrari 15:33
So let's not go too deep into it. Because I don't want to spoil it for people.

Stephen Karam 15:37
Curious because you're we both love Cooper I can see Stanley's the O ring above you. But like, I'm like, how do you it is a fun push and pull. And it's I kind of love that you were thinking I guess the my big joy with this movie is that the potential feels really real in a way that maybe it didn't quite as much on stage. But where you actually are like, is she actually going to open a closet? Or like is something really crazy going to jump out? Or is this the tension coming from?

Alex Ferrari 16:07
So this is what I loved about the movie, man? You know, cuz when you first start watching it, I walked in cold. I didn't know the story. I only saw a trailer I walked in cold. So that's the way it's best way. I love watching movies. Just like I don't want to know anything about it. Just do what you're supposed to do. You turn the lights up. Did you turn the light? Yeah, yeah, everything was dark. It was everything was dark. Okay. Anyway, of course, I mean, you have to watch a movie in the dark. So I'm watching it. And as I'm watching it, and I love the way the camera moves, which is so brilliant. Because you do a lot of frames within a frame in the film. I noticed that right away. There's just so much framing within framing and framing. And the camera moves. I wouldn't say fly on the wall. But it's definitely distant. So you feel like you're voyeuristic in the in the entire, this is just my feeling on it. You're voyeuristic and you're overhearing something that you might not really should be overhearing. This is very pretty private stuff. So I love that aspect. But then the the noises and the booms, and then how you build that tension. Which is so fascinating, because I'm like, but this is not a horror movie. And this is not a thriller, I think. And that was the thing that I loved about it because it kept me someone who's seen 1000 movies. 10,000 movies at this point in my life. Kept me on edge going, Wait a minute, is the is her monster here. And then, oddly enough, I feel the monsters within the there's so many, there's so much of that within the characters in the stuff, some of the stuff that the characters are saying, I'm like, Jesus, these people are horrible. Like they're so mean. And I'm like, That's my family. I know that I got that person in my family. I got that person in my family, I got that person in my family, they would say something like that. So it's like this. It was just such a at the thing is the thing I love about it, and then I'll let you. I'll ask you another question. But the thing I love about it is that I'm faced level. It didn't seem like it was it like it was I was going to be a good story. I knew it was going to be well written and all of that. But it when you first the first few friends you just like this is I didn't expect what I expected. And that's so rare in today's world, that you walk in thinking something and you walk out thinking something else. And it's so hard to do that nowadays because we're so jaded and so literate visually and seeing so many things for us to be surprised, and anything and it wasn't a cheap surprise. It wasn't like the cat jumped out at you. It was just done on a psychological level. May I say almost Kubrick Ian in the way that it gets under your skin a bit if that makes sense.

Stephen Karam 18:41
It does make sense. I don't even know that I want to say anything other than I know it's a real joy to just listen to somebody you know process the film it's it's a private experience for so long you you sort of make it and you're hoping long for the opportunity to hear what other people think and experience and yeah, like from from the the voyeurism I mean, it's interesting, it's such a slow burn and the movie in a way that I was really hoping or couldn't really anticipate was how many people like you kind of come in cold in a way that the dream was that there would be need to be no preparation that this wasn't the type of adaptation that was like you love to the play now coming up that it was really its own entity. And so the surprise element, which I guess I'm most proud of, because it it felt it feels like it's born out of the just the emotion of the the ride of the story, the characters and their journey. That sort of bending are really familiar thing that we all know but so slowly, while also not being dishonest. It's from the opening frames, everything. The DNA of what I'm doing is embedded in the shots and it's a very bizarre opening shot of a dad to be hiding behind like the molding in a distant, like you said, so part of you knows. And yet I also wanted the audience because none of it needs to be processed, you know, consciously, which is part of like, you know, watching Kubrick it's like you don't even know what some of those images and the frame is doing to your but what the folk but but you just know that you're feeling unsettled. And so I was actually blown away by using domestic drama and comedy how it's such a familiar thing, right? It's in our bones. We know what the family having Thanksgiving, know what those these movies? Do we know what they do, and we love him for it. And so I was surprised how just shooting them differently. I mean, it literally working with my cinematographer, and just framing them in unfamiliar ways, right? How much power that has almost because it doesn't announce itself. It doesn't that like, you know, you noticed it, you were like, okay, he's keeping his distance. This is a lot of a lot of empty space here for but but to an audience who's just going to watch a movie, you sort of like the slow burn of it, as you sort of the movie teaches you how to watch it. I think if you forget it more, and you almost don't know where the dread or the creeping suspicion that something's off, I didn't want to say dread but like, just the power of synonym of just the visual imagery of just image by images that you can hold familiar things right a little askew, you can go down a tenement hallway, you know, on the right focal length, and you're just like, why am I scared watching Amy Schumer walk down a hallway like this is not this is not a weird moment. I just laughed at her in June Squibb like what's happening and you know, last night like the Paramount's so great because it's such a large, huge and it went from a laugh line about you know, Amy's like should I should I just dumped you want me to just dump grandma down the staircase How am I supposed to supposed to go down there to just cutting to the next shot of this read this like blood red?

Alex Ferrari 21:56
Yes with with that lovely always with that lovely image on the on the on the elevator

Stephen Karam 22:02
With a lovely image on the elevator like the audience and this is something that's like now I'm just getting experienced where there's time just kind of went like, like, they felt something about that was eerie to the point that there was like, like, like, the way that one does in a horror movie where you just instinctively know it's like too claustrophobic. You want June Squibb to have more room in her wheelchair. And I just love that. I mean, that's the power of like a photograph and the moving pictures like you the just how powerful the frame is. And I think for me, it was always a balance of not to lean too much into like, I I think the things I love about the genre are what I hate about it, and that I hate being told so early on that a scary thing is coming. Like with music with a staying and and I still love it because it's like, Oh, scary things about to happen. And then it happens, but it's still satisfying. And with the humans just kind of playing with all the tropes that I love, like, like, wrapping my arms around them, but also like, what if it's also like a horror movie with jumpscares, but also much quieter? What if it doesn't have the lead in underscoring of a horror movie like the thing that Telegraph's like creepy, creepy? And weirdly, for the movie like this? I think it makes it feel a little like creepy or creepy. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. There should be. Someone should be telling me more how to feel like someone should be holding my hands as an audience member. Because we're so used to that, like, there's no scary scene, or this is a funny scene,

Alex Ferrari 23:34
You definitely leave the audience out there. You're guiding them to be you leave them out there, you're like, like you said, you're not guiding them. So they're kind of just like, I have nothing to hold on to. I like what's going on. And it gets gets worse in the best way possible. As the as the film goes on, as you build it. You just start like I can't, I can't hold on to this thing. I can't hold on to the score. There's no monster like and you're just like, I don't It's uh, you're off kilter completely. And it's so brilliant. That scene in the hallway. I mean, you using blood red as the, the dog the cover of the elevator. So um, like, and, and all the other stuff so I can understand why people felt like a little bit off there. But, you know, going back to what we were talking about with Kubrick. I mean, I was trying to explain to my wife who's never seen the shining before she's like, is it a scary movie? And I go, I go, it's not as much that it's scary, is that it gets in your bones. And it's that it's not like there's, yeah, there's a couple of scary images in it, but it's not really like it's not a horror movie in the, in the grand scope, and it has that kind of just eeriness, the way things are framed the way things are sitting there. And there were there touches of that in, in the humans, which was so beautiful because you just like I just feel weird here. I don't know why and it just gets you it gets inside. You and that is not a super, that's not superficial, like a lot of horror movies are or a lot of cinema is a lot of times it's always on the front. But when you can get inside someone's psyche, or in their bones that you've achieved something, no question.

Stephen Karam 25:15
Well, thank you. I mean, it's a challenge, it is really hard. And you never know, you know what, what works for one person might not work for another person who, you know, I respect everybody's opinions and tastes. And so I also don't, you know, I don't think somebody is wrong if their adrenaline only gets fueled by like, you know, quick cuts. And I think, you know, we are who we are, and so, but they're sort of share that love of the like, you know, why can't I stop thinking about, you know, the tenant? It's like, these movies that feel deeply imperfect? Or why can I stop thinking about the shining? Why does the imagery still to this day, you know, more than a movie that might might be so hell bent on exploiting the why just dump blood in the hallway? That's not scary? What if we see should we be seeing people split open, that spills the blood into the, you know, so even the people come away from the shining, thinking of it as like the ultimate like, gory movie, it's almost like you have to see it again, to really remember that like, intestines, the movie is not about like intestines being being thrown and eaten at every, every turn. It's almost like, I agree with you that it's more shocking, how much it is about, like the architecture and the framing. And the fun thing about like making the humans was going down the wormhole of like, pre war, architecture and empty space. And, you know, there's, there's been a lot of like, interesting writing about, like, the horrors of empty space and that empty, the more empty the frame, the more horror is implied. But it's also a lot to like, take the leap. To hope that you know, cuz, because I think other people, understandably, are just like, fill the frame like, I've no, no, don't, don't I don't make me be patient. And, like, what you said was the goal, but also a lot of people in a way that I understand as somebody who likes to watch, like a good rom com every now and then, like, I literally will tune in, in those moments, to watch a movie when I want the hand holding, or I don't I want to a movie or a TV show that's going to tell me what it is, at every turn. I don't want to have to be like, what's going on? Why am I feeling this way? Yeah. And then, of course, my favorite movies are movies that, that, you know, take that journey and take that risk and feel like complicated people. Like, you know, my favorite movies have this. They feel like people to me, like in the same way that my favorite people on the planet are not all good or all bad. They're complicated. But they're specific, but there's, like so specific. And so you can revisit them again and again and again. And again. Because they never really bore you. Or there's something that just feels authentic about the fact that they're sprung from like, a vision. Instead of like, my biggest fear, which is like movies made by committee, you know, where you are too many, you know, I mean, I'm not talking about collaborations, like where people choose to work in teams, I'm talking more about like, you know, for writers got fired for the other writers got brought up and 17 more writers got came out of the project and 50 more on credited writers got brought on and then you know, and then three producers re edited the movie after it got taken away from the director of a few years from now, it's just gotten. So yeah, there's there's the beauty in a 24 and that they've essentially found success in movies that are those movies or that that let's just say they're just they're not fazed by slightly genre bending or harder to pin down. So I also feel like I had I had like, the right home to do that. Those kinds of things that you're talking about.

