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Top 15 Television Showrunner Writing Podcasts

Behind every great television or streaming show, show lives a showrunner running the creative and business journey. Below are some of the top showrunners working in television. In these interviews, they discuss how they got their start, what they look for in a writer for their writer’s room, and how to navigate the politics of television and imposter syndrome. If you want to work as a writer in television, then these conversations are must listen to. Enjoy!

David Chase (Showrunner of The Sopranos)

The legacy of the crime drama television series, The Sopranos, remains a defining art of storytelling for mob TV shows. We have the genius behind this hit TV series, David Chase as our guest today.

As expected, Chase is a twenty-five-time Emmy Awards-winner, seven times Golden Globes winner, and highly acclaimed producer, writer, and director. His forty-year career in Hollywood has contributed immensely to the experience of quality TV.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of Chase, let’s do a brief of the HBO 1999 hit show, The Sopranos: Produced by HBO, Chase Films, and Brad Grey Television, the story ran for six seasons, revolving around Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster, portraying the difficulties that he faces as he tries to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization.


Marta Kauffman (Showrunner of Friends, Gracie and Frankie)

Marta Kauffman is an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning television writer, producer and showrunner behind the hit series Friends and Grace & Frankie. After graduating from Brandeis University, Kauffman got her big break alongside David Crane when their pilots Dream On (1990) and The Powers That Be (1992) were greenlit. The pair then launched Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions with Kevin Bright and became the trio that created the iconic sitcom Friends.

He next project, Grace & Frankie, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston premiered on Netflix in 2015 and is Netflix’s longest-running original ever. The series has received multiple Emmy and SAG nominations and is premiering the final episodes of its seventh and last season later this year. In 2018, the company produced the documentary Seeing Allred, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on Netflix.


Danny Strong (Showrunner of Empire, Dopestick)

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

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

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

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


Steven Kane (Showrunner of The Last Ship, Halo)

Steven Kane got his start in the entertainment industry writing and directing independent film and theater. His first feature film, The Doghouse, won Best Director at the NY Indy Film Festival. His collection of One Act plays, Out of Your Mind, had a successful run in Los Angeles at the GuerriLA Theater.

His television credits as a writer and producer include The Closer (for which he received an Edgar Nomination), Major Crimes, Alias, NCIS, and Without a Trace, as well as comedies American Dad and Curb Your Enthusiasm. From 2012-2018, he served as Creator, Executive Producer, and show runner of TNT’s The Last Ship, a post-apocalyptic drama based on William Brinkley’s novel of the same name.

In 2019, it was announced that Steven would join the HALO series at Showtime as Showrunner, Head Writer, and Executive Producer.


Daniel Knauf (Showrunner of Carnivale, The Blacklist)

Daniel Knauf had a couple of small credits to his name—a TV movie here, a stint on Wolf Lake there—when he managed to sell the intricate Great Depression-era genre show Carnivale to HBO.

The series, an intricate blend of meticulously researched period detail and secret-history fantasy, purported to tell the tale of what happened when the last two “Avatars”—superpowered beings of light and darkness—met in the United States on the eve of World War II. The series attracted a cult audience that remains devoted to this day, but a mass audience wasn’t sure what to make of the program, and HBO canceled it after two seasons, saying the show’s story was finished, in spite of Knauf’s plan for a six-season run.


Edward Zwick (Showrunner of Thirtysomething)

We have been on a major roll lately on the podcast and this episode keep that going in a big way. Our guest on the show today is writer, producer, and director Edward Zwick. Edward made his big shift from his childhood passion of theater to filmmaking after working as a PA for Woody Allenin France on the set of Love and Death. He then moved to California in the summer of 1976 and has since forged a respected name for himself in Hollywood.

Edward Zwick is a multiple Academy AwardGolden Globes, and BAFTA award-winning director, writer, and producer.


Marshall Herskovitz (Showrunner of Nashville)

Our guest today is producer, director and screenwriter Marshall Herskovitz. Many of his production projects have been in partnership with his long-time filmmaking collaborator, Edward Zwick whose films, he’s produced and written half of. Their decades-long filmmaking partnership was launched as co-creators of the 1987 TV show, ThirtySomething.

Now, Marshall had already written for the TV show, Family, in 1976. So his understanding of TV was pivotal in the success of ThirtySomething.

Other projects he’s credited for executive producing or creating include Traffic (2000), The Last Samurai (2003), Nashville (TV show 2016), Blood Diamond, and Women Walks Ahead(2017), starring the incomparable, Jessica Chastain.


Steve DeKnight (Showrunner of Marvel’s Daredevil, Spartacus)

Showrunning is a mysterious art form to many so I wanted to bringing he someone who can shine a light on what it takes to be one. Today on the show we have powerhouse show runner, writer, director, producer, and all-around good guy Steven DeKnight. Best known for his work across the action, drama, and sci-fi genres on TV shows like SmallvilleSpartacusDaredevilBuffy the Vampire SlayerAngeland Jupiter’s Legacy.

Realizing his strengths early on in his career, Steven is a jack-of-all-trades who studied acting at the onset of film school transitioned through to writing, playwright, and screenwriting. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was his big break – starting off as writer and story editor on the show, DeKnight went on to produce 42 episodes of the Spin-off show, Angel.


Mick Garris (Showrunner of Masters of Horror, Fear Itself)

I am extremely excited to have on the show today a fellow podcaster, established producer, director, and writer, Mick Garris. Mick’s podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garrisdives deep into the devious minds of the greatest filmmakers and creators of your worst nightmares to bring their distinctive visions to life in fascinating one-on-one conversations. 

He’s renowned for his classic screen adaptation of Stephen King’s books like Sleepwalkers (1992), The Shinning and The Stand. and creator of 2005, Masters of Horror series.


Edward Burns (Showrunner of Public Morals, Bridge and Tunnel)

Today’s guest is a writer, director, producer, actor, and indie filmmaking legend, Edward Burns. Many of you might have heard of the Sundance Film Festival-winning film called The Brothers McMullen, his iconic first film that tells the story of three Irish Catholic brothers from Long Island who struggle to deal with love, marriage, and infidelity. His Cinderella story of making the film, getting into Sundance, and launching his career is the stuff of legend.

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

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

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


VJ Boyd (Showrunner Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector)

Today on the show we have television writer and showrunner VJ Boyd. VJ is a producer and writer, best known for his work on the critically acclaimed  Justified (2010), the CBS smash hit S.W.A.T. (2017) and creator of Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector (2020).


Barry Sonnenfeld (Showrunner of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, or simply A Series of Unfortunate Events, sometimes also shortened to just ASOUE, is an American black comedy-drama streaming television series from Netflix, developed by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfeld, based on Lemony Snicket’s children’s novel series of the same name.


Michael Jamin (Showrunner of Glenn Martin DDS, Maron, and Rhett & Link’s Buddy System)

Today on the show we have writer and showrunner Michael Jamin. Michael has been writing for television since 1996.  His many credits include Just Shoot Me, King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Out of Practice, Rules of Engagement, Lopez and Tacoma FD.

He’s also served as Executive Producer/Showrunner on Glenn Martin DDS, Maron, and Rhett & Link’s Buddy System. Michael currently lives in Los Angeles where he’s working on a collection of personal essays to be released in 2020.


Erik Bork (Band of Brothers, From Earth to the Moon)

Today on the show we have screenwriter and producer Erik Bork. Erik Bork is a screenwriter best known for his work on the HBO miniseries Band of BrothersFrom the Earth to the Moon, for which he wrote multiple episodes, and won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards as part of the producing team.

Erik has also sold series pitches (and written pilots) at NBC and FOX, worked on the writing staff for two primetime dramas, and written feature screenplays on assignment for companies like Universal, HBO, TNT, and Playtone. He teaches screenwriting for UCLA Extension, National University, and The Writers Store, and offers one-on-one consulting to writers.

BPS 238: Confessions of a First Time Showrunner with Kaye Singleton

Kaye Singleton is an award-winning writer, producer, and actress that is well on her way to making her own footprint in this industry, or as the much-respected Tyler Perry would say, created her own seat at the table. As a multi-faceted creative talent, she is committed to telling culturally authentic stories for, about, and that explore, the beautifully diverse experiences of Black Women.

To date, as an actress she has taken on a variety of roles on hit shows and films. She’s best known for her series regular role beginning in Season 3 of Tyler Perry’s The Oval on BET as Simone, the beautiful, smart, and cunning wife of the Vice President of the United States, and her Six Season recurring role as the long-suffering, loyal – but problematic – “Josie” on Saints & Sinners, BounceTV’s #1 Show. She’s also had memorable roles on Sistas (BET), Claws (TNT), Don’t Waste Your Pretty (TV One), Tales (BET), American Soul (BET), and Dumplin (Netflix).

In 2020, Kaye secured her first production deal as a first-time Showrunner and Creator for the highly-rated anthology series – Covenant” which premiered on October 14th, 2021 on AMC’s allblk. Covenant’s unique take on bible stories is a stand out for the network as it’s quoted to “create a world of thrilling, suspenseful drama where characters and stories of the bible are thrust into a vicious dystopia of present-day, real-life situations. Each episode will reimagine a classic story as it would take place in the modern world – challenging viewers to examine how sacred lessons of faith and love fit into today’s society.

Enjoy my epic conversation with Kaye Singleton.

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Kaye Singleton 0:00
Who's your friends in the industry whose your uncle or your dad or whoever? And it's it goes in that path a lot of the times and so that, like you were saying, you almost have to persevere and wait it out to get past those people that were in these places that didn't deserve to be right. Because the very next day after that thing I cancelled in New York, I called an executive in LA, it was like, Hey, I'm in LA next week. Can I have a meeting? I would love to do this. I didn't, I wasn't really going to be in LA. But because he said, Yes, I booked the flight and ran out to LA. So I could pitch my show. But like those are the kinds of sacrifices you have to make that most people don't.

Alex Ferrari 0:41
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 Kaye Singleton. How you doing Kaye?

Kaye Singleton 0:56
I'm good. How are you? Glad to be here.

Alex Ferrari 0:59
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm fascinated with your story. And there I haven't had I have many show runners on the show. But I've never had a first time show runner on the show. So we're gonna go into the weeds of I'm sure it went smoothly. No problems whatsoever. It was just worth our time. They just said Kaye, you all you have is time and money.

Kaye Singleton 1:23
Okay, yeah, that would have been a dream.

Alex Ferrari 1:31
But up so before we get started, what, why? And what how did you get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Kaye Singleton 1:39
Oh my gosh, so I was on a whole nother hack. I was in marketing for almost 10 years and then booked some random role in a student film and caught the bug. And I was like, You know what, let me take this seriously. So I had my job to transfer me to LA I was working with Moet Hennessy at the time. And I started taking classes at Stella Adler, which is a two year conservatory program for theater. And then I trained with Ivana Chubbuck and I was like, Okay, now I have this training, I'm gonna go back to Atlanta. And it was easier for me to get on as an actress, but then it's just like, 1000s Auditions later, I'm worn out, you know, I want to, I want to have the roles that I see myself in or that I feel like I can play. And I also want to be able to create, right, I want to have a seat at this table where I can have some say in some of these stories that are coming out. So then I was like, Well, let me take two years of writing classes. So then around, I want to say 2018, I took two years of writing classes, and then got into some screenwriting contests did to short films. And it sounds quick, it didn't feel like it. And it was a lot of hard work. And my and I got a meeting with all black. And thankfully, and this was after many meetings, it wasn't the first and they finally said, Okay, I think you know, you have something and we're willing to take a chance on you. As far as the scripts, and I pitched six different projects wasn't just covenant and that was the one that I'm surprised that they went with because it's so different being faith based anthology series.

Alex Ferrari 3:23
So let me ask you then, so you had so when you decided to so you went down the the Ben Affleck Matt Damon Tyler Perry route, which is like, I can't find the parts that I want. I'm gonna write my way in, essentially. Yeah. So how many projects did you use to do six shows? Did you have six shows with Bibles and like the full pitches and the pitch deck and all of that ready when you walk in when you have. So that was done on like six months, right? All those six projects you wrote those of us 6 12 months.

Kaye Singleton 3:56
I didn't write the actually covenant was one. I had a somewhat of a pilot written for, but it wasn't like, in its final draft mode. And that was the one that was the least done and the other ones I had, because I had been working on them a while. I was like, okay, these I have the show Bible. I have the pitch decks, I have the one sheets, but this one I had. So once they said, Okay, this is the one we're interested in. I had to go back and revamp the show Bible, make it more detailed, you know, make, show how it can go throughout the season, and from season to season and and all these breakdowns, and eventually do a lookbook and all these things. So yeah, and redo the pilot. And because it was COVID I actually had to write every episode of the season myself.

Alex Ferrari 4:44
So you could have a writers room, you could have a writers room.

Kaye Singleton 4:47
And thankfully I didn't because we couldn't afford it. The budget is you know, it's very much a new thing. They were taking a chance so it wasn't a huge Budget. Oh, so you know, it was it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

Alex Ferrari 5:05
Well, you know, what's interesting about your story is that you didn't come into this business fresh in as like a wide eyed, you had another career. And you probably came into this in a completely different perspective where I've see so many filmmakers, so many writers who come in early when they're in their early 20s, or young, and they haven't done anything else yet. And they just are so wide eyed and bushy tailed about the whole thing that the business crushes them, where you already had some life experience, whether you already had another career, and you said, No, you know, what, if I'm gonna be an actor, I'm gonna go train, not I'm gonna go audition, and maybe I'll learn along the way. And then you said, Hey, I'm going to be a writer, I better learn how to write. And you took class two years of classes. So that's a really great lesson for everyone listening is like, it takes time to build up the tools and the toolbox to do what you're trying to do. Correct?

Kaye Singleton 5:56
Absolutely. And because this is the thing about writing and structure, you they can tell when you as soon as they get a script, any studio, Executive Producer, production company, whatever, they can tell, if you actually have the training in your script script structure, excuse me, is correct. And that was one of the things I think sold it because I had done all the backward. And so it looks, you can see the scripts, they jump out on the page at you. And that's only from training. It's not anything, you know, that I did myself, I wasn't, you know, a great person. Once I started writing, no, that's from training, and knowing how to do the format, knowing the beats, knowing how to do exact struck neck, still keep structure notes up on my wall, all around my office, because, you know, we're always still a student and trying to get better and trying to you know, improve ourselves. But it was the training, and I implore people to take the time out and invest in you.

Alex Ferrari 6:57
Now, this is what I when I work with actors, as a director. Anytime I'm in the casting process, I always try to be as kind as possible, because it's brutal. It's a brutal, it's brutal, more brutal for the actors coming in than it is for us. But it's also brutal for the director and the producers. Because if you have to just kind of go through this again and again. But while you were coming up as an actress, how did you deal with the nose and the rejections because there's a very different rejection from a writer rejection than an actor rejection, because the writer director is like, I don't like your work. The actor director is like, I don't like you for this. Like, it's personal like, and a lot of actors take it personally. But it really is like, You're too tall, you're too short, you don't have the right energy, you don't have the right look, and has nothing to do with you, and nothing you could do to get you to help you get that part. But with the writing, there are things you can do, you can rework the characters, you can rework things, but both have very distinct rejections, how did you keep going in this business?

Kaye Singleton 7:59
You know what it is, and it's a ticking clock that I have going on in my mind, right, and I'm just gonna be completely honest, you know, take down any curtains and just tell you the real, I am a woman of any age, you know, once you hit 30, it's like, there's a timeline ticking, that I have to meet certain goals, do certain things. And then I might want to have a family have kids all these things. So I had a different source of motivation internally, but also as far as rejection to, it's like, I had to learn to not take to put myself into these roles. Because at first I was getting my feelings hurt. I was like, I'm sick of this, I had stopped auditioning for a long time. And I'm done with it, you know, I'm gonna do go back to marketing or whatever. And I gave up a few times. But it's also when you have this pool, for this business and for this craft, and for this artistry, you learn to do the audition, and throw it away. Don't think about it, don't go into it thinking oh, it would be great if I had this role and how you look, don't daydream about it, do the audition, forget about it, delete it from the email thread. So you never have to look at it again, as far as the notice from your agent, and all that and keep it pushing because nothing is promised. And like you said, there's so many different factors because I've been on the other side, as to why you don't get cast that nine times out of 10 has nothing to do with you. Nothing to do with your performance. None of that it's just this is what was needed. Or maybe offer was already out and you're auditioning anyway, that happens all the time. They have an offer out but they also just want to see other people, you know, for good measure. And it's just people don't know all of the backstory and what's going on, you know, behind the curtain.

Alex Ferrari 9:47
Yeah, and not to mention, you know, sometimes like they bring in a young actor or a young actress. Oh, they just got cast in Black Panther. Or just that cast in The Avengers movie. So we're bringing them they're not the best for the part but he's going to be here Huge we're gonna bring him in. It's there's, there's a lot of this kind of politicking going on behind the scenes that you just don't know, as an actor but not as a writer. How did you because it's so different? How did you deal? Because I'm assuming that when you went into that first meeting, that wasn't the first time, you probably did a few other these meetings before? How did you deal with rejection from the from those experiences,

Kaye Singleton 10:23
They hit me, I had a meeting. And I'll tell you this quick story with a big network. For me, it was big to me at the time. And I was like, Oh, my God, I was excited about I was flying to New York, literally, the night before I get an email from you know, somebody's assistant, that saying that they're canceling the meeting that I have been working on for three months. And they're like, Oh, you could just email whatever you were going to pitch. But you know, we don't have time to do it. Tomorrow, I had booked a flight pay for a hotel, the whole nine. And it was just devastating. And I remember laying on my couch for a day, I gave myself 24 hours just to be pissed, you know, and just sit there, I don't want to talk to anybody I was. So it was hard to go through that process. But then you start to get a thicker skin and realize that that was not the place for you. And now I'm more meticulous about who I even attempt to pitch to, don't just throw your project out there. And this is renewal writers is your content, right? For the actual studio or network or whatnot that you're pitching it to do they fit it's motif, like they have a particular look feel for all of their shows. Whether it's FX or AMC, or stars or HBO or Apple, you can tell the kind of tone that they want for all of their shows and don't. So that way, if you know this, there's a very particular group that you're going to pitch it to, and then wait for the opportunity. Sometimes the it's not good to just cold call is all the time, it's not good to cold call and just send random email, but wait for a great opportunity. And it might just, you know, work out that way. Like I'm veering off always.

Alex Ferrari 12:13
No, no, no, it's it's you're No, no, you're absolutely right. Because I think so many so many times. writers and filmmakers and actors, they just want to they want it to happen tomorrow. We all want it to happen tomorrow. We all want to get that call, like all you have is time and money, which never comes. Because then you want that call, like you're a genius. We want to be in the K business. Can you did anyone ever say that to you?

Kaye Singleton 12:38
I can't Well, one person. And so that that is and I'm waiting for the next the next one, please.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
But we're all waiting for that. But that could take years as it was in your experience. And most people don't have the the fortitude to keep going because it's there's a perseverance. And I don't know about you, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. It's not always about talent. Almost never about talent. It's never about skill. Even sometimes it's about who just stood in the game longer. Who's the most, you know, the perseverance of just keeping, going keeping going? Because I've worked with people I'm like, How the hell did you get 5 million bucks for this movie? Like, you're you're clueless, like, how is this? Even? How this a thing? How did you get on set? When I know 20 Other people behind you? Who could do your job better? Like I don't understand that. But isn't that in your from your experience? As well as like the person who just stays in the game the longest, doesn't have to be the most talented or the most skilled?

Kaye Singleton 13:39
Absolutely. This is a whole you know, business. It really is. Who's your friends in the industry? Who's your uncle or your dad or whoever? And it's, it goes in that path a lot of the times and so that like you were saying, you almost have to persevere and wait it out to get past those people that were in these places that didn't deserve to be right. Because the very next day after that thing, I cancelled a New York I called an executive in LA it was like, Hey, I'm in LA next week. Can I have a meeting? I would love to do this. I didn't I wasn't really going to be in LA. But because he said yes. I booked the flight and ran out to LA. So I could pitch my show. But like those are the kinds of sacrifices you have to make that most people don't because they get walked into the business without necessarily having to trudge through it. You know, like most do without question. It's a numbers game and I'm just, I'm over it in many ways, but I'm still motivated because there's so many stories I want to tell.

Alex Ferrari 14:46
I look I completely understand you because as you get older, you just put up with less BS you just, I mean stuff you put up a 20 you're not putting up with at 40 You know, like just just not like and I'm like no, I don't care how much money it is. My life's too short, like you start getting to that place in your life where you just start figuring out what's important to you. And, and it's hard for younger people to understand that because I remember when I when I had any bone that was thrown my way, no matter how unfavorable it might have been, I because at the beginning, you kind of have to do that to build up all the tools that you're going to need to keep going in this business. But as those tools as that toolbox gets heavier, you start going, I want to be picky. A little bit pickier a little bit more choosy. But I can see it in your in the way you say you're like, Yeah, I'm kind of all over it at this point.

Kaye Singleton 15:39
I have some PT, after covenant for sure. Because being thrust into a position of that magnitude, and you know, being there from, you know, the idea. And then the development process, which was, you know, a lot of it was just me doing tons of research, and then writing and then pre production, and then you're out of time with pre production, you only have a couple of weeks, then there's principal photography, and then, you know, post production and you know, who was teaching who's gonna teach me about rap? Nobody taught me rap. I was like, what, what is this concept? What is rap? Oh, I have to do all this paperwork, I have to do all these legal deliverables. I have to fucking, it blew my mind. This is the last day of filming when I was like, you know, figuring out what rap was. And then the post production is a whole nother beast. And then that's another three months where it's like, every day, there's something that needs to be done. And I don't know about you, but I'm one of those people, I want to sit in the editing bay with the editor for 12 hours a day sometimes, and make sure that every frame is right and that kind of thing. And then

Alex Ferrari 16:53
I lived I made my I made my bones in post production, I was imposed for 25 years before I retired. From I shut down my post house did everything because I was like I'm done. I'm a I'm a podcaster now.

Kaye Singleton 17:06
So then you know, you know, post.

Alex Ferrari 17:10
Oh, I've done everything from posting, suppose supervising VFX supervising online editorial color grading, I've done all of it myself. And so I understand the I mean, I literally consult people on how to do post workflow, how to get from the camera all the way to final deliverables. And they're like, what's the deliverable? I'm like, You need me more than you think. So that's the whole thing. But before we get to post, I want to I want to go back to the beginning of covenant. So you get thrusted into a showrunner position. First time, this is kind of an unheard of scenario, because you don't I don't hear the stories off is one of the reasons why I wanted you on the show. Because to become a showrunner, you need to have a track record, as a writer and maybe a head writer and, and then maybe a co producer, and you go through the steps and then maybe you know, 567 years down the line, they're like, Okay, you know, they wrote something really good. They've got a good track record, let's give them a shot to be maybe a CO CO executive producer, like there's a process because it's a massive amount of responsibility to try to run a show, even a show with, you know, small shows your show is not, you know, it's not Game of Thrones. So it's not a massive show. But it's still massive. It's like making four features at one time. So what was it? What was it like being thrusted into that in the pre production process, which was basically just you, which is a little, not not normal, it's just all you. But like, when you walked on set for the first time as a showrunner, and everyone's looking at you. Oh, by the way, you also you're also an actress in this, which is another thing that's mind boggling. And a producer and a writer, like how on God's green earth did you sleep?

Kaye Singleton 18:53
I didn't first six months. And I will tell you that I was so stressed out and probably went through a slight depression too. But I will say this, it was and I have a huge amount of respect for showrunners for producers for head writers for writers rooms. And, and so I don't take this lightly and quite honestly, I would have loved you know, to have a huge producing team, like, you know, like they have on HBO or wherever else. And that way I could have been more of the creative instead of having to deal with the business part of it. But having to do that and having to sit through, you know, pre production and pick out locations and do all these things. It changed me fundamentally. Right it it. I don't want to say it broke something I mean, but also rebirth something so that I could come out of this from a Naive Bayes and to like a fully grown adult, because we don't understand all these processes that go on behind the scenes. And I don't thing of people have a lot of respect for all those processes and all those positions, whether it be with crew or pas or script supervisors or what have you. And it allowed me to gain an immense amount of respect for those as well. And I feel like I went off in this tangent, so I forgot what question I'm supposed to be answering.

Alex Ferrari 20:19
What was it like you walking on that first day on set

Kaye Singleton 20:22
The first day on set. It literally was the scariest thing of my life. Because, yes, you do all this preparation? Yes, you you've done as much as you can do. But when is that first day? It's like, are we going to sink or swim? And so I got there. We prayed.

Alex Ferrari 20:43
I would, I would,

Kaye Singleton 20:46
I shed a tear. And, and it went. And before you know, before you know it, you know, you're 12 hours in, you're 16 hours in and then you go home and sleep for four hours, and you're back there the next day. And every day until the end, and it's it, it's changed me. And that first day on set will be something that I will forever remember for the rest of my life. It wasn't exciting as much as it was terrifying.

Alex Ferrari 21:14
But it it sounds like you went through basically, this was a film school for you like this was a trial by fire kind of scenario. Let me ask you, though, did you have the pressure of the studio? They're like, did you have like that whole Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola moment where like, we're going to replace you at any moment. If, if this if you're if you can't make your days, we're shutting this down. And we're bringing somebody else in to pick this up.

Kaye Singleton 21:41
I wish I would have had that.

Alex Ferrari 21:44
You know, you wish you would have had it, they would they literally threw you to the wolves like you just figure it out. And let us know when you got the show.

Kaye Singleton 21:51
Right! Because in that's what I want to tell newer creatives, your contracts are was really important to look into, right? Because my and I don't want to get too deep into it. But my particular setup was, you know, if we don't, it wasn't about the days it wasn't just about that you make these deliverables. And you do it for this amount of money. Or you're responsible for it. And you

Alex Ferrari 22:19
Ouch, oh, man, you really put yourself out there.

Kaye Singleton 22:23
Exactly. And so that's why I made the comment of you. I wish there would have been that case because it would have I think alleviated some of the pressure. Because there was another, you know, set of eyes and all those things.

Alex Ferrari 22:38
But but and also and almost also a ripcord that if you're like, Man, this is too hard. i i Can I could pull the parachute. I'll go back to marketing. Like, like,

Kaye Singleton 22:49
Right, exactly. But no, we're to do now is like you have to there's no other way you burn the ships. Right.

Alex Ferrari 22:58
You burn the ships. You burn the ships at the coast. You can't go back. You got to it's one way and that's it. Wow. I mean, jeez, that's that's ballsy. Man. I gotta I gotta give it to you, my dear. That is some big coho nice to go out there. But I have to ask you again, like, that's insane. What you're what's what's being proposed here, what you've done is it's slightly we all have to be a little insane to be in this business. But in general, but what you did was really amazing in the sense that you put it all on the line, this could have bankrupted you. This could have

Kaye Singleton 23:35
Offline but yes,

Alex Ferrari 23:37
This could have destroyed whatever career you were building in this space, other than being an actress. So you really roll the dice, and you try and you bet on yourself to make this happen. Is that correct?

Kaye Singleton 23:50
Absolutely. And I promise you is nothing but the grace of God that pulled me through that it was and I don't say it lightly, that it was the hardest endeavor. And when people say it's a miracle that any production gets finished, and you see it on the big screen, or TV or wherever it is, it really is. There's so many pitfalls and hills and stumbling blocks that come obstacles that come your way during the course of it, that it takes that kind of experience to get past it. And it to this day, I don't know how we were able to survive, but we're here

Alex Ferrari 24:25
And you also hadn't had you directed other than the short films prior to that. No. So you it's not like you were you were dipping into a dipping into a well of like 10 years of directing and 10 years of producing content. Like this is like the first time I'm doing it all for the for the real show. You're kind of learning on the go um, it's it's because I know what you went through. Because I've been there I've had a show that I had to knock out in four days and I had to do eight episodes. I we shot night, how many pages we shoot 96 pages and four As I think it was on a set with visual effects, I've been there and I was also posting like a $10 million movie for Hulu at the same time. So I was like, directly for 12 hours go home, had to fix some deliverables export, come back. Like you can see me on set. I was just about to like, bring it up. Yeah, I was out of shape. I was like, I'm like, I'm leaning on the DP, like, dude just framed the shot up, but I can't, I don't know what, like,

Kaye Singleton 25:31
Everything was skinny and flabby. And I was just like, hey, do you know?

Alex Ferrari 25:36
What but but yeah, exactly. It's this kind of insanity. So I understand what you're going through. But when I did it, I had 15 years of directing experience behind me producing experience, and, and so many posts experience. And so I like I understood, what was the you went in almost cold to that kind of scenario.

Kaye Singleton 25:57
You know what? It was like, either I do it now I take the opportunity. Or who knows, because like I said, right, before that I got turned down for even the pitch meeting, like they canceled it. And I was it and I didn't hear anything about it. So it was either you do this now, or you may not ever get an opportunity. And so I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. I mean, did I realize I was probably in over my head. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 26:24
But, but not really. Not until you got into it.

Kaye Singleton 26:28
Not so I really was there. And I was like, Oh, this is, this could be a good show. You know, and I really had, like you said it was like going to New York Film School. And that one production, and with the directing. And, and director one episode out of the four, but it was almost I did that because I know how I want directors to speak to me as an actor, and to to relay things to me or relay their vision. And I feel like sometimes, as actors, we don't get that. Because directors sometimes now all time because I've had some amazing directors, but sometimes they you know, focus on the lighting and the camera setups into this into that. And you know, they let actors do whatever they want, which is cool. But we want to know what the director wants. We want to know what their vision is. And we want to know that we're doing a good job or pleasing, you know, whoever the powers that be are. So because I had been through that side of it, I wanted to be able to communicate that with actors. And so I felt like I was a directors actor in that sense. Like, I can talk to them in a way that they understand that I don't that sometimes we don't always get. And so that was like the motivation to do that.