Alex Ferrari 29:01
Now, you know, the the humans is originally a play in that play won a Tony Award, I got to ask me, what was it like, winning a Tony?

Stephen Karam 29:11
Award? I mean, it's great. It's also like, the big gift of like, a words is that they don't, it's not that they don't mean a lot they do and that it's like, you know, it's like it's like a you know, it's it's affirmation, it's a nice thing, you're but the it almost like the real gift of like, getting the golden ticket, like in a moment like that is that it also shines a light on how to reveal, like Joy gifts, everything about what you do, it really just comes from, like, are you making stuff that you feel like how do you feel about what you're doing? Right? No external, you know, and so the moment you get it, or you get the brass ring, I'd say you kind of just confirmed like, why I was staying on my day job to make to write the plays that I was writing. Why? You know, I never took Like more commercial, screenwriting options that, that I just didn't want to, I think there's nothing wrong with taking them. But just, I didn't feel like drawn to the specific projects or in other words, I just think it's, it's not that it's a piece of hardware it has meaning. It's just that it also sort of reminds you that the the debt kind of looking to other people to give you a trophy is also is not where it's at. It's, it's kind of like a, it's a great lesson to learn. And I think I think I had that crazy good fortune that come my way. You know, in my mid 30s, which is great that it didn't happen to me when I was 22. Oh, God, I've actually thought I might have thought that it mean, something it didn't. Yep. That I actually am fancy. And it's that it was just a season like incredible. I mean, what's fascinating as it was, it was up against the father, which became a movie last year, the one with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman. So there's like two, it's fun to see, like, you go after there's often long droughts of like plays that become movies. And it's fun. funny to see in one season like that we both got our movies made. He did such a brilliant job. But just to say, I mean, does that answer your question?

Alex Ferrari 31:23
No, it does. No, it does. It's because I mean, I've had Oscar winners. I've had any winners on the show I've talked to and I always like to ask that question. Because I'd like to see, there's so many people listening think that's that's the end goal. And I always, like, when you win the Oscar, you've got maybe a three minute, four to five minutes situation, you don't even remember it. When you're up there. It's from what I understand. And then you're whisked away, you do a bunch of press. And then it just starts to wean away. But I've talked to so many people who've won those awards, who afterwards were depressed, because it's like, where now where do I go now because they associated so much to those awards, as opposed to know what you need to associate is the journey have fun in the journey, because that's a lot longer than that one minute.

Stephen Karam 32:10
And it's also it's just, you know, going back to like the staying connected to work that comes from your, your, your gut and your heart or just that, that that you're obsessed with, to make it like a Hallmark card. You know, the joy that comes from being obsessed with what you're making, you know, it feels very childlike and very cliched, but it's like, nothing is better than that. And then taking the journey to try to make something that has meaning to you that you want to share and make with others. It's just It's just where it's at. And the everything else is a red herring. It's just, it's it's just a red herring. It's just like dangling. It's like, what are all these sci fi movie? I feel like it's like, I just watched Lynch's dune again. And it's like, the spy. It's like, you know, it feels like the spice. It's like a hallucinogen.

Alex Ferrari 32:58
Yeah,

Stephen Karam 32:59
It's like, you know, it's like one of those movies where you spend the whole, like, looking for the golden Snicket or one of those things, and it's, and then you, you know, it's so cliched, but it's like, and you know, I experienced this with I have incredibly brilliant students, and I'm so impressed with everybody that I get the chance to work with every year. And then I'm just like, you have to, like leave room for how hard it is to their fears about like, the focus is like I want an agent and I want to get you thinking about all the wrong things. But you know, you also remember the hunger and how those things do feel important. Because before until you have some validation, you feel like that's what's gonna make you a writer that's gonna make you a director. And it's like, I do tell them that but it's it's funny to see you know, to make space for like, the feelings on both sides. But the best gift of it is it just for my case, it sort of refocus me to not just to see for what it is like, a great sort of feels like a like a slice of birthday cake. And just nice piece of birthday cake, eat it. It had too much icing on it, you end up feeling a little like, should I be cake but it was delicious. You don't regret it. And then you know, the next day it's gone. And so you're just I'd say the big thing that is true about Awards, which which is hard to admit because it feels as somebody who doesn't have a publicist and is not going to chase them. Yeah. They do get more people to see your work. And so So I would say like, it would be a lie to say that if you know you win the Tony Award for Best Play or you win the Academy Award for Best Picture. You know, the thing that if someone were to say like do they have any value? I would my answer is no in terms of personal value, but yes they do and marketing more eyeballs.

Alex Ferrari 34:55
Yeah, marketing and branding everything. Oh, absolutely. No question.

Stephen Karam 34:59
So So there's there's to me there's a bit of it's that isn't that like I don't the focus that gets put on awards. And I also hate that these things that I don't think have truth beneath them or literally mean that you wrote the best play of like, a godlike way. I hate that they do really result in, you know, and being cinephiles like we all have those screenplays and movies we're obsessed with where, you know, almost everybody's favorite movie did got ripped off or snub,

Alex Ferrari 35:30
Shawshank Redemption, Shawshank Redemption.

Stephen Karam 35:34
Or just saying I read some crazy article where someone was like, Will this be Paul Thomas Anderson tear where like he finally gets right. I was like Paul, Thomas Anderson hasn't been recognized.

Alex Ferrari 35:43
I, I know you read you read my mind. I'm like, wait a minute, did he does he not get like an Oscar for a script?

Stephen Karam 35:50
That's never been gotten gotten the golden ticket or something

Alex Ferrari 35:54
Neither did Kubrick neither did Kubrick

Stephen Karam 35:56
Of course, it doesn't matter. It's like is so you know, or someone like even you Stanley coupe. It's like, it's like, you know, we know these things. It's like, they're totally true. And sure, sure, sure. Sure. You know, I'd say that just so I don't sound completely like Guy Smiley. But I'd say the complex thing is that they really can help a movies get seen by more. Absolutely. And, you know, as writers and directors like, of course, it feels like a lie. To not say like that is part of the dream is that people also see your work, especially in the independent film market. It does feel like it's just so hard to get right. Especially in this landscape. How do you when you can't do platform releases anymore? Like what is? What does it mean for these movies? to just get blasted to very quickly to 1300 screens, and then to VOD, and,

Alex Ferrari 36:47
Right! You want to get people to watch it. You want to get people to watch it. I have to ask you. So I've talked to so many screenwriters and, and, and filmmakers in general, that they talk about the zone and tapping into that, that place that creative place where you can, you know, whatever comes I always consider myself a conduit. I think many of the people I've spoken to who are writers specifically, they're like, I don't write this, I just, I'm here and it comes to me and it just comes right through me. But there's certain people that know how to go there and tap into that all the time. What is your process to kind of center yourself to get to that place where these ideas flow in and you you can just like like Tarantino says it's so beautifully he's like, I'm not writing this. I'm just I'm just dictator. I'm just snog refer on these guys talking, you know? And he gets into that place and there's so many people who know screenwriters who know how to do that. Almost on demand, but it's rare. How do you do it? How do you do it in your work?

Stephen Karam 37:48
I I don't rush it. So I I'm not the person to hire if you need if you need like a very quick

Alex Ferrari 37:55
A quick two weeks, two to three week turnaround.

Stephen Karam 37:59
I become obsessive and I let myself I'll tell you what I do. I I like with this film. I very much felt haunted by Ali ferrets, the soul of Fassbender film because of the way it held its middle aged female character in this pre war architecture, a lot of frames within frames like you mentioned. Keselowski being very interesting colors like being very close, very distant. And so. So I had this concept of like, running with that and being something felt very right about not filming and traditionally being very close, or very wide, and not a lot of in between. So I let myself like do I do research trips a lot before I write. So to your point about the zone, I don't force it. I'm not the person that's still at 7am writing 10 pages of a screenplay. If I'm feeling stuck and a little blocked, I will go back to a really like visual place especially that tends to get me excited and gets me more in the zone. And it just gets me thinking in a way that is more filmic and more dimensional. And you know, I watched the by Edward Yang like 100 times, and it's just a movie. I mean, I found it years ago because it was on some obscure Thank you Martin Scorsese. It was like on one of his like, top 10 movies of the 2000s. I was like, What's this movie, but it's film very wide. It's also people's feel very like ozouf, people spilling in and out of the frame the very patient. And so I kind of just let myself when I'm not in the writing zone, like go into a watching zone and watching other people's work and feeling doing a lot of reading. And usually that points me back to the writing like back to where I'm ready to open final draft and get going again. But I don't have the practice of like pushing through five screenplay pages every day. I don't think that's a bad practice. I just you know that for you. You know part of creative is also figuring out what your own crazy and processes. And for me, I do really get sort of like fuel from more dimensional thinking and that that often involves reading, visual art and just and watching movies.

Alex Ferrari 40:14
Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Stephen Karam 40:21
Great question. I would say the core thing that has never sort of altered is just is it focusing on work that comes from your gut level place, making, making, making movies or coming whatever, you're creating a short film, Play feature? Keep keep the focus on the kind of movie that only you could make. And stop looking at these external guides or Wow, that did really well, that film festival or that was a big hit last year. And you can you can play that game. And you can probably do it even really well. I mean, I think I think a lot of people probably do, I just feel like my advice would be, I've gotten the most traction, success, personal happiness on the journey in making these things. By by focusing just Yeah, being reminded that the largest thing you can make is often the thing that already inside you like the the kind of thing that the qualities and quirks and the sense of humor, and a weird sense of everything about yourself is that you actually have, it's so freeing to me, as opposed to thinking like, I got to make this movie more important with the capital I by writing about someone else's family, or I know, she'll be pregnant. Like, suddenly you start drawing from these ideas that are so external, and I think it's much more frightening and hard to remind like, especially young writers, how, once you if you actually accept that the biggest ideas are already some somehow like locked inside view. It's kind of like, it's almost scarier because it's, it's a nice like, scapegoat to be like, What am I What will my next film be i It should be something like that, or a war movie or big, it's, it feels very abstract, because you're drawing on influence in the wrong way. Instead of like, knowing from a gut level, like I want to write about my mom, or I want to write this comedy, I want to make myself like doing something that feels no matter how abstracted it becomes Right? Like, but when you're anchored in that, I just feel like you never go wrong, even when you're screwing up and you have to and you are failing, and you have to try to figure out what the structure is that'll hold that that gut level. idea, it's, it's just the the only way that I think I know you you go wrong in a million ways is when you start from the other place, like wow, it seems like these things are doing really well or No, I guess I should write a horror movie. You know, it's it's always it comes from the wrong place. No matter how talented you are, it comes it. It never sort of, yeah, the journey is never as rich,

Alex Ferrari 43:15
I always tell people that the best the only thing that you have that makes you different in the marketplace is your own secret sauce, is that thing inside you that nobody else has. And I was talking not to drop a name but David Chase, who is the creator of The Sopranos, of course. And he wanted to write a movie about his mom, his his and that's how the sopranos was brought to the world. You know, he wasn't going you know, what's, you know, what's big now superheroes? Like he didn't say. So it was that and what

Stephen Karam 43:43
Or like somebody that he's influenced being like, not knowing the people never know that the deep personal connections, even creators, right mob movies or write series about that. And so, so the hilarity is, so many young writers try to imitate the sopranos and create something that they think is about crime guns and they think that's what's underscoring this friend is which isn't this the reason sopranos is so unbelievable is is it's all the emotional undercurrent that clearly like David's connection to these characters is the undergirding you think it's the action and all this stuff and that's that's delicious, but it's the that's the secret sauce is not that is not the guns and the and the murder. It's it's that part of the I mean, I didn't know that he said that. That's amazing. Yeah. And I also I want to steal the secret sauce because it'll save me a lot. I felt like my answers get winded and yeah, it's about the secret sauce.

Alex Ferrari 44:38
It's about the secret sauce. It's the only thing that you have like it's the only thing your life experience your your interest your things like you like things that I couldn't write to humans, no one could write the humans only you can write the humans and you couldn't write, you know, the sopranos because only David can write the Sopranos. And that's the thing is you got to find that thing with inside you. That's so brilliant.

Stephen Karam 44:58
Like, do you feel the struggle Feel yourself though, like how easy it is, I guess the counter this should be like it is really easy to get away from it. Like it can be hard to keep reminding yourself like, oh, it's when you're getting from that place.

Alex Ferrari 45:11
I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what I I chased the dragon I call the chase at the drag chase that dragon so much like, Oh, that's hot or I'm going to be like that director, I'm going to write like this person. And I did that for so many years till I finally I guess in this only happens as you get older. You just said no, I need to, I need to focus on what's inside me. And the second I started doing that. My work got better. I was doors opened up. You know, I was thinking that things just started to lay themselves out at me where I didn't have to work as hard to get certain things. Whereas when I was trying to chase the dragon, all there was is block block block block. Oh, you're almost there. Nope. Take it away. block block. Almost there again. Oh, nope. Block. And it was just so fascinating to like, and only when you finally can show when you're comfortable enough in your own skin. And it takes a minute for you to do that in life. You know, some some kids, some guys have it in their 20s Some guys and gals have in their 20s I didn't. Like you said when you when you got your success was in the mid 30s and think it was because you probably would have lost your mind in your 20s. And I would have lost my mind in the 20s If I would have lost my mind. Yeah, of course we would have probably self destruct because we weren't prepared for that. One person have a friend of mine an actor said this a great comment. He's like, when you're when you fame is like a bucket of water. And when you're when you're young, you're a seedling. And inside the bucket, there's a seat and the water comes in and just swashes you all over the damn place. But when you get older, the roots take place. And then when the water comes in, you don't move as much. That's awesome. Isn't that amazing? Who do we have to Who do you credit that to? So that

Stephen Karam 46:48
Is that a friend of yours?

Alex Ferrari 46:49
That is Carlos. I was Rocky from Reno 911. And he was playing a character and my first feature. And his character was like a guru. And he just blurted that out. And I'm like, Carlos, I know you're trying to make fun of the guru. But that was damn good. And I quote that quote all the time. That's in the mail. I don't know if you got it from somewhere else or not. But that's where I heard it from. So shout out to callate parlous Ellis Rocky from Rio de illusion.

Stephen Karam 47:15
And what I see with with younger writers a lot too, is that what's very funny, it's like the first taste of any kind of success. People you're you're then the way that there's this illusion that the way to capitalize on it is that the opportunity that comes your way is often like people seeing your special sauce, and then trying to weirdly like capture your special sauce, but then add their own ingredients to it because maybe they want you to staff, right for a shot where Oh, your special sauce can easily get drowned out. And I think that's a hard lesson to learn for a lot of younger writers too, because who can fault anyone for wanting a good paycheck? And, you know, and and I went through one process. I mean, I don't have not written a ton of screenplays, I've written two before this both got made. One I saw a third of it got rewritten a gay character got turned straight, you know, but it was even in those things, that they're valuable lessons in terms of even like now going forward. It's like, well, what, what if I ever do write a play that I think could be a film, you know, the play before this son of the Prophet, I was happy to just let it not become a movie. Because once you but you have to sort of live through these things. And once you live through the fact that like, a little bit of extra money doesn't actually make you happy. Like if you're waking up and working on something that you Yes, that's causing you a lot of stress. And I'd fall asleep at night going like now there should be two gay people in this movie. Why? Why is one of them as straight, it's not going to be more commercial, it's going to be a disaster. You know, it's like, it's like, okay, well, you have to when you're in your 20s you have to learn that lesson, where you really feel the truth of it. Because in your 20s after like, you know, day job for 10 years, I was like, I think maybe I think maybe the security in this money for a year was gonna will make me exclusively happy in a way that I am under estimating. And then I had and I was like, oh, yeah, I forgot. Like, I don't like buying a lot of clothes anyway, like, I don't, I do want to pay my rent. I but once you have your shirt every day, like every week anyway. Yeah. And so. So this, so this didn't feel fancy in the way that I thought it would feel fancy. And I do think some lessons have to be learned. I mean, I guess I guess it's not easy, but I love talking advice like with you and this it's like it's like the it's like how to find that sweet spot of like, not forgetting that like you arrived with a certain degree of knowledge. But by also by like needing to learn some of it viscerally instead of like, thinking that like yeah, if I was 22 and someone gave me this talk, I would just believe them and would just,

Alex Ferrari 49:48
Oh no, if someone gave me this talk at 22 I would have said your chat, whatever. I know everything. You know nothing. I'm serious. No, that's the way you know it. That's the way it was when we were 22 Just like you look at someone would have had this conversation. They could have given us the keys to the universe literally. And like if you it could have been me from the future coming back talking to my younger self and I would go dude, I've gone through this don't do this, don't do this, do this, do this invest in Apple at $7 and everything is going to be fine.

Stephen Karam 50:18
Also Roth IRA, right? Where was the guy? Someone should have given me that lecture if you don't have parents that know obviously, you need some you got to Google it or your own rod

Alex Ferrari 50:34
And last question, sir, because I have to ask this question three of your favorite films of all time.

Stephen Karam 50:40
I feel like it kind of gave them away in the making of the human so it's like I listed three films but that Ali fury the soul incredible love story and clip incredible drama incredible everything about it I love striking movie in every sense of the word and completely surprising. I guess this is three movies, but the three colors trilogy. One of them are the bestsellers written loving

Alex Ferrari 51:10
Double life Double Life Veronique double life

Stephen Karam 51:14
I guess I could be giving a I guess that is three movies. Edward Yang is a favorite as well. And I feel like there's so much in the horror genre and psychological thrillers that like it's hard to be asked this question because the truth is, I just want to sit and just keep hearing yours. And then I want to say three back. And then I want you to say three more. I want to go oh yeah, because even in like with the Stanley Kubrick it's like how did not like 2001 like I still remember like actual feelings I had when watching something even the first time when I didn't understand it, I just remember like, like, feeling like things world's expanding like you because I didn't grow up with going to like some sort of sophisticated arts camp or something. Or I felt like I was in college really sorting this out in my 20s before I was even be exposed to a lot of incredible filmmakers and art tours. But Stanley is one of those people who like like 2001 weirdly slipped its way into my like, like Blockbuster experience in high school and I just do remember like like just kind of like understanding something you don't even understand that there's a whole way to reveal yourself and other worlds through art that is just like beyond what you even thought was possible. Because I didn't think people were allowed to do things like

Alex Ferrari 52:44
Not at that level not at that level now at that point you know without budget now would that budget my friend

Stephen Karam 52:51
So but basically I guess what I'm saying is like this game is only fun for me if we if it's just 45 minutes of us talking about cuz I don't actually happen the same way that I think all wars are bogus. Really believe in favorite films. I just believe in like the 170 movies.

Alex Ferrari 53:07
Right, exactly. And I feel like this conversation is something that you would have heard at three o'clock in the morning at a Denny's. After watching a midnight showing of a Kubrick film I feel this is what this conversation would be like, and you're laughing if everyone not listening.

Stephen Karam 53:22
I don't want to just go with you get the Grand Slam special and just go have that conversation. It's exactly what that is exactly what that takes me back to Scranton. And I do want to like the moons over Miami, Miami.

Alex Ferrari 53:37
You remember that? Of course I remember that. And you Oh God, it was a happy place. Yeah,

Stephen Karam 53:44
I'll go with go to the middIe let's find the next midnight screening. I'll meet you there.

Alex Ferrari 53:49
Oh my god.

Stephen Karam 53:49
We can zoom Danny's so we have no excuse.

Alex Ferrari 53:52
Oh my god. That's it.

Stephen Karam 53:53
We are next interview.