Alex Ferrari 27:48
Now, was I always asked us that question, because as directors as producers, there's always a day on set, that you feel the entire world's coming crashing down around you. I know that was every second of every day. But was there a moment that you in the in that production? Did you just go? Oh, no, I don't think I'm gonna make it like, and what was that moment? And how did you overcome it?

Kaye Singleton 28:15
Figure out the best way to tell this story. Publicly, right, we were on location for an episode. And it was actually the episode that I was in. And at the last minute, the owner of the location wanted to change the deal and say, Okay, we want more money, because we didn't think this protection was going to be this big. We'd already signed the location agreements, we had already signed the contracts. I was like, but you can't just change the amount right at the last minute. And so we went ahead and kept shooting, and then the owner ended up showing up on set and was saying, you know, we were going to shut it down if you don't pay another 5000 I was like extortion if you don't pay another $5,000. And I was just, I was livid. Right? Because it was already so many things going on so many things going wrong, right? It was just a storm at that moment. And I remember telling one of the second ad I think the second ad so you know let's get the cast and the crew very common is getting cast and the crew downstairs. And so I can have a conversation. They had a big huge finished ballroom basement. And so I can talk to you know, the gentleman, and so he was looking scared. I was like let's do this now. You know, is the foot some fire behind it? So then, once they were downstairs and I was alone with myself, a couple of producers and the gentleman. I remember like laying into this guy like this is ridiculous. You are extorting me this cannot Hold down, I remember we call the police and having them come. And like this, we have a location agreement that you are going to stand by. And I was, you know, and the police came, and they ended up making the owner leave, because of the location agreement. And I literally had to go from that from, you know, being upset, going off to, you know, talking to the officers who were very nice. And you know, getting all of that squared away. Now, I'm hot and sweaty and upset. And then I go film the scene. Because we were filming my episodes. So I had to, of course, now they have to pat me down, I guys sit on the couch, and do the rest of the show. And that's the thing, it's like, much responsibility, every everything falls on you. You got to solve the problems. You got to say the day and you got to, you know, figure out the rest of the show.

Alex Ferrari 31:00
Jeez god bless you, man, I looked at the whole location thing that was fun. I always hear that, oh, if that's happened, I'm like, yeah, oh, we dropped out, the location dropped out, we gotta go shoot something on the day of, I've never had it. I've had I've had the neighbor come out with the air blower, the leaf blower in the middle of the sea. And then you got to have a little bit of that cashola money lying around to pay off people. And please, please, please wash your car later. Please know you. Because they know especially if you're in LA Oh, forget it, then they absolutely know.

Kaye Singleton 31:33
That was another

Alex Ferrari 31:33
Oh, no, you've got to know you got to pay. Everyone's got their hands out. Everyone's got the end to end if a good location manager knows. They have to have petty cash on set to deal with that stuff. Because this is, but this is just experience. No one teaches you this stuff like this.

Kaye Singleton 31:49
We didn't have it. We're like, oh, we gotta go get that. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 31:53
You the whole thing might have been like, Look, man, can we give you another 500 bucks and call it a day? And he probably like i and that would have been that would have saved you a lot of time and headache. And because every minute that's going by 1000s of dollars in production time. So what's it? What's it worth? So these are things you have to do, but and then but I've never had to deal with that and then go act in a scene. Like emotionally, how do you go?

Kaye Singleton 32:19
That was it was a crying thing with the I think was the prayer was

Alex Ferrari 32:23
An emotional scene on top of it.

Kaye Singleton 32:25
It was just like, do I ever learn my lines at this point? Where's the script? You know, so?

Alex Ferrari 32:32
So I always like to ask this question as well, especially when it's first time directors or, you know, producers, things like that. When I started out as a young director, I'd walk on the set, I'd be the youngest person there, there'd be much more experienced people there. And I got pushback from crew members, from producers and from actors. Did any of that happen on this project? Or any other project that you've worked on as a writer, producer, showrunner, director? And how did you deal with it on the day? Because, you know, I'm a Latino man, you know, but I can only imagine being a female first time showrunner slash actress, that there might be somebody on set, that'd be like, how the hell did this girl get this gig? And I've been doing that I worked with Francis Ford Coppola back in 72. Like that, that kind of vibe. So how did was there any situations like that? And if you did, how did you deal with it? So people can learn how to deal with this kind of stuff?

Kaye Singleton 33:32
Right! And, and I'm gonna say this, because they were an amazing crew. But I think sometimes you kind of lean towards what you're used to. And because it was my first time, and I was wondering, I was younger. It was, if I said something, you know, it. In the beginning, they may not have taken what I taken, whatever I said, as this is what we're doing. And they would refer to the DP or the director at the time to like, oh, you know, Kay said, blah, blah, blah. Should we do this? It was like the second guessing of it all. And I remember getting so frustrated about that in the beginning, because it felt like it was disrespectful, and that they weren't respecting the position that I was in. And I remember finally, standing up for myself during the first week of filming after you know, happened, how many times? And I think I had to tell someone like, Listen, this is how you feel about this is my show. And this is what we're doing. So if I say we're not going to do this location, it's going to be here or there or whatever it was about. That's what's going to happen, because nobody understands the vision of this story better than I do. Period hard stop. And to do that, if you run that risk, because I am African American, they There's this stereotype of being seen as this angry black woman. But it was almost like I had to stand up for myself and stand up for the sacrifices that I made to get there. Right? Because it really was when you think about it still you on the line is still you know, my reputation, my job, my money, my career, my this, my that. And so regardless of how you feel about it, this is how it's going to have to go. And you know, I implore other women to stand up, or other minorities or younger people or new creatives, stand up for yourself, because there's a reason why you're in that position. And don't let anybody second guess you.

Alex Ferrari 35:39
That's, I can only imagine the frustration of that, especially but I'm so glad that you actually stood up for yourself on that. Because if not, that's a cancer, that will destroy the production if, because if they feel they'll test you, they'll push to see how far they can push. And it's either consciously or subconsciously, and, and they're gonna go, Oh, she's a pushover, I can do whatever I want. And the whole thing becomes a fiasco.

Kaye Singleton 36:04
And then you got to try to reel it back in after it's already gone haywire. It's like, no,

Alex Ferrari 36:09
No, it is not going to work. Now, is there? Is there something you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of this process? Like, girl, this is what you need to watch out for? I know, there's a list of things. But what was the one thing you wish someone would have told you

Kaye Singleton 36:27
Learn budgeting. Take the time, out here, you got to do a line producer class, or do a movie magic budgeting seminar, whatever it is, learn as much as you can about budgeting and line producing before you do your first project. And of course, hire a competent line producer, but you need to know it for yourself. Me know how budgets work, you need to know what this cash flow is you need to know, you know what you're supposed to be saying what you're supposed to be checking off every week, what these deliverables from your producers and from your department heads are supposed to be, I learned the process. Because it's, it can hurt if you don't, and you'll figure it out, either sooner or later on the backhand, it's going to hurt. So learn that process before you go into it.

Alex Ferrari 37:21
And and it also had because you your money basically was on the line if you didn't know that it was going to fall into your bank account eventually. So you better learn the budget.

Kaye Singleton 37:30
Absolutely. Exactly. And even if you have you know a deal where it doesn't the studio is going to look at you. If the budget goes on and then actually knows that they'll give you that position again.

Alex Ferrari 37:43
Oh, get around town. It'll get around town real quick. Like, oh, no, she goes over budget. She goes over time it she never finished. done, you're done.

Kaye Singleton 37:51
Exactly. So learn the process before you go into it. I mean, and budgeted out all the way to end to post and talk to your post people. Also, this is another gem have post production involved in pre production for each meeting was Adam in its own meeting by bringing them in early, because that would have saved me money too.

Alex Ferrari 38:19
I tell everybody, I've had full episodes dedicated to people like get if you can afford to hire post supervisor, get them on and pre pro at minimum hire post supervisor and and just pay them to consult a workflow for you. So you know how to, because I know like what did you shoot on by the way? What camera? Was it? If you remember? Do you remember? Was it red or Alexa? Or?

Kaye Singleton 38:42
It was an Alexa? Ooh, okay, got the name set out.

Alex Ferrari 38:46
So if you're shooting Alexa depends on what file format you're shooting in Alexa, if you're shooting RAW, you shooting 4k Raw if you shoot there's a lot of different things. So that determines how much much pipeline you need to kind of push it and like who's your editing system? What editing system you use and identity system handle this? Are you doing this offline and online? And are there any visual effects involved? If there is even if it's like

Kaye Singleton 39:10
What hurts we wasted so much money shooting things on green, they didn't need to be shot on green, you know what I mean? And a post supervisor would have told us that and pre production

Alex Ferrari 39:25
Or VFX or and or a VFX supervisor could tell us you know you don't need to do that on green screen and green screens for people who don't know how to shoot green screens is just more costly because if you don't know how to shoot green screen then it's going to cost you a lot more money to fix it and post because then when you have to make roto I had a green screen come in with this is what they did I swear to God and you might you might understand this. Hopefully you do. You know green right green screen has to be one color. Four green, four different greens taped together in the middle of a sword fight in the middle of a sword fight like So dark light this that and I'm like, what he said, like, can you fix this? Like, oh, no,

Kaye Singleton 40:05
No, you're short away.

Alex Ferrari 40:09
You're not Peter Jackson, we're not going to roto every frame, you don't get that kind of money, like. But that's those kinds of little mistakes are so costly. And if you just hire somebody at the beginning to either guide you through it, or literally take you through the entire process all the way through, man, it saves you so much time and money at the end.

Kaye Singleton 40:29
100% That was one of the gems that I learned and my post production supervisor, Tracy, Kansas, she saved my life she came on after we were done, which was my fault. And that's why there's one of the biggest things that I learned. But it without her. And because she's such a, you know, she's 20 years in the game, we wouldn't have survived, you know, because she actually made sacrifices to grant covenant to live in, because we need it you need someone to be able to take that train, now that you're done, and completely finished the show. And she had the sound design she had the colorist, you know, with what does it call when they have to check the quality?

Alex Ferrari 41:14
Oh, that would be QC. Oh, for everybody, her eyes, her eyes just bolts down if you're listening, or I just bowed out of her head, because QC makes everyone tweak a little bit anybody who understands what Qc is, which is a short it's short for quality control, which if you send your your show to a post house, which about generally by the network, will tell you, you got to send it there. And as the past QC from there before it airs, they will find something. Always, always, it's never almost 25 years of this business doing that. Never once that I get that's fine. Never once because they have to justify their job. So though I put in the stupidest stuff here, like what

Kaye Singleton 42:02
It was such a time consuming, she managed QC, thankfully, oh my gosh, it was one of those things where without her I don't know if it would have you know, gotten on air because she was just a lifesaver. So, yes, Qc is a beast. And we I know for each episode, it was like two or three passes back and forth, back and forth QC. Oh, it's a glimmer of white light in the corner. And it isn't, but it's like those kinds of things that we had to Yeah, we had to do it.

Alex Ferrari 42:34
I'm gonna, I'm gonna I'm gonna give you a I'm gonna give you a little bit. And you might know this already. But this is a gem for you. In the QC process. There's two magical words that get you out of 50 to 60% of those problems. It's called Creative intent. Okay, you all you have to say is creative intent. And unless it's something technically like that little shimmer creative intent is great. It's God was looking down that is the the little shimmer that was the part of the seats creative intent. So if I mean unless there's like a cable in the shot, a boom in the shot, those things you can't say creative intent about. But generally speaking, creative intent gets you out of a lot. So everyone listening, if you ever have to go through the QC process, as a direct creative intent, get you about 50 About 50% of the stuff they can't because they can argue it, they can narrow it down.

Kaye Singleton 43:28
I was like I remember.

Alex Ferrari 43:31
That's just an OG post supervisors trick, creative intent. I was working with Lionsgate for a theatrical and they would bust out stuff. And I'd be like, creative internet directors and creative. And they're like, really? I'm like, yep, creative intent. All right? They can't.

Kaye Singleton 43:46
Because QC can keep you from meeting your deadlines. And then oh,

Alex Ferrari 43:51
And I'm assuming you're paying for QC, what was the student? Oh, of course. So then it's just an it's not cheap. And it just, you know what, because before it was a person sitting there doing QC, but now they'll run it through a computer, an AI system, and the AI will just start poking things out. They'll spit out a report, and that's what they'll send you and then somebody might eyeball it. Because before kind of that old, it was all somebody sitting down watching it. And that's their job to just catch any little issue where now it's so technical that even if a pixel is off, they'll kick it back to you because they ran through the system. So and they'll charge you ridiculous amounts of money to do it. Right.

Kaye Singleton 44:33
And then you have to get it just so people know after that. There's all these other legal deliverables that you need. Insurance and music and on tracks, contracts and the title reports and all these things.

Alex Ferrari 44:51
Oh, no, it's and you didn't know about any of this walking into it.

Kaye Singleton 44:54
With that, The eli was the li insurance,

Alex Ferrari 45:02
Eo insurance.

Kaye Singleton 45:05
Everything was a bill. I was just like, what is actually

Alex Ferrari 45:11
Like $5,000 for you know, insurance like what, what, what? Yeah, it's in these in this stuff. This is not the creative fun stuff that they talk about a film school. This is not this is but this is the realities of the of the film business, even on a show like yours, which you essentially we're doing an independent show with an output deal within that, which there are a lot more of these kinds of shows being made today, because content, they need content at an affordable price to hit certain markets. So it's not all going to be games of Throne Breaking Bad style shows, it's going to be this kind of it's essentially an indie show, you did an indie show, essentially, with an output deal

Kaye Singleton 45:53
With an outlet deal. And the crazy thing about it is now that it's there, it's like now you have to start to think about what you want to do next. And I do realize that it was we've done this independently, it was great, actually, I'm doing another independent film. But as far as the theory is, you want the support of a studio or network so that you can put out the best, you know, product possible. I'm personally I do, and it can be different for every person. So yeah, it was I was thrust into it without knowing a ton of stuff and don't miss out on workers comp and

Alex Ferrari 46:36
Workers comp and union rates and oh, no, no, no, it's there's so many because everyone's got their handout. Everyone has got their handout, from the payroll company to the workman's comp to, and then you get into post and you've got all of this stuff. And since if you don't understand what's going on, they'll they could take you for a ride. Oh my god, I

Kaye Singleton 47:00
Just have it all. Oh, they curse it for friend. Oh my gosh,

Alex Ferrari 47:05
No, no, no. Do you have any projects came to me which series and shows that had been, they basically had been completely taken advantage of and stolen their budgets, by somebody who didn't know what they were doing the good talk and they couldn't get past the finish line. Then they show up to me. They're like, we had 50,000 But we got five now can you finish it? I'm like son of a bitch. I can't help you, man. You gotta go out and get some more money. I can't do this. That's a lot of work.

Kaye Singleton 47:33
And that is that's what some in some ways, and we'll talk about it offline happen happened with me. But you have to you have to push through it in for because now how some of these contracts work if you don't, and I'm choosing my words carefully. They can put like a lien on your copyright.

Alex Ferrari 47:53
Oh, absolutely. No, yeah, they it's putting putting a show like this together. I'd imagine that the kind of deal that you had is like, Look, you were giving you the opportunity. This is how much money Yeah, I exactly the same deal. I did for my show that they gave me to produce. I wasn't the creative behind it. But I was the director and complete production of it all. And this is the dollars, this is what it needs to be at the end. Go to it. And that's what we did. And again, I had 20 years behind me at that point. And I and it was still probably one of the toughest productions that ever had to do shooting 96 pages in four days and never going over 10 hours and never gotten over 10 hours.

Kaye Singleton 48:37
Oh my god because it cost him to pay overtime. And then, you know, COVID was an additional bill.

Alex Ferrari 48:43
Oh, that was a whole other I can't even imagine having to deal with COVID as well. All right. I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted. Kay and I didn't even shoot this

Kaye Singleton 48:53
You have to have your COVID compliance officer your COVID nurse your COVID this your COVID pa it's just more money to spend and all the tests and all the PPE it's just

Alex Ferrari 49:06
It's insane so Alright, so the whole thing is done. You put it out there and then you it looks like you're doing a new show called gas is a called gas light.

Kaye Singleton 49:16
Yeah, so Gas Light is my baby actually wrote that before covenant and that's what got me in the room because they had seen some some clips of gas light and I love the concept. It's a it's also an anthology but it's a darker Tales from the Crypt kind of meets a relationship, dark therapists kind of world where we talk about different things not only gaslighting, but Stockholm Syndrome and the pole pygmy phenomenon. We take these social issues, and we thrust them into a theatrical I'm kind of showing with this dark, crazy therapist narrating away, it's fun. It's dark. It's funny, it's scary.

Alex Ferrari 50:09
And you're done. You're done with production of that one, right?

Kaye Singleton 50:11
I'm done with a pilot.

Alex Ferrari 50:14
Okay, so you're still, so you're still gonna post on on is this an anthology series, so it's not. So you're in the midst of this right now,

Kaye Singleton 50:21
I'm in the midst of that. And the crazy thing is because I also am doing a true crime psychological thriller film feature film. At the same time, I'm kind of juggling both of those. So I'm trying to make sure that we can go into pre production for the thriller in November so that we can shoot in December and get that done, hopefully before the years out, but that's my first feature frown, which is the psychological crime thriller, which is a new genre for me, but I'm excited.

Alex Ferrari 50:58
Use I'm exhausted. I mean, I hustle but Jesus

Kaye Singleton 51:03
I told you I'm on a ticking time clock. So y'all have time guys have time y'all don't have depression. Okay, I gotta sit down and baby at some point.

Alex Ferrari 51:15
So was it easier to get. I mean, obviously, it was easier to get gaslight off the ground. Cuz that's another your showrunner on that one. You're a creator of that one as well. When you walked into that one, how was different?

Kaye Singleton 51:29
Was that because we shot that before covenant? So that was basically like doing a short film. It was like, you know, we're gonna come in here, we're gonna be on location, two days, you know, everybody's my friend, the actors, the, you know, directors and I. So it was a much different experience. You know, we're just all having a good time. We're not getting out. We're getting it done. It just ended up looking. And amazing. And it's something that I can't wait for the world to see. But covenant was just like, you know, it's 100 people and the crew. It's we had 100 and some cast members. So it was a different beast. It was a lot on the line. Like that's like, the pilot budget was $20,000. Yeah, got it. It was more of the of the indie route. But what I want to do with gas i and we're in talks now is to have a full eight episode season. So I'm praying on that. I should hear about that next week. So good luck to your solution.

Alex Ferrari 52:33
Pretty so. So what was your biggest takeaway from the whole covenant experience?

Kaye Singleton 52:39
You know, I'm all about preparation. And making sure that you're prepared mentally, physically, psychologically, emotionally, for whatever endeavor you take, and but there's some endeavors that you can't prepare yourself for. But if you're ever in the middle of this storm, keep yourself grounded on the principles that you came into it with, keep a level of integrity. Because I think that gets lost, sometimes in a storm. Keep a level of honesty. And and don't forget why you came into this. Because after covenant, it almost made me want to give up on this industry, on the process on TV, film, whatever I was sick of it all, but remember what you came into it for. And so I think one of the biggest takeaways for me is learning that I can persevere through the, through the storm through the darkest of clouds, I can persevere through that. And there's a really beautiful little passage where they talk about a hummingbird that is perched on like a tree in the middle of the humming and the middle of a hurricane, but the bird is still able to sing. And you know, because they know where their joy and their peace comes from, which is from within. So no matter what's going on around you. And so that is my biggest takeaway to to know that I can persevere through and maintain who I am. And that way I can keep going for the next thing.

Alex Ferrari 54:22
I feel that it's beautiful, by the way, but I also feel that we as creatives, especially when we're thrown into those scenarios, which I completely feel your pain because I've gone down that road, a bit. Not as extreme as you do. I had my own extreme versions of almost making a movie for the mafia when I was 26. And, you know, doing all that for $20 million and met all the biggest movie stars in the world. And that's how I wrote a book about that. So I've been I've been down that I've been down that road as well. But I feel that when we go through these things in life as a creative especially as, as creatives we are being tested to see we're also being tested not only by the business but by life to see how far we can do we got the metal to keep going are is this really for you? And you know what? This business isn't for everybody. I'm sure you even on your journey I'm sure you've seen people just fall away. Yeah, follow it because it's just so hard. And unless you are just pigheaded or persistent to the nth degree or it brings you so much joy inside, that you have to do this regardless of the walls in front of you, then that's a different conversation. But I bet you it sounds to me that you, as you said at the beginning of the conversation, you walked in as a baby, and walked out as adult, because you and I'm sure there's shrapnel all over you. You got Yeah, you gotta walk arounds you got like the skin is tighter and tougher now, like you can take on, you know, much more now because you're battle hardened. And then some.

Kaye Singleton 56:03
Absolutely, yes. So and I'm looking forward to it. I wasn't at first. But now I'm looking forward to that next step. I'm looking forward to season two, you know, which I'm still writing, I'm looking forward to this film, I'm looking forward to gas light. And now it's now I can see the joy through the darkness. But you know, you have to be it, you got to build up that skin. If you want to survive in this business. You go into the pit on the metals.

Alex Ferrari 56:31
And this is the thing that we are there's this insanity. And I call it the beautiful sickness because it's exactly what we have. It's a beautiful sickness. Nobody else goes into war into hell into a hurricane all mixed into one walk out at the other end. And at first, you're like, I don't want to do that again. But like two days later, you're like, you know, it wasn't really that bad. I think I want to go do that. Again. There is an there's an insanity of being an artist and being creative. And even at those extremes. It's just it's from people, because my wife is outside of the business. And she looks and she's like, You guys are crazy. Like you guys really insane like that. It doesn't make any. Right. And we do it again and again to ourselves again and again. And again. Where I had I had I had one person on the show years ago a little while ago. And they said they bet the farm essentially the whole house. Everything on this independent film. And they had seven kids. Like it's one thing when you're young you got nothing going on. But yes, seven kids bet the whole thing bombed. Just went bankrupt, move back in with the parents took them seven years to get back out. But first thought that came into that guy's head when the movie didn't do well. we'll ever get to direct another movie again.

Kaye Singleton 57:53
That's the insanity because you love it. It's like appraising it. We're in psychologically. It's business as you know.

Alex Ferrari 58:05
It's an insanity. Yeah, it's no, it's an insanity. The normies as I call them, they don't understand they don't understand people outside the business don't understand the insanity. What because we're carnival folk, we ran away with the circus.

Kaye Singleton 58:18
Right! Did it and if you don't know how much money that, you know, I've spent on investing in these projects. It is just you know, you go, I keep telling my friend, you know, I don't mind going broke over and over and getting it back again. Because this is how much I love the art. And it pays off. I'm not saying that it's been all bad. But yeah, that's how much we're attached. We don't mind risking at all.

Alex Ferrari 58:45
No question. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions to ask all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter or filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Kaye Singleton 58:54
Make sure that your scripts are tight, make sure that your structure is tight. Make sure that you have done all the work leading into it that you have done so that those characters and that show can sing when it's put on camera. You know, I think a lot of people because you can come up with a story doesn't mean you can write a script or a script or two different things. And so I would say a make sure you have done all the preparation. And now that you've done the work make go out there and do it. Don't wait on someone to give you a yes. Because like I said with gaslight and checklists and you know doing film festivals before covenant, you don't wait on the yes from the industry. If you have a budget to do something smaller, go ahead and do it. Get your vision out there. Because that's what's going to put you in front of people. Don't wait on somebody to validate you and say that okay, yeah, you're talented. You can handle this because I was out pushing my Self before anyone believed in me, believing yourself don't wait on the Yes. Prepare and and get it done.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:09
Now what, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Kaye Singleton 1:00:18
Just because you have a certain set of principles doesn't mean everybody else does.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:25
What in Hollywood stop it!

Kaye Singleton 1:00:27
It's like stop thinking because you know, you go by, oh, this is the right thing to do that that's going to be you know, someone's gonna they're going to, to gravitate to doing something honest or right. And I'm not saying that. I feel like I'm putting out all the things. But the things naive.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:49
Listen, just because your default is a certain set of morals doesn't mean that the person next to you has that same set, or even defaults to even close to where that is. This business is not look like this whole show is about the honesty of the business, because that's the only reason I started this show. Because there was nobody, there was nobody telling the truth. Everybody was just like, let's talk about this. And let's talk about that. It's all fun. And you know, I had this adventure, and then I was on set with, with, you know, Scorsese. And I'm like, No, that's great. That's lovely. We love to hear those stories. But this conversation is as raw and true as it gets. And this, I hope, terrify somebody should I hope to terrify somebody to get into action, if they truly want to go down this road? Or if somebody's already going down this road to understand what is ahead for them. Because I always use the analogy. It's like, it's like, you're in the room with Mike Tyson and at six, and you're gonna get punched. And most of us in the when we walk into this business don't even know we're in the ring, let alone in the fight.

Kaye Singleton 1:01:55
Right! And all I'm saying is protect yourself. Go into it with a level of protection so that you can maintain the vision of your project. And so that's the biggest thing that I've learned today. And

Alex Ferrari 1:02:11
And last question, three of your favorite films or shows of all time.

Kaye Singleton 1:02:17
Oh, I have a top five in both. So we'll do film. Which genre do I want to start with? Okay, so this is a fan. I'm a fantasy period piece girl. So one of my favorites from when I was a wee baby is Willow dies or something I will always loud. I always love that movie. I just, it takes me back. And I think it was for this time. It was beautifully done. So I'll always gravitate to that. Drama. Now it's kind of changing. But back in the day, one of my favorites was absolutely Braveheart. So God so good. At the end when he yelled out the freedom and the fact that he directed it and was in it the whole time to was was really, really impressive. Also,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:19
Apocalypto is such an under rated film that Mel did. He didn't act in it. And um, the thing was genius

Kaye Singleton 1:03:27
It's genius. Brilliant. Brilliant. So it's a jump into a whole nother genre though it's a comedy. Boomerang changed my life. I'm just boomerang. What is my all time favorite comedy film? It made me it made me see myself in a different light as a you know, yeah, sounds like oh, I can go live in New York and I can work for it. And in fact, that's why I got into marketing because I saw Marcus Graham being the head of this, you know, advertising firm and it was just it was so aspirational. But it was also a great story at the same time and I can almost quote it throughout 18 million times so Boomerang is one of my absolute favorites.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:14
And that was that that young actress that never went anywhere Halle Berry I think her name she never did much after that. And Miss Robin Gibbons and Chris Young Chris Rock, rock. Martin lar ed ed. Eddie Murphy of course.

Kaye Singleton 1:04:33
It was a great Grace Jones everything kids

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
Oh my god everybody was in that damn good pm Dawn song was in there.

Kaye Singleton 1:04:43
Yes. Oh, gosh. I love love love. John Wooden was in there too. I forgot to name him. But yeah, it was a it was a changing kind of moment coming of age moved from I love it.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:59
Kaye, listen It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you for being so raw and honest about your process. And where can people reach out to find out more about what you're doing? Do you have a website?

Kaye Singleton 1:05:09
Absolutely, please go to road106films.com You can see the projects that I had and what's coming up and get more info about the movie. Agent right dark justice and gas light that is on the way. You can also find me on Instagram @kaye.s

Alex Ferrari 1:05:26
Kaye, it has been a pleasure, my dear thank you again so much for coming on the show and for all your knowledge bombs that you dropped on everybody today. I appreciate you my dear.

Kaye Singleton 1:05:38
Oh, you're so welcome. I loved being there. Love. Oh, I gotta say one more thing. Sorry. Make sure you tune into bet because on October 11. The oval will be back in full effect the oval on bet from Tyler Perry. And also check out covenant on allblk is still streaming and doing great. If you haven't seen it, please get a subscription check it out. It's a great show. And I love those actors are phenomenal.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:13
Thank you my dear. Appreciate you.

Kaye Singleton 1:06:14
Yeah thank you!

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BPS 237: Exploring the Actor’s Process – Inside His Greatest Roles with Edward James Olmos

Our guest today is 80s star, multiple-awards film, and theater actor, and activist, Edward James Olmos.

Olmos’s roles in films or TV shows like Stand and DeliverBattlestar Galactica, broadway musical and film Zoot SuitBlade Runner as detective Gaff, and many others are some of the most memorable of all time and he’s still dominating our screens.

While I could not resist talking about his iconic roles over several decades, we mainly discussed Olmos’ new must-see film, Chasing Wonders.

The picturesque Australian/British drama was the official selection at the Adelaide film festival in 2020. The beautiful cinematography of the film was shot over a five years period to authentically capture the coming of age story by screenwriter, Judy MorrisChasing Wonders is a story of hope, possibility adventure, and overcoming your past – a heart-warming story of a young boy, who, encouraged by his grandfather (Olmos) to live a life of hope and possibility, takes off on the adventure of a lifetime to find the magical Emu Plains. His journey through the lush landscapes of Australia and Spain leads him to the heart of the human condition – learning to acknowledge the complexity of what comes before us but struggling not to be defined by the past.

The Hollywood Walk of Famer earned an Academy nomination for Best Actor in the 1988 drama, Stand and Deliver. He gave a stellar lead performance as Bolivian- American educator Jaime Alfonso Escalante Gutiérrez.

Olmos filmography is quite extensive. Literally, the man has stayed booked and busy since 1974. He’s appeared in over 130 films, TV shows, and plays.

One of his outstanding roles is perhaps,  Lieutenant Martin Castillo in the Miami Vice (1984) as a series regular. A fan-favorite for sure.

But if we do talk about Lieutenant Castillo we must mention Olmos’ role as Detective Gaff in Blade Runner (1982) and a brief reprise in the sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Gaff is the Los Angeles police officer who detains and escorts Deckard (Harrison Ford) throughout his mission as a ‘Blade Runner’ to track down bioengineered humanoids known as replicants and terminally “retire” them.