Alex Ferrari 53:55
Steven. Thank you again. So first of all, what can people see the movie?

Stephen Karam 54:00
So we're going to open in I don't know how public this is yet but we're going to be in about 20 cities on November 24. Okay, so anywhere you can google and find out which which arthouse cinema is playing your the new movies is that will be revealed very soon but November 24, day before Thanksgiving in theaters and then rolling out largely slowly after that, but that's awesome morning Mark 20 markets starting November 24.

Alex Ferrari 54:36
I am so you can I am so glad I'm so glad the powers that be gave you the keys to the car so you can drive this thing and I'm so glad that you that they gave it to you and I hope you continue to get the keys and you continue to make amazing films because I want to see what else you come up with my friend. So thank you again so much for being on the show and keep making great movies man.

Stephen Karam 54:59
Hey same to you thanks for having me.


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BPS 196: The Good, Bad and Ugly of the Film Biz with Adam White

Today on the show we go through the good, the bad and the ugly of being an indie filmmakers. On the show we have filmmaker Adam White. 

We discuss the making of his new film Funny Thing About. We discuss financing, casting, how he got Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) to say yes to a supporting role in a romcom, shooting an ensemble cast during the pandemic, how we were filming the movie without having all of the funding in hand, securing distribution and much more. It’s a pretty insane story.

Samantha Banks is a successful business with a handsome fiancee. But over one crazy Thanksgiving Holiday with her scheming family, her whole world is thrown into a tailspin when they invite her ex-boyfriend, “the one that got away.”

We also discuss how he financed his first feature Inspired Guns and when that was a box office flop he lost everything including his house. It took seven years for him to bounce back and make another feature.


The last thing Elder Fisher expects when he and his brand new companion, Elder Johnson, hit the streets of New York is a couple of seemingly golden prospects. But dimwitted brothers Roger and Larry, low-level Mafioso, think the two Mormon missionaries who approach them have been sent by the “Boss” to deliver their next assignment.

So the brothers are willing to listen to anything the young men in dark suits have to say—including a message of salvation—even if Elder Johnson is the most overconfident and underprepared missionary to ever attempt to preach the word of God. Soon the witless brothers are searching through the Book of Mormon in a quest to find a hidden message.

But as the missionaries and Roger and Larry continue to meet for discussions, both the mafia and the FBI have their sights set on Elders Fisher and Johnson. The mob thinks the missionaries are FBI; and the FBI believes the young men are hitmen on a mission—and both groups want the elders out of the picture. The Elders come to realize they must rely on each other to survive this case of mistaken identity.

Enjoy my conversation with Adam White.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome the show Adam White. How you doing, Adam?

Adam White 0:14
I'm doing great thank you.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
So, thank you so much for reaching out, man, it is I get like I told you, I get pitched on a daily basis for filmmakers to come on the show. And I'm always looking for stories that can inspire and teach about the process. And you definitely have a story like that.

Adam White 0:35
Yeah, I hope that I hope that my pain and suffering can be someone else's inspiration. And you know, they can learn from my mistakes, you know, not repeat them.

Alex Ferrari 0:47
Talking, talking from somebody who's gone through a lot of pain and suffering has a lot of shrapnel himself. This is my bread and butter. This is all I do all day, every day is my pain to help other filmmakers. But first, before we get going, Man, how did you get started in the business?

Adam White 1:03
Oh, man, that's a great question. I, you know, I, I, my brother, I had a brother who's five years older than me. And he, my whole childhood, he was like, I'm gonna go be going to film school, UCLA, I'm going to be a screenwriter. And I didn't know what that meant. And I was like, that's the thing you can go to school for that. And he was he had just graduated high school and was getting ready to he was taking a couple classes at junior college getting ready to go to UCLA and end up dying in a car accident. Oh, yeah. And so that just kind of was always on my mind of, you know, just in from his memory, my memory of him, you know, I was 12 he was 17 or 18. And I always was kind of like this, the screenwriter thing was always on my, on my mind. And then and then as I got into high school, I started playing, I wrote an episode of Seinfeld, just for the fun of it, because I thought, you know, I just had an idea, I thought that'd be funny. And, and, you know, and thought this would be cool. I should write movies, you know, and, and then, as I got into college, I was like, You know what, maybe I should go to film school and did that. We went for three weeks, but I already had two kids, and wife, and they were like, you'll never make any money. If you have a family already. Don't do film school. You're crazy. This is my advisors at film school. And so I'm like, Well, I also like entrepreneurship, so maybe I'll go get a business degree instead. And, and, but I was writing scripts at the time and going, I'll come back to this. I'll come back later on when I have when it when I can do it, you know, when things are a little more financially secure when I have kids, and you know, I need to take care of them. So that was kind of a it was kind of a weird way to kind of get, you know, meander through that. But yeah, and so then you decided to make your first film inspired guns, how, how did that come to be? Well, so yeah, so I started a business, I had done multiple online businesses. And what I found is, if you're a writer, and and want to be a filmmaking, like, probably the best crossover is to get into do an internet business that has to do with that kind of uses search engine optimization as like, the main traffic for the for the website, right. And because Google loves content, and I figured that out that I could create content that Google would consume, and I would rank higher in Google and I would get traffic and I could make money. And so over the next, I think it was five or six years, I just built these internet businesses. And then I sold many of them. And I had a big one that I sold, and it was like, Okay, that was big enough to where I can now for the next two years, just do film and and see what happens. Right? So I started volunteering on movie sets, just to learn how a set ran. I started making short films, I did like a short little web series and a couple other short films and got to the point where I'd met enough people in the industry and I was like, Okay, I think at this point, I'm ready to make this film and, and I had I had written it 10 years prior to ever filming it. You know, it was the first one that I wrote, I went I had written other since then. And I went back and really, I accepted some people I trusted and said, right, you guys just rip this thing apart because I don't want you know, if I'm gonna do this, I want to make sure it's a good movie. And, and so that so we went through many revisions, and then I was like, alright, let's let's, let's make this thing. I had a former business partner that I pitched and said, Hey, do you want to be involved? And he, he did a small investment, then his his current business partner also did a small investment. And so we were kind of on our way. And I'm like, you know, what, if I don't do this now, I'll regret it for the rest of my life. I have the funds that I could make this happen. That was the whole point. So I just financed the thing, the rest myself. Yeah, so that was kind of how that came to be.

Alex Ferrari 4:40
Now, from what you told me, the film wasn't a blockbuster hit.

Adam White 4:48
That's an understatement. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 4:50
It wasn't a blockbuster hit. So what actually happened with the release? What? What caused Why do you think it failed? You know, because it was a very kind of niche. You know, it was a mix of two niches it was kind of like spiritual, but yet with the mob, and fun, yeah.

Adam White 5:07
Yeah, yeah, it was, it's probably the worst possible niche you could choose, I assume. But, um, and you know, the title, every time I tell somebody what the name of the movie is inspired guns to secondary, they're like, what was it? I can't remember. I mean, they can never remember the name. So that also didn't help. But yeah, it was, you know, it didn't it didn't go well, I did, we didn't have traditional distribution, right, I essentially became the distributor on the movie. And I had no experience doing that. So. So there was a there was a theatrical consultant. In that niche, it's a very specific niche. And we were I was in Utah at the time. And out of Utah, there's a lot of films that kind of do the same thing where they'll just release locally in Utah, because it's a specific audience there. And so you do a theatrical run throughout Utah, you know, and, you know, and there's been movies that have done, you know, seven figures doing that, right. So it's so it's, you know, it can work. And the film, there was a film that released just three or four months before mine did that was also kind of in the same niche, but not comedy that had done really well. And so so it was, you know, we were, I was hopeful and thought, Okay, this is this can really work if we do this just follow the same model. But yeah, as I as I did that theatrical run, one, the price like doubled in terms of my investment, which I wasn't, I knew I had to make a bit take a big shot if I was going to have a chance to succeed. And unfortunately, that meant I also had to, like, really leveraged my, the money that I had, and my home on that. Wow. But that was the only way to make it work. Right. And I just kind of found myself in a position where if I didn't do that, I knew it wouldn't succeed and it would have been, I would have lost all the money anyways. So

Alex Ferrari 6:47
So then you decided to instead of just lose the money you invested? You actually put your house up as well?

Adam White 6:52
Yeah. So So I basically just did like a because I, at that point, I owned my home because of the business sell, right? And so I just took that money and you know, did a home equity line of credit to pay for all the everything we had to do? And you know, everyone's like, You're crazy. You're stupid, you shouldn't do that. And I'm like, Well, no, this is gonna be a huge hit. What are you talking about? There's no risk here was just the delusion, delusion filmmaker, blinders were like, in full effect, right. So so yeah, so I did that. And as you know, when you do a theatrical release, you have to pay for all of the promotion of everything right? Yeah. Commercials the billboard

Alex Ferrari 7:29
Did you? Did you four waller? Or did you partner with the theaters?

Adam White 7:33
We partnered with the theaters

Alex Ferrari 7:34
Okay, so at least you didn't have to pay for the four walls but you did have to pay for all the marketing so radio play and posters and other things like that

Adam White 7:40
Exactly. All of that and essentially almost doubled the investment right in terms of the amount to make the movie versus to promote the movie is basically the same price. And you know, and we did have we did have distributions set up for DVDs like that was that was all set but they had no interest in doing the theatrical and that's why I kind of fell on me to do that. And then first weekend, the first week of the release our DVD distributor does a press release that the movies coming out in a couple months on DVD and so the theater half of the theaters saw that there was a Cinemark theaters they saw that they said well we're not going to we don't watch a movie anymore because you did that because you just told everyone when the movies on DVD so we're pulling you so after one week they pulled us destroyed any chance we had and you know and half the state to be successful so it was just you know one thing after another that was just you know went bad.

Alex Ferrari 8:34
Wow, man. And is it is it true? You said it did you lose your home for this?

Adam White 8:40
Well yeah, so so we got to the point where I had no income right because I stupidly sold everything off and you know and and then leveraged myself to the hilt essentially and then so it was like well I can try to get a job and but but when I did that I still didn't I still thought when DVDs come out there's a chance this will be successful so we'll sell the home so we can start paying back the loan also we can pay back the loan and we had we still had a little bit of equity leftover not much not not enough to do anything fun with but you know to live off of for a little bit anyway so I was like Well dude we'll sell that will live off the money until the DVS hit and then we can see where we're at right and I thought this can still be successful the DVD sales can still make it work and and then reality set in about two or three months later where I was like yeah, there's no there's no cavalry coming to rescue me. We're we're pretty much in big trouble at this point.

Alex Ferrari 9:35
In your marriage at this point, you have a family at this point.

Adam White 9:38
I had six kids at this point.

Alex Ferrari 9:40
Jesus Christ, man oh yeah.

Adam White 9:43
So my mid 30's had been very successful business wise and I was had to move back home with my parents for eight months. Let's just say my wife was pregnant by the way so she was not happy about the situation although she's been very supportive.

Alex Ferrari 9:58
Oh, She got an angel with you, brother. I mean, I'm sure, trust me, I have one of those myself, who've supported me through all my insanities over the years. It's so funny because when I was starting out in my career, I, the concept of making a feature. When I was in my 20s was just, it was too expensive. There was no digital technology, it was all film still, we're still in like, like mid 90s or so. So it was just too expensive. So what I did was commercials. So I spent 50 grand on a commercial real. And I just borrowed, borrowed, borrowed, and then I started shipping out three quarter inch tapes FedEx overnight, to every production company in. So that's my marketing. So it's 50 grand, plus all my marketing, and I'm just credit card credit card, like one or two jobs, I'm back, I'm back baby, just, I just gotta go want nothing. Crickets. And then then my then the thing happened with the mob, which is the movie that I almost made, which then brought me all the way back down to almost bankruptcy. So I went down a similar path, not as extreme extreme in different ways. But it just goes to show and I hope if there's a young filmmaker listening right now, just listen to two old farts talking about what what the delusions, delusion strong man, the delusion is. The delusion is so strong, it's that lottery ticket mentality I was talking about where you're like, this arm could shoot, you were like, oh, no, I just I'll just mortgaged my house. It'll be fine. It'll be it'll be fine. DVD sales will sale save us or the, it's this and you just start talking yourself into it. And you get deeper, deeper, deeper. And I've seen that happen many times with filmmakers who aren't married don't have families, when you're younger, you can get away with that kind of stuff. Because you're like, Oh, I'll eat ramen. You know, I'll sleep on someone's couch. But when you get six kids didn't think you were rolling. You were taking a huge swing. And it's and and many times you strike out and it's

Adam White 12:05
Frankly, it never crossed my mind that you tell me I'd be like, they don't they're talking about, you know, you haven't been did

Alex Ferrari 12:12
You have no understanding my genius? And, and and and obviously someone's going to see my genius and and it's not going to work out? And that's unfortunately not the reality. It happens for one out of 1,000,001 out of 2 million filmmakers is those stories, the stories that you that we all hold on to the Robert Rodriguez story, the ED Byrne story, these kind of stories of like the lottery tickets. But that is that was an extreme. Your story is extreme. Because I saw the trailer for the film, and it definitely looked professional. It wasn't like a complete mess. It would look awesome. It looked you had the potential for success. There was there was no, it wasn't like you were so delusional, that you didn't even know how to, you know, light a movie because I've worked with those filmmakers, or direct a movie it looked, it's professionally done. It just so happened that the way things the chips fell, that didn't fall on the way it could have very easily gone the other way. If the DVD guy wouldn't have put that out. Maybe you would have had a run at theaters, maybe you would have made some money back. Did you ever see any money from DVD or no?

Adam White 13:21
Um, a little bit? Yeah, one thing I did do, which I which I'll explain later was with the smartest thing I could have done was any money that I got back, I immediately paid back the other two investors with interest, you know, and smart like a penny myself. Because I wanted to make sure that they stayed happy. And plus, I had a real personal relationship with them and want to make sure nothing, even though they're both very wealthy, you know, I'd still didn't want there to be any hard feelings or whatever. So I did that first that I've definitely recouped some for sure. I remember when I first got on Amazon Prime because I owned the digital rights to it. And I put it on Amazon Prime and I think it made like nine grand in the first month it was on or whatever. Back in the day back in the day when you could do that. Yeah, I'm like, I'm back in business. Maybe if I do this every month, I'll be fine. You know, and then of course, it dropped off very quickly.

Alex Ferrari 14:09
The delusions even then you're like look nine grand. So if I do nine grand a month, that means I'm going to make almost 100 G's. I'm going to make 100 back I'll make my money back. I'm back baby. And then of course the universe just goes sit down.

Adam White 14:23
Here's $200 How's that sound? To feed your family of nine.

Alex Ferrari 14:30
She took it so what I always find fascinating as well is and I've talked about this on the show multiple times is the disease of being a filmmaker it's a disease it's it's it's it's this thing that once you get bitten by that bug it just you can't let go. So after this colossal you know, lack of failure, I don't want to I don't want to beat you up on it because we all go through shit. But this failure in the back of your mind most people would lick their wounds and like I'm out of this, I'm gone. Let me just go back to what was making money, I'll go back to being an entrepreneur, build up some more businesses, and move on with my life. Maybe I'll make a short film every once in a while for fun. But yet in the back of your head, you're like, how can I get back? And that's the insanity that we are as filmmakers. You're just like, I just took a beating from Mike Tyson in his prime in the ring. And I'm about I was about to die was on life support and you're like, When can I get back in the ring?

Adam White 15:28
I want to rematch.

Alex Ferrari 15:29
I want a rematch. So then you it takes you how many years before you are able to get back in the ring?

Adam White 15:37
Yeah, I mean, like, it was a dark time. I'll tell you what I I had those thoughts of I mean, you know what the worst fear for me was throughout that whole thing. I mean, other than being financially destitute, which sucked obviously, with with a family of six or seven, right? Exactly like that, that once the money ran out from the equity in the house, that's when it got really, really low. But But even then, it was like, the biggest fear for me was, I may not ever get to make make another movie again.

Alex Ferrari 16:03
Not that you won't eat nothing you won't eat.

Adam White 16:06
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I can get on government assistance and eat, but I couldn't. I was like, I might not make another movie. And this that's, that, to me is like the worst of all of this. Right? So everything from that on became how do I get back to a point where I can make another movie. And so I did do exactly that. I went back to my roots and said, Okay, I know I can build up some more businesses and, and just get to a point where I can breathe again. And then And then, you know, cuz again, taking care of my family is number one, right? And so that's what I did. I started I got back into the internet business stuff. And yeah, and then I just got to a point, I was like, Okay, I'm feeling great, things are going good. Again, it took five, six years to get to that point, though, where it was like, Alright, I'm financially, I've recovered to a point where I can start doing this again, you know, and it was a long, it was a long period. It was it was it was tough. I actually saved probably three years before I really hit that I took me about three years. And then and then the next over the next couple years was like, Alright, now I'm going to start looking into this again. And, you know, without the risk of, you know, financial ruin again,

Alex Ferrari 17:10
Right, so then so you I'm assuming, during this time, you've had a conversation with your wife going, hey, you know, I know things are bad, but we're gonna get back up and, and then what? How did you approach the conversation of like, I'm thinking of making another movie? Yeah. Kevin, Matt, cuz I've seen that I've had these conversations. So I know like, how did it go?

Adam White 17:32
Yeah, she is she is not she is very, very supportive. She she wasn't as supportive the second time around, it wasn't like, Oh, this is gonna be great. I'm so I'm there with you. And that's, you know, but at the same time, you know, my income grew to a point where she's like, alright, yeah, go ahead and do another movie, you know, but I said, Look, I'm going to do it different this time. I'm not going to first of all, I'm not going to pay for it myself. That's the number one thing that I learned. And, you know, and then that that takes away all the risk right? There. There was huge risk, because I it was my own money right now. Frankly, I look at that as my film school. Like that whole experience. It cost me a couple $100,000. Right. But it would that was my film school. Like, you could not have gotten that good of a learning experience. In four years of school, there's no way No, I mean, in 10 years of school, you couldn't have gotten Yeah, you couldn't have Yeah, so So yes, it's if I think of it that way. It's not nearly as painful to swallow the what happened, right. But at the same time, nobody wants to feel like that. Right? Like it's not. It's not fun, you know, living with your parents when you're 35 and have kids is not fun.

Alex Ferrari 18:39
I can't even come from I can't even comprehend that my I feel you I feel your heart. I just go visit my parents. I'm like, yeah, no,

Adam White 18:46
Yeah, eight months. My wife's like, Alright, that's it done. I can't do it another day. And like, Okay, let's get out of here. Let's figure it out.

Alex Ferrari 18:53
And one of the reasons why I wanted you on the show is because I wanted people to really see, this is the real life. This is what this is what they don't show you at film school. This is not what this is not what Hollywood puts out there for filmmakers to see. They only put out the stories of like the Sundance winners and the lottery tickets in Palm Springs sold for 17 point 5 million and that's what they show. They don't show the realities of it. And I mean, on the show, I've had multiple filmmakers go through what you've talked about, not exactly like you, and I've gone through my own headaches as well. So I've got shrapnel just like you. But what I found fascinating about your story is that it is it is truly insane. And we are insane to go I just got my ass beat and I'm going to go back and and then that your thought process was like the worst thing that could happen is I can never make another movie. There's something so primal within the artist that you're like I can if I can't create again, is worse than death. Almost it's it's a weird thing that we have as filmmakers. Unlike writers on Like painters, unlike musicians, there are just cheap. Ours, ours is not.

Adam White 20:06
This is the most expensive hobby in the history of Earth. That's what it was, for me the first time around anyway. I, frankly, and ironically, while I was during the downtime of like the three years of like, trying to recover, I wrote a youth fiction novel, because it was like, the one release I had was very hard to be creative at that time, because, you know, oh, no, I know. I don't want to see I was depressed, you know, oh, super depressed. So I feel hard to be creative when you're depressed. But for some, somehow I was able to write this book. And like, that was like the, the therapy that I needed to just get me through that time. You know, and then until till I get to a point where I'm like, Alright, let's think about making movies again.