Olmos showed the world his versatility in both the Broadway play and film adaptation of the musical comedy, Zoot Suit. The story weaves the real-life events of the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial – resulting in the racially fueled Zoot Suit Riots throughout Los Angeles. Olmos portrays El Pachuco, an idealized Zoot Suiter, who functions as narrator throughout the story and serves as Henry’s conscience in both adaptations.

Honestly, I could go on and on down Olmos’ filmography, but we can’t spotlight all of his other spectacular films right now. So, let’s get into this interview, shall we?

Don’t forget to click the links in the show notes to watch Chasing Wonders.

Enjoy my epic conversation with Edward James Olmos.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:51
I'd like to welcome the show Edward James Olmos. How you doing, Eddie?

Edward James Olmos 3:06
Very, very good man just sitting here. Thankfully, we get to do this together. Yeah, know long time coming.

Alex Ferrari 3:23
Yes, my friend. I appreciate you being on the show. You know, I, we've our paths have crossed many times, especially over at the leaf. I have had a few films play there. And we have a few mutual friends. And it's just been a you know, I've just been a fan of yours, man since since back in the day when I was coming up. But we'll get into all of that. But first, how did you get into the business? How did you get into this crazy business?

Edward James Olmos 3:49
This one was a process that started when I was a little kid. Being I was born and raised in East LA. And I started to learn about discipline, and determination, perseverance and patience. And I started learning that those those values while playing the game of baseball, as a little kid, and I learned how to do something that I love to do. And I learn how to do it every day, seven days a week. And so by from five to about 14 I played ball every day, seven days a week I would either you know read about it, catch, play, catch it, play do it, or I would watch other people do it and talk about it. But I was always inside of the craft sport. And so when I was about 14, I switched. I had started to listen to rock and roll music by 1955 56 when it's hard to hit on the radio You. And it was really amazing that from the stuff that I was listening to, started to influence me, and I got into dancing, and movement. And because it was a rock and roll period, and everybody's dancing, I'm crazy. And so, in 1960, I quit playing baseball on really good people time, while they were grooming me to play professional ball. But I got into a rock and roll man. And they started singing rock and roll. And I started singing rock and roll, like, I played baseball, you know, seven days a week. And, you know, people say, Well, you know, what do you mean seven days like it? Yeah, I would judge the craft every single day in some form. And always, on my mind, always doing it, always exploring. And what I learned was that the 10,000 hour concept, you do something for 10,000 hours, and pretty soon you become as good as you're gonna, you could be after doing it for 10,000 doesn't mean you're better than anybody else. It just means that you're able to, to be the best that you can be inside of that. Craft anything that you didn't think you'd spend time doing that long, that much and consistently, you know, so, in when I got into music, I was 14 by Tim, I graduated from high school at 17. I went to selling Community College, and I took an acting class. And so the acting started would help me out of performance on the stage, as I was singing, and I learned to to encompass both theatre and music and movement, and do 17 All the way up to 31. That was all combined. And then I hit with doing theater. I did Zoot Suit. Yeah, that was a very amazing experience in theater, as well as in film. And that really was the launching pad. Before that I had done I had gotten I got into acting. When I was in 1972, by way of a friend of mine told me that they were looking for some extras, and I went in for a job as an extra. And I got into the job. And then that job, the guy, the director needed some someone to do a certain something for him in front of camera, and he chose me. And it was hundreds of guys there and he chose me. And so I got up and I did it with him and more before and and get that got me my sag card, got Taft Hartley and inside got into it in from there 72 All the way to 78 I was still doing theater and playing rock music. So I was performing all the time every day I was performing on stage or sometimes both both same time. And that's what happened when I sued sued. I didn't at all I sang I dance. I do comedy I did drama. You know, I was it was a live performance. And it was quite an experience. So you asked me how did I get into it? It was a process. That process took me from a five year old of learning that I could discipline myself to do the things I love to do when I didn't feel like doing it into music, into theater, and finally into to film and television and work in front of camera.

Alex Ferrari 8:45
And what I love about your story that the story you just told is that so many people coming up so many young filmmakers, young screenwriters, young actors, all think it's gonna happen for them overnight. And it's like, oh, any any moment, any moment someone's gonna discover my genius. And give me the opportunities that I obviously rightfully deserve and what use and like you were literally doing six years, seven years preparing for Zoot Suit, even though you didn't know that you were preparing for Zoot Suit, but all those skills, all those skills, were there waiting for you.

Edward James Olmos 9:18
Luck comes into play. Okay, and luck. It means the different definition of luck for me, and for a lot of people is when preparedness meets opportunity. That's luck. And you have to have luck. You have to have luck. You cannot make it in anything. You cannot really move into an understanding of yourself without luck, meaning that you have to be prepared for the opportunity when the opportunity arises. I was prepared to do that, but I was prepared to do that role like it gave me something that I did I'm so grateful. It took me so long because there was a lot of my friends who were you know, they were working at age, 1920 years old, 21 years old, still working film, television, and theater and doing everything. And I was working, and I was very happy to be performing live as a singer. And in a rock and roll band, I worked in the Czar's from 1964 through 1968, seven days a week. And I'll go to college, you know,

Alex Ferrari 10:37
And it's and I didn't know that you sang, and you were you are in the Rock and Roll scene, because now that makes your performance and Selena so much more riveting, because you actually, I mean, there was something inside of you were just walking into a character you you might have might as well have been that character in many ways. That experience.

Edward James Olmos 10:55
Yeah, it was a good experience. That was a hard film. I will tell you that. That was the hardest film.

Alex Ferrari 11:02
Why it made any specific reason?

Edward James Olmos 11:05
But yeah, yeah, the the timing, timing of that film was really, really difficult because she had been killed about 13 months before we started filming. Right? Yeah, that's that wasn't enough time. We didn't want to film that the father didn't want to film the family didn't want to make the film right away. They wanted time to pass. But the world wanted to jump. They jumped on, she really, you know, she was anybody can make a movie on her. You know, they didn't need to, you know, all they had to do just get an article, they could do the film on the article. So it was really so they were they were working on five documentaries, like around six or seven books on her life, and they were making the people were starting ready to gear up to make a movie about them. And this was only 7 12 months afterwards. You know,

Alex Ferrari 12:00
I remember. Yeah.

Edward James Olmos 12:04
So, you know, Abraham, your father, got in touch with myself. You got in touch with Gregory Nava. And with Moctezuma Esparza, and we the two, all of us got together, we helped produce it. You know, Greg directed and wrote it, with Barbara Martinez, and they did a wonderful job. That was wonderful. But it was so hard, man. Because every time we do a suit, every government inducing get a look. Every time we did see, the only person who came to watch every single scene that was shot, every single moment of film was the Father. And the kids, none of the brothers sisters, Chris, none of the band, nobody got involved unless they were in the movie. They were in the band and played with us in the movie. And but every time we do a scene, like anyone pick any scene, you remember, and imagine when they holler cut, whether it be you know, playing drums and falling over or driving the bus or boost the caca or all great scenes that we're doing on their life, the humor, the fun after when they were Howard cut. I turned in, I'd see father Abraham, about 1015 20 feet away with his back towards us in heaving sobs. TV, Amy's just destroyed as he's watching the life story of his his daughter, who had just been killed. And it was really very, very ugly. Difficult to make this film. And it was the hardest film I've ever made. Because of emotional being and because you'd be happy. You'd be like having a good time doing all the stuff in the 60s when they will Yeah, teaching them played bass. I don't want to play bass. I know you don't play bass, or you're a drummer, you'll play drums, you play drum, drums, girls don't bleed, you know, all that stuff, you know, and all this stuff about you know, it's tough to be a Mexican American you got to be more Mexican or Mexican or American or American. You got to be able to, you know, all that stuff, all those scenes after scenes of wonderful moments and the one scene that we were able to do that. I mean, the only thing that really just like he only allowed us to shoot at one time was the the scene in the hospital. He didn't want it. He didn't want it in the movie. And Greg said you got we got to put it in. I mean, that paint that paint has to be understood. Two ways around it. I'm sorry. But you know, this movie is about that. That's what this movie is about. It's about you and your family and everything you guys had to go through, and felt at that moment in time along with the rest of the world. That movie holds up pretty well. And I think it's formance Jennifer Lopez,

Alex Ferrari 15:15
And I remember seeing you I remember you on some interview saying, when I saw her get up on stage, I said, Oh, she's got it. Oh, she she, she just got a taste of it. Watch out. She's going to explode or something along those lines. You said, and you were not wrong. She's done. JLo has been quite good. First off. She's, she's done. All right. She's done. All right. Yeah. Very. Now, have you noticed? No, she's, she's, she's, she's wonderful. She's absolutely wonderful. Now, one of my favorite performances of yours is one of your earlier ones, which is in that wonderful sci fi film Blade Runner.

Mike Debbie 15:54
Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 15:55
How I mean, they're, you can't I can't even think of anybody else playing that part. Just like you were built for that part. How did you get involved with that? And what was that experience like on that set? Because I mean, from what I've seen, I mean, I've seen every documentary on that film ever made. So I saw the craziness of like they took over Warren was Warner Brothers right, Warner Brothers backlot and built that entire thing. Like, what was that like? And how did you get involved with with that project?

Edward James Olmos 16:22
Came to me, they asked me to meet with Ridley Scott. And they told me a little bit about the character. And that went in I met him. Remember, I had just finished doing a work been working on Broadway had been doing as it sue for few years, maybe three or four years, and had been had worked on on Wolfen with that.

Alex Ferrari 16:50
Oh, god. What? Not walking? No, um, I just had I just had the ride around the show. Yes, yes. overfitting. I just had the writer on the show. Yes.

Edward James Olmos 17:02
Albert, myself and Gregory Hines. Yes. Rachel are a beautiful, beautiful experience that movie, very dense, very, very advanced. And so when they asked me to go meet with Ridley, I understood the theme and understood the situation. Yeah, it was a very minor role.

Alex Ferrari 17:31
But, but it has an impact. But it has an impact that role.

Edward James Olmos 17:36
It has an impact. But what the one of the great things about working with people who are secure, people who are secure, allow growth around them. And that's really the I've been very fortunate to be working, I've worked with people who are very secure. They allow the expression, they allow ideas, and I had I had, by 1978, when I did due to I gained artistic control and my characters. And that was one of the things that I asked for whatever I worked, I don't mind. You know, collaborating, communicating, collaborating, but let me develop the character. You know, and hopefully, it's what you had in mind. And most of the time, and I'd say about 98 to 99% of time, they had none of this in mind. They just ended up overwhelmed by what they were experiencing at the same time that they were filming, because they didn't know what I was going to do. You know, I'll never forget, I walked in to really the very first time and I said, I love to work with you on this very important piece of work. And I said, this is the future, you're talking about 2019 We were speaking together in 98. And I said, this can be 2019 40 years from today. It's going to be a little different. It's going to be you know, diversity, character, culture will be beaming California and Los Angeles. And, you know, of course, the environment one gotten to a point of it being difficult and everything came true. Everything through the all the cultural dynamics of the city, the the, you know, whether environmental change in warming is happening as everything's changed, and we knew it then TV, oh, discussing the film. And so I asked him if I can speak languages. That said, I'd like to speak languages that good. And he said, What do you mean? I said, well point get home If that was that, I said, I don't know, just tone doesn't just don't but, but you know, just different. It could be anything could be Hungarian with French, and you know, whatever. But that's what it would sound like. And he said, Oh, interesting. And so I gave him a character breakdown off the top of my head and improvised breakdown, a war, my great, great great grandfather came. And while my great great great grandmother came from when they got together, and how they got together and respects and then they had children, those children were born here and Aaron, and they got married here and here. And by the time they got to me, there were 10 different cultural dynamics toward directed different cultures. And so he thought it was because I like it. So he let me go. But then I took off with the script, they had written and I went to Berlitz. And I started to get the different languages that I would use inside of the piece. And, and I was seeing the words that they had written. But I was seeing him in different languages. And so when I got to work, nobody knew what I was saying.

Of course, it was city speak, I had invented city speech. That's amazing. And then with the advent of it being Asian influenced, strong Asian influence. I started doing I remember sitting in the scene, and and I did my first little origami, which was chicken. And I made a very bad chicken, and put it down and then squabbled like a chicken when it was put down, and I was in the scene, but I was waiting the back. And so he was curious to what I was doing back there. And that's what it was all about. It was about being in the scene without being in the scene. And making sure that the realities that I was doing were realities that that had something to do with what we were doing there. And it wasn't just me sitting there wasting my time, or just drawing attention by the fact that I'm sitting there like a tree, just not moving on. If I started to move, I would draw attention myself, which is even worse. So I had to be doing something. And so what I was doing was I found this little piece of paper, it was pyramid, the spearmint gum wrapping and it's white on one side and aluminum on the other side. It was the rapper was inside of a ashtray standing right to my left me as I looked down, because I didn't know what I was going to do. So I looked down, I picked it up. So while the scenes happening, I'm working on a piece of paper. And this little piece of paper ended up being looking like a chicken. And I kept on the whole time the scene was going on with between Decker and the captain in the police station, when they do that thing, that thing there. So I flew in, I finished a course on the scene finished I put the thing down because he didn't want to go do that. He didn't want to because he was retired when he came in I was you're dead. And now I'm still retired. So he was like a chicken, you know, and so and so I put I put the thing down and I and that's good squawk at the end when he said cut. I put it down but and he came over and he looked at what I was doing and he looked at me and he said bring a camera and they got a guy to to make the chicken. So many made the real origami chicken, my chicken one was good. But it wasn't as good as the one that this guy me. And that one a prop guys. And so he made the birthday there and I put it down and that was it. Then we went to another scene where we went to Leon's apartment, and then Leon's apartment. He's walking around do stuff now I had nothing to do while he was doing out exploring, and you know, looking for things and, and what you know, who was he was looking for the replicants and you know, you know, so he's doing all of his research. And it's all about him. So I was back to but I again, I didn't want to cause any, you know what, I wasn't looking for applicants. Okay, I was there to dry. I was like a driver for him. Okay. All right, same time. You find out this happened. As the story evolved, my character then grew with with a certain kind of dynamic to the story. And so I while I was there waiting for him to do his thing. I still Over inside, and I found a match stick. And so I worked on the match stick. And then I gave him a little hard on the little matchstick I put so you could stand up a little guy with a heart on so that was out doing him doing deca, you know, coming to see Leah. So I put it down and of course they filmed it. They filmed it. So now I had to have them on to origami pieces and script. Little did I know until later on when I went to see the the rough cut screening of it. That the last origami was the unicorn. I didn't make the unicorn, I didn't think about it. Okay, I had nothing to do with that unicorn, but really had taken that whole understanding of my character, what I was doing there and how he worked it through and how it worked out what I was doing, that he ended up making it so that the unicorn was found in the elevator right before he went steps in the elevator on the ground. He looks at it and this is past. It's his a dream, a reoccurring dream that he saw at that moment in time. And I thought it was genius man really sparked he made Deckard a replicant. But he didn't know it, but he did not. So isn't it? That's amazing. That was amazing. And so as he did, it was such purity of of understanding how, and that's what I mean, he never confirmed, you know, for years for years. Never confirmed. Good till finally, I guess around maybe 10 years ago, maybe 3030. About 30 years after he finally did confirm it. Yeah. And yeah, Decker was a replicant.

Alex Ferrari 26:59
And the thing that's brilliant about that story is, and you said something, so, so important for young filmmakers to hear is when you work with someone who's confident, who's comfortable, secure, thank you secure in their own skin, as a director, you allow the other artists that you're working with, to bring you all this wonderful stuff that you can do. Because if you try to control it, that's insecurity, when you have someone who's so insecure that they have to control everything, nobody can work properly, and not an artistic standpoint, at least

Edward James Olmos 27:30
No no, it's a community communicated art form in which everybody's touching is artistically involved. You know, everyone, I don't care if you're, you know, makeup by you know, it can be property can be location, you can be, you know, anything wardrobe, all of those divisions, and, you know, they all have an artistic impact on and of course, the director can, you know, sit there and pick every single piece of materials put on on the cloud as you can, every single, artistic, you know, production value could be all his and camera courses, all his and, and he can be working with the best camera people in the world. But he feels that he's, you know, he knows his vision. So we'll put the camera here and won't be open to the suggestion. You know, that because, you know, really, he's really good.

Alex Ferrari 28:32
He's, again, he's done okay, for himself. He's done. Okay, from some

Edward James Olmos 28:36
Really brilliant, brilliant filmmaker, and the gifts that I've been people I've been able to work with through the years. Yeah, extremely good. And so I've been very fortunate that they have all been secure enough to work with me, to allow me to create. And so I've created you know, nobody wrote Lieutenant Casteel Miami Vice, nobody wrote gas. Nobody wrote ELPA Chico they wrote in vector the words that come out of my mouth. And but as far as the physical and the dimension of the psychological and the emotional, and you know, everything, especially the physical. Those are creations by the artists, the actor, unless you are working with someone like Alfred Hitchcock to take 10 steps, turn around, say the line. Okay, 12456789 10 Hi. Hey, that's it. And that until there's very little, you can still use the hi UoK you know, and hi. Hi, how you scratch your face or whether you have your hands in pockets, don't have pockets did the choices that the actor makes to create a reality for the moment but I mean, I will say that you're right security secure working with secure people. It's a really wonderful virtue.

Alex Ferrari 30:13
Now, when you were working on Miami Vice, I mean, I grew up with Miami Vice. And when you showed up, you brought such a authority. And I think it I think it's fair to say that many of your characters, you as a general human being, just there's an authority to you automatically for whatever. And there's people like that they just walk in the room that like, there's respect there. You don't have to say a word. And I think with Castillo, he was one of those characters that you just looked at you at that time in your life, and you're like, do not want to mess with this guy. I remember there was an I still as a kid. I wasn't. I don't want to tell you all that was but I remember watching there was like a, like a character arc for you where you went off like, because you were always the quiet sikita You were the rock. You were the one that was silent, said very few words and just everyone just respected you. I remember there was a character arc in Miami Vice where you were on a revenge kick. Or there was something that you were doing you were off character and you were like, oh my god, Castillo's lost his mind. Oh my god. And that's what was the most fun when the quiet character who's super powerful is like, oh, no, we're gonna see what he's really about now. And you went off for like, I think an episode or two I remember I was just so enthralled is still affected me to this day. I remember that. I'm like, Oh my god. Castillo's losing his mind. This is gonna be amazing. Let's watch this. And but how did you I mean, I know there was another actor. And you and I spoke about this a little bit when we, when we when we spoke earlier, years ago, but there was another actor and then you were you came in to play this part. And then you kind of just went on that? Because you weren't there originally? No, no. Gregory Sierra, at RISD. Fantastic, fantastic actor.

Edward James Olmos 31:58
He passed away just recently, well, this last year. But when when Michael Mann asked me to, to join up with them, he called me on a Wednesday and the film started, we, I needed to be there by Thursday morning, at seven o'clock, to be in character and jump in and start playing this character. And I said that, you know, when he called me the first time, I said, I can't do that. I wish I could, but I can't. And he was very disappointed. And he had offered me a really, more money than my father had made in his entire lifetime, was the first offer. So they knew he knew what he was doing. And he knew that what he wanted. And he came straight to me as a one on one call telephone calls just between me and him. And I said, I wish I could, and, you know, tell him, I said, this couple of things. Why can't I would love, let me tell you something, I would love nothing more than to be on the show. Okay. But I can't sign an exclusive contract with NBC. I can't I wish I could, but I really can't. And, you know, it was pretty young, about 37 36 37 and 1984. And, and I said, you know, I can't I can't send an exclusive contract, and I have creative control on my character. You know, and, you know, by this time I had since 78, again, that, that understanding in that light, I didn't want to work on pieces of that creative control that stopped me from being able to do the work, because people found that there's, you know, he wants creative controls, that wouldn't even call me. So I lost so I'm sure I lost a lot of work, but the people who did call me and allow me to work with them, you know, Selena, me for me, American, and Stan and deliver that device. And the list goes on. They did get something for giving me that opportunity. And so Michael said, you didn't say anything I said, that's the reason I can't thank you very much for calling on the phone. 10 minutes later call back and double the money. I couldn't even believe I couldn't quite grasp what he was saying because I was going to do 20 shows. And those 20 shows whether I worked in them or not. I would get paid. And that's amazing, amazing. And I said listen, Mike, what are you gonna be doing this time next year? And he says, Wow, I'm gonna be doing Miami biocides. Yeah, but what else you're gonna do, as well. I'll be doing man hunter because I've been prepping them for quite a while. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get started next year. So great. So you're going to be doing Manhattan Manhunter while you're still doing Miami buys, but I'm getting paid for it. But you get to go off and make your movie. And, you know, I'm working on at that moment, I was working on the ballot of Gregorio Cortez I was walking around distributing. And so I said, I'm distributing my movie, and I won't be able to do that. And I won't be able to work on the films that I've been trying to develop and moving forward on. So I tell you, I'm sorry. I can't say that man. And and I wish extra money is fantastic. And, you know, the opportunity is fantastic. And I said, you know, but and, you know, my creative control is really, really important to know that you can't do that. I mean, you're a filmmaker, and you're really either had done safe. Yeah.

Yeah, that he had done. And it was a huge success. And he had become mu yesterday. And, but so we hung up, and he called back then, about 10 minutes later and, and offered me more money. And I said, Mikey, I wish I could really do this. This is really amazingly generous of you and wonderful. But I just can't I cannot cannot move forward without having artistic control and without signing with signing a non exclusive contract. And then he says, okay, and he hung up for 10 minutes later, got back up. He says, Well, you got it. I said, What are you talking about? He goes, Well, you got it. You just have to give me a 60 day notice. When you want to leave, and you have to come back. I said, Okay, 60s, two months. So that's fair. I mean, takes you about two, three months to get inside of a character anyway. So I don't want to, I wouldn't want to jump out and do a character next week. You know, hey, I'm leaving tomorrow, I gotta do a movie. You know, I would do that by myself. I would do that. So I said, Okay, two months advance notice, okay. And then he said, then you have artistic control your character. And I said, that's, that's really amazing. And then I said, Wow, that's really amazing. I said, No, I'll take the last offer.

Alex Ferrari 37:30
Yeah, that quadruple that quadruple the original. Yeah, that's the one I want. Yeah, I'll give the last one. Thank you so much, sir. If you want to, if you want to throw a couple more in there. I'm all about it. That's fine. Well, you definitely I mean, you took when you came onto the show a change the show, it changed the energy in the show.

Edward James Olmos 37:48
I don't even want to begin to tell you that what happened. It was it was frightening. Because when I came on the show, and I saw the they sent me real some of the first rough mixes and rough edits of the first three episodes. I was going to be in the fourth. Yeah. And so so I was watching them that was on video. So I was at my house that night, because I had to get on the airplane. I had to be on the airplane at 1030 at night, leaving LAX to be in in Miami by 515 in the morning, and it's a five hour flight and get there about 515 Almost six o'clock. And that had to go straight to the set. And, and put on my wardrobe and go to work. And that's that's a tough one. So I looked at I tried to grasp the whole of the world right away. And so I was watching the first few episodes and they were excellent. They're just really, tom toms Carter directed the pilot. And he did a brilliant job. Really, it was what it was, and this is 1984 it was MTV cop show. It was high intensity music with high intensity drama and in action action. Okay, I mean high intensity, but I noticed something, you know, I had noticed the dismissal that they didn't know they were doing it. Well, I guess they did but they thought it was very cool. And between Crockett and tops, they would look at each other like they would the cameras would be on them. And you know, the be talking to their Lieutenant the first one or the chief of police or the mayor or the governor or the head of the FBI. You know, all these people they had to deal with the CIA, the DEA they were working with inside of all that world. So But wouldn't hierarchy king, they would look at that. Listen to them. Honestly, listen, you know, passionate understanding. And then look at each other. And, you know, kind of like, and then come back together. And you knew on that look that the audience knew on that look that they had they have their own

Alex Ferrari 40:37
As they always do,

Edward James Olmos 40:39
Starsky and Hutch used to do it really well. Yeah. And so he and I had done that show also use music on the 70s, early 70s. So what was funny, was, I said, wow, wow, this is gonna be a tough one. Because, you know, I just felt that by them being able to do that kind of work. Inevitably, it would get a little predictable. They didn't. They didn't care. They were started on the show. As far as they were concerned. They were the show. Without them. There's no, and I said, that's true. But they, they have to have something that's pulling and pushing them. So first episode, the first scene that I did with a long post findable over the inland waterway. Inside of Miami, there's a lot of waterways and we're along the river feeling. And it was an inlet and there was a dead body of a girl half in the water, half potable water. And the scene was I get there and and if I find out, not in the scene, but the people are finding that's Crocketts. Oh, sweetheart, yes. Right. That's right. That's right. Yeah. Okay. It's his high school sweetheart. And so then I'm standing in my community, and I'm standing away from them. Caracas by the waterside, and Tubbs comes out and gets close to me. And he's really close. And he says, you know, this is his, and then he tells me who that is. And then I'm supposed to say something, you know, to him. But I turn when he finishes talking, I turn and I look at him. And I say to him, Don't ever come up to my face like this Detective Detective. And, like, you were I know, going to he did that on camera. He, it wasn't the line. And, and, and then Crockett, you know, he sees it, and comes quickly grabbed him and pulled him away. And the director says, Wow, that was really interesting. I liked that. That was good. I said, Yeah, I liked it, too. That looks good. Doing that one tick, we're done. All right. That was my introduction to Tufts. Okay. And then the next thing that we did was inside the OCB. And it had to be in my office. And when I walked into my office, the very first morning I walked in, remember, I have creative control. So I could change those lines, I could, you know, sit around and do what I needed to do to build something that I was going to start to work on. Okay, with inside my character, they had their thing going and they would show and they were gonna always run the plots and all the character driven stuff would be done through all of us, but they were the ones that were really seeing the whole world through their eyes. So they will have we're gonna have to deal with me. Okay, so I gave my first left hook to Philip Michael Thomas Tubbs. And then I went on FirstNet first of Giustina was going to do with with Crockett was inside the OCB in my office and I walked into my office and there was so much stuff in my office. I mean, that was pictures and there was pipe, things of pipes, like your bad smoke pipes, maybe belong to the old guy. I don't know. But there was junk, everywhere. Oh, you know, dress the hell out of us for years. So I come in, and I tell the set designer, I go hey, can you do me a favor? Because yeah, please take everything out. You just want to take everything. I don't want anything. Leave the desk, the telephone. The left filing cabinet, Mr. Chair, and the filing cabinets protect everything. Not a piece of paper. Not nothing. Oh, and if you can find me some some aspirin little box case they put around. Amazing. Okay, so they did that they did that, you know didn't ask any questions and they did it that no one ever said I don't think we can do or you know, let me let me go ask. Nobody ever said nothing they just did what I asked him just like when I did the scene with they were very respectful and they knew and understood that what I was doing respects of things just like when I asked her my wardrobe, the wardrobe lady call me up and she said, yeah, just need your sizes. I said great. I said that, you know, a 44 Regular and 16 inch neck and 33 inch inseam my sleeve like 16 and I'm giving you an hour and I and she goes okay, I'll get I said do me a favor. And then she goes out she goes, can you get I said can you please get me a black suit from Woolworths or, or CO or some some really cheap place. And to to oh, we have we didn't she tried to you know, calmly because she was this was her show. She was designing I mean she was she had gotten Versace, Armani.

Alex Ferrari 46:38
I mean, they changed. They look Miami Vice changed the way men dressed for years after that.

Edward James Olmos 46:45
And in the world, not just here and everywhere. So because of Versace. And all the big designers who gave them everything. It's just like, the music was so calm and Phil Collins and his mom yeah, it was unprecedented. They have eagles, they had everybody. They had Miles Davis music they had James Brown music they had and they had those characters on the scene and then in the show throughout the duration

Alex Ferrari 47:13
That's how cool that's how cool the show was for everybody. That really want to be in it.

Edward James Olmos 47:18
Yeah, it was really cool to be in the show. But so I'm finished telling the wardrobe lady please put in do me Do me a favor and find me Washington wear suit, put it in the washing machine read as soon as you get it and then hang it up to dry don't dry it in the dryer, hang it up to dry so dry. It's kind of like long and and has no shape just did. And she goes what Mr. Holman said, we have a look and and you know, Michael man, it's a struggle saying Oh, I know. I said I know. I know. Go talk to Michael. And get me a thin tie. Real real thin time because it wasn't the time of the thin tides. Okay. 84 was not the entitlements. Right? Right, right. Be a thin tie. And you can put me in any shirt you want to put me in any color you want to put me but make it a short sleeve. Because I knew I was gonna be Miami first year. That's too damn hot to be wearing long sleeve shirts. And with the suit jacket on Okay, as they put many times they put Crockett and Tubbs and those kind of and it was just ridiculous. humid. Myrtles over rain. So anyway, and I said Oh, and by the way can you get me some? Some? This was the best she almost I can almost feel her like throw up. I go. Can you get me a pair of wrestling shoes? I want to wear wrestling shoes.

Alex Ferrari 48:42
Okay. All right. Oh, come on. Like did you have wrestling shoes?

Edward James Olmos 48:47
Wrestling shoes is the high ankle.

Alex Ferrari 48:49
Yes, I was gonna have to be standing up all day. Oh, but I never I never saw those shoes. I don't remember ever see you.

Edward James Olmos 48:58
If you look back and go back, you'll see. I even used the same style in the same shoe on Battlestar Galactica. Just come to because you're comfortable, comfortable. They're just comfortable shoes to wear. And so she you know, she goes, I have to get back to you to fine. Great. Okay, just talk to Michael manual. He says I believe me. I will. Okay, thank you. I didn't hear from her again. Ever. Again, but I get to work. And of course, there's my black suit. And there's my thin tie. A yellow, a yellow or I think it was out of blue or yellow short sleeve shirt buttoned down collar. You know nothing like the guys were wearing. You guys thought you stood out. And I'm sure I've had I not said anything. I would have probably been wearing an Armani suit. You know,

Alex Ferrari 49:52
That doesn't make sense for your character, but that doesn't make sense

Edward James Olmos 49:57
So anyway, I don't Put me in but she wouldn't have put me in a black suit with

Alex Ferrari 50:13
A wool worth wash and wear suit. For all those for all those listening, I will just Google Woolworth. Google that because I can't explain it,

Edward James Olmos 50:25
It's you know, anyway, so there I am in the scene with Crockett first one. And I'm dressed, you know, and I'm ready to go. And I tell him take everything out of the room. And the director goes, Okay, you ready? Yeah. And okay, quantity illustrators. And so ready. And I said, just, and I go over, and I shut the door tomorrow. And I sit down my desk. And there's nothing on there. I don't have a piece of paper, I had nothing. I had a little box of like I said that aspirin on the corner. And I even think I took it off and put it inside the drawer.

Alex Ferrari 51:03
What business are you doing? Are you doing there's no business for

Edward James Olmos 51:05
I had no business. Right! This was this was the beginning of this. I walk into the damn thing. Carrying a box, my own job, but I don't know anybody. And I'm saying, Excuse me again, tell me where my office is. And they all look at me. And I says I'm Lieutenant and they go right over there. That's your officer. And so that's what, what, that's how I enter the the movie this show, because we had just killed the other guy in the scene in the episode before. So I walk into this see, nobody knows who I am. Nobody knows anything about me. Yeah. So and so I said, Well, that was that was better for me. Because then I could really do some real work, and really throw some curveballs and stuff. And people, you know, some sliders. And people wouldn't know what the heck I was doing. And so which was good for me, and good for the show. Right? Right. Because it knocked everybody into a reality of saying, holy shit, who is this guy? So they weren't looking at me. As the actor coming in. They were looking at me as the lieutenant coming in who they had no fun, you know, this guy was he's kind of weird. You know, and I was weird, because I'm off camera, which is normal that walk around doing that. And I knew I knew them both. And you know, I knew everybody, you know, and I had worked with them throughout the years getting to this, you know, and so I close the door, and I sit down, and the director says, action. And so before he walks in, done, opens the door, and then steps back. And then he wants him and he goes and we do the scene. And okay, and that's okay. They're mirroring. Okay, good. Okay. Okay, we're getting ready to shoot. Okay, everybody. Take one ready bouncer I go just mentally. And I shut the door. And dongles No, no, Ed, Ed, Ed, leaves the door open. I don't leave the door open, and there's no doors here. We're gonna literally use doors because the whole OCB is just like the open area that you walk from one office to the other office. And there's just you're walking through it. And you just, there's no door. I said, when done? Yeah, sure. Right. But I just got on the show. I mean, literally, that walking into the scene, and said You and I don't know you, I don't know anybody. And this is my office and I'm sitting here with nothing. You know, I want the door shot. And he said, Oh, yes, you know, what launches into and I could see the camera department and everybody going,

Alex Ferrari 51:05
Oh, this is okay, we're getting there. But everyone's puffing up their shirts. Now. Let's Okay, let's get ready to star and the new guy. Okay. Let's see. So

Edward James Olmos 54:27
Oh, don't open the camera with me. I said we're done dark. But what are you talking about? Dun dun think? What are you talking about? This is a think of a situation. He goes up. And he walks off the set walks off. And now the director is going what happened? And the first ad is going, everybody just take 10 Everybody and the director, director like I have a very quick call. Really. The first ad has to go over to see what the problem is with Don. So he doesn't come back first and he does. And pretty soon the lighting department and the engineers and, and sound department they everybody's like, gone from the building. I bought myself sitting in the office hours. No out. They just shut down production. He shut down production. I mean, we couldn't move. And then a John Nicola came talk to him in his in his trailer. And after a long, long time period, I don't know how long it took a long time. They finding John Nicola was producing came in and says, Okay, we're ready to go the scope. Good. Okay. So I'm seeing everything okay, down because yeah, yeah, yeah, let's just do it. Okay. I go, Yeah, I'm ready. I'm ready. To comes in the door. I'm waiting. And the director goes, everybody ready? Be quiet. Alright, ready? Now everybody now is I mean, beside themselves. Right there watching the situation happened? As if they were like the audience on the screen. Now, they're watching the same way because they don't know what's gonna happen. Right, right. And sure enough, man, it happened. He comes to the door, he goes action comes the door bangs on it. When does it open? When is it open, and it has venetian blinds.

Alex Ferrari 56:55
And it falls in the 80s

Edward James Olmos 56:57
Was that hit the filing cabinet. Bam, they make a big batch sound. And he comes in and he has a document folder. And he throws a folder on the desk. And he says that's the information on the killing over by the riverside. And he says his lines. And then I don't even look. I'm shocked because now character. I'm the lieutenant. And he comes in that way and throws stuff at me that they're just my mindset. And so we walked out, okay. I didn't look at him. I say my lines and leaves. And and are you there?

Alex Ferrari 57:53
No, I lost you lost your video. Oh, there you are. You're back. You're back on my back.

Edward James Olmos 57:58
Okay, so, Alex, so we, he leaves. And the director goes, cut. And I said, Wow, that really worked well. That really, I like that he's done. He like he wouldn't duck. And, literally, that's how we shot the first scene from that day for them. For the first 20 episodes, I never looked at either one of those two guys in the eyes. I remember MC MC. All the scenes are like this. Imagine me doing my interview with you right now like this. Oh my god, you're asking me questions. me answering those questions. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 58:46
I remember that. I actually remember that. Because it's so hot. Even as a young kid. I'm like, that's just the way humans speak.

Edward James Olmos 58:54
Well, not so much. It just it created conflict. Yes, absolutely. in conflict. Yeah. Anytime I was in the scene, there was a conflict. And guess what? Now when those two guys looked at each other, it wasn't about dismissing the character that I was portraying. It was like looking at each other saying this guy's this good pain. And they were not looking at each other with the subtext that dealt more with the reality of a situation than just the Oh yeah. This is a television show. We're here to makin.

Alex Ferrari 59:28
Yeah, like Starsky and Hutch like so?

Edward James Olmos 59:30
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I didn't mind them. I did mind that. They could dismiss anybody they wanted to. But if they weren't grounded and had a different situation every time they came in, to deal with, right, then they end pretty soon. It became real evident because they started doing tos. Yeah. Okay. And then one moment I remember on the scenes, I looked at the wall stood up and I was looking at the wall. came in. And the director goes, Excuse me, can you like turn a little bit so like to the side of your face? I see why. Shoot the back of my head, shoot the back of my hand and my body. Shoot that. Let that be the don't yet see my face. I don't watch my face all the time, my face. And so remember dancing so bad? It doesn't matter, man. He doesn't look at us anyway. So he was, he was good. Doesn't really matter, man. He doesn't look at us anyway.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:54
And he and he kind of gave he kind of gave up that kind of thing.

Edward James Olmos 1:00:59
Yeah, it changed. It changed everybody's perspective. And I became the villain. I became the bad guy. And the audience, you know, the, the, the, you know, stuff that we'd get back there was built at that time, there was no texting, and there was no, you know, and social media. Yeah, there's no, none of that. And so, but the word was out. Oh, man, we don't really like that tech them and we liked the other guy better. This guy is just like, I don't know, I think he's a bad guy. It's just a bad guy is you know, dressed in black, you never smile and never smile before years.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:34
I know, I know, I never.

Edward James Olmos 1:01:37
But the, that character could not have been written. That was not those those choices would not have they not had the confidence and given me the opportunity to create that character. That character will never materialize in, in, in television, ever. And it changed a lot of perspectives on the unspoken word. The idea of shooting people always talking and while shooting people that were more just listening, and seeing the impact of of things that were being said and done on people who weren't, you know, talking they were just receiving and what it did to them, and how it did that kind of depth in Character Study Group on that show. And well, the people liked it.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:32
I mean, that show, but that show is it's it's unlike any other show. And if you go back, you know, especially those first two or three seasons, it's like watching a masterful feature film every episode. It was just like it was just it was it was so well done. So it was just so out of there was just nothing like it on television, I argued. So there's really nothing ever since of that kind of storytelling that first the use of music and action and character. It the combination it was and Michael Mann just, it was just it was a wonderful, wonderful thing. I have to ask you, because we're we've gone off on down memory road here. I have to ask you about your new film chasing wonders, can you tell me about that project? What drew you to it, and it's it seems such a wonderful.

Edward James Olmos 1:03:16
It's, it's if you get the cheat, I don't know if you had a chance to see. But if you get a chance to see that not too many people will because it was made. It took about six years to make seven years to make. And there's a reason because the actor, the young boy had to grow. He had to get older and so they use the same boy. And that was it was beautifully done. And it's a story a simple story about a family and and the, the unbelievable sacrifices that that people do, you know, common everyday people. This takes place in Australia. Spanish family emigrated to Australia. And when they were in, in Spain, they were they were wine, grape growers for wine. It's really good wine. So he then this takes place on a Greg farm, you know, a winery. And so it's story about a family, simple family and the little boy who has a grandfather actually the grandpa, and that wonderful little story called, you know, the, the, to me, it's become a masterful little piece of work done by most of it's in Spanish, because they wanted that to be Spanish and English. A little more speaks English. You speak Spanish, but he's, you spoke English. And you know, because he's from Australia. He's born there. Kitt Chen. So you see him at the age of about 10 nine or 10 when he starts and then when we come back to them. He's 1617 and starts off with him going back to his father's house in Spain. That's a start, and then backtrack into how we got to be. It's a simple, wonderful little story that the sadnesses people won't be able to see it. It's like, they might be able to see it on streaming. They'll probably.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:25
Yeah, yeah, but it won't be in theory. It wasn't right now theaters is rough for everybody. Yeah,

Edward James Olmos 1:05:30
I had one movie out right now with George Lopez. It was theaters for about a week. Maybe two. But it was a wonderful little story called The Walking with Herb. Oh, yeah. That was a wonderful. Yeah. It's a wonderful story.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:44
Didn't you do? Did you do one in a million with him?

Edward James Olmos 1:05:48
Yes, I did. years ago.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:50
Yeah, I remember that. That was That was amazing. I have to ask you.

Edward James Olmos 1:05:54
One in a million times.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:56
No, no. Oh, God, Jesus. Of course, it was all Paul pop on that.

Edward James Olmos 1:06:02
1 million to 1 million to one. That's Georgia. And I did the puppet show. I did the very last show that he did on the show me the last one. And then this, which I just did, which he did an excellent job. No, George

Alex Ferrari 1:06:19
George's Church is remarkable. I've always been a huge fan of George. And I have to ask you, because I think I think people listening would will kill me if I don't ask you about a little bit about Battlestar Galactica. Because, I mean, it feels like just like, Patrick Stewart was born to play that character in Star Trek, you were born to play your character and Battlestar Galactica, and it's just, again, again, you have that control now that I know that you have creative control over characters. It's changed my entire perspective on your entire career. Because I could I could see now like, okay, standard deliver, got it American meet God, like and you can start going back to all those performances you like, okay, all those choices. Many of those weren't on the page, you actually brought that and to bring what you bring to the Sci Fi world and Battlestar Galactica was just an absolute phenomenon when it when it came out, people were going crazy for it. Go Go fractal, go frack yourself and all that stuff. I remember I was at Comic Con walking around, and I had no idea about it, and I just see these bags, like go frack yourself on like, what is what is fracking? What is going on? And then I started watching the show, I was like, oh my god, this is amazing. How did you get involved with that? And how what was your experience on that show? Because I mean, it was amazing

Edward James Olmos 1:07:36
Experiences the mark because writing was so sure sounds are so well written. It was truly a gift. I gotta say that all the writing so credible. And to me how I got into this was

Alex Ferrari 1:07:58
Last year video that for a second.

Edward James Olmos 1:08:00
Yeah. Yeah. So how I got the role was very simple. The producers asked the casting person we need someone like an Edward James Olmos guy. And one of the producers said the ultra heavy asked him what can be asked of me? Oh, no, man, me. No, we didn't ask you. He turned down Star Trek. So you know, he's that he's gonna do this, that he does. And so they said, we'll just ask him. And so I was working. I was doing a book festival in San Diego, Latino working family Festival, and that I was there working and stuff and something we create a community and been doing it for 20 years. And all of a sudden, you know, my agents call me up and say amen, and they asked me over universal to, to travel. And that traffic, if you come in and talk to about this television show going which is called Battlestar Galactica, the original. Yeah. Wow. I had never seen the original because in 1978, when the original came out, I was doing jujitsu every day, on stage every day, and I didn't have time to watch television. And so but I said, you know, I really it's please read it. Just read it and said, Oh, boy. So I read the first three pages Good, which was a preface it was almost like a sea, like a treatment of how to read the script the world that you're going to enter, had you not had read those first three pages, you would not have understood how this was going to be. Okay. And I must say say that it was a brilliant, brilliant read. And those three pages sold me on reading the whole script. And when I read the whole script this is this is really really exceptional work. So I accepted the invitation to go meet with and I met with them and I met with you know, the directors you know everybody and I will say that the only thing I ask them is that they don't bring about in this world that we're going to create that we keep it like like Blade Runner was Blade Runner when there was no creatures from outer space right there was you know, said keep that integrity you know, cuz I don't mind working with with these. Cylons silent okay, but but don't put us on a world finding this world universal this place all sudden has these creatures you know because the first creature I run into him faint on camera and you're gonna have to write that he had a heart attack and died amazing it was in the contract that was in the contract. That's amazing. Yeah, yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:15
It's It's fast. It's fascinating. You're like to hearing you talk now that it's like all these movies and shows that I've grown up with you have had such a major part in at least crafting your story but your your character but by crafting your character, you've craft crafted help craft a show and or movie around your character in many ways. You're not obviously the center of those those movies or anything like that. But you add so much to the tapestry. It's amazing. It's really remarkable. Not going back and reviewing all these performances in my head. It's, it's remarkable. It really is. I'm going to ask you a few rapid fire questions. I asked all my guests, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Edward James Olmos 1:12:59
Discipline yourself to do the things you love to do when you don't feel like doing them. And remember that the more time you have in preparing, the better prepared you'll be.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:16
That's I think that's a t shirt. I think that's a good deal.

Edward James Olmos 1:13:22
Ron Moore, the creator started collecting music.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:27
That's a good teacher to have

Edward James Olmos 1:13:29
On the verge of being so ridiculous.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:34
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Edward James Olmos 1:13:49
All people know what they say they're interesting. Yeah. It took me a long time for them to beat that out of me, I always thought or you know, the way that they presented and then all of a sudden you find yourself and you always given and I still do the status much positive. And I give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Yeah, total total benefit. And that to me is the key but it took me the longest to learn. I can't really trust an unforced understanding. So the first time you meet someone, omit 99% of time 98% time you do it right on the head. I mean, basically, your friend is a friend. Nice to you. But it took me a while to really learn that there's always that that side of people that could definitely come in. It really hurts. It hurts Not not so much the person receiving it, but the person is doing it. They're the ones who get really hurt. So the ones who are doing it, me and somebody else problem and giving me the problem, and I don't take the problem, the problem stays with them. And they have to deal with it in the way they have to deal with their problems don't mind. And that's the hardest thing in life period.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:27
On any night and three of your favorite films of all time.

Edward James Olmos 1:15:35
My favorite films I'm Mark, I love Lawrence of Arabia. I love I love it. Give me three. Kurosawa havenly Okay, David. And I have to say blue. And those are three director's films that I really appreciate. I get so much out of it along with you, Fellini. And there's so many brilliant. And here. It's great, great directors have been on the planet to make just exquisite films. You know, I have liked a lot of the new films coming in Korea. Oh, yeah. A parasite. Yeah. Beautiful stuff. Excellent. And and I love I love I run the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. That's what this

Alex Ferrari 1:16:38
I've screened there, sir. My films have screened there, yes, over the years.

Edward James Olmos 1:16:43
So, you know, we get to see films that most people don't get to see. Right, I'm so grateful for doing this festival over the last 20 years, I've been so grateful in the one I've been able to understand view that has helped me as an artist and as a creator and also as a human being, to understand myself better. Because when you're when you're only looking at certain types of films made in one area, United States and the commerciality of the films that they make once a while you find artistic films that really do amount to a lot of great work.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:22
And, and one last question, because I think it's really important to I would love to hear your opinion on this. No, I'm a Latino filmmaker, I am Cuban boy from Miami. And, you know, your films over the years Stand and Deliver American Meat. Those are some of the spotlights when I saw a Latino presented in a different light than the general, you know, way that Hollywood presented Latinos, what do you think, now, because you've been fighting that good fight for, for a long time of trying to get you know more Latinos onto the screen and present it and see yourself as you know, as on screen, and that's why I'm loving the heights when it just came out, which is remarkable. Oh, my God, I was like when they showed the when they showed the floor, and I almost cried. I mean, it was remarkable. So in your opinion, where you see things going now, and there is more representation out there? How do you how do you? How do you feel seeing this, because you've been fighting that fight for decades now.

Edward James Olmos 1:18:22
I love it. I mean, it's all it makes us all stronger and better. And then not only the culture that's being represented, but the the ability for other cultures to experience situations through the eyes, these other cultures, and it really makes a difference makes a big difference. And I gotta tell you, the more we get to do that, the more we have diversity inside of our film world, which is I had a choice to continue to do theater, or, or do film, and to do both, you can, but basically, it's really takes a long time to do a film, you know, to develop, because I produce them, direct them. I help write them. And so each project takes anywhere between a year to 10 years, 15 years, American me to 18 years, and to make and so I had to commit myself, if I was trying to do theater, I wouldn't be able to do that kind of work on film at all. And the choice was Okay, so where does where does the where does it the most impact come from the time that I have? I'm already 75 years old. I've been doing this for years anyone by like that. I got a lot of great work that I've been able to accomplish, but I would not have been able to accomplish as much in film and I don't see it here also. And so I really sacrifice being able to On stage, but I did a lot of theater at theater.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:06
Eddie, I appreciate you, my friend, I appreciate all the work you've done over the over the course of your career and fighting the good fight and helping filmmakers and helping get stories on the screen that need to be told. And, and I appreciate I appreciate you so much, my friend. So thank you. Thank you so much for being on the show. I truly appreciate it.

Edward James Olmos 1:20:22
Thank you, Alex, thank you so much for doing this. You're helping a lot of people.

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BPS 212: How I Got My Screenplay on Disney Plus with Arash Amel

Acclaimed screenwriter and producer Arash Amel is known for writing the critically-lauded motion picture, A PRIVATE WAR (2018), directed by Matthew Heineman and starring Rosamund Pike as celebrated war correspondent, Marie Colvin.

He recently served as Executive Producer on the Netflix sci-fi action movie, OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021), starring Anthony Mackie, which was viewed by 66 million households in its first 28 days. In addition to writing RISE (2022) for Disney + and telling the coming-of-age story of NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Amel wrote Paramount Pictures’ feature film, THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE, a World War II action adventure directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer that is slated to start production later this year.

He also wrote the screenplay for SNAFU, an upcoming action comedy starring Jackie Chan and John Cena. Currently, Amel is in pre-production as producer on the Amazon Studios feature film, FRED & GINGER, which is based on his screenplay, directed by Jonathan Entwistle, and stars Jamie Bell and Margaret Qualley as the icon screen pair, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

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Arash Amel 0:00
The business of open writing assignments, the business of development, hey, we've just picked up 20 pieces of IP and a short story in a comic book and an exec has an idea and we need a writer. All of that 11 years later has gone by, it's gone. There is no right now it's what is your story? What is your screenplay? How do we package it? And how do we just feed it into the machine?

Alex Ferrari 0:28
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 Arash Amel, how're you doing?

Arash Amel 0:43
I'm doing good. Thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:45
Thank you so much for coming on the show my friend. I appreciate it. You have a very interesting journey through Hollywood. So I wanted to kind of start at the beginning. So you were a small child when you were born? And so my first question is, Why in God's green earth did you want to get into this insane insanity? That is the film industry?

Arash Amel 1:07
I don't know. No, I'm joking. You know, it's a really funny journey that I only started to make sense of it. Over the last few months, so I had, after the pandemic, my my parents who live in England came over, and they came over for, you know, hadn't seen each other for like two years. They were here for like, three months or so. And we just had a baby, and thank you so much

Alex Ferrari 1:37
You're exhausted? I could see I could. I have I have 2 have of my own. I completely. I could I could feel. It's a young man's game, sir. That's all I got say a young man's game

Arash Amel 1:48
Yes. And there's number three. Number three.

Alex Ferrari 1:52
Oh, you're an old hat at this

Arash Amel 1:55
Two boys, we now have a girl and very blessed. And she just turned one. And my parents were here. And my mom said to me, you know, we were always meant to move here. And I said, What do you mean? He said, well, in 1983. So you said we're going back? Let's go back. When? So I'm Iranian. I was born in Wales, while my dad was studying in the 70s over there. And then we went back to Iran revolution happened, what happened? My dad worked for Iranian television. And there was there was a documentary filmmaker. And I can't remember going to set with not separate with go to like the desert. I can be filming stuff. And it'll be you know, and I was like, maybe four or five kind of ingrained. But, you know, revolution happened, and I had to do the sad thing. And my son still sort of can't believe it. But I had to leave all my toys and everything behind and I sort of moved to move to move to England. And so my whole life, I thought, Oh, we moved to England. And but it turns out the plan was to move to America. And what had happened was we'd moved to England as a pitstop. And then the whole family was supposed to go to LA where my grandfather was here briefly and to connect up with him. They didn't give my dad the visa. So my mom, myself and my brother, we flew to La we were here for the summer of I think 1984 And my dad wasn't but obviously I was like 767 So I didn't really you know, I didn't know what was going on. All I know was it took me to this wonderful sunny place. It took me to Universal Studios, I got to see a Knight Rider and air Wolf and I was like they just they get and I saw the jaws shark tried to eat me. And then we went to Disneyland and you know it just all it just kind of went oh my god, what is this amazing place and I would get like I remember sitting my granddad's house here and like waiting TV Guide and watching. Like, you know, whatever was on TV at the time, that Manimal only Manimal.

Alex Ferrari 4:05
Oh my god. One of the most bizarre, wonderfully bizarre shows ever created. Imagine if Manimal got greenlit today, even on Netflix even on Netflix.

Arash Amel 4:19
Absolutely, watch the shit out of that.

Alex Ferrari 4:23
We try to tell my kids about mandible. My wife and I are huge Manimal fans, and only from memory not currently to watch it only from what I remember how cool it was. And it was like it was an eagle, a panther. He turned into an eagle or a panther and I think occasionally turned into something else. But we saw the transfer and we went to YouTube just to see the transformation. Yeah, have you seen it lately? Oh. So bad.

Arash Amel 4:50
It's so cool. Kids. It's like

Alex Ferrari 4:54
This is why this is why our gen. This is why our generation a little bit more resilient.

Arash Amel 5:02
This is what we grew up with. I mean, this is so yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna end up like, you know, sidetracking into this, but there was the TV of that time. I mean, you say it was crazy, but it was like, you know, do remember ultimate man was automatic.

Alex Ferrari 5:16
Oh my god, you read my mind, you read my mind to try and rip off the drill rip off. Yeah, with a little with a cursor around. It's like the first time they discovered like tracking and like they like someone's age of TV is Desi Arnaz Jr. was the star of that was Desi Arnaz Jr. was the star of that.

Arash Amel 5:38
Oh my god. So so now you can see that my Genesis Was there enough. So a kid and I'm like, can I still do this? And then they said, you have to go back to England. Oh, God, right. So we go back. And I'm like thinking, Oh, England must be my home. This is where we'd always meant to be. So for all of my life. I grew up. So I went back. And I was like, I'm obsessed. So I started watching TV, I started watching movies, I became obsessed with cinema, you know, I had a Commodore 64 any games that I would get would be something to do with movies. And I would play there was this game called ACE that I would play and it remote. And it was because I'd seen Top Gun and I could be Top Gun. And so that sort of seated. And so when I became my 1314 I kind of started to cognitively understand what I was, you know what my passion was? I didn't know where it came from. I just had this thought, which was someone must write posts. Someone was like, this is right. Yeah. And it was. So unusually, it was sneakers fold and Robinson sneakers that I saw with for some reason that just had an impact on

Alex Ferrari 6:55
Sneakers was amazing. This was with a cast with with Robert Redford and oh my god loves sneakers.

Arash Amel 7:03
Sophisticated in terms of his characterization in terms of our all the little you know, too many secrets and like all of the stuff that so it was that and you know, and still keeping up with TV and at that point it was you know, as MacGyver. I was like, I'm gonna, I'm gonna I'm gonna do this. So I go down to Foyles bookshop in London you know, Internet back then obviously, as you were saying, there was no existence like you have to spec magazines and, and book shops. And I got two books I got Syd fields, screenwriters, workbook, and Syd field screenplay. And very, you know, classical 3060 30 points at 22, pinch point, plot, the midpoint, all of that stuff. So and I just at 14 years old, I started writing, and I just would watch movies and I would buy premiere magazine and Empire Magazine, and I would read all the interviews, and I would cut out the little posters that they would do. And I made these mosaics on my wall, and my mom would come into my room and go like, what do you do? What is this? This is, you know,

Alex Ferrari 8:11
This is insanity. I'll take it. I'll take I'll take it one step further. Sir. I actually started working at a video store when I was 14. Oh, so

Arash Amel 8:21
I'm right there with you. I was trying to get them to I'm gonna let you finish. But I was trying to get them to give me a job. They wouldn't because I was 14. And for some reason, they just didn't feel it was right. And so but they would let me go through all their posters. Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 8:37
I still have some posters. I still have some posters from the video. Tell me as though I worked. I started working at 14 in Florida. They didn't care about these things. So I just got snuck in and got paid, paid under the table. And I was managing by 15, the video store and I was there. I was managing because I was. I mean, I live the brand hustle. I've been hustling since I was a child. So it was just one of those things. So I started I was managing the store. It was a mom and pop store. And I just got I fell in love with movie that just I would consume. And it's hard for everybody listening to understand, but I literally consumed everything that came out every week, which now is in part because it was four movies, five movies. 66. That was it. That was all that got released in a week. So I would I would watch everything. So from 88 to 93. My trivia is solid, I can I can go toe to toe with Tarantino. In those five year period Other than that, I'll probably lose. But those five year periods is real. I just remember the boxes I remember. So that's how I fell in love with movies. And it's something about that time that people from that they don't understand.

Arash Amel 9:45
That's right. I think it it's so interesting what you say. You just touched on something about the sort of the access to to movies There was a time I mean, in that, in that era, I actually think that that was a real platinum age, I think for for cinema, to Hollywood for cinema that sort of late 80s to about mid 90s, like there was this decade, where the corporation's hadn't fully figured out how to, you know, cookie cutter this year, it was like, okay, there was still a lot of, I want to say kind of grease within the process, the the creativity and the artistry, still sort of

Alex Ferrari 10:38
The inmates were still running the asylum, the inmates were allowed to run the asylum for a little bit. And, yeah, it's small movies existed, you know, the What about Bob's of the world and the smokers and the sneakers of the world and, and these kinds of films were allowed to be made within the studio system and having those kind of resources which that doesn't exist,

Arash Amel 10:58
When there wasn't this sort of, you know, vertical integration that is so many layers deep. And we're talking about, you know, global strategies and corporate strategies, and it hadn't, I feel that Hollywood hadn't become corporatized. So you'd sort of still had that. Like you said, inmates that are running the asylum. It was the artists that were running asylum. And within that, I would say the producers were also part of the artists, you still had some of the outsized personalities that for good or for bad, could push some of this stuff through. And they made programmers they made these exceptionally well made movies that weren't supposed to be the blockbuster The terminators at the time but they were solid moving within that mid budget range.

Alex Ferrari 11:43
And I was I was talking to a woman and attractive I was talking to. He was on the show a little while ago, he used to run. One of my guests used to run Richard Donner's production company, for for a decade. He ran it in the 80s up into the early 90s.

Arash Amel 12:00
It was he in that office in a warner brothers like I think

Alex Ferrari 12:04
Yeah. Yeah. You know, he was Wherever, wherever, wherever Dick was, that's where he was, for a decade. So he was there through Lethal Weapon. He was there through conspiracy theory, all that all that whole time. And he would tell me the stories of I'm like, how was it back then he's like, Oh, well, Dick would just have an idea. And he would, he would call up the CEO of Warner Brothers is like, hey, I want to make this movie. And they're like, cool. And I go, and that's it. He goes, Yeah, they were in production. And if there was ever a budget that like, Alex, I never saw a budget. On any movie that we ever did. It was never discussed. It was just whatever it took, and red and Dick was really, you know, he never went over whatever the number that he gave, but it was never like Warner Brothers and say you only got 20 million to make this. It's like whatever did wants.

Arash Amel 12:53
Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, it's, and I think that tells you, I think it's it film was up until, in fact, even not long ago, it was a luxury, luxury product, right? I hate to call it a product, but it was a luxury form of entertainment. And so you kind of had the same sort of economics around it that you had with sort of any kind of luxury goods that they could control. There was only four movies coming out because there was no way of district with any other way. That was the only way that we're going to see those movies was either you go to the theater, you wait for it on VHS, or, you know, you eventually in like 12 years see on TV, like that was just the sort of

Alex Ferrari 13:38
The outlets, the outlets for for revenue was limited. And, and but very thorough, and very controlled, very, very controlled. It wasn't the wild wild west that now. You know, there's a guy called Mr. Beast on YouTube, who has 100 million followers, and is making millions and millions per video of him doing whatever he does, that didn't exist back then. And the controls loosened up dramatically now. Now to get back to the fascinating origin story, by the way, right?