Alex Ferrari 20:48
Yeah, it's Yeah, trust me. I was I was hiding in a garage sorting comic books for two years after my my near bankruptcy, and my whole life went downhill with that shooting for the mob scenario. So I feel you bro, I feel I feel that So alright, so So now like the Phoenix, you will not you are rising again. So tell me about your new film. Funny thing about love?

Adam White 21:13
Yeah, so I just, you know, during the, during the pandemic, I Well, my wife loves Hallmark movies, first of all, and and like, I've seen 100 of these things. And oh my gosh, it's like torture for me. Every time I have to watch one with her. There's probably three out of 100 that I was like, Okay, that was all right. Yeah, but But I but I'm a huge fan of like the, the romantic comedies from the 90s. Like, while you were sleeping, or you know, you go, those are like iconic movies. And I'm like, why don't we have any movies like that anymore? Like, they don't make them there. They don't exist. And so I was like, You know what I'm going to, I can do way better than Hallmark. For me personally, like, as a man watching this. And I want to do something that's a throwback to that era, right of like, it's you have these really, you have good romantic comedy, but you have these awesome supporting characters that just make it super funny, right? Like, they're just, that's how all those were kind of modeled. And they're all family friendly, too, which is a good thing. For me. Anyway, so I started writing one, and then the pandemic hit, and I was like, Dude, I have all this extra time on lockdown. I'm just gonna finish this thing. And I busted out really fast. I was writing like five to 10 pages a day. And you know, and then and the characters just kind of came alive. I've written five or six screenplays. And this one was like the easiest to write of all and maybe it's because I'm a family man and or whatever. But, or because I've seen so many Hallmark movies, maybe that's why I don't. But whatever it was, it came with it came really easily. And you know, went through very few revisions. And yeah, and then once I had it done, I'm like, Look, this, this movie can be made for pretty cheap, pretty cheaply, right? We could do this for, you know, less than a million for sure. Probably less than half a million. And so I had some producer, friends, brothers that are producers, and I was like, Hey, let's, let's make this thing. And they're like, Yeah, let's do it. So during during the pandemic, or in the lockdown, we like literally started going and looking for money, you know. And that's kind of that's when me taking care of my investors from the Inspire guns really paid off. Because I went back to those guys. And I'm like, Hey, I'm doing another one, guys. Finally, you want in? And they're both like, Yeah, I'll go again, right? Because they were happy that it was a good return for them. So sure. And they both went in higher than they did the first time. Right. So now I had more money than I did the first time to start. And nobody wants to be first with investors. That's what I found out. Nobody wants to come to the party first or two. Yep. To say Yes. Then it's so much easier to get other people to say yes. And that's what happened. I happen to mention to some friends of mine, some neighbors and like, yeah, I just got our first or two investments in the movie. And then like, two days later, he approached one of them posed to me at the gym, he's like, Hey, tell me more about this movie? How do I get involved? You know, and then he drops, you know, 50 grand, and then another another neighbor's like, what you're doing this movie? What? Tell me more about this. And then they end up investing about 50 grand? Yeah, just like just like a snowball effect. Wow. So then we're like, we got to make this movie. So we just went like the full pre production mode at that point. And so good. So it's like divine providence. I'm like, this is I can't believe how easy this is happening. Compared to the previous experience, right? Just like Porcher

Alex Ferrari 24:14
Yeah, I think the universe was like, okay, okay, we beat them up enough. Let's skim a little bit of an easier, right. So gotta be tough. But you know, let's just give him a couple of

Adam White 24:22
Yeah make it Yeah, there was definitely no doubt in my mind that I should make the movie right at that point, when you have that much money when you have over six figures of you know, for an indie film that it's people have committed, and we had the cast like we immediately we got made people pay, like right away so they wouldn't back out on us. And, you know, it was we're like, let's do this. Now, we got to make this movie.

Alex Ferrari 24:42
So you're in the middle of pandemic, and, you know, I get, I get pitched all the time about like, Hey, man, I made this movie in the pandemic. I'm like, that's nice. I did three shows that I'm good. But your story about not only your inspired gun story, but then you're also shooting during the pandemic which has A very, has a couple of added stresses.

Adam White 25:06
Yeah. Well, we knew we had to do it quickly, right? Because Because if anybody gets COVID, you get shut down. Right? So you can't, and were to shoot it and shot it in Utah. No, no, Arizona. I'm in Arizona. Okay, so, so I wanted to stay close to home. This is my hometown. So so we we shot here in the Phoenix area. But we are we got to shoot this in 12 days is what we said. So we did it in 12 days, which to me is, you know, inspired, I think 20 days, right. And that and that seemed fast. So 12 days to me is insanity. But you know, I know people have done it faster. But it was not enough time but but we were able to do it somehow we finished but even then we're testing everybody three, three times a week we were everyone had to wear masks, except the actors. You know, it wasn't very fun for that that part yet.

Alex Ferrari 25:50
It was it was pretty. It was pretty vaccination. It was pretty everything like you were it was a weird, the world is still coming to an end kind of scenario. Yeah. And again, I always enjoy it. So and on top of that, it's the craziness of, hey, we're in the middle of pandemic, I kind of shoot my movie, like, that's the Saturday that we have is filming.

Adam White 26:10
I better do it quick before the world ends. Otherwise, I won't get to

Alex Ferrari 26:14
Like the you see that? The I really want to just spotlight how insane you're not the only one I'm the same way. We're all we're all the same way. But it's just like, I want to just just stop for a moment and just live in that moment. Like I got to hurry and shoot this before the world.

Adam White 26:33
I will I do not want to die not have a film this thing.

Alex Ferrari 26:36
It's like I need to get this out of me. I don't want to I don't want to die with the music in me. So you're shooting this thing? You shoot it. Let me ask you what was the toughest day on set? And how did you overcome it?

Adam White 26:51
The toughest day was? Well, they're all long days, right? Because, again, they were like 16 hour days every day. But the toughest day was we had we had to outside outdoor shoots, because you know that the movie takes place over the Thanksgiving holiday. And we had so we had an outdoor walk. And we also had a football game, we had to film that that part was difficult because I didn't realize that no one in the cast had ever played football in their lives. They had no idea what the rules were. They didn't know what this mean other

Alex Ferrari 27:21
What is this last thing? What is this ball? What is this? I don't understand.

Adam White 27:25
So then I'm sitting there, like, I didn't factor in time and teach them the rules of football. You know, I didn't. I didn't I was a part of this. So so I'm like, as quickly as I can, like, are you just lined up here and run that way and you line up here and run this way and you stand next to that person and make sure they don't get the ball? Like it was like it was It was chaotic. That's so that that made it go longer than the police showed up and said, Hey, you guys are supposed to be here. Then one of the homeowners associates, the people said you can't be here and we just ignored them. And like we just gotta hurry to finish this, you know, so we just kept filming, and then our our grip truck broke down, and we had one more location to go to. So then we're, we're move over to the other location. We don't have any of our equipment. They're like, what can we bring? What is the essential stuff we need to bring. So we bring that stuff over, we have our DP literally sitting in a wheelchair being wheeled around as our dolly because that was because it was a hospital scene. And we had a wheelchair there. You know, so that was probably the hardest day but but you know, and oh, and there was a choir practicing because it was at a high school. There's a choir practicing and they're super loud. We can hear them through the air vents. As we're trying to films we have to keep waiting on them. And they're they're like, it's like these angelic voices singing but we're like, we can't, that's great. But we can't, we can't use that. So we had to sit there and wait and wait until they would stop seeing and then they hurry and film and then they start singing again. So that was just one of those days where it seemed like everything was going wrong. And you know, if I but you but you made it through obviously you got Yeah, we finished the day. You know, not everyone was happy about it. But you know, I was

Alex Ferrari 28:52
When you like you know, it's always fun when you have perspective, like your first experience with inspired guns that shrapnel does give you a level of, of perspective on where you're at in your career. Like when you're when you're going through like when the when the when the the fittest hitting the Shan as they say, and, you know, you're just there, like, you know, everyone's losing their mind because they haven't had your perspective. Just like, I'm just happy to be here. Like, I'm just

Adam White 29:18
You don't know how lucky we are guys.

Alex Ferrari 29:20
Like, isn't it insane? That as artists, we really only get to practice our art for a short amount of time in our life. You know, unless you're Ridley Scott, who's on set 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has a cot there are some shit, I have no idea. But generally speaking, most filmmakers shoot a movie once a year if they're lucky once every two or three years or four years. So to actually practice our art is so rare. It's most of the time is getting the project up enough off the ground getting it ready casting if getting the money. And then did you get those 12 days or 20 days when you're actually directing? And then you're like, Okay, now I'm gonna post it As part of that process, if you feel that, but then most of the times distribution, how am I going to get my money back and we're gonna do this, it's you, you barely ever get a chance to actually direct and when I'm on set, I'm just like, oh my god, I gotta, it's like, you just want to soak it all in because it's such a rarity to do

Adam White 30:18
It is it's a rarity. But it's like, it's funny, because when I did inspire guns, when I was on set, I thought, I have found the thing that I'm supposed to do for the rest of my life. This is the greatest experience I've ever had, you know, outside of family and marriage and kids, like, this is the greatest experience I've ever had. You know, so that is what pulls you back. It's like, I've experienced that now. That's why the for those three years, I'm like, I might not ever get that feeling again, like I found the thing I'm supposed to do for the rest of my life. And I might not get to do it's been taken away from me, you know, it was like, hard, you know, but so the 12 days, that was like, the big the worst part about the film shoot was that it was only 12 days, because it was like, I just want to keep doing this, I want to I want the next one, I'm going to go for 24 days, at least just so I have 24 days to do it. You know what I mean? Where it's like, you get that feeling for 24 straight days. And then you go into the rest of, you know, into business mode to market the movie, but But yeah, you're right. It's that feeling of when we're actually doing the art form. It's such an amazing feeling you just wanted to last forever.

Alex Ferrari 31:20
And that's what and by the way, that's with as an indie film, as a filmmaker as you can get making a $5,000 movie two guys who are making 30 $50 million dollar movies, 100 million dollar movies, those, those guys, they get on set for a few months. You know, like if you're, if you're shooting a Marvel movie, you're shooting a Marvel movie for two, three months. And you're three years in development. And then post like doing all the visual effects and all this. It just, it's just an it's just so weird. As I always, always tell people, like, I wish I could just be a musician. I wish I could just pick up a guitar and play. Because that's why you just see sometimes you just see a musician, like throwing a guitar, just just playing around like or a jazz player, just like you know, just just, you know, jazzing it up,you know,

Adam White 32:09
It's gonna be doing that. Yeah. And they're, they're getting to do it.

Alex Ferrari 32:13
Right. And we don't get that we you know, as writers writers get to do that. But writers are different. It says a different. Writing a script, writing a book. It's a different feeling than being on set. And when you're on set, there is this energy. There's this magic, especially when you're the director, that you It's addictive. It is a truly addictive process. Even if it's a bad experience. It's still it's like pizza. Like if you have the worst pizza still pizza. Like

Adam White 32:39
I haven't I haven't had a bad experience yet. I mean, like both experiences, I think maybe because they were both comedies like it was. You know, people tell me like the film crew is like, this is such a fun set. Everyone's happy. And I'm like, I don't know any different like I've never been I don't I didn't I've never done a set where if people weren't happy where people weren't having fun, or oh, we're getting you know that. Oh, never. I've only done it twice. But you know, I'm pretty, you know, especially like you said after the first one with the shrapnel I'm like, oh, man, everything's fine. Guys. Just calm down. We're good. Like, it's nothing's bad here. We're so good.

Alex Ferrari 33:10
It's kind of like after Francis Ford Coppola did Apocalypse Now. He just everything else was just like, yes. Like, I spent three years almost killed myself. In a jungle. I'm good. It's all good. It's all good. So it's all it's all perspective. It really really is. Now I have to ask you, man, you have a you have John heater in your movie. For everyone listening. It's a heater, right? It's a heater head. Yeah, heater. So John heater for everyone listening. If you don't know the name doesn't sound familiar. He was Napoleon Dynamite. He he did blaze of glory with with Will Ferrell. And he's been in a ton of like, comedies, you know, big budget comedies. Yeah. I mean, he's done a lot of stuff in his career. I know he does a lot of vO work and stuff like that, as well. But he generally doesn't do supporting roles. So first of all, how did you get him? And then how did you get him to be a supporting role as well?

Adam White 34:08
Yes, he doesn't do romantic comedies either. So So though, that was there were two hurdles we had to climb. It really came down to as we were casting this and we had it fully cast, right. Except one roll. We hadn't called the guy we were going to cast yet. Because I was like, because because the whole time or like, one thing I learned the first time is if you don't have a name in your movie, nobody cares about your movie. They just don't. It's rough. It's rough. Yeah. So so even if it's the greatest movie of all time, then maybe they'll you know, it may find its way. But other than that people don't care. So I was like, alright, we don't have we had Barry Corbin. And he's been you know, he was like the general and more games of stuff. He's been in a ton of things. But even he wasn't a big enough name. I didn't think no. And then so I was like, so we got to like, we're like just a couple weeks out from shooting and I'm like, Alright, we have to get a name in this movie or else Or else we're going to set ourselves up to fail and this is just the business mind me going worse. I don't want to make the same mistakes again. So I literally went through IMDb and Like went through every male actor in that age range, and made a list of like, five to 10 guys that I thought, okay, we might have a chance to get this person for cheap. And he was one on the list now, because like he and I went to the same college right? And so there we have some connection there. And and I happen to we had cast Brooke white, she was an American Idol finalist. And she had she had a supporting role in this. And we reached out to the cast. I said, Hey, does anybody know John heater? And she's like, well, actually, I just shot a music video with him. And so I have his number. And we're like, Okay, well, listen, we need you to just text them and just say, Would you be interested in an a rom com that we're, we're shooting I'll be I'll be playing your wife. They're friends, right? I'll be your wife. It'll be fun. It'll be two weeks shoot during the pandemic, you have nothing else to do. Right. So. So she she texted me. He's like, well send me the script and buy like the script. I'll do it. And so he I sent him the script. And he liked the script, but he's like, I don't want to be in a Hallmark movie. And so I had to convince him that it wasn't a Hallmark movie that it was too much. There was too much comedy for it to be a hallmark. Right, right. You know, they won't want it. So he's like, okay, so yeah, I think it'd be fun. So I think it just was a matter of circumstance, honestly, the timing. And the timing was just perfect, right? He had nothing else to do because of the lockdown. And so he's like, alright, well, you know, and, you know, and we obviously made an offer that was enough to incentivize him to come to come be in the movie and be the kind of the Topfield

Alex Ferrari 36:27
How many days and how many days? Did you shoot him?

Adam White 36:30
Oh, he was there all 12 everybody was there.

Alex Ferrari 36:32
Really? So you didn't it wasn't a shootout thing. You had them all there for 12 days. Wow.

Adam White 36:36
Yeah. Yeah. What really helped that he was friends with with Brooke white though, because they just they had the time. I mean, they had a blast together. And there was a Brooke wife's best friend summer blesses our lead actress. So that was just like a party for them. Right. So they, it didn't feel like you know, it just worked out that way. It was just it was just like, perfect.

Alex Ferrari 36:57
Wow. So so the universe was really truly giving you an Attaboy.

Adam White 37:01
Oh, yeah. Well, that that even like, and the actors don't even know this, but like, we hadn't raised all the money.

Alex Ferrari 37:08
Right. I was gonna ask that was my next question. Like you started shooting without all the money?

Adam White 37:12
Yeah, we did. And I was like, Okay, I, we've raised this much. So far. Everything's worked out everything. The universe is aligned for us. We're just going to go for it. It's I'm just going to take a step into the darkness and hopefully, the light the way he is lighted, you know? Yes, I see now that I mean, even then, like, again, the blinders are on. And I'm like, I will get it fully fine. You know,

Alex Ferrari 37:32
That could have been man that okay, so everyone listening? Don't ever do what Adam did. Don't ever start production without your least at least your production budget, you might have to go find post, that's fine. But don't ever do what he just said he did. Because it's not wise. Because again, and even after your experience, this was a part of that experience that you didn't have the first time you're like, oh, no, everything's working fine. We got John here. We're gonna get going, it's gonna be fine. We'll just keep going. So what happened?

Adam White 38:02
Well, okay. Now to be fair, we had the money for production. But then we had to go through the Screen Actors Guild, right? Because that oh, yeah, of course. And that opened up a whole other world of problems, right. For independent filmmakers, it is not easy to work with the Screen Actors Guild. And so they said, alright, we need you to send us $80,000 of your budget as a bond to make sure that actors get paid. Well, we assumed because we hadn't I had worked with Screen Actors Guild before. I assumed that meant they were going to pay the actress for us, right. But that's not what that meant. They're just gonna hold that money. In case we don't pay the actors, you know, then they'll pay them, right. But we still had to pay the actors, even though they had that 80,000 We were going to use to pay them. So we were like, stuck because they had our money. And we couldn't, we didn't you know, we didn't raise more money. So we were like, What are we going to do? Because they're like, they said, they're going to give her money back, like 120 days after we're done shooting.

Alex Ferrari 38:53
That's it, which is very, very long. Yes. Very convenient. That way, yes. The way this act is very convenient that way.

Adam White 38:59
Yes. It was fantastic. Right? So so that's why we were scrambling it was it was like Alright, well, we could we were going to get through production one way or another because they weren't going to get a check till the end of production anyways, they got the first check the second one, the movie would have been shot. It's just that people would have been mad because they didn't get paid right away. So we were scrambling and we just like basically Big Screen Actors Guild said, hey, look, that's our money to pay people and we can't pay anybody if you don't give us our money back. And we had to escalate it, you know, inside their organization and get them to finally say, Alright, how much do you actually need? And we got the money back.

Alex Ferrari 39:31
But it was like, Okay, I get Yeah, I don't want to get into that conversation with sag in that because they're not it's not a lot of people think it's super easy to work with them for independence. It's not, it's not

Adam White 39:41
It's very hard. It's not a huge disadvantage to because you can't get big actors without using them so. So it's like you have to have one without the other if you want to have a chance to succeed and then they make it harder for you to succeed by doing stuff like that. But meanwhile, my my producers they were really good about they kind of didn't let me know that this was even happening. They did They did a really good job of like, shielding me from any of the external problems that we were filming. So I didn't find out till after but even then they were they were raising money that whole week, you know, like reaching out to people that they had worked with before and going, Hey, we're doing this movie this guy, John heater and that, again, getting a name was so important for that because anytime we started on John hitters name around, everyone's wants to listen like Oh, really? You got Napoleon Dynamite? Okay. Yeah, I'm interested. Right. Like, it's just amazing how, how many doors that has opened, you know, and right now we're on the press phase of this of the film. We have a national PR company working for us, and he's getting booked on some really big shows him as a supporting actor in this movie. He's getting booked on really big shows, because he's John meter. Right. So we're gonna get some amazing national press, frankly, just because we have him in the movie.

Alex Ferrari 40:47
Yeah, that's, that's awesome. And again, I've talked about this so much on the show, man, you if you're listening, getting a name or a face at minimum is so so so important in the process, because you're right, like when you're scanning through. If you're scanning through all those, you know, your cat, your cat, cat was, catalog, whatever it is carousel, going back and forth on Netflix or on Hulu or on wherever you're seeing it. You're gonna stop if you see the familiar face. Right. And John is one of those faces that people are like, oh, yeah, I've seen John because he's been in a billion dollar stuff. And he's, and he's just been in a lot of big shows. So it's super, super helpful to do that, man.