Arash Amel 14:08
Right. Right. So well. Yeah, so I bought the books. And I decided I was going to write these scripts and I was putting the pictures up on a wall and, and my, my dad being a good immigrant, Persian parents said to me, you need to even though he was he'd been introducing himself, he said, You need to get yourself an education, and I made him a deal. I said, I will go to college, I will get my degree I will get, you know, and after that what I do, I went and he said it's a deal. And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote throughout my college years and then when I got out I sort of went and got myself a job and trying to pave the way and my I was always on Hollywood and at that time it was 90s England so it was all Richard Curtis and Four Weddings and a Funeral and if you'd look at Me. My, I was like, There's only so much in common the Do I have with, with your, with your grant playing anybody as much as I love his work and I think it's incredible. It just didn't speak to me like it wasn't me it was like what am I story is and what am I? So I really turned my attention to Hollywood and it was how do I get from here in south London to over there. And it sparked a journey that was maybe from that point, maybe the late 90s. It was about 10 years, it was the 2006 When I wrote the spec, that, you know, they open the doors, and I say

So you were over. So overnight success is what you're saying overnight, it was an overnight success

For about 25 years.

So you were so you, were you really hustling it out. So how many scripts did you write? Before that one popped?

The one that popped was number 14.

Alex Ferrari 16:03
Number 14. So I just wanted to ask that question because so many screenwriters listening, they think that the first one out the gate. That's the one.

Arash Amel 16:11
I work with a lot of young screenwriters until I mentor a lot of screenwriters. Now I like to pass on some of this, you know, these lessons I've learned the hard way. And the blessing number one is it's it's it's the long game, like you have to perfect your craft. This isn't about your one script. Because the moment you write that one script and you sell it, the next question is, well, what else you got? What's your next thing? What's your you know? Here's this big franchise, figure it out? Can you figure it out? Are you good enough to figure it out? Are you good enough to figure it out and deal with the egos of the people who attach to it?

Alex Ferrari 16:51
There's egos in Hollywood style.

Arash Amel 16:55
There's Okay. Figure it out in your own room without anyone's interference, and will give you all the money that you want. Because that's

Alex Ferrari 17:05
And if you don't know how to do it, there's 400 other guys that we can call? Yes, it just is. That's that's that's the business. That's it.

Arash Amel 17:13
It's very, it's very high pressure. It's very, and today more than ever. It's just it's just turnout, because today, it's not even they don't even have any. There's no you know, the when I started started professionally, professionally, so when I got my first studio job, which was 2011. So so my first group 2010 2011 The the business of open writing assignments, the business of development, hey, we've just picked up 20 pieces of IP and the short story in a comic book and an exec has an idea and we need a writer. All of that 11 years later has gone like it's gone. There is no right now. It's what is your story? What is your screenplay? How do we package it? And how do we just feed it into the machine so that they can just go ahead and make it that whole sort of development aspect of it has slowly slowly eroded to the point that I kind of feel because film is ubiquitous now it's seen as ubiquitous, it's seen as something that's, you know, the movie of the week and

Alex Ferrari 18:22
Exposing this disposable,

Arash Amel 18:24
It's become much more disposable. And that really is a real sort of soul searching that's going on right now. I look at them as my colleagues I especially posted what happened at Netflix in the last few months. And the turnaround that's happening, you know, Warner Brothers post discovery deal and just everywhere is in Amazon and MGM trying to figure out what they're going to do. So there's a lot of transition right now, within that transition. There isn't that business that there used to be like they're just it's just so few and far between and

Alex Ferrari 19:00
Then let me ask you because I mean, we're going to talk about your new new project rise which looks fantastic. I can't wait to watch it. It comes out as of this recording on Friday, but this will come out next early next week. But with something like that it seems like the there's the business models are changing so rapidly before was to make the tentpole to goes into the theaters, that's pretty much monopolized by Marvel by Star Wars by all these massive IPS dc in the Warner Brothers, Harry Potter, these kind of massive IPS is what takes is taken over that tentpole process. So now, there is another pipeline of content that needs to be created in the future world when we're not talking about TV but in the future world. So films like rise is neat is a film that got made to feed to feed the Disney plus Disney plus machine. And then, I mean, when I remember during the pandemic, there was like releasing Pixar movies, straight to straight to streaming. And you're like, and I like the whole worlds upside down at Warner Brothers last year did the entire year of just matrix got released? Streaming like, what? What upside down were the upside down we are in the upside down?

Arash Amel 20:20
I think the pandemic had, I think the pandemic had a lot to do with it. But I don't think it did anything new, I think it just accelerated what was already going to happen, because so many services put on three years worth of subscribers in one year. And I think part of Netflix's problem, for example, is they just had such a blowout year in terms of new customers, and can you know, that you just cannot maintain that kind of growth, it should have been, you know, between 2022 2324, and you just kind of peaked. So it's sort of okay, how do we how do we, you know, turn the ship around, but it's a pattern that's, that's been progressing, I mean, it has been happening, it's nothing new. And I feel, you know, the, we've gone from movies, having been this sort of, you know, luxury form of entertainment, as I was saying to being this sort of commodity form of entertainment that becomes sort of disposable, and the audience's attention span is kind of approaches it as disposable. And part of my thought is like, well, what is the relationship of the younger generations? With cinema? How do they view cinema? And there's partly what I've been doing is going around and asking to people much younger than myself, well, you know, it's why do you watch movies? Like, what is it? What does a movie mean to you? What does cinema mean to you what is going to the theater mean to you, and I feel that these demographics are changing around us. And I think as artists, the one thing that we do have at our disposal is the ability of of creating cultural moments and creating sort of cultural relevance and telling stories that are so resounding that they don't really matter where they're distributed, that if you're doing something on Disney, and it's for this class, or you think something on Netflix, it's actually a story that can rise above, and we find the fun, but it can kind of rise above the, the, the noise, because ultimately, as you probably experiencing, it becomes a white noise, because it's not no longer just either cinema, it's also limited series and ongoing series.

Alex Ferrari 22:39
So it's so fascinating, because I love this conversation. Because, you know, I always look at my own life, and I look at what I consume on a daily basis. And, you know, you know, when I'm at home, I watch a lot of television, a lot of great, great, great television series and binge series, and just kind of go through that with my wife. And then the occasional movie will come up and like, Oh, we're in the mood for this kind of movie or that kind of movie. But the event scenario where like, I have to see that it's you this is the funny thing. It's usually attached to a filmmaker, not of this generation. It's it's usually a filmmaker from 1015 20 years ago or older Scorsese, Del Toro, Nolan Fincher, Cameron Spielberg, these kinds of legends who are walking around us. But they came up at a time when they were the artists, given the tools by the studios, the resources, so you're basically giving Picasso any brush they want any Canvas they want, as big or as small to tell these massive stories. Those filmmakers, I can count on my one or two hands that are allowed to do that anymore, the Nolan's

Arash Amel 23:53
But that's because of their experience. And that's because of you know, they and I kind of, you know, question. So you made a point about the blockbusters, you know, what happened to the blogpost? What happened to the original Jaws?

Alex Ferrari 24:06
Jaws, Die Hard, right all that.

Arash Amel 24:10
That were, you know, and here's the thing like, this is my sort of pet theory and just what I've observed that there is, there is an unknown to making those kinds of movies that there is no you don't know. You don't know if they didn't know if Jaws was going to work on NOC they had to take notes

Alex Ferrari 24:32
That the guy from the guy for moonlighting when you've got Arnold and sly, who are all ripped up and buffed out and this guy looks like, you know, who's the guy for moonlighting with a gun? Who cares, right? arguably the greatest action movie ever created like but someone had to roll the dice.

Arash Amel 24:52
Yeah, and that that rolling of the dice is essential to cinema is essential to what we do. If you don't know, like, I didn't know, on any of the movies that I've written as to, is it going to? Hey, is it gonna get made be? Is it going to be a hit? Or is it going to be a flop? Is it going to be a disaster during production? Or is it going to work? Because you don't know, you don't know what, like, you just have your gut instincts. And again, going back to young writers, that's kind of what you're trying to develop as a writer as a filmmaker. It's, it's, it's, and I do view writers and filmmakers. And that's a whole other topic. But I kind of, but I think that sense of risk taking is a complete Anna thema to how a corporate entity works. Because you cannot, you cannot enter your quarterly budget numbers with, you know, any form of risk involved. And so that is, I feel that, you know, what has caused, you know, the sort of, I don't want to call it a color decline, because I think of it as a transition, but who has what has caused this sort of this transition period that we're in because I believe in a will, will always find its way. It has been the removal of risk from the process, because it all has to be sequels and IP. And one thing, but even IP, I would say original IP is kind of dangerous. As far as

Alex Ferrari 26:27
If it's new. If it's a new IP.

Arash Amel 26:29
That's what it Yeah, it's new. I believe it's tickets, you know, whatever.

Alex Ferrari 26:33
Harry Potter.

Arash Amel 26:34
Yeah, yeah. But the risk out of a series of comic book heroes, based around DC or based around Marvel, or you know, this known Bronze well, that's, that's kind of that's a factory, it's turning.

Alex Ferrari 26:53
It's, it's, you know, it's interesting. And you also know, what's interesting is that within that system, there is still risk being taken, but it's very calculated risk. So, for Ragnarok, Thor Ragnarok,

Arash Amel 27:06
It's mitigated risk,

Alex Ferrari 27:08
I would say. So Thor Ragnarok. Is it's an insanity, how that movie got made within the system. They basically gave my favorite Marvel movie, by the way, my, until I see love and thunder, which I sure is going to be absolutely amazing. It's gonna it looks insane. It looks, they really let them loose. Now, they just like just, there's goats. It's just whatever, just do what you got to do. But giving him the kind of reins within a property that you know, even if he goes a little off the reservation, it's still four. It's still marvel. Same thing with the DC Universe. I mean, it's the Schneider cut. I mean, for God's sakes, they'd let him go, but then they pulled back because they got scared. But then, but then finally they let it go. And they're like, oh, it's much better than it was when they were so much better.

Arash Amel 27:57
And so that's the I'm not even gonna go that.

Alex Ferrari 28:00
We're not gonna get into that. No, no, what did you understand? I don't want to get into the conversation about that specific film. But the concept of what, but what?

Arash Amel 28:10
Switzer mentions of

Alex Ferrari 28:14
DC or Marvel, sir, which is doing it better? No, I'm joking. I'm joking. But you're right. But the business has changed so much. And there's only a few. I mean, seriously, I think between it's Nolan, who can basically he's doing a black and white Oppenheimer movie for $100 million. Who else in Hollywood gets to do that? Nobody? Yeah. Yeah. Cameron is spending? I don't know $3 billion on the avatar films.

Arash Amel 28:44
I mean, I anyone who has the right to do that, I think it seems

Alex Ferrari 28:49
Yeah, that Jim do whatever Jim wants to do. You know, but Marty still fighting for his for his visions. And the reason why he's getting to do his visions is his cast that he brings. When you bring Leonardo and when Quinton wants to do something, he keeps his budgets low, and he brings the biggest movie stars in the world to the table. So there, there's, you know, there is some art still being made in the studio system, but it's so mitigated the risk. It really is.

Arash Amel 29:16
It is it is and specifically when you're looking at the attic, I mean, we're discussing theatrical here, and I think, you know, what I'm really interested in is there are some pockets, so so it's so nice, a bullet train, for example, like that.

Alex Ferrari 29:32
But it's Brad Pitt. It's Brad Pitt.

Arash Amel 29:35
But that's that's how it used to be in the old days. Like that's how it was, you know, I mean, admittedly, you know, we just named a couple of, you know, Jordan diehard which wasn't the case like that was like, you know,

Alex Ferrari 29:44
That was the beginning.

Arash Amel 29:46
Even even the star driven original movie. The, the original action movie that that even that is is is at risk like I don't know, I mean, outside of bullet train. Mine is drawing a blank.

Alex Ferrari 30:01
But I mean mission mission impossibles. But that's based off on an IP that Tom created for himself for the last

Arash Amel 30:07
Movies, seven and eight.

Alex Ferrari 30:10
Back to back, seven to eight back to back. I mean, I don't know how many more he's got in them. But I can't wait. I mean, I'd love to hear, we'd love to hear your thoughts on Top Gun. Like, you see something like Top Gun and when I went to go see it. I mean, it hits nostalgia for me, it had so many different things for me. But when I'm watching it, I'm like, Oh, my God, this is what a blockbuster used to be like. It's an event experience. It's all in camera. A lot of its again, not all, but a lot of it's in camera. What they did was something so insane. The story telling to tell that story, the way they did was very, very tight. Very good. I mean, in the entire world. You know, it's like they said, basically, everybody's dad went to go see it. Because guys, like you and me, we're like, I'm gonna go to the top. And of course,

Arash Amel 30:59
And I'll tell you, I'll tell you that I think my thoughts on it is there are two elements to that. So one, firstly, I think I admire immensely. Tom's determination to single handedly make sure that cinema matters and save cinema. Because I feel that I feel we need that we need that passion, like, the industry needs that passion. It's so easy just to turn on the TV and go, Okay, what movie on what streamer? And am I going to watch? And I feel that there's a real place for that. And I think that accessibility is great and more people can can get to movies, but I feel the cinema experience and that the wonder and magic of cinema, I kind of feel we need those champions. So secondly, I've been working with the folks that Bruckheimer a lot. So over the last few years, and I have one project with them that is costing right now. And being in that process. It's one of the few places where I feel like I'm still in old Hollywood. I'm still in that, you know, Jerry, and also Chad Oman, who runs Jerry's company, and and, you know, really, is there is such attention to detail, attention to detail in the story in the characterizations. And I mean, I felt like I was when I started, this was, you know, I signed on, it's called the ministry of ungentlemanly warfare. And when I signed on, it was, it's a book. And it was like, by the same time as I started rise, and I felt like a kid in the candy store, because I could talk about Crimson Tide and Con Air and enemy the state and, and really go and they would tell me all the different little bits of like, well, how did that come about? And how did you do this? And what was then what was the thinking behind that line? And, you know, what did this writer do? And what did that right to do? So it's been such a, an education of the Hollywood that I grew up admiring. And there was a reason why these movies work, you know, when and the way that they work. And it is an attention to the cinematic detail, to making sure that the story and the characters play as big as possible, that have emotional resonance. There's in most of my work, and sort of the rewriting and rewriting on on the Bruckheimer projects are around, ironically, not the actual, it's all around the character, it's all around, well, what is this, and you're going down to, and that is an attention to detail, all star producing that you don't really have any more because I know we're talking about the directors, I actually think there's a producing problem. Like I feel so on rise, we had an incredible producer, Bernie Goldman produce 300 is, is, you know, one of the most detail orientated producers that I've worked with, who really kind of brings the writer in and really, you know, works and develops and develops and develops and, and manages the process, and I feel these producers who have that pedigree who have that history who understand that, you know, producing isn't just attaching yourself to a project and you know, showing up to meetings and you know, coming with

Alex Ferrari 34:39
For the red carpet,

Arash Amel 34:40
Helping helping cost a little bit it's it you know, it's a it's a real creative talent

Alex Ferrari 34:48
And like a Robbert like the Robbert Evans of the old old Hollywood,

Arash Amel 34:52
Correct, yes, like there is there is, but and that sort of creative input is what bridges I believe, the creativity that goes onto the page and obviously onto the screen. And that business side of it, where you can have interference. Now I've worked with executives who have been incredible. I've worked with executives who have not been so great. But you know, it always needs somebody there to manage it and make sure that that vision that cohesive vision ends up on the screen and the emotion ends up on the screen and the cinema ends up on the screen. And and I feel that there are there are producers right now who are incredible, you know, working and but that's something that's that's eroded with the loss of the of the of the old producer. You know, the lock feels that the producer deals, the bungalows, bungalows, the bungalows I used to visit those bungalows. 1011 years ago, you would go missing today, are you meeting someone so at that bungalow, universal and then you got to go to Burbank, you got to go to Warner's and you got to go to you know, I remember going to John Silver's offices. And you know, that used to be and those guys were really, really important to the process. And I feel to your question about Top Gun to I feel incredible direction. Incredible, provide, but it's on the page. And that comes from the producer like that, that comes from the writers working with the producer and the producer really managing it. And, again, having been on the inside, it's no surprise because I was, you know, seeing those guys as they were making it. And it was like, Well, if you're if there's any attention to detail like it is here. And you know, it's the pushing me as a writer the way that I want to be pushed, it's not like, oh, make a difference. It's like, well, this moment in this scene, where he says this thing, how does it what does it really mean? And write any heighten that how do we push that? And if we did, we landed so it's it's those little tiny incisions?

Alex Ferrari 37:07
I think the I think that in many ways, a lot of the old school, Pixar and the Pixar, you know, teams back in the day, they're detail to story. And character. I mean, up is still the first four minutes of Up is still probably one of the greatest, I still cry. It's still one of the greatest montages of of life ever put. To film. It's just a master art work. It's just a masterwork. But that was the kind of old school detail to story to beating up every line. And as writers, we sit down and we'll you know, we'll go through the scenes, and sometimes we'll get hired, we're like, Okay, this seems good enough, we just gotta move on. We do it all the time.

Arash Amel 37:47
It just like, if you're writing something over 12 weeks, you can't you know, the time it takes contractually to handle draft, then there are moments when you know, I'm cheating. Like, I'm, I'm just I want to get from A to B to C, and then you hand in the script, and they go, Well, that doesn't quite work. I'll rewrite it. I go look, that's, I agree. Like, that's the bit I don't even think that works. But I have to have it in to make the other bits sort of connect. So I have to

Alex Ferrari 38:18
I always, I always used to do when I was editing, I used to always do this little trick. And this is an old editor trick where it's because clients or producers or someone would walk in and they would be you know, they, a lot of times they have to just especially when doing client work like for commercials, they have to justify why they're in the room. So you would throw them a Harry, you throw them a little like an obvious mistake. Yep. So obvious that it's something that they can sink their teeth in. Oh, that shot you need to cut five frames from that. Oh, oh, that's reverse. You made a mistake. Oh, I'm so sorry. And that way, they don't mess with anything else. So I know a lot of screenwriters to do similar things like that to they'll throw, they'll throw little things in there and let them read it and go, Oh, this scene here. I'm like, I know, you know, thank you. And they'll and they'll go in and tweak it. These are little tricks that they never do anything like that. I would never.

Arash Amel 39:11
I'll tell you why I wouldn't do it. Because it happens anyway. Any more mistakes

Alex Ferrari 39:24
Like you're, I'm so perfect. I've got to mess this up somehow.

Arash Amel 39:29
That's the mean it's Yeah. Yeah, it's usually I look at it and I just go when I'm having anything in. I have to tell myself don't apologize. Just hand it in. Just hand it in. Let them find the faults with it. And they will. And then you know, and then and then you get into your you know, it was I mean, I've been lucky and I've been lucky is the word but let's use lucky since Grace was born occur, which is a movie I made a few years ago, which was like this beautiful disaster, it was like, you know, was like a souffle, that kind of souffle, and then sort of then answered flight and collapsing on itself. It's kind of an over bait. And, you know, I learned a lot from that, like I learned, I learned a lot about the process, but also that the process is entirely dependent on who your partners are and who you work with. And the trust specifically around the producers who work who work with the, the voices that you have being inputted into the script, and and ultimately, you know, the directors that you work with, I really went away and to recalibrate it, we thought I went to a dark place like it was a dark I was like, oh my god, I wrote this script that everyone told me was great. And then I went along for the ride. And it became this monstrosity of, of, of infamy. And

Alex Ferrari 41:07
Don't be so hard on yourself, sir.

Arash Amel 41:10
I'm the hardest.

Alex Ferrari 41:10
But listen, listen, have you seen the room? Have you seen the room? Okay. I mean, there's, there's movies in the world, sir. Let's just fix it to perspective here.

Arash Amel 41:20
I don't know how much further above the room we are. But

Alex Ferrari 41:24
Are there midnight? screenings of grace of Monica Monaco everywhere? No, there isn't, sir.

Arash Amel 41:30
Let's just pay me it wasn't bad enough. Maybe that's

Alex Ferrari 41:34
No, you if you're gonna commit to being bad, you've got to go all in, I say, a scale of badness. Because there's bad and like, Oh, that's horrible. But then there's something that transcends, so it's so bad, it becomes good. And that is the genius of the room, when you watch it, which you can never watch it by yourself, you must watch it with groups. Because if you watch it by yourself, it's sad. But if you watch it with a group of people, you just go, Oh, my God, this is the most enjoyable thing I've ever seen. But it's so bad that it is endearing and good. Because of the authentic nature of it, you can't go out by the way, you also you can't intentionally go to make a bad movie, it just,

Arash Amel 42:12
You can't, you can't, I mean, it's like you can't in a way, you also can't intentionally go out to make a great movie, it's,

Alex Ferrari 42:19
It's gonna attempt it, you can attempt it. And I think you

Arash Amel 42:21
And I think you can potentially make a good movie. Yes, when I think to make a great movie, that's something that I think is only in the stars. And so So, you know, to the point that I'm thank you for your vote of confidence on. After that experience, I realized that actually, it's, it's the people who you work with. It's such a collaborative media, especially as a writer, because it's all about interpretation. So you have this vision in your head to sit at your keyboard, right, you write the movie that you believe is going to be sort of this spectacular piece of cinema. And you hand it over, you hand it over, from the beginning, from the producer, to the studio, to the director, to the casting director to the production designer, to so on, and so forth, Director photography, like it all just becomes layer upon layer of interpretation. And if you get it, right, and if you have got great partners, it does become like a team that that has a snowball effect that they then choose the correct people, and then it becomes a very cohesive unit and have creative vision. And so yes, you can have disagreements, yes. It's like, you know, I think this should go a little bit, you know, more emotional, I think should be less emotional, I think we should be read, I think they should be blue. But as long as you're all working to the same vision, these are just choices that continue to make it better. And it's not conflicting, in terms of well, you know, I think this should be an impressionist piece. And well, no, I think there should be a melodrama like that, that, you know, you're, you're already, you know, in trouble. And that happens very, very often. But it doesn't happen if you are careful in who your partners are. And that's basically for me being one of the guiding principles since since grace. And so far it's it, you know, two, three movies, a couple of movies that I've written, one that I've produced, it's, it's been, it's really held up.

Alex Ferrari 44:38
But I'll tell you, it is a miracle that any movie gets made, and any good movie gets made. It's an absolute miracle because as a writer, you put it on the page, and I've read scripts that were amazing. But when they're executed too much stuff happens. All those things you just laid out if things aren't hitting the mark all the way through there. So Many places that this can go askew, a production designer made decisions that screwed everything up. The DP makes decisions that screwed things up, the director does. The actors make choices, there's, there's all of the producers that the studios, the Edit, there's so many places where it can go bad, that it's a miracle that we ever get a good a good product. Honestly, it truly is. That's why that's the strongest personalities, the people who lead the directors and the producers, who are strong in their vision. And unwavering almost, is when you get these kinds of I mean, look at me, you look at a Nolan project, and or Scorsese project or Spielberg practically these are these are people who have such focus on their vision that they are the ones that are bringing it in and they're collab and they've chosen the collaborators appropriately to bring it into their vision. But man it's it's such a as a screen.

Arash Amel 45:58
Danny Boyle the other day, I think, when was it he said he called a psychotic because you have to have this sort of psychotic vision and drive and, and I as a director, I believe you do, I think I think as a writer, I feel you can't be psychotic

Alex Ferrari 46:20
Within your Joe Osterhaus.

Arash Amel 46:24
Business is a psychotic. Now as a writer, I think you really need to be the glue that holds everything together. From a story and creative standpoint. And this is one of the things that I've been kind of promoting, in terms of the vision of the writer as a as, as a partner and collaborator to the process, not like old Hollywood where and I think that's one of the real benefits of, of the change that we're seeing is that because movies are getting made quicker than ever before. The and they need to succeed on almost on a one to one, you know, gone are the days of we develop 10, we make one we make 10 one now, isn't it really it has to be one to one theatrical, it has to be one to one or, you know, people lose their jobs. And also on streaming, I mean, we've seen on Netflix, they it has to be that quality bar needs to be hit. Now, one of the issues that has historically been a problem is that the writer has always been seen as the typist, the person who gets the idea when they type something, and then hands it over to the people that make the movie. Whereas I feel that is actually part of the reason why movies can often fail, is that there isn't somebody that's sitting as the custodian of the story vision of the character vision of the and so and this isn't about ego, it's not about, you know, putting yourself at the center of the story. Because ultimately, I believe that director has to be its directorial vision. But the ability for anyone in the production starting from the director, to the producer, to the studio, to the production designer, to props, to be able to always turn back to the writer at some point, in those moments of doubt, and those moments where we need to cut a day, we need to compress these scenes, we don't know, you know, you know, that sofa that's really, you know, important to the story, like we don't know, like, where it should be positioned or how it should be because of the action that's happening. The ability to go back to somebody who, from the beginning, from from idea stage, all the way to the picture lock is consistent, is there is part of the process is doesn't need to be on set that all the time doesn't need to be, you know, I don't I maybe I'll spend like a week or two on set, and any movie that I make. And always there as as I tried to time it with scenes that are it's a lot of dialogue scenes scenes where it's just, for example, on rise, they shot all the basketball within the first four weeks, I was like how bad it makes you make a great deal, whatever you're doing, and then I'll come in for when I'm useful. Where you sort of start needing to make some of these sort of creative choices. So with the writer as being part of that process, you do end up taking out a lot of the uncertainty, a lot of the a lot of the Oh, well that thing's not working. Instead of trying to solve it in the easiest place, which is solving it in the script. You end up trying to just throwing the script aside and saying, Okay, let's try and patch this together. So you know, let's get rid of that scene and what, what else could we do? And you suddenly have the directors or the actors whoever making up something on the fly, as I've seen that and it has really detrimental effects. So this notion of, you know, the writers and I do a lot of work at the Writers Guild, and it's, you know, trying to impart this sort of lesson, this sense of identity for the writers, you know, you're not somebody who's just there who's just handed a script, you are Phonak, you have to understand how this whole process works. And you have to be useful, because often there'll be fights between people, and you will be the person of God we go. So there up an argument for it.

Alex Ferrari 50:32
So that's so is Indiana, really scared of snakes? And if he is why?

Arash Amel 50:39
And the beauty of it is, they see the script for as the Bible. And so you are the preacher that is interpreting the Bible, when they all when nobody else, when they fall exactly into that scenario, it's like, Well, is he you know, why is he scared of snakes? Would he throw the snake? Or would he? Is he?

Alex Ferrari 50:59
Oh, well, the better question is, who feeds all the snakes down there, where they just sitting there for 1000s of years, just waiting for him to show up? There's not a lot of logic here. But you know, when you suspend disbelief a little bit when you watch all these things? Are they eating themselves? Have they been there? 1000s of years, is what's kind of ecosystems down there? is like, how did they get in? What's going on? Like?

Arash Amel 51:24
What is it? Yeah, that's, that's, that's the stuff that you go, Oh, you guys can figure that out?

Alex Ferrari 51:30
You know, and that's so funny, too, because in today's world, someone would have asked that question, in 1979, when they were developing that script. No, no, no one ever seen anything like that before?

Arash Amel 51:44
That's cannibals next.

Alex Ferrari 51:45
This like just doesn't matter. It didn't even didn't even crossed anybody's mind at that point. Today, they'd be like, This doesn't make any sense. Why are the snakes there? What's going on? So let me tell me about your new project. Right? You've kind of hinted about it a little bit, it's going to be airing on, I think, this Friday on Disney plus, and I saw the trailer of it. And I'd love I'd love. Disney has this wonderful lineage of amazing sports movies that are based on real events, real life events, and it's kind of their little niche that they've had, for decades, really, for decades. So this is the next installment in that wonderful lineage. So tell me a little bit about it.

Arash Amel 52:26
So rise is a story of family and faith and basketball. I mean, it's really, we decided to approach this movie, which is based on the life of Yanis Antetokounmpo. And his family who began is really their journey of remarkably as illegal immigrants in in Greece, and the journey that they ultimately went on, and I don't think I need to publicize the honest and honest as achievements any more than I think he's done himself. He's done. All right. Yeah, I mean, it's most incredible, right at, you know, growth of a sportsman. And what's been really interesting was when I started the project in 2018, the first meeting was January 2019. He wasn't even an MPP. And so to be in, writing this story, which is incredible, on its own, have a family of legal immigrants from Nigeria, actually a husband and wife who were illegal immigrants, whose children were born in Greece, the country that they had emigrated to. But yet we're all we're outsiders, because in Greece, unless you've had laws changed now, but I think back then, unless you've had nine years of school education, and only the country legally, even if you're born there, you're not not considered Greek, you're still illegal. And so there was there was absolutely no part of legitimacy. So they basically had to sell stuff on the streets and hide when police and but also but were able to go to school, and was given the Greece's free education system, which is a very weird setup and in the country, that you can be an illegal immigrant, you can still go to school. And so Jonas and his brother finance is in fact, the Nasus first, but they discovered basketball from never having touched the ball. They discovered it, touch basketball, they at the age of 12, Indiana's for the first time that he saw some kids playing basketball on the playground and in a neighborhood and he started playing and the brothers saw basketball as an opportunity for them to not just further their own sort of future, but actually lift their entire family And first initially helping pay for their parents and helping the parents financially. But ultimately, it became about legitimizing. And legalizing the family, and bring in bringing the family together. It's it's the journey that they ended up going on. That was really such an A story of highs and lows in terms of when we started the process. It was, it was a real Pursuit of Happiness quality to the, the journey that they went on. And for me, that was always a, that was always a benchmark for us that, you know, we were making a sports movie, but we were really making a movie about the triumph of the human spirit. Family. And one of the key things for me, it was that sports movies always work, when it's not actually about winning or losing, it's not about winning or losing game. It's not, it's not it's the end of tin cup, that it doesn't matter if you're, if you're not going to lay up, which is going to hit it until you you know, you prove your worldview, and that is your growth and your your triumph. And, and really, this story is really about that, because we all know, we all know what happens. Yeah. And it's like it's and it actually helped us a lot that we're able to say, Okay, you think you know what happened to Yanis, but you don't know the emotional journey, and you don't know what was at stake. And you don't know when he was sitting there to be drafted. What truly His family was going through and what it meant. And hopefully that is that. Yeah, those stakes are what people take away from this. But But yeah, so

Alex Ferrari 56:53
I'm excited to see it.