Adam White 41:33
Yeah, it really is, you know, Napoleon Dynamite still, you know, 17 years later, carries so much oh, this analogy. And it's just an iconic movie that people still they love him so much in that movie that everywhere we went, it was like, we had to stop people from taking pictures. In fact, I had to yell at him one time, because he was taking pictures with fans. That didn't work mask, you know, and I'm like, Dude, you can't get COVID Man. Shoot, man, you cannot be talking to anybody until the shoots over, you know, the last day of the shoot? Sure, take all the pictures you want. Because by the time you get tested, we'll be done. But until then, please stay in a bubble. But yeah, he it really has made for an experience that would that would have a chance to succeed. I mean, I feel so much more positive about what can happen with this. I mean, even the distribution deal that we got, which, you know, most I didn't know this, but most people don't get minimum guarantees.

Alex Ferrari 42:27
You had an MG.

Adam White 42:28
Yeah, we did.

Alex Ferrari 42:29
Because of John.

Adam White 42:31
Well, yeah, well, I don't know why you

Alex Ferrari 42:33
Get it's because of John. Because like, this is how it works. This is how it works. You got an MG because the distributor saw John and he goes, I can pre sell that or I already know, I can make money with it because of John's face and name attached to it. And that's what people don't understand who who are listening, or filmmakers might be listening is that no distribution company in today's world is going to give you an MG unless they guarantee no, there's a guarantee of that money. They've already sold it. So if I'm giving you $10,000 I already called up Bob over in the Netherlands. And I already know that Bob's gonna buy this movie for 10 grand. It's a done deal. So that's why that happened without John. Almost positive, you wouldn't got an MG. It's hard. It's just too hard.

Adam White 43:15
Right! I don't I don't even like it was interesting. Because the because it was gravitas ventures who we ended up going with a PR distribution. And they they they emailed us we weren't really because we were going to do the same dumb thing I did last time, which is just do our own distribution theatrically first and then see what we do after that and, and I started getting cold feet on that and didn't feel right about it. And I was like, I don't want to, I don't want to go to that same road again and have it fail, even though this movie has a much wider appeal. Um, and then Gravatars reached out to us and they said, hey, send us a screener. I sent the screener like 11 o'clock at night and 6am The next morning, they're like they offered. We want to distribute this, here's what we'll do. Plus, here's your here's your mg. Like it was like that fast that they are offering an MG to us. And I was like, wow, they must they love this movie. This is great.

Alex Ferrari 43:58
Did the MG is the MG covering. It's not covering your budget, is it? But it's

Adam White 44:01
Oh, no, no, no. Yeah, we were I was able to negotiate more than double what they initially offered on the MG. It you know, it's probably about 20% of the budget, but even then, like, you know, the fact that it was you know, anyone got it. It's something we know they're 100% committed to the success of the movie, right? Because because they put their money there. They're writing us a check right from the beginning. So

Alex Ferrari 44:23
That's awesome, dude, that's that's really I'm glad I'm glad for you. Well, you are a you are a success story in the sense that you were able to bounce back after you got punched in the face hard. And I'm you might have heard this on my show. It's like, no matter who you are in this business, you're always getting punched, you're in a fight constantly. You're getting punched in the face all the time. But many of you don't even know that they're you're in a fight. So when that punch hits you you're out for the count. You got you didn't know it was coming you got knocked out. And then in your days, you're like, I gotta get back in the ring. And we're able to work your way back to that and still be able to do what you love to do and that isn't enough. inspirational story that I think a lot of filmmakers need to hear, because I've hear that I talk to so many filmmakers on a daily basis that it's, I just hear it. I hear all these stories so often. And it usually ends in tragedy, it normally doesn't have an uplifting story. So that's why that's one of the things that caught my eye about your story that you went down. And then you came back up like a phoenix and nothing in the thing is to like you didn't like win the lottery, you didn't like, win an Oscar, you didn't get into Sundance, you didn't like, this is not that story. But you were able to get back to a place where you can practice your art, you could do what you love to do. And hopefully make another one. And that's success enough. Hopefully, your continued success. But as filmmakers, man if you just get to make another one. Get out.You've won.

Adam White 45:48
Yes, I didn't really consider I wouldn't. I was always ashamed to call myself a filmmaker after the first one, right? Because I paid for it myself. And it was only one movie and, you know, they're like, No, anybody could do that if they had the money, right? But But now that I've done to Okay, and and, and I got other people to invest, you know, where I'd have to use my own money, alright, I'm a filmmaker, I did it, you know, like that's, and that's probably just a dumb way for me to classify myself, but just just a maybe my own insecurity of talking about it. But but, you know, it definitely feels a lot better to know, I came back again, and I did it. And I've made a movie that I think people are gonna really enjoy. And you know, it's gonna kind of meet that need of good family entertainment, that that you can wash together and feel good. And that's what we all need is some good feel good stuff.

Alex Ferrari 46:34
Absolutely. Now, if you would have thrown a puppy in there that saved Christmas, then you would really have something. But until I'm sorry, you didn't

Adam White 46:41
Hey there's time for a sequel.

Alex Ferrari 46:44
I always ask people like, what should I make a movie about? I'm like, if you have a puppy who saves Christmas, it's presold

Adam White 46:51
You have a winner.

Alex Ferrari 46:52
You have a winner, Puppy saves Christmas, all day, every day, put Dean Cain in it done. Now, I'm going to ask, I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to make it into the trying to break into the business today?

Unknown Speaker 47:08
I think that it's, first of all, and you know, I can't give any advice that not everyone else's given I'm sure. But, but and people that are a lot smarter than me. But I would say, you have to know that nobody cares about your stuff nearly as much as you do. Right. And most people don't care at all about your stuff, right? So. So it's, it's really a matter of how you can help other people and getting people on board with what you want to do. But having said that, once you get the ball rolling, like just putting it out in the universe, and I'm doing this, it's amazing how people will jump on board, right, want to be a part of something. So you kind of have those two things working against each other. Nobody cares. But once you're doing something, and they and they know you're doing it, then they want to be a part of it. So you know, just like you the great thing about filmmaking is like, I didn't have to go to film school, and I didn't have to get permission, right? Like I could just do it. You know, you can just make a movie. Nobody can stop you. Right. And that's what's so amazing about it. Plus, it's so cheap now that anybody can do it. So So yeah, I mean, just just get out there and do man just just make it happen. You know, just the book. Speaking of Robert Rodriguez, that book was so motivational to me before I did inspire young

Alex Ferrari 48:19
Everybody, everybody, everybody who reads that book is like,

Adam White 48:22
Okay, okay, I can do this, I can make this movie, I only need 10 grand, it'll be fine. You know, that's not true.

Alex Ferrari 48:28
Which is the thing I think is the best and the worst thing I love Rebel Without a crew. Um, anyone who listens to the show knows I am a huge Robert Rodriguez fan. And that book has done I think his story is done more good and bad at the same time, because he made everyone believe that they could do what he did. It wasn't his fault. It was the narrative. It was a story that they got put out to everyone talks about this. They still to this day, talk about El Mariachi, and in from 91. Like everyone's still talking about that movie. Yeah. And the thing that most people don't understand is that you're not Robert Rodriguez. Like, he is a once in a generation kind of talent. Like he's such a talented filmmaker. Whether you like his movies or not is irrelevant. It's how he makes them the amount of talent the amount of skills he has. Not everybody could do that.

Adam White 49:14
Yeah, I think the timing and probably some luck, frankly. I mean, we all need luck. Oh, to be you know, most of those guys are so you know, it's just it won't work for everybody because we don't have those things all working together in our favor.

Alex Ferrari 49:26
Right. No question and I've said this many times on the show before if all mariachi shows up today do we does it doesn't even break through? Do we ever have a robber or do we have a Kevin Smith if Clark shows up today? Yeah, yeah, probably probably wouldn't make it through the noise. But in the 90s At that moment of time, it was it was it was it was destined to be what he would he became. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Adam White 49:52
There's probably lots of lessons in terms of business that I could share, but I'm Taking care of the investors was was a really really good one getting a name actor was a really really good one I like I've literally started I made a document where I like said here's all the things I learned from the second film shoot right but I don't think that I want to make sure that I put into practice next time and and there's there's a lot of those things but the biggest one was no matter what cast a name actor no matter what you find whatever you have to do to get a name actor raise more money, whatever it takes, you know, cut in other places so you can afford one because that will make all the difference because they don't care like distribute distributors. And you know, buyers don't care if the movie is good even.

Alex Ferrari 50:44
That's not that's not even that's not even a question that's not even in the equation it so Exactly. It's not even in the equation. That's the thing that filmmakers don't know. So there's that is that just like, oh, but my movies really good. Don't care. I can't sell it without Danny Trejo without John here without some face on the cover that I can sell. And three of your favorite films of all time.

Adam White 51:08
You got these on the back wall? He's probably right. He's probably high on the list I have. The Fellowship of the Rings is probably my number one favorite movie of all time. Nice. Love the Bourne series, but it's probably Bourne identities, the the best of those. And then Toy Story, which I'm not like a big animated guy, but I feel like that might be one of the greatest movies ever made.

Alex Ferrari 51:33
I would agree with him. It is a pitch perfect film. It started story wise, it's

Adam White 51:39
Yeah, and the perfect story for that medium of CG animation. Right. And they did it on the first try. Which to me is like unbelievable. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 51:51
three Yeah, that's not not not a bad combination Bourne totally story lords. Lord of the Rings, if it's not okay,

Adam White 51:57
Give you give you a variety.

Alex Ferrari 51:58
And where can people see the movie? When is it coming out?

Adam White 52:01
So the movie comes out December 3, it'll be on in select theaters, probably about 10 to 20 cities and then also on demand the same day. So December 3, it'll be everywhere. Essentially.

Alex Ferrari 52:14
Adam and I appreciate you sharing your your story with us and and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. And hopefully, it's some inspiration. And some warnings will be picked up from this this from this conversation, but I appreciate you man. Thank you again.

Adam White 52:30
Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 52:31
Best of luck in the future.

Adam White 52:32
It's has been very therapeutic for me. This is the first time I've really talked about that story publicly. So So now I'll be able to sleep at night again. So let's be good.

Alex Ferrari 52:42
Thank you man. I appreciate you.

Adam White 52:44
Alright man!


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