Arash Amel 56:55
Yeah, we have a lot of you know, we've got big shoes to fill. I mean, some of the Titans and there's a real

Alex Ferrari 57:01
Miracle and yeah, it's it's I'm a sucker for a good sports movie. I don't care what the sports is. I saw that one that Disney did great about cricket. With John. Yes. In an arm, and I'm like, I mean, I don't Yeah, I mean, it's just like, it's there's this this formula of like, it just works so beautifully. So I'm a sucker for a good sports movie. So when I saw this, I was like, oh, yeah, I can't, I can't wait to watch this. So congrats on getting this out into the world. And, and we need something we do need. We need, we need a little little levity, a little something, we need hope in the world.

Arash Amel 57:40
People need hope and inspiration and a good release. I've been in some screenings and you know, bring some tissues, people people. And, you know, but a good way not, you know, because it is it is sort of, again, it's a it's a triumph. And you said Disney now, like, they know how to make these movies like,

Alex Ferrari 58:03
Oh, they've been doing this.

Arash Amel 58:05
We had, you know, the executives at Disney. And the way that they just kept just again, in the right way, just pushing us challenging us. Every step of the way. See the oh, they know how to make these movies. And they're really and we tested the movie a couple of times in the process. And it tested extremely well. But even then, it was like, oh, you know, we had like, this person's gave it a 98, not 100.

Alex Ferrari 58:38
We can't wait, can we tweak? Can we tweak that scene a little bit here? Can we can we shave off a few seconds here. But you want that you want to be you want in the in the development process and of any project of art, especially in Hollywood, you want to take it to the absolute limit of the best eight absolutely can't be within reason. And within a time period. That makes sense. So we're not there's 10 years later on the edit. Being an editor for many, many years. At a certain point, you gotta go, guys, it's done.

Arash Amel 59:11
That's right. That's right. Give you an idea of the timeline. I had the first meeting was in January 2019 was myself bunny and our producer, our executive chairs, Columbia, Disney. And I walked out with five bullet points. This is what the movie needs to be as a family and FE so ended the draft in a number of things that have to be in the script. These asked me in the script, and then I did about nine months of research and we had like, the family opened the doors and be honest and talk to the agents and all that stuff and coaches. And then I wrote a treatment over Christmas 2020. Disney, what immediately went go to script. How did the script March 2020 April 2020 And then it can came on our director. And then we were off to the races. So, in terms of turnaround, and we were right in the middle of a pandemic, as well, it was, you know, when I say the speed has really changed, you went from January 2019, to be to June 2022. Release. I mean, that's, that that's a pace that, that I think in the old days, it was unheard of. And what was really wonderful, was on the eve of principal photography, I pulled out those five bullet points. And I was like, Hey, guys, actually fixed it, we did it. So you know, it's when it works. It works. When it when the process works, it's a joy.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:49
Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions, ask all of my guests. Is there something that you wish? If if there was one thing that you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career, what would that be?

Arash Amel 1:00:59
I wish it was the advice that I eventually got. About 10 years ago from my attorney, who is an extremely experienced man, he, he represents all the greats, Chris McQuarrie, and David Kerr, and so on. And he just leaned into me whenever dinner right at the beginning, and I just signed. And he said, Look, no matter what you do in this business, just make sure you stick around. As tastes change, culture changes, cinema changes, technology changes. But if you just stay around, stick around, make sure you're not a flash in the pan, make sure it's not make sure you're here for the long haul, you'll find that you'll you'll, you'll see success. And that is really I think, the lesson of it's just stick around. Just this year,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:58
It's a great bit as a great piece of advice. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Arash Amel 1:02:05
Patients

Alex Ferrari 1:02:07
Mine too my friend. That's my answer as well. Because as you know, the second you had the idea to become a screenwriter. Hollywood just showed up with money and said as much as you want, and whenever you want, what would you like to write next? And Danny Jones, the next? What do you want? What do you want?

Arash Amel 1:02:23
Yes, that's right, patients, patients in it throughout the whole process, because it's all slow. I mean, it's just and you also get, you know, it's things that you set your heart on and apart and they fall apart in any process. I've had films fall apart, you know, during soft prep, where got bought, like, we're pulling the pulling the plug, and it's just like you said, it's such a it's a miracle that any movie gets made. And it's a joy to have one be made. But it also takes a huge huge amount of time and there's so many uncertainties and you know, the things that you wrote that you didn't think maybe were that good sending it made and people love them as movies or things that you thought is the best thing I've ever written it just dies like as a script it's

Alex Ferrari 1:03:24
It's it's it's brutal This isn't it's not for the faint of heart this business that's for sure it is yeah, I remember watching on actor studio I saw Dave Chappelle on the actor studio and he said he said no, nobody you speak to up here is a weak person. Nobody if you've made it in this business, you are not a weak person. And I thought that was very, very true because if you've made it to a certain level if you're just hanging around for 15 years making a living in one way shape or form in this business you're not a weak person you're not a weak person. And last question yes three of your favorite films of all time.

Arash Amel 1:04:08
Easy in no particular order The Godfather back to the future a lot.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:14
I mean, can we can we just say the back the future is one of the most perfect films every night.

Arash Amel 1:04:17
It is I watch it every couple of months and that's not an exaggeration it's just I'm obsessed with it. I just it's one of those things that I don't know how that movie became what it became like it just it's just perfection

Alex Ferrari 1:04:35
And and they started shooting it with the wrong actor and then went back can you imagine

Arash Amel 1:04:42
They started this split with a fridge

Alex Ferrari 1:04:47
The whole evolution of the of the whole show of the whole script is fascinating but to shoot with a two weeks with with another lead actor, and then and then they all go yeah, this is it. You know, we didn't make the right choice. It's nothing new. It's just not the right fit, and had to start from scratch with a new

Arash Amel 1:05:08
First placeplace,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:10
Right with the guy that they wanted in the first place. But he was on a hit show and all this kind of good stuff. But I think it helped that you had Steven Spielberg sitting behind your gun. Go ahead. And 1985 Steven Spielberg. Yeah,

Arash Amel 1:05:20
I mean, that's I'm, you know, he had the keys to universal at that point.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:25
I mean, I mean, to a certain, to a certain extent, but to a certain extent, Steven continues to have the keys. And, by the way, I and I've, I can't exaggerate this enough. I've spoken to probably 40 or 50 people on my show, have all had a connection to Steven Spielberg in their, in their development in their career.

Arash Amel 1:05:45
Oh, I, you know, I'm a child of the 80s.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:50
No, but no, but like, personal hand, not just, oh, no, everybody has been affected by his movies. I'm talking about him personally, taking a meeting, connecting him to somebody, like developing a project. It's fascinating how many people Steven Spielberg has helped in this business, and continues to do so to this day, writing, sending handwritten letters to directors, saying, Hey, I just watched your movie. It was fantastic, great job. Who does this? Who does this? It's old school. That's old school.

Arash Amel 1:06:23
It's old school. It's a school that you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:27
I hope they listen to these interviews. I hope they listen to these interviews in the future and can think about like the like, what's diehard and I'm like, then I have to slap you. And I have to slap you

Arash Amel 1:06:42
You know, this generation that it's it.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:45
And I'll leave you with this. I was once color grading a music video for one of the biggest music video directors. He was like 25. But he was one of the biggest music directors in the world working with all JC and all the big guys, right? And I go, Hey, do you want this video? Do you want this shot to be kind of like Blade Runner esque. And he's like, what's Blade Runner? Oh my god. And I'm like you're a music video director and you've never studied Ridley Scott. Are you out of your I almost got out of the chair and walked away. I'm like, I was so disgusted. I'm like you have to walk. I mean, are you kidding? So there is that? Absolutely.

Arash Amel 1:07:18
I wanna I want to I know, I know you got about but I wanted to just say one thing to your point about directors. Yes. I feel I mean, some exceptional directors coming through right now. Yes, there is. Absolutely. But I do think that when you look at the all the directors that you mentioned, of a certain generation, so Jim Cameron Ridley Scott,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:41
Steven Spielberg,

Arash Amel 1:07:43
Yeah, my camera and started off making props. Right, and drawing posters. And I, you know, and working his way through that whole common studio and you had Widley was an art director for British

Alex Ferrari 1:08:03
TV 1000 commercials before he shot his first feature.

Arash Amel 1:08:07
Yeah, in his early 40s. Right, Stephen? Yes, Prodigy, right. But at the same time, the education he got doing TV and you know, Sugarland Express and then you know, all of that cool. Cool. Yeah, it there is a sort of apprenticeship. I feel that those old school directors kind of went all somehow went through the industry like there was no Oh, you made for music videos. Great. Here's $150 million you know, and

Alex Ferrari 1:08:50
Yeah know, there is a crack there's a craftsmanship.

Arash Amel 1:08:53
You even look at Fincher you look at the journey that he's been on you look at you look at the work that he's done in music videos you look at its there is a pedigree and a journey and I kind of feel that as much in writing as when it's true and writing I think it's also true in directing, but then when you just need to be a little bit more patient. Like I just feel that craft has to develop craft, you just can't show up and just be this all seeing.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:23
It takes time. takes time. Hedgecock took time Kubrick took time all of them they take it takes time to be good at anything in this life. But let alone the craft. And I'll leave you with one story because you said Cameron and corpsman Do you know how Cameron got hired to do Parana to the spawning? No, he was working on a I think it was called bat Battlestar something whether he was working as a prop guy. And he had a slab of meat and there were some maggots that were in it and they were he was doing close to the shooting. The close ups was doing a second unit. You shouldn't and then corpsman walked by and he If he would say, he turned on the camera and then the maggots would perform for him. And then he would cut the camera in the maggots would not and he's like, how the hell is this kid? Directing maggots? So what he did is he connected the slab of meat to some electricity and he would just turn on the ad was shocked to me and then they would do this and then he didn't know that. Oh, that was like if he could direct magnets he could direct the one of my movies. Let's give him Piranha 2

Arash Amel 1:10:31
That is an incredible story.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:33
Oh my god, I hear I listen, I'll tell you from my doing all these interviews all these years, I get the best stories I get when I hate them. When I stopped the record button. Best Story I wish I could do. All the off air comments and questions and stories I get are, oh, God, I could be here for hours. But Robin, thank you so much for coming on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you continued success and and thank you for helping, you know, younger screenwriters and filmmakers coming up and hopefully they'll, they'll listen to this conversation and be inspired to take their time. Just a little bit more.

Arash Amel 1:11:08
Just a little bit. And then a patient's goes goes a long, long way.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:12
I appreciate you my friend!

Arash Amel 1:11:13
Thank you likewise!

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BPS 211: Writing & Directing an Independent Streaming Series with Aram Rappaport

Aram Rappaport is filmmaker based in New York. Originally from Los Angeles, he began writing, directing and producing in his late teens including the one-take experimental film HELIX starring Alexa Vega.

He later adapted, produced and directed Max Berry’s acclaimed novel into the film SYRUP starring Amber Heard, Shiloh Fernandez and Kellan Lutz and wrote, produced and directed the original film THE CRASH starring John Leguizmao, Frank Grillo, Minnie Driver and Dianna Agron.

Set in the future when the US economy is on the brink of yet another massive financial crisis, The Crash tells the story of Guy Clifton, a federally-indicted stock trader, who is secretly enlisted by the federal government to help thwart a cyber-attack aimed at the US stock markets – an attack that could permanently cripple the economy.

THE GREEN VEIL is his first episodic project.

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?

He also runs the hybrid creative agency / production studio The Boathouse for which he’s created and directed campaigns for such brands as Apple, Netflix, Victoria’s Secret and SingleCare amongst others.

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Aram Rappaport 0:00
Or a production designer or an actor or a costume designer. If you sort of show up and tell someone you know, we can't afford that, or we lost the light, we're going to have to shoot it differently. You know, as a director, all you can do is really maintain like this even keel positivity around. Even though you know that it's probably a complete fuckup you're like, No, it's gonna work. This is gonna work. This is the right thing. You know, let's, let's keep going.

Alex Ferrari 0:26
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 a 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 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. I'd like to welcome to the show Aram Rappaport. How're you doing?

Aram Rappaport 1:20
I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 1:22
Thank you so much for coming on the show, brother. I appreciate it. We had one of your compadres on last week. Mr. Little guy, your new guy coming up John Leguizamo.

Aram Rappaport 1:32
Arch nemesis my arch nemesis. I hope I never speak to him again. But he's semi talented. So you know, I put up with them.

Alex Ferrari 1:37
You put up with him? Yeah, he gets the financing sometimes. So you know.

Aram Rappaport 1:41
Yeah. So, you know, I mean, don't give him a big head. He's gonna watch this and think he's, you know, powerful or something.

Alex Ferrari 1:47
Exactly. But, but I appreciate you coming on man. You've had you've had a heck of an adventure, you know, coming up to up the ladder as well. You've got some shrapnel, as well. Yeah. Without question, some indie film, some indie film shrapnel along the way, as well. So first question is Brother How and Why in God's green earth? Did you want to do this? business?

Aram Rappaport 2:08
The business in general? Oh, my God, what a? What a good question. I've never asked myself.

Alex Ferrari 2:15
I think I never did either.

Aram Rappaport 2:18
Right, exactly. It's such, you're just like, wait a sec, like now, existentially, I have to think about things. No, I mean, my, you know, originally I wanted to, to act and be an actor. And so, you know, I grew up in LA, my dad was a writer. And then he ultimately, you know, taught screenwriting as well. So when I was, you know, growing up in sort of training as an actor, and, you know, went through a lot of class and did that, you know, he had always said, you should really write for yourself, because that's going to, you know, be a mechanism to help you, you get things made. And so, you know, organic, sort of moved into writing a little bit, and then I realized, you know, it just feels better to sort of control the narrative from behind the camera. And really, you know, I was so interested in being on set, I would, you know, I did a couple little things. And I would always, you know, what are we shooting now, what's next, and, you know, the director would I was, but you know, I, you just stand over there until it's your turn to, you know, say your lines, but it's sort of interested me to be more, you know, mechanically, you know, involved in the process. And so, I think organically for me, you know, directing just helped control the narrative. And I think throughout the years, I've sort of learned that my skill set is really just, you know, helping everybody else who's actually talented, like, see the vision, you know, and motivating them to, to ultimately, you know, put their all into a project. And I think, sort of the only place for someone like that, that is inherently like, you know, not talented, but like, can rally the troops would be, you know, that leadership role, you know, to put it mathematically, but that that's so that's, you know, that's where I ended up and I, you know, I love it, and I think, you know, my, my trajectory, sort of odd, you know, you started with indie film, you know, did a few films and then and then sort of transitioned into commercials aggressively and did you know, for the last 10 years, been doing a lot of commercials and founded an agency called the boathouse where we're an agency studio hybrid. And so we do, we do a lot of commercials. And that's really, you know, where I've like, honed my skills, both on the storytelling side as well as really like, you know, from a production standpoint, and now this project to Greenville is like the first I mean, outside of Latin instruments, but this is really the first sort of like narrative driven thing I've done in quite a while so it was a really interesting transition back into that

Alex Ferrari 4:40
There is a an insanity isn't there for us to do what we do. It's because look at the beginning of the beginning, it's easy look when everything's going well, if it's never well, all the way it's never ever, ever, never never ever, like the doors all open. The money just flies in all you have is time and money to make your projects. That doesn't happen. But what When you're coming up, though, it's so hard. It's and there's so much. No, no so many noes against you. The grind is so hard you don't even there's no guarantee that anything that you're thinking of doing is going to actually come into life. That's right. Yeah, of course. How did how did you keep going in those early years, like when you were just grinding out short films and trying to just get your stuff seen and made and just just try to get your foot in the door?

Aram Rappaport 5:29
Yeah, I mean, so, you know, I never went to college. I never, you know, I, my mentality has always been sort of, like, you know, just get on the horse and pretend you can ride and, you know, see what happens. So, I mean, I admittedly made a lot of mistakes, right? You know, I mean, I would, you know, have always been very good at sort of pitching the vision or selling the vision, scrapping together a little bit of money, raising money, you know, pitching people on this sensational thing that we're going to do, and then really falling on my face, in the product in the production element, because I just didn't know what I was doing. So I think for me, it's a little bit backwards, right? Like, you know, a lot of people like, you know, I went to film school, I really honed my craft, and then I had a hard time getting into the business, I was sort of the opposite. I was very bullish in raising money and finding ways to produce things in a scrappy way, and then fell completely flat on the execution because that's where I was learning. I had never done it before. And I was just like, I'm, you know, this sensational, I'm gonna direct and do a movie and do this and do that, sort of usurped the craft itself. And I think that, you know, on my personal journey has been, like, really important, you know, moving away from this, you know, I want to do it, because it seems cool to you know, this is a craft and like, what am I trying to say, with these, you know, with these projects,

Alex Ferrari 6:47
So you were you were you were flying the plane while you were building the plane while you're flying?

Aram Rappaport 6:50
Absolutely! No, no. And I mean, we all are, I mean, I'm sure you have stories, where you're just like, I have no idea how I'm gonna shoot this this scene, but like, it might work. It might not work.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
It's, you know, isn't it fascinating dude, because so many of us and you know, and again, I had the pleasure of talking to some really insane legendary filmmakers, of course, of course, and I talked to them, and I asked them director questions, just direct questions that only a director doesn't matter what level you're at, you could be a short film director, or you could be a $20 million Oscar winner doesn't matter. But that what you just said is so indicative of a director like, Okay, we're here. Yeah, I don't know how we're gonna do this today. Let's, let's go. Because everyone thinks that the directors like Hitchcock, or like Fincher, that like did the shot 50,000 times in previous, and he's just basically just shooting with, with real people that get the shot, because he's already shot the whole movie and edited the entire movie and breathe is over a year, right? And then he's just like executing his vision. There's like, no wiggle room. And basically, that's the new generate that the 21st century Hitchcock in the way of approaching the project. But so many, most, if any, if not almost all, there's always scenes that just like, oh, well, the sun's not, says not where it needs to be, Oh, we lost, we lost the location. And so all my storyboards are gone. So you just have to kind of sit there and figure it out. But I wanted to kind of demystify that for people listening, because a lot of young filmmakers think that, Oh, you must be you're working with, you know, John, and you're working on these big projects with these big stars and all this kind of stuff. And you, you have it all figured out. And I and I know that you walk in with a plan, but the Fit hits the shed, bro, you got to roll and that's what makes a director is how to adjust and compromise and move through the stuff that's thrown at you all day. Correct?

Aram Rappaport 8:41
Totally. And I think it's like, you know, it's crisis leadership, right? Like, you, it's, it's, you know, everything's gonna go wrong. And that's okay. Like, you really have to embrace that. And I think the thing that I've learned, you know, in the beginning, you walk on set, and you think it's really exciting and sort of like it's a drug to have the power. Yes, yes. Right. I mean, you walk you walk on, and you think everybody's asking me things. Everyone's listening to me, I have all the answers. But but but then as you as you get very bad reviews on things, and people really sort of bring you back down to earth afterwards, you realize, you know, this is such a collaborative process, that it's okay to, to bring those trusted sort of pieces together, whether it's a cinematographer production designer, whatever, and be like, I know what I'm trying to say with this scene. I don't know how we're gonna get there. Let's all talk about it. And I think that's the biggest lesson that I've sort of learned over the years is this, you know, if you as a director have have have leadership and vision, but you can still be humble and execution, you know, you're going to thrive in a different way than if you have to pretend that you know everything because no one doesn't. Everybody says they had no idea how to I mean, Spielberg has stories about how the sun was in the wrong spot. And he's like, I don't know and he's obviously a genius on a different level where you think, you know, even though that son was in a different spot, he probably had eight ideas. And you know, he ran them by a cinematographer. And one of them was like the thing that they were going to do. But I think at all levels, I mean, especially for young directors, it's like, you know, rely on the people that you're hiring and and say, you know, I don't know this is my vision, though, that I'm steadfast and how do we get there, you know, and you're still going to be well respected.

Alex Ferrari 10:22
I love that this the you said the addictive kind of drug of the power. Oh, my God, like, and I have I'll tell the story real quick. When I was coming up, I made a short film that got a lot of attention around town and all that kind of stuff. And I had a I was like, one of the first to shoot like, which airsoft guns. So I was using airsoft guns was an action movie and all this kind of stuff. And I was using muzzle flashes and posts and stuff like that. So another filmmaker, another crew found out about us and like, Hey, man, can we rent your guns? And we're like, Sure. So I went down to the set. This is in Florida, like in the middle of South Florida, somewhere, went out one night, and I had a bag full of soft, soft.

Aram Rappaport 11:07
Bed full of weapons.

Alex Ferrari 11:08
Oh, no, no. This is early, early 2000s. So I'm walking in and then we go into the trailer where the director is, and the amount of pomp pompous, like arrogance of this guy. The he was three, three steps short of just having a monocle and a frickin bullhorn. I'm not joking. Like he was so far gone, bro. So I brought in he didn't know that I was a direct or anything. He was just talking to me like what's a PA? Which was like, even more disrespectful by just let it play it out.

Aram Rappaport 11:39
Right! Yeah. What do you think? It's his set?

Alex Ferrari 11:43
Whatever don't care you're gonna give me some money for these guns for the weekend. Sure. I'll take the cash. So he took the shotgun I shit you not do took the shotgun pulled out at a viewfinder. I'm not a viewfinder and pointed a shotgun at himself and said these will do and I'm like, Oh my God, even then I was still coming up. But even then I knew this

Aram Rappaport 12:07
Guy's out of his mind. Right, right. Right. Right. Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 12:10
Oddly enough, the movie didn't go anywhere. But but it's just it's just the the joy to

Aram Rappaport 12:18
Call him out by name called bush.

Alex Ferrari 12:19
I wish I wish I did. I didn't even give the the memory bank and space for his name, the name of the movie. None of it. I don't remember anything other than like a couple of things that happened that night. But I never forgot him. I'm like, Okay, so that's an example of what I don't want to be as a totally, totally. So. So alright, so when you got your so you've been making these short films, and then you get your first feature off the ground? How did you get that first feature? Which is always the toughest one to get off the ground? How did you convince someone to give you cash?

Aram Rappaport 12:49
So you know, I think um, so the first thing that I did was this. So I had a friend, Thomas Decker, who's an actor, and he was in I forgot what it was a show called The Sarah Connor Chronicles on flowers for a while. The Yeah, the Terminator thing. Right? Is that Yeah. And he played he played John Connor. And this is like, right when that show was coming out.

Alex Ferrari 13:13
Yeah, of course. I love that show. I used to love that show.

Aram Rappaport 13:16
Yeah, yeah. It was a great show with Lena Hedy. It was like, very, it was a very exciting to end here. He had wanted to be a director, and he is a director, he drinks a lot of like, very cool stuff. And he, he went out with sort of this group of friends, you know, in LA, growing up this sort of creative little think tank, and he said, You know, I'm gonna go make a feature. I'm not gonna do a short, I'm just gonna make a feature, I have no money. I'm gonna direct I'm just gonna get a bunch of my friends. And we're just all going to be in it. And he did that thing. And he put me in it. And you know, I think Megan Fox was an insight. Like, there's Brian Austin Green at the time, like some very, like, cool people did this thing. Who knows what happened to it, but it was super inspiring to see him. You know, he did that thing. And I was like, Oh, yeah. Wow. Like, he just pulled favors and cleanup, asked his friends to be in this thing. And it was, that was my impetus for saying, you know, oh, yeah, I want to go and pull the same favors. And, you know, and see if I can do it also. And so, you know, sort of, to a lesser degree, I mean, I didn't have a show, like he did, but I, you know, I was able to pull some favors with people and, specifically, you know, Leonard Martin's daughter, Jessie, who's, you know, a great friend who I've known forever, you know, she really likes supported it and was like, you know, what, I'll do makeup on this thing. And like, you can use my house and like, well, you know, this is like, right out of high school. And she was just show some sort of like the process and really, like brought in some, some cool pieces. And that was like, the first thing that was like how I did a first sort of feature. I brought in a cinematographer who was also sort of coming up and wanted a feature, you know, that's also another like, sort of piece of advice is this. You know, a lot of people do short films, right? Like, why not just do a like a really shitty 75 minute short film and then people want credits and they want to be a part of it. You know, one needs to be a part of a short film, but everybody needs to be a DP on a on their first feature. So like those are, you know, thinking outside the box in that way, like is super helpful leverage. I think that that was my first real thing where I thought, you know, let me try directing and I'll figure it out and you know, totally stuck then there was another thing that sucked another thing that sucks but

Alex Ferrari 15:16
Did is like my when I did my first feature I did exactly I think got a bunch of my friends over in LA. Yeah, this insane cast together of all these comedians shot the whole damn thing and like eight days, I was like, You know what, I'm going to dp this thing myself. Yeah. And you have to, you have to and I just like, I'll figure it out. And I'm like, if I could get it down the middle, I'll fix it in post because I'm welcome to the caller. So I'll do that. And you just and you just kind of go for it. And at the end, you're just like, hey, you know, I gotta make it was like it was just me proving to myself, I could finally get a feature made after like, so many years of doing commercials and music videos and other things I've done. I was just like, Screw it. And then it just worked out. But But yeah, you're absolutely right that and that's a big tip for anyone listening. Shorts. No one cares about truly, no one. It could be honestly the Oscar nominated or winning short film. No one cares. But on IMDb, it says feature, it adds a lot more value to people and, and they will build the work for you for free that work for you for cheap discount, just for the shot. It's a great piece of advice.

Aram Rappaport 16:22
And it feels it feels like it feels like now, there's just so many more mechanisms to create something that's feature length, or episodic length, versus just doing something because shorts are great. Like, um, you know, there's some fabulous shorts that are insanely cool. Oh, but I don't, but I don't know. And I don't know enough about that world that you think like, I feel like you know, even 10 years ago, you know, there were shorts that would come out of Sundance and be greenlit at a feature at a mini major, something where you would do like a Fox Searchlight, you know, based on shares, it feels like that just doesn't happen anymore. It was like, at a time when it was hard to get a short made. It was like, wow, that's a proof of concept. Now you're kind of like, it's this weird, aggressive. You know, we're at this place in indie film where you were, you know, excited. It's exciting. You can get things made for cheap, it's also equally as hard. But I think it's just it's it's you have to be so relentless. And that that's such a good point. Like, you know, if it's a feature, there's like some great talent that just will want to be involved. And that's what happened on the Greenvale actually, we had the cinematographer that I shot a lot of commercials with, he hadn't Luca, he hadn't done Luca fontina. He hadn't done a feature yet, or he hadn't done anything in the narrative space. And ours was a show. But it's still it was it was a narrative and he just thought I need I need this right now. Like I need this, I'm gonna kill it. My agents are gonna, you know, this is this is going to bring me to the next level on them on the feature side, and so he you know, and we paid him a lot less than we would pay him on commercials. And you know, in the end, he did it. And I think that and that's why you know exactly what you just said,

Alex Ferrari 17:50
Because he needs and I think nowadays the feature is the proof of concept. Right? Anybody can make a short in one shorts were hard to make, then that was a thing. But now that anyone can make a short at a very high level. Now you've got to like, just keep going. Just keep like I was at a festival once I saw 45 minutes short. I'm like, What's wrong with you? Yeah, just keep going. Get up like 20 Morning. Come on, do just just break 70 minutes like 68 to 70 minutes and you officially call yourself totally soulless keep going.

Aram Rappaport 18:21
And I you know what, my first thing that we just sort of I guess got distribution was this thing called the innocent that I was kidnapped true story in Chicago when I was 18. And we I turned it I've adapted it into this single take thriller that Alexa Vega girl from Star spike in Star Wars Spy Kids. She she started and it was this one take thing and we did it in Chicago, you know, in choreographed and and I learned how to use steadicam. And I shot it. And that's something where I'm like, it's going to be a feature. You watch it and you're like, this could have been a short, like, it could have been 10 minutes. 15 minutes, it would have been brilliant. It was 80 minutes, and we all fell asleep. But you know, I learned I learned through that process. You know, that's where I was like, you know, I want it to be a feature it's and by the way we had so much support because there's a features is one take thing and ever you know is Oh no. Yeah, you built

Alex Ferrari 19:16
You built up look, it's like a system when you do some of these indie projects. It's kind of like you're building up the carnival. So you you're the carnival barker. So when I did my first big short, and I had like, nobody and nothing. It was all like, Dude, it's all visual effects. It's gonna be an action thing. And I had like these storyboards and I had our concept art, and I made it look like it was the next excellent, you know, and everyone was like, I'm just want to see how this guy can even pull this off. And that's how many people jumped on board work for free. They're like, I just want to see you either fail or make it either one's going to be fantastic.

Aram Rappaport 19:48
100% 100% And it's like it's like you. It is like a traveling circus because you're like you're on location with people. You will never spend carnies before. carnies. Dude, we're totally kind of new I think like we're like sort of like highfalutin society societal, you know, boudoir carnies, but like it's bullshit. Like we go out there and we don't shower for a month. You're like eating shitty food. You know, not you like your grandma's catering with baked bagels that she found in the back of,

Alex Ferrari 20:16
If you're lucky, if you're lucky, if you're lucky, you get that?

Aram Rappaport 20:19
No, it's true. It's true. It's so true. No, but it's but but it's so exciting. Because you're like, you know, it's so much fun. And every step of the way you think like the only people that go through that process? You know, the only people that really not not if the film is good, who cares? Like if it's good or not, like, if you can get through the process, like, it's because you believe that your vision was like, absolutely unequivocably untold in any other way. And like, that's the thing that gets you whether it's true or not, who cares? You know, there's reviewers, there's this, there's distributors, but the fact that you can just get through that process means that you had such like resolute power, to be able to not give up on that thing. And that's like, the most fun to me, is challenging yourself, where you're just like, we shot nights, we you know, is an it's a 20 hour day, do I try to get one more take when everyone's exhausted? Because I feel like I need it? Or do I? Or do we just go home and give up and say, you know, this was good enough, it's probably going to cut you know, and it's those moments that challenge you on such an emotional level and a physical level, you know, and you think you get through that. And there's such a rush at the end of production, where you're just like, we did it, like we did that thing. Who knows if it's good, but we did it, you know, we got through that.

Alex Ferrari 21:32
And that's like, when Kubrick you know, would say he's like, hey, you know, we're all here. They built the sets, stay until we get it right. At five takes later, we can move on.

Aram Rappaport 21:45
Totally, totally, totally. And that's like, I feel like the one thing I've learned in commercials is sort of how to cut and how to, you know, sort of maintain the sanctity of like those performances and like, you know, protect the actors in that process. In a way that, you know, especially for this most recent thing, where we shot like eight episodes, and you know, five, we shot like 250 300 pages. So we were shooting 15 to 20 pages a day with with a single camera. And it all looks really pretty.

Alex Ferrari 22:13
I mean, you did a single on this single camera.

Aram Rappaport 22:17
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We will, because it's so so this is another thing. So Luca RDP really did not want to shoot with two cameras. Fair enough. And he wanted, you know, and by the way, like, I would challenge him on that, because I'm like, we're never going to make our days if you're trying to light a single frame, you know, we need to cover this in the right way. It turned out that he was just so fluid in the way that he lit and these images look like, I don't know if you've seen any of it, but the images Yeah. Yeah, they look like Norman Rockwell painting.

Alex Ferrari 22:46
Like, you read my mind. They look like paintings. He did a fantastic job and the production design in the, in the the wardrobe and the way was all laid out.

Aram Rappaport 22:53
And yeah, it's a gritty, it's a gritty world. And you think like, you know, that was one of those things where I just thought, you know, I've worked with this guy and commercial so long, I know how we were gonna, you know, we have a shorthand, you know, if I'm trying to sort of cut in my head. And, and, and we we can maybe make it work with one camera, you know.

Alex Ferrari 23:10
So that's, that's the that's the other thing that a lot of filmmakers don't understand, too. So like, let's say, you're a young filmmaker, you get your first project out. And let's say there's a DP, who he just super advanced, has done $10,000,000.15 $20 million movies, and he's like, You know what, I'm gonna do your $100,000 movie. Yeah, like the story. That is a death sentence. Because they it's a death sentence. Right? I've been there too. Because if they're used to those kinds of resources, they don't understand how to make $100,000 worth of resources work. You can go the other way. Yeah, it's really hard to go back. So like I you know, you can't give James Cameron $100,000 to make a movie like He's incapable of talent. He actually I actually knew somebody who worked with him. And he was talking to somebody on a set. And the, and the guy said, oh, yeah, I just made my features like, oh, great, man. Great. You know what it did? He goes, Yeah, yeah, just, you know, grab the 100,000 bucks. And I meant to make it. And you could see Cameron's face, the computer started to crack. He couldn't understand. He's like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so far, he's been so far, so long, James Cameron, that he couldn't grasp the idea of 100 Like, it's just what

Aram Rappaport 24:28
Go and by the way, we should all be so lucky. Like, I would love to not grasp the idea of like, I don't I don't do work around ideas that like

Alex Ferrari 24:37
I don't like what I'm like, you've been James Cameron for 30 years. So you don't understand these things. At least got for 30 years and you've shot 10,000 commercials and

Aram Rappaport 24:51
I was about to mention that because you know, going you know to having done commercials for a while now. You know, whether it's like, you know for Apple or Victoria's Secret or whatever, I mean, those, everyone says they don't have any money. But when it comes to selling products, if, if a client believes that that's a, if there's a piece of creative that's going to help, the money will be there. It's so different, you know, when you go back to doing something on the independent level where you just think I can't convince anybody that this crazy one or

Alex Ferrari 25:23
That I need the technical crane for five days.

Aram Rappaport 25:25
Yeah, exactly. We can't, we can't do it. So that was, but that was also super exciting to me. Because for me, it was like, you know, having having, I don't want to say it's a sterile world, it's a very exciting world being doing commercials, but like, you know, you're reporting directly to a purpose. You know, it's it's, it's selling brother, you're selling product. That's its commerce. I mean, that's, that's, that's the thing. It's not art. So it's a different, it was a totally different mindset, which was such a rush to be like back in that space and be like, oh, yeah, no, I don't have as much money. But I also can just do it the way I want to do it, I can just, I can go do this thing.

Alex Ferrari 25:57
And I don't have to spend, you know, eight hours lining a bottle?

Aram Rappaport 26:01
Who? Exactly, exactly, exactly. And it's one of those things where, like, you know, it plays into, I feel like, you know, I always try to like double down on like, what's my purpose? Like, why? Why do I want to do this? Why I'm, you know, and like, at the end of the day, you know, you want people to really connect with what you make. And I feel like that that's been a through line for me in terms of, you know, any commercial I do, there's the really good ones that like people are like, wow, that was a good commercial, there's the really crappy ones that still perform well. And you think, Oh, I'm glad it worked. But oh, I just wish it would have created better. And those are the moments that remind me that like, oh, yeah, like, I want to be a storyteller. Like, my number one goal is not just to do a job or facilitate a thing. It's like, you know, I want to be able to tell narratives that like really, you know, really, really hit and so it's, it's, you know, that's why it's nice, you know, it's fun to fight for, you know, anything to you know, to create anything linearly. I mean, it's and it's a miracle that ever gets paid, period. No, it's a mere I mean, it's a miracle. I mean, it's impossible, but especially in COVID now, and COVID.

Alex Ferrari 26:59
Now, oh, that's even worse. It's even, it's even more impossible to get anything made.

Aram Rappaport 27:02
It's possible. And John reminded me of that every day as he was getting rammed up the nostril with a COVID test telling me that he, you know, he was doing this for me, and, you know, so, you know, I thought he was gonna walk every time he got, like, I said, we could move to the, you know, the anal COVID tests if he wanted, but he, you know, he's stuck with the nose.

Alex Ferrari 27:25
So don't be stuck with the nose, you know, but you know, that's, that's, that's John. But I'm just saying Meryl Streep would have done whatever it needed to be. I'm just saying she would have done whatever Daniel Day would have done whatever it took. I'm just saying,

Aram Rappaport 27:39
Can you follow up with John on that, actually, because that's a very good, that's a very good point.

Alex Ferrari 27:44
I mean, I heard Daniel Day and Denzel day where I had no problem with whatever it was.

Aram Rappaport 27:49
John, what I tell the story a lot just because I like the article exists. But you know, in China, like during, you know, during the Olympics, I read some, there was some article that said, you know, China brings back, you know, anal COVID swabs for tourists at the airport manual, anal COVID swabs. And I brought this article to set and showed it to John and I was like, John, this is the new this is the new norm, so we're swapping out the nose for the you know, the anus, and and then I just walked out and I walked out and I said, you know, I'm like, It's not today today, you know, we're still doing the nose. But tomorrow the hospital is going to bring in the guys to do the the AMA. It's a different crew. And you know, I just wanted to let you know, and you know, anyways, great day. I'll see you out there. And then his assistant came running out and he's like, is is that are we doing the animals is that what was that a thing? I'm like, No, it's not a fucking thing. What do you tell him? Of course not. Why would we ever do that? That's crazy. I'd rather get COVID What do you mean? So that was that was that's my relationship.

Alex Ferrari 28:48
Oh my god. That's amazing. Ah, absolutely. The best story I'm going to use I'm going to tell that story everywhere

Aram Rappaport 28:54
That's why you can google it exists I'm not just like some

Alex Ferrari 28:57
No no but your story with John

Aram Rappaport 29:00
Yeah. That's that's an exclusive that's

Alex Ferrari 29:04
So are we are we are we doing the Adel swaps are we

Aram Rappaport 29:07
I'm like tell him Yeah, you should know you should have you should have you should have kept that going for a little bit. I should have filmed it the next day and had seen you should know

Alex Ferrari 29:14
You should have done you should have done a whole Jackass thing. Like they can't bring it and bring that like get one of the grips that John didn't see the guy doing it like

Aram Rappaport 29:25
100% Meanwhile, we're doing this like super deep dark, you know, 50s Drama on oppression and he's standing there in his like, you know, 50s garb like Wait, am I getting anal swab? Like what what's happening here, you know,

Alex Ferrari 30:07
Alright, so as directors, when we're on a set, there's always that one day, that the fit. It's the Shan, the lights, not there, the camera breaks that the there's annual swabs on onset onset, something happens that, that you you feel like the entire world's coming crashing down around you on on Greenvale or on any project. What was that day? And how did you overcome it as a director?

Aram Rappaport 30:35
You know, that's a good question. I mean, I think that obviously, you know, there's different types of people, you know, some people thrive under, you know, that immense pressure, you know, some people don't, I think that, you know, whether I make the right decisions or the wrong decisions, I usually, I enjoy that level of pressure. So I think for me, like, you know, I sort of expect those, there's a level of anxiety where I just expect every every day go wrong. So when all things go wrong, it's like, well, I was a great day. So I think my mindsets will be different. But there's always your I mean, I've had instances where actors have, like, you know, disagreed with a note and walked off, and we've had to shoot coverage of his female counterpart by herself. You know, we've had instances where I had an actor fire our first ad, because he hated him on something some years ago. And we were sort of left pick, you know, choosing between an actor and the ad. And, you know, I mean, there were just, I feel like, there, there have been some sort of crazy instances where, you know, everything that I've sort of done on, like, the linear space has been, you know, a passion project. So like, when people come to do that, it's because they're passionate about it. So when you challenge that, or change the vision, or adjust, or it's not what they thought, like, there's emotions run really high, you know, and that's exciting. But it's also terrifying, because I think when you're, whether it's a DP, or a production designer, or an actor, or a costume designer, if you sort of show up and tell someone, you know, we can't afford that, or we lost the light, we're going to have to shoot it differently. You know, as a director, all you can do is really maintain like this even keel positivity around, even though you know, that it's probably a complete fuckup you're like, No, it's going to work, this is going to work. This is the right thing, you know, let's, let's keep going. And, and, you know, that sort of, like resolute need to like, keep the troops marching is really important. And I don't know if there's any one specific thing it feels like every day or every few every day. Oh, there's always something that's, I mean, we've lost. You know, I think the biggest thing is always been, you know, working on on this latest thing, I think, you know, this was like a drama that also had, you know, tonally was sci fi as well, as, you know, there was some levity to how the characters interact, you know, John would call it a play, you know, it was a it was the dialogue was sort of like repetitious, and it did you know, it felt lyrical. And so I think a lot of that was worked out on set in rehearsal, and we had no time to rehearse. So those were the things that were the most challenging. Were sort of, you know, we're shooting 18 pages today, if you rehearse that scene one more time. Everything was was pertinent, you know, we lose another valuable scene at the end of the day, where we have to get an insert on the gun. If we don't, no one knows she has a gun. And that's the tension, you know, so things like that, what I think were that were the toughest were was sort of like, okay, like, you know, what, are we going to compromise on that still, collectively, if I step back, you know, this world still works. We need to lead people to believe that this thing works. I think those those those are the sort of things I felt like I've learned over the years is sort of like when to really compromise and when to vocalize that we need to get it right.

Alex Ferrari 33:58
Then there's the other thing to man is like that they don't tell you, especially when you're coming up, man, I don't know if this happened to you or not. But you get you know, you're normally I remember when I was the youngest guy on set. I remember I'm sure you do as well.

Aram Rappaport 34:09
Yeah, yeah. I'm, I'm I'm 20 20 and a half,

Alex Ferrari 34:13
I tried to at least 20 and a half. So, but when you're the youngest guy, or you're just starting out, the crew, most of the time is most of the times a little bit more experienced than you. And sometimes the actors are more experienced than you. Yeah. And that's when and that's

Aram Rappaport 34:30
When we often write like, I mean, there's always going to be someone that's more experienced than you. It doesn't matter if you're who you are really like you train

Alex Ferrari 34:37
To a certain to a certain extent. Absolutely. Yeah, you're always gonna be, but this is when this is what they don't teach you a film school, which is who's testing you to see how far they can push you. And that's the actors and that's also with key crew people as well. I mean, I've had DPS who were interested in their reel and that's so much interested in what I was doing. They just wanted to get their shot, because they knew that was going to be in the reel and then didn't really care about working, they took the project cuz they're like, Oh, we're gonna be on this location, I'm gonna get the techno crane. And I'm gonna do this and this, or I'm gonna fight for this shot because this is going to get my, there's going to be on my demo reel,

Aram Rappaport 35:12
And how would you handle that? So how did you like how would you, you know?

Alex Ferrari 35:16
So first so the first time it happened, I didn't know what the hell to do. And I had to like kind of, you know, the very first time it happened I had to, and I told the story before but I'll tell it again. My very first time I spent on my demo reel when I shot my 35 millimeter commercial demo reel. Wow, yeah. Oh, yeah, I'm that old. I shot I shot a cost me about 50 grand back in the day. All right. And I hired a DP team. So problem number one. Have you worked with the DP team? No, nobody does because it doesn't exist. But with these guys, they had to had a grip truck. They had access to the film camera, I needed a high speed film camera. We were shooting at 90 frames, you know, I was doing some like really fashion commercial stuff that I was doing. You know, I had a model who was a friend of mine and we were doing this whole exports model thing. And they were so they were mostly industrial guys. And sometime commercial guys, and not la sometime commercialized. This is Florida sometime commercial guys. So that means that they didn't have the same experience as a California or sorry anybody living in Florida. I I know a lot of good guys down there. But you know what I mean? Is just they just didn't have the experience that that the crews on the other side have a lot of times so they came in and I was so terrified that they didn't know what they were going to do with this film stock because we were shooting reversal stock.

Aram Rappaport 36:43
Yeah. Oh my god, I can't see that. I've never shown some of my life the anxiety. I can't even

Alex Ferrari 36:48
So shot on shooting on a reversal stock because I wanted to do that whole like MC g 90s.

Aram Rappaport 36:55
Yeah, blown out by looks amazing.

Alex Ferrari 36:58
It's fast as Wonder I love that. It's still one of my favorite things ever shot. So it was it's so it was we shot this whole thing. But I was so terrified because I'm like this is with with with reversal stock. You've got to have stop. Yeah, latitude. You can you can check you can check around. Yeah, yeah. So I like literally printed out an entire packet on how to shoot reversal stock. I was so terrified for the day. Yeah. And gave it to them. Do they? They must I mean, we shot it and we got it in the can. But they they took forever to light. They both of them are running around with their light meters like clicking every frickin corner. Oh my gosh. And then wait, and then high speed. Here that film cam go. Oh, yeah. And you hear that sound? And all I'm hearing is like $5 $10 $20 Exactly, exactly. It was just flying by and I'm like please Oh snap, please. Oh, snap. Please don't stop because of snaps. Oh my god, we're done. And I didn't have like rolls and rolls of

Aram Rappaport 38:02
Exactly. Exactly. You know, how are you gonna get more rolls if you're out like that. So

Alex Ferrari 38:06
It was it was insane. It was insane. So those guys i Then I then we did another spot the next day and they were so bad. They were trying to like muscle their way into what I was doing. And I was looking at what they were doing. I'm like this is not good. And I just at the end of the day, I scrapped the entire thing. I burned the negative. Wow, I literally burned I burned it. And then I rehired a new dp and I spent another $20,000 and shot the spot that I wanted the way I wanted to do it and got it done right so but with that those days those guys I was just like I was just constant and I was yelling out where it half stop. Were one for one like I was the one constantly yelling out I know what we need to be out here. And I was I was on them on them on them on them because I was just so insecure. Yeah, they you know, the by the way, first day one, the entire grip team walked off within 10 minutes that's how ridiculous that's my first day first day I'm spending all my money and the entire grip department walks away in the first 10 minutes because they were so unprofessional they didn't know what to do. So I was just like oh my god so that's that extreme but then I've had other TVs who are like older guys who just for whatever reason wanted to wave their you know what in my face and just right right right? No, no, I don't think that's the way the shot is going to be so then that's the point where you as a director have to go look man, we're gonna have a half cup conversation. You and it's not and but that's how you get tested and then actors test you within the first five or 10 minutes and they test you just to make sure that they feel comfortable. You're totally safe and safe. If they feel safe, they'll give you the world but if they don't feel safe that's when the problem starts.

Aram Rappaport 39:39
We agree that that's like you know that's why we did this project is because John and I haven't worked together you know we've shot too thin we you know, we shot a movie we shot the Netflix special and then you know we've done a handful of commercials together that he started that he's brought me in on to direct which has been amazing. But there was sort of a level of trust that was there. And the trust wasn't, you know, that's what people sometimes hear, they hear that and they go, Oh, he trusted you to make it to make him the best he can be. It's really, it wasn't about that it wasn't about the final result, it was trust, to explore, you know, and this trust, to be able to take risks, and own those risks. And that's the thing that, you know, you'll find a lot of actors will either, you know, really don't want to do, they're gonna give you what they're gonna give you, because they don't trust that when you're in the editing room, you're not going to completely fuck it up. You know, or there's the other ones, there's the actors that just go totally crazy and need you to hold them in linearly, you know, and remind them where we're at in the arc. And if you don't, you're not going to have a project, you can piece together, you know, from from a story beat perspective, but I think with John, like, the thing that I, you know, admire about him so much is that, you know, we sat down, and I pitched this thing to him. And, you know, he said, you know, he's a character who never played before, and he wanted, I mean, maybe he talked about already, but, but, you know, to be able to get on set and watch him do something different every take, that still was in the world, but they were different decisions, you know, based on different, you know, sort of like organic, you know, justifications, you know, what, whether it was an action or you know, you know, linearly he thought, oh, maybe I should be at a different point in my journey here. Let's try two things. The fact that he was so open to explore that is why this ultimately works and is successful, because we block shot, you know, 300 pages, and he was shooting, you know, seven dinner scenes back to back from episode one, episode eight, back to episode three, Episode Seven. And, you know, if we didn't have that trust, to sort of stumble through it together, you know, I think it would be like a very different projects. I think he you know, he's one of those rare guys that you just think of like, like, you've done everything in your career, you've, you've been everywhere worked with everybody, and you're still just trying to be better, like, better at everything, you know, and he and he's doing it. I mean, every step of the way, he bests the last year of his career. You know,

Alex Ferrari 42:01
It's interesting that, that that concept of allowing the space to explore Yeah, is so important to actors. And John spoke about it in the interview that we had that he's like, let me bump around. Yeah, me, me. There's a box. Yeah, I might not know where the end of the box is. Yeah. But that's your job to bring me back in if I'm going too far off, or the box that we're putting in, but let me play within the box. And don't just try to throw me down the middle because that's when you stifle me, you stifle me, you're not gonna get anything out of me. Totally.

Aram Rappaport 42:36
So and you think that you know, this is a guy that's like, a Tony winning playwright, you know, I mean, this is a guy who has a Smithsonian where like, you can't put them on set and say, you got to do this one thing I mean,

Alex Ferrari 42:47
He didn't align read him, give him a line reading see what

Aram Rappaport 42:50
His story is about that from from from certain movies where he goes, you know, a director was given me a line reading and it was like the three worst months of my life I just showed up. I was a robot. It's like, that's just some people like that. I mean, there are actors that want to go to work and just do the one thing go home like he's just not that guy, you know, and that's what you know, that's what Well, yeah, I mean, that's what I love about working with him. It's the most incredible thing in the world and like between that and his activism in this sort of like, I mean, he I don't know if he sleeps one hour a day or what but like, you know, I mean, he just was like, put on this earth to make waves in that way and you can't stop it.

Alex Ferrari 43:23
No, and it's really interesting to see you know, and we want to turn this into a John love fest because then he love that he'll love his his head's gonna get too big and you know, it already is was trying to know but no, but but in all honesty, though, like you look at look at an actor like him who's done so many different varieties, I mean, Moulin Rouge, and yeah, Juliet and casualties of war and, and you just, and then that the list just goes on and on. And just like, you know, I was when I was preparing for his conversation. I just went back through his IMDb in his filmography. I'm like, Jesus Christ. Like, there's so many movies that you just like, that's right. Carlitos way. Yeah, that's right. Oh, he was in that too. Oh, my God. That's right. He was and you just go back. And you know, like, I brought up spawn, because I'm like, no one ever no one ever calls out spawn the clown. It's one of the performances, one of his best performances ever since sanity, and he taught and that he said he, they didn't know what he had no idea what he was going to do up until the director yelled action for this entire time.

Aram Rappaport 44:30
I believe it Yeah. And I mean, he just blew up. We were talking at some point about the voice of the sloth and Ice Age and how he tried a bunch of stuff and also didn't know what he was going to do and, and the studio liked what he did or something like that man might be telling the story wrong. But then eventually, you know, he got behind the mic and did something and it was like, you know, that's it. That's the thing, you know, and it's it's incredible to see that. I mean, I hate him as a person but he's a talented.

Alex Ferrari 44:53
I mean, he's a horrible human being.

Aram Rappaport 44:56
As an actor, he's he's he's phenomenal to watch and hammering

Alex Ferrari 45:00
No but to be to be as to be as a performer. And this is also the way it is with directors or certain directors who work this way. That work kind of like on the on like my last film I did. I shot and four days at Sundance, about filmmakers trying to sell a movie at Sundance, I still owe the entire movie. I got there, and I just like, let's roll. And let's see what happens. And I was like, Oh, my God, this is what like, what it feels like to be an actor in many ways, because we were all as a collective Creative Collective, figuring it out along the way, to the point where when we got on the we're on the plane that like I said, Do you have it? I'm like, I don't know.

Aram Rappaport 45:38
Yeah, we don't know. Yeah, we'll put it together.

Alex Ferrari 45:40
I have no idea if we have a movie. I have no idea. If we haven't, I think we have a movie. My experience says, but it was in a such a low budget. And it was just kind of like me just experimenting, having fun, that you were just like, oh my god, this feels so you feel so alive, as opposed to being on a commercial set, where you're working with a client, and that has its own energy and its own thing. But this you feel like,

Aram Rappaport 46:03
Oh my god, there's an immediacy to it. There's such an immediacy to it.

Alex Ferrari 46:06
Right, like the Duplass brothers or John sweat Joe Salzberg, who did these kinds of like, you know, mumblecore films back in the day, that they're just kind of like, Here's an outline. Let's all figure it out today.

Aram Rappaport 46:17
Yeah, totally.

Alex Ferrari 46:18
Exciting is how to do that. It's terrifying. But it's so yeah,

Aram Rappaport 46:22
Yeah. It's exciting. Totally, totally. i It's more exciting. If it turns out well,

Alex Ferrari 46:28
Yeah. If it didn't work out, yeah. You're like,

Aram Rappaport 46:31
Oh, we went through that. Okay. I don't know if I'll do that again. But so

Alex Ferrari 46:34
Is there. Is there something that you wish you would have told yourself if you had an opportunity to go back at that first, the first beginnings of your career? To tell yourself Listen, Adam, this is you gotta watch out for this.

Aram Rappaport 46:47
Yeah, that's a good that's a really good question. I think, you know, there was this. I did a movie some years ago, called syrup with Ambit was with Amber Heard Shiloh Fernandez never heard of her. I never heard of her. Never heard of her never telling lots of other people. And it was based on a book and it was, you know, it was it was probably like, sort of the first, like, bigger thing that I did was an indie. You know, it was it was

Alex Ferrari 47:14
I saw I mean, it looks it looks amazing. It looks good to camera. You were talking to cameras that had a little vibe to it.

Aram Rappaport 47:20
Yeah, they talked to cameras, but you know, but it was it was also from a structural perspective is problematic, you know, we had to go back and do reshoots, and we had to, you know, it was, that's one thing. I've also learned, just as an aside, you know, there's a script that can read really well. But but but with experience, you learn what's going to play to an audience, sometimes that isn't on the page. And I think that's, that's the difference between those really, really good directors that can seat that can read a script, or a writer director, who can write something that they know is going to translate, because that was one instance, where we wrote a lot of direct to camera, talking at the audience Edrick in the fourth wall breaking, we started, you know, testing it, and we realized that like, audiences don't want to be talked to they want to be shown things, you know, and so it read really well, because it was this sort of flippant, cheeky dialogue about marketing, and people read through the scripts, agents love that actors love that. I mean, it was like we, you know, is a beloved script based on a great book. You know, we went and shot the script. And, and we were excited about it. I was excited about it. And then we watched it. And I was like, Wait a second, we got to go back. And we work things. Because it just doesn't, it doesn't we're not rooting for these characters in the same way. But I, you know, back back to your What was your question? I didn't remember. If there's something that you wish you would have told you younger self? Yeah. So so so I screened this, this film for a producer, and, and she said, You know, it's not there. But trust me, when I say it's not going to be your last movie, you're going to be fine. And I was wrapped.

Alex Ferrari 48:56
You don't? You'll work again,

Aram Rappaport 48:58
That's literally your work. You know, and that's like, I mean, because I always try to get back is really honest about these things. Like, you know, I've made a lot of shitty, like very, very bad things. Because I that's how I learned to make to try to make better than hopefully my work is getting better as we go. And this is hopefully not the best thing I'll ever do. And hopefully there'll be more, that's better. But you I think there are those guys that are those, you know, those filmmakers that just, you know, they pop onto the scene. And that's like, they their first movie is like a hit, you know, that was like, definitely not me, you know. And that was the biggest piece of advice I wish I actually took in was this notion that like, every time I did something bad I thought, well, this is the last this is the end. It's never it was never a learning experience. It was always like, this is shameful, you know, I'm shamed no one ever talks and

Alex Ferrari 49:42
You know, and you know what, and you're not looked at that stop me from making my first feature for almost 1520 years because

Aram Rappaport 49:48
Right there you go, there you go. Exactly exact cause of that energy of

Alex Ferrari 49:51
The the, if I got to make a movie, it's gotta be Reservoir Dogs. No, it's It's gotta it's gotta be. It's gotta be paranormal activities got to be something that it's explodes out of it. And that's then that's the mentality that was the kind of the Kool Aid that I drank from the 90s coming out, because that's what everything was like it had to be this huge thing.

Aram Rappaport 50:10
And those were those zingy indies where it was like the only indies you heard about were those indies that were just the best movies that had ever come out in those years like period, perhaps.

Alex Ferrari 50:19
Absolutely. And the directors all went off to have insane careers. So that was what I thought I had to do. I was like, Oh, I'm going to make something that has to be like, yeah, it has to be Reservoir Dogs. But then then you look back and you go, no, nobody else made a Reservoir Dogs. They all made their own things. Kevin made clerks. Linkletter made slacker that they they all did their thing. But and they were right time, right place, right product, all that kind of stuff as well. But at a certain point, you just got to just do it. That's when I when I finally hit 40. I just said screw it. I'm just gonna go make a movie. And from the moment I came up with the idea to the when we're done with production was two months.

Aram Rappaport 50:56
Yeah, yeah. Well, and that's what happens, right? You just you get that motivation. You just go and do it. And you have to be sort of like, you know, erotic about it. And blinded by it.

Alex Ferrari 51:05
No, I did it so fast. I couldn't talk myself out of it. Because if you said Yeah, six months, eight months, you're like, Oh, well, I need this camera. Or I need Yeah, right. This cast I didn't want to give myself so it was like a experiment on myself to just go I'm just gonna get it done to prove to myself that I could tell a story and I could sell a movie and and did all that. It was, it was fascinating. Now we've been we've been dipping around or toying around the Greenvale tell me about the green veil. And it's really interesting. John talks a bit about it in in his interview, I find it fascinating that you guys kind of did an indie series. So you know, self financed indie series that now you're out in the marketplace trying to sell, which is something that doesn't get done often has done been done, but not at this level that I know of it. Yeah, we're just kind of cast in this kind of production. So tell me about the project.

Aram Rappaport 51:53
So yeah, I mean, so So we, you know, I knew having been in commercials for a while, I knew that I wanted to try to get back into like, some linear expression, you know, some content that we you know, whether it was serialized content, whether it was a film, whether whatever. So we you know, just because I launched this agency in studio, we sort of had the facilities to launch a television film division as a financier. You know, we've sort of been blessed with our clients and subsidize that film and television production with money that we, you know, made on the agency side. And so this was sort of that first project. For me, that was like a proof of concept as a quote, unquote, like studio that's financing, just to kind of prove that we could do this. So I think for us, it's like, we knew that we wanted to be in TV, we've never done TV before. You know, we could pitch for years and try to figure that out. Or we could just go out and do something and sort of stumble through it. That's sort of always been my approach, obviously.

Alex Ferrari 52:56
As we've made many points of in this interview, it's great. And works for you, sir.

Aram Rappaport 53:03
And if you learn anything, it's don't do it this way. I'm sure there's an easier way it will take. But but but no, but I mean, you know, so I having worked with Java for John and I were just coming off the the Netflix thing that was a lot of fun, and, you know, received well, and, and John, I was reading these articles about alien invasions that happened in the 50s. And it was this very sensationalized period when there was a lot of, you know, repression and oppression, from housewives to, you know, Native Americans to immigrants to to everybody really, you know, was very oppressed in a certain way. It was post world war two women were working during World War Two, and they were, you know, really running things while men were off at war. And then they came back and there was this reckoning, you know, where women were now suddenly, housewives. Again, men were trying to like re command control of their families. And, you know, there was this insane eradication of sort of, like Native Americans. So anyways, I wanted to put all that stuff together because it just it felt like if we could sort of sensationalized you know, a story that sort of is grounded in a sci fi element where there were these, you know, these these sort of like, true reported UFO sightings with, you know, the themes of assimilation and oppression in the 50s it would make for like, a really interesting world. Like, at that time, I didn't know what it was gonna be, but it just felt like it was a really interesting, you know, let's do an anthology on oppression in America with a really interesting tone that feels like it's not just a drama and it's not just preachy, that it's you know, we've got a hook so I loop John in and said, you know, we can you play this like all American dad who's like Latin, but we don't save these Latin and there's these really hidden bizarre undertones of his patriotism. And John was like, you know, I've always wanted to play like a self loathing self hating, you know, Latin I mean, what he calls his you know, like a Trumpian lat Latin we are Trumpian you know, this supporter, you know, Latin Trump supporter of something. Got it. Got it. And, and so, you know, he was always fascinated with like the leader of the proud boys who's like this Latin guy and he's like, what what is he doing? Like how is that? Real? You know? And so, you know we

Alex Ferrari 55:15
Oh, I gotta stop. He's like, did you ever see the Dave Chappelle? Bit? Where he was the the blind? Ku Klux Klan? Yes, yes. Yeah, he was, oh my god, or something like that.

Aram Rappaport 55:29
It was literally it was literally that, you know, and so that's what we, you know, I said, Well, you know, why don't you play this all American guy who like, you know, obviously, there's some like, you know, deeply rooted, like systemic issues there. But you're tasked with, you know, assimilation, like native assimilation at the FBI, and you're, you're an American, you're an American and a patriot. And, and let's let you reckon with those issues, and he's like, I've never played that role before I trust that we can have fun with this and see where it goes. And from a from a, you know, not a therapeutic standpoint. But like, as an actor, it was something that he like, you know, wanted to embrace, and that that was the project. So we thought, you know, let's root it in this family with you and sort of, like, see where this thing goes. And that that's the Greenville. It's a story of Gordon Rogers, who's played by John Leguizamo. And he's tasked with native assimilation on the East Coast, which is something that happened was rampant, you know, in the US and in Canada's, you know, evident by the discovery of these boarding schools, and, you know, these mass graves under these boarding schools that we just found in Canada recently, but, you know, John's character is making way for a pipeline, and there's a lot of nefarious things he's doing. And his wife finds out that there was some, you know, he was investigating an alien invasion that may or may not be an alien invasion, and, you know, shit hits the fan from there. And, you know, John's character ultimately is forced to sort of reckon with, you know, who he is. And, you know, and where he's going, you know, in this in this world. And that's, and that's, that's how we got to eight episodes.

Alex Ferrari 56:59
And you got to Tribeca, did this screen yet or not?

Aram Rappaport 57:02
It screen yet screens on Monday night? And it's, we had an online thing on Wednesday, and then we just screened last night was our our second screening?

Alex Ferrari 57:11
And how's it? How has it been received?

Aram Rappaport 57:13
It was great. I mean, it was received really well, you know, we got a couple really positive reviews. And, you know, people seem very into it. And I think, you know, the challenge for us is obviously, you know, educating a marketplace on an independent TV show. And that's something that is, you know, it's it's, you know, we know, the sort of indie model of acquisitions. And,

Alex Ferrari 57:33
You know, isn't it isn't that fun? Isn't it? The fun part?

Aram Rappaport 57:36
It's just, it's a lesser known, you know, it's a lesser known reality, but I think like, you know, it's something that we feel really passionate about, I don't think we would have gotten this show made, had we not, you know, financed it. And, and developed it with John in a way that just, you know, he wanted to play this role. And that's, and that's what we did. And I, you know, he's, I would never want it, that's something I've learned is that, you know, working with new exciting actors is great, but working with like, your best friends that you trust and who trust you is, is is the best thing in the world. It doesn't matter what the project is.

Alex Ferrari 58:07
And that's because because you go because you've gone into war together. Ready, man? Yeah, you just you just use it. You've been in the shit, you've been in different level,

Aram Rappaport 58:16
It's a different level of trust that you just can't overestimate you.

Alex Ferrari 58:20
No, no, absolutely. Absolutely. The DP, I took the Sundance with me, I'd use I've done a couple projects with them. And I'm like, I could I just knew, shoot, just shoot, I know, it's gonna be done. And it's like, I don't have to worry about that. Because you just know, they're gonna get you back. And then you work with actors again. And again. You're like, Yeah, I know that they're bringing that toolbox with them today. And yeah, yeah. And they got your back. And when you're going, if you're going into the war, man, it's like full metal jacket, man, you just, you know, or, you know, you Joker, you know, or

Aram Rappaport 58:51
You just want to do better work. Also, when you're working with Yeah, I want you to be that, you know, that's the like, you know, yeah, I mean, there's something about I mean, that was always my thing with John is like, he has always just challenged me to, like, you know, let's make it a little bit better, a little bit better. Let's watch someone else show notes. Let's go, you know, and he's always had to, I mean, he's been vocal, but he's had to work harder than everybody else to get to where he is. And that is, you know, I was saying, I reckon with online history for morons, right? Like, you know, I'm a white Jew from the valley directing Latin history for morons, you know, I mean, that was something that I would have conversations with him about and be like, am I the right guy for this? Am I Are you sure you want me to? You know, and he would always say, you know, yes, you're the right guy. Because the vision that you your vision is what I want within this project. And like, that's ally ship, and it's okay to be an ally and it's okay to still support and try to be the best you can be. And so I feel like are, you know, something about, like you said, going into battle but with really dissonant views on things, and then challenging those views and sort of coming together with like, you know, a common narrative is the thing that, you know, I love most and sort of cherish about that relationship.

Alex Ferrari 59:57
Well, I mean, I really, I really hope you do well. With this in the same room I hope this is a new model for a lot of people out there because Look man, it's it's it's a tough slog doing indie films, man, you know, and I'm, I'm in the trenches every day talking to people every day about it from every aspect from the scripts all the way to distribution. I know what's going on with that. And this might be another avenue where creatives I mean, look, all the indie guys from the 90s. Most of them are going into television. Right, right, exactly. All of the early 2000s. Like, they're all into, because that's where the cool stuff. That's why television is. It's so cool. Yeah, so good. Because the writing is good. And it's just, you know,

Aram Rappaport 1:00:37
Explore a story and like multiple episodes, and

Alex Ferrari 1:00:39
You may take your time and build it up and all that stuff. It's, I've never done anything like That's incredible. Yeah. So I'm gonna ask you a few questions, ask all of my guests or what advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Aram Rappaport 1:00:56
A filmmaker is gonna try to break into the business. I mean, again,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
Just do it and see how it works out.

Aram Rappaport 1:01:02
I think you just got to do and and see, I mean, there's, like, you know, you just got to do it. I mean, you just gotta like, if you have a vision and a story that no one else is told, you know, that's something worth risking everything for. So go do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:17
What did you learn from your biggest failure?

Aram Rappaport 1:01:21
What did I learn from my biggest failure? You know, to just dust it off and get back up and shrug it off and do it and keep going. I think that's, that's always I mean, this is like, such a brutal town. You know, I mean, like, you know, if a movie is bad, an agent won't get you a job anymore. Yeah, an actor won't work with you or whatever. But it's all bullshit. I mean, who cares?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
Like, everyone, everyone's you know, when you're hot, you're hot. And when you're not, you're not. And it's like next. But then, five years later, you write something that everyone wants now and like, I don't know, I'm

Aram Rappaport 1:01:52
100%. Like, Ben Affleck. I think when he wanted his academy award, not the first one. But like, the second time like afterwards, like sort of his was surgeons or whatever, I think, you know, he said it best. He's like, you know, this business is about like, just not holding grudges, forgiveness. And just, you know, that's just I mean, it's certainly personal. Don't take it first can't take it. But because again, like you're like, as creators, like we're throwing everything into these projects emotionally and no one else is, the agents are not the executives are not no one's no one is throwing themselves into these things like so we take everything personally, of course, like we're going to, but at the end of the day, like, you know, you have to just expect the unexpected. If it doesn't work, you know, you get up and you do it again, if you were meant to do it, if it's truly what you have to do to survive, like you're gonna do it again.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:41
I tell you, I heard I was watching an interview with Taylor Sheridan this last weekend, and I'm just the biggest Taylor shattered and found in the way he's like, so amazing what he's doing. He's, he's working at a level that all afraid to be working at. Yeah, right now. And he said, You know, I've been in this town for a long time. I've never seen anybody bumped their head against the wall or crushed her head against the wall for 20 years. And then pop. Yeah, yeah. I was like, wow, that's such a profound comment, man. It really is. Because he goes, I've seen eight years. I've seen 10 years in 12 years, but I've never seen 20 years. And that's when I decided I'm always going to be the 11th on the call sheet. I'm never going to be number one on the call sheet. Right. And that's what he did. Yeah, because he's, you know, and he's working. And when he wrote his when he wrote the pilot, the first thing he ever wrote was the pilot for mayors of Jamestown. After he wrote the pilot, he's like, dammit, I wish I would have been doing this 15 years ago. Yeah. wasted all that time. Just just trying to make it I can get out as an actor and I really wanted to do this is where it needed to be. So and he goes, and this is something I think everyone listening should I think you might agree with this. The town will tell you what you are supposed to be doing. To a certain extent. To a certain extent, it's like, I'm never going to be a leading man. I'm not gonna be Tom Cruise. I'm not built to be Tom Cruise. I don't have the talent nor the looks to be Tom Cruise. But in my mind, I was like, I'm gonna be the next Tom Cruise. The town's gonna tell you maybe you're not Tom Cruise. Right but Tom Cruise I appreciate that sir. Thank you, I but but but you could be something else that is actually going to make you happier and actually more true to your path. So that you just gotta listen. Keep the ears open for that kind of stuff. Now what is the lesson that took you what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Aram Rappaport 1:04:28
I don't know if I've learned it yet. What's the lesson that has taken me the longest to learn? You know, to not try to do everything? Yep, I think that would probably be the biggest lesson I think. You know, it's easy for people on the outside to say you know, why don't you you know, delegate. And it's easy for us on the inside to say well, we don't have enough money. We don't have enough this. I have to do it. I have to do it. When you have the right support team around It is exceptional, like the things that you can accomplish are exceptional, no matter how much you want to control everything. You know, it's a movie. And sometimes, you know, you have to, you have to do multiple things, you have to wear multiple hats, and that's fine. But I think, you know, early on, I always felt like I really had to control things. Well, because no one's going to do better than you. Right? Right, right, or no one knows. Or it's proving the narrative that I'm the director, or whatever it is, you know, but I think like, yeah, as you you know, as you grow, you learn that the best thing you can do is let everybody else thrive, and then just take credit for

Alex Ferrari 1:05:41
I, you know, what, the masters have said that so many times, you're like, that's all you can do. Just, you know, whoever you're gonna get the credit at the end of it, just let it all.

Aram Rappaport 1:05:50
That's what, that's what I say, That's what I always say to the Chrome like you can give me if you want to, you know, over work to give me all these ideas, I'll still take credit for it. So that's fine. Work harder than many ideas. Let's go. No, I'm just joking. I mean, it is it is, I mean, you know, to be humble, and to be able to say, you know, what do you think, I don't know what this is gonna look like, let's let's talk about is, I think the biggest lessons,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:14
But that also, but also takes you minutes to get to that point.

Aram Rappaport 1:06:16
So you have to you have to, you have to go through that process. I don't know, if anyone on their, you know, their very first movie was like, you know, oh, yeah, I am going to just ask for everybody's advice.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:30
Because you're like, I'm not the director anymore. And then you get that chip on your shoulder, like, am I, the director, I have to, I have to prove them, the director, I have to have my name as a director, it can be only directed only and written by only an eye, and I have to do everything. At the beginning, you have to feel that way. But as you get older, and you get more settled into your and more comfortable in your own skin as a director, that's when you just go best idea wins.

Aram Rappaport 1:06:50
Right, right. And I think and I think also not over directing is also another big thing not over controlling, you know, I mean, there's, there's, there's actors, that you just need to set the camera and just watch them surprise you. And then there's actors that you really have to work with. And then there's actors that are somewhere in between one a little bit or whatever. But like really, recognizing that with actors with behind the camera talent, with the production design team with whatever it like there are, there are people that will feel more empowered and do better if you let them you know, and I think, you know, really understanding how to lead different departments, you know, in unique ways is something that, that is super, super important. And it's like, you know, I always tell people, like just ask, like, you know, ask someone like Simon, I talked to John about the first day about, you know, how do you want to work? Like, what how are you most successful? Like that's going to? Is it one take, or you warm up with three? And then we get into it on four? Do you want me to stop you in the middle of takes? Do you want me to let you complete even though we know it's wrong, like there's so many different avenues for how to, to lead a set. And I think, you know, very early on, it's like, you know, I'm going to do it this way. And this is what I'm doing. It's, it's my show, and But why now it's like, you know, it's, you know, really understanding the mechanisms that help people thrive is just the biggest thing that you can do. You know, as as a director and I there were multiple times, I think Donald Petrie told me once you direct, like Miss Congeniality, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 days, and he, he said, you know, don't be afraid to ask for help, like, Don't be afraid. And he was this is after this is I think I was going to syrup in New York. And I said, you know, what, what do you have, you know, I'm shooting in New York and blah, blah. And he said, you know, don't, you got to ask for help, you know, when you need help, you have to, it's going to be more endearing when you say, I don't know how to shoot this scene, let's talk about it. And people are going to work harder for you than if you just stumble through and just pretend you know what's going on. And everyone thinks, I don't know if this is right, you know, and that was like a really, you know, a really powerful thing. And then I was shadowing Rodrigo Garcia, who did a bunch of really cool movies. And he was doing this thing with a net Benning and I, you know, I think I was just shadowing him a couple days. And he said, you know, he just let her work. You know, he let her dictate everything and he covered the scene in a way that would let her roam around if she wanted to pick up a cup if she wanted to, you know, he knew he played your talent, you know, and that was like such an important lesson also, which Oh, yeah, like, you know, if you've got a great actress like you have to support what they're trying to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:22
You can't box him in you can't you can't like Okay, hit mark a hit Mark be but if she wants to flow. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's the thing they don't teach you man like sometimes when you and especially when you're working with these these actors who are at a different level, like John or a net and you know, and I've had the opportunity to work with some actors as well that I've just, you know, when they when you when you have an Oscar nominee on set, you just go oh, oh, that's how that's done. Yeah. Yeah. You just feel the difference. You just like oh, okay, so how do you how do you want to work? How do you want to do this? How do you flow? It's it's, it's a remarkable experience when you get to work with really, really talented people on all levels on every every every every crew member and actors.

Aram Rappaport 1:10:05
Yeah, and I think you learn how to you know, in film school or whatever I don't I didn't go but you learn you could learn how to technically lay a marker you know, marks you know and this and that or whatever but like the reality is you get to set and like that actor is not going to want to hit that mark and they're gonna want to have freedom they're gonna want to do so then what do you do? Like what happens that you know, and I think that's that's the thing that is it's so important that you go out and do it not just like within your community but like with random actors that you've never worked with before with a lot of crazy personalities because that's the thing that's gonna get you honing craft.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:41
Now, last question, sir, three of your favorite films of all time,

Aram Rappaport 1:10:45
Oh my gosh, okay. Big fish is I think my number one favorite movie of all time. I just, there's just something so magical about what Tim Burton was able to

Alex Ferrari 1:10:59
Add John on the show, John August on the show. Oh, did you really I talked to him about big fish do and it was just such a beautiful it's one of my favorite Tim Burton movies.

Aram Rappaport 1:11:08
Same, same same I know, I know. It was just something I mean, he tapped into something so magical with that film and the way that he tried to say I love most is the way he tracked that narrative. Those those those there were multiple narratives and by the time you get to the end it paid off to like I was sobbing you know at the end the movie I just wanted to do my whole life is just make people cry in that way and like be rooting for something and you think this is the you know, beautiful promo. That was number one. Number two Cider House Rules is a movie that I really love being back in the kitchen, right? And I just it just something was so you know, so moral and there were these multiple storylines that just really fit what they were.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:47
Michael Caine was in that too, right. Michael Caine was

Aram Rappaport 1:11:51
He played that in Charlize Theron was in that as the young Charlie, Charlize. I guess that's just a long shot. Yeah, she and then and then the last movie Pirates of the Caribbean. I just I love a spectacle, man. I just love it. Like, there's just something so powerful about like, like, everyone asked me, you know, oh, what do you want to do? Like a toy? This? I'm like, No, I want to direct like Pirates of the Caribbean eight. Like that's like, that's where I want to be. It's great. You know?

Alex Ferrari 1:12:19
You never know who's listening. You never know who's listening there. So if you wanna if you want to make the pitch now for Pirates of the Caribbean

Aram Rappaport 1:12:26
You know, I've got the pitch. Let's wait a couple years. Let's see what Johnny you know where Johnny lands, but

Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
You can't do without Johnny. You can't I don't care what you

Aram Rappaport 1:12:33
You can't do that. No, but I come I mean, pirates was just I mean, Gore Verbinski. He's again, he's one of those directors where you just this guy who's like cutting the scenes in his mind? Well, and he came from commercials and he and he's out there and he's shooting and he only shoots the things that he knows are going to make it and then he moves on. And you just think this guy is so efficient in the way that he is crafting scenes. And it's it's, it's, you know, it's it's incredible. Whether you love them or hate the movie, it's, you know, it's popcorn movie, whatever. But it's just, you know, the way that he sort of put that movie together and was able to get Disney over the line with what you know, Johnny Depp was doing and you know, Tony, it was just very cool.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:07
And I have to say, and I'm just gonna say it out, because what Johnny did, I've never seen an actor. Basically take an entire franchise on his shoulders. Yeah, he built it without Johnny without captain. Captain Jack Sparrow. It's another it's another movie based on a ride from Disney. Yeah, yeah. He and gore working together really transcended that to a place where it's made billions and billions of dollars. And he's beloved throughout the world because of this character. And he was able to tap into something I don't remember another man, another actor who has done that it

Aram Rappaport 1:13:51
And they know that and if you fail, if you break it down from like, I'm gonna go back to marketing but like a marketing perspective, like from from from a purely business perspective, like he was playing an inebriated Right. Like you imagine you imagine that like, if I wasn't exactly I'd be like, well, he can't do like, there's no way he can do that. Like, it looks like he's popping pills. And then they rolled and then he forgot his lines. Like what like, you're watching dailies from that, and you're just thinking how this does not fit into like our cinematic universe. So I just think it was just so like, how whatever happened, there was just the most amazing.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:31
Did you ever hear the story about the gold teeth from Johnny? No. So cute. When he was doing Jack, this is before anybody knew what he was gonna do with Jack. He already had it in his mind. And he's like, I really wanted five gold teeth in my mouth for for Johnny and they were like, little teeth, I'm not sure. So he walked in he goes, I need 12 gold teeth. And they're like, Okay, I'll give you 12 That's too much. like, alright, five, he's like, Okay, you got five. And that's how he got his five gold teeth for Jack Sparrow

Aram Rappaport 1:15:10
Back to the five gold teeth were offensive. I mean, he shouldn't have had those.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:15
I mean, obviously, I mean, obviously come obviously is a very offensive and nobody you're right on paper, it makes no sense why that character should work in a movie of that magnitude based on the property and the IP it was for a company like Disney like it doesn't make any sense.

Aram Rappaport 1:15:33
Right! Well, and yeah, and you're like, so you're gonna test that with 12 year olds and their pet you know, your parents can be you know, would you let your kid watch? You know, this misogynistic pirate who's dragging and stumbling around drunk all the time? Would that be endearing for you? What do you think? Like? No, it would have never I mean, that's crazy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:52
I don't even I would love to hear the story of how like after day one of like, what when the dailies came back, not good.

Aram Rappaport 1:15:58
I mean, I heard that they were freaking out. I'm sure like, why who wouldn't?

Alex Ferrari 1:16:02
But they were but the ship but but the train left the station already. And it's Yeah, John and Johnny was a star. And they're like, look, we're here. We're shooting. We're in the Caribbean. We're gonna make this movie. And he just, he just kept going and Gore was with him. And he's like, Nah, man. We're rolling this

Aram Rappaport 1:16:16
Part of the dailies for long enough for them to not have to reshoot or something because you think like that. I think that's what a crazy No, I would have loved to know what if you interview him? You gotta let me know. Let me know

Alex Ferrari 1:16:28
When I get shot when I get Johnny. He's a little busy these days. I think everybody in the world wants to talk to him when I get home. Hopefully I'll get go around one day. I'd love to talk the army. This has been a pleasure talking to you, brother. It really? I feel like I feel like you're I feel like your brother from another mother. Man. I think we both got the same similar shrapnel in our in our in our stone. Totally. How we do things, brother, this gratulations man, congratulations on the project on the Greenvale and I hope it does amazing for you and continued success brother, I appreciate it and and don't let jump push you around brother Seriously, just you know, sometimes, you know, just slap up a rock.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:06
I think I I blocked his number I bought. He's impossible. Isn't. He's impossible. He he made me promise not to tell the animal swap story. I told it because I'm just so bitter about him. You know right now because he always wants to work with me. He says, You know, I need to work with you. I hate all these other directors. You know, you're the only one I want to do everything with John calm down.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:30
Your little needy.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:33
Desperate. You know, I don't you know, I don't know. He's not busy. He's not working. I don't know what it is. But

Alex Ferrari 1:17:37
He just sits at home just waiting for you to call

Aram Rappaport 1:17:41
No we wouldn't have pressed for this thing last weekend on Friday. And they're asking him about seven other projects. And he's opening up musical the same day. And I'm like whiplash, I'm like, What do you mean, you're doing all this?

Alex Ferrari 1:17:52
He's like, Yeah, I'm doing this movie with De Niro. I'm like, of course.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:55
Yeah, I know. Right! Right. Of course. That was the that's the other thing. I mean, he was in Greece on Tuesday flew in. He said, Oh, I get this great thing with De Niro. De Niro was amazing. It was just beautiful scene and blah, blah. And I'm like, wait, you were in Greece with De Niro yesterday, like, what's happening right? And then he's opening a musical arm.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:12
That's a different world brother. That's a different world that you and I get to get to get to dip our toes and every once in a while? No, it's a different it's a different existence of life.

Aram Rappaport 1:18:23
And I hope people see this because he literally did something that he's never done before. And I think that's the thing I'm most proud of is being able to champion that that performance.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:31
No he's he's amazing, and I hope nothing of the best for you in this project. Brother. Thank you again for coming on the show

Aram Rappaport 1:18:37
Let's do this again!

Alex Ferrari 1:18:38
Anytime! Anytime!

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BPS 202: The Art of Showrunning a Hit Amazon Show with Naren Shankar

Naren Shankar is the Executive Producer/Showrunner of the critically acclaimed television adaptation of the international best-seller science fiction novel series, The Expanse, an Amazon Prime Original Series from Alcon Television Studios.

Naren spent eight seasons as a Writer-Executive Producer and Co- Showrunner of the most-watched show in the world, CSI:Crime Scene Investigation. In 2011 he helped launch NBC’s Grimm as a Writer- Executive Producer.

Prior to CSI, Naren was an Executive Producer on the SyFy Channel cult hit series Farscape for The Jim Henson Company, and spent three seasons as a writer-producer on Showtime’s The Outer Limits.

Naren began his career as a writer and science consultant for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and he holds a PhD in Applied Physics & Electrical Engineering from Cornell University.

Naren has been honored with multiple Emmy nominations for Best Series, a WGA Award nomination for CSI’s two-hour event “Grave Danger” directed by Quentin Tarantino, and has received WGC and Saturn Awards for The Outer Limits, CSI, and Farscape. The Expanse won a Hugo Award for “Leviathan Wakes” in 2017 and was nominated in 2019 for “Abaddon’s Gate.”

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Naren Shankar 0:00
If I have an idea for a character and or a moment and somebody goes, that's just doesn't make any sense this character would never do that. And if the argument is good, then change it.

Alex Ferrari 0:11
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 like to welcome the show Naren Shankar how're you doing Naren?

Naren Shankar 0:25
I'm good, man. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:27
I'm doing great, man. I'm doing great. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. I, I've I've watched many of your shows over the years, you've been you have a very unique story on how you got to where you are. And hopefully it's going to inspire some people along the way. So first question, sir. Why in God's green earth? Did you decide to go into the film business? When you have a real degree with real skills that could actually help the world?

Naren Shankar 0:53
Wait, wait, are you my parents? Oh my gosh. I you know, I did have I did have kind of a strange path into the business I, I started in when I went to university. I started as undecided pre med, medieval studies, classics, French literature, I didn't know what I wanted to do. My dad was a doctor. And so I told my parents, I was going to be pre med, I didn't really want to be a doctor. And I spent the first two years at Cornell in the College of Arts and Sciences. But in that time, I started thinking about, Oh, what happens after college and I was like, I don't think any things I really love are gonna get me any kind of job. So I had always loved math and science. I was kind of I think I'm a generalist at heart. And so I transferred into the College of Engineering and, and the College of Applied Engineering Physics. And I ended up staying all the way into the doctoral program. So I stayed at Cornell. So as I was, you know, in the midst of writing my dissertation and working in the lab, I just started going back to the things I love, which were history and literature and just started taking more and more courses in the arts college. And I literally remember the moment where I was coming out of this amazing course told by a professor guy named Walter LeFevre is amazing historian, he taught a course a two semester course in the history of American foreign policy. And we had this amazing lecture about the early republic and Aaron Burr. And like, I walked out of the I walked down the hall, and I was going back, and I could see my labs sort of on the other end, across down the street, and another quad as like, God, I just don't want to be an engineer. And I think I think what it was was, it was part of what happens when you're in the hard sciences is, you end up becoming more and more of an expert in the smaller and smaller corner of the universe. And I think that's what was happening with me, it's like I had this, you know, I was doing this thing, and it was really, you know, and it was my thing, and you're adding, you know, original research to the world, which is the whole point of a PhD program. But it just wasn't the thing, that kind of jasmine, it's like, you know, and, and I had also very early on my sophomore year, freshman year and sophomore year, I joined the Kappa Alpha Literary Society, which is a Greek letter, social fraternity, but it's also a literary society. And you do every two weeks, the the members would meet, and like we would, you know, do original writing and present it to the rest of the gang is a very nerdy geeky fraternity. It's like, really, I mean, but, but I think those are the things that really got me excited. And the friends I was around, you know, like, we loved movies intelligence. So after I finished my thesis, I had some friends out in the business, who are just who had come out to LA and we're breaking into the show business side of things. And I said, Come on, tell me screenwriter. And I was like, That sounds amazing. I'll do that. And it was super easy. It's super easy. You'll be oh, oh, Ignorance is strength. It's like, it's like, for me, it was literally because I had no concept of what how high the bar was or how difficult it is to break into the business. Had I known those things I might not have come. But I also I was I had skipped a couple of grades and I was really young. And so I started college and just turned 16 I had like my parents, you know, I told my parents, you know, just let me do this. And my parents, I think felt like oh, he'll just get it out of his system and then he'll he'll go and do something sensible because, you know, it's a good Indian kid is like doctor, lawyer, engineer, businessman. It's like that's that's those are the only things that are okay, you know,

Alex Ferrari 4:53
Screenwriter not so much.

Naren Shankar 4:54
There's no tradition of it. There's no idea of what that means. Even it's like like, you know, was gonna pay you for that.

Alex Ferrari 5:02
And so right, I can write, who's gonna pay me and so no one's gonna pay you.

Naren Shankar 5:06
Exactly, exactly. So, but they were so sweet and they were so supportive. And yeah, and I came out and and started to make this such a long story. But in my in my fraternity in Kappa Alpha, it my best friend was Ron Moore, who created Battlestar Galactica. And he at the beginning of his career, he was actually a political science major. And we had a third friend who, who was the guy who wanted to come out to LA and be in the business. And so he went out to drag Ron out there a couple of years later, after Ron decided he didn't know what to do with his life. And then a couple of years after that, run convinced me to come out and I slept on his couch for like eight weeks and, and so that was literally the chain that brought me in and, and through Ron, I got a, a spec script to Star Trek The Next Generation that brought me to the attention of the producers. And then that led to a Writers Guild internship on the program. And that really was the start of it, it led to a staff job a little while, then a little while after that.

Alex Ferrari 6:19
So that's the long story. That's obviously like a standard Standard plan that every screenwriter, only I can only imagine the conversation with your parents. I know the conversation that I had, but I didn't have a PhD in engineering.

Naren Shankar 6:39
My mom was so sweet. years later, years later, after things were going well, it's like, because I remember like, you know, I just threw, like some suitcases and stuff in my car. And I drove out of sight. My parents were like, waving it back. Years later, my mom said, As soon as your car goddess got out of sight, I burst into tears.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
I went to I have kids, I would just I would be like, Oh, my God, I can't. Because that's one of the reasons why I do on the show, like, how on God's green earth that this this engineer and physics get into, into into writing for television, it's just,

Naren Shankar 7:17
You know, there's, there's a part of it that is actually I think that's like, you know, Self knowledge is somewhat important is that, I don't think I would have been a good engineer. I mean, I certainly had aptitudes for it. But part of what what I, I had problems with is I was a little impatient, you know, I got bored doing the same thing, you know, for focused amount of time. I loved certain aspects, but I loved it. It's an incredibly creative field. And people, you know, don't they really misunderstand the hard sciences and they go, that's not you know, that's not creative, like music, or, you know, or writing, it's absolutely as creative as all of those things. It's just in a different way. But, but if you don't have the sort of, you have to be meticulous you have to be you know, there's so many factors that when I took a look at myself, I was like, I just don't think that's me. And so, maybe there was one job actually, that I came so close to getting that I absolutely would have taken, I I got a I gotta get down to the last two people at Apple Computer in in the, in the early 90s, that I was going to be the engineering software evangelist in the one of the absolute bottom terrible times darkest times in Apple history. But but they flew me out to Cupertino, I interviewed and I just didn't get the job, that job I would have taken. And now I look back I go, Oh, would have been in Silicon Valley in the 90s may not have sucked.

Alex Ferrari 8:47
If that's what they paid you in stock options backs up. And so yeah, $8 it was $8 a share something.

Naren Shankar 8:56
Anyway, so, you know, but But you know,

Alex Ferrari 9:01
Being self aware, it's very important being understanding that you're like, you know, what, I've had, I've had staff jobs twice in my career industry and been fired, probably from both. And it's just, I just am not, I work well with others, but it's not something I can't It's not me, you just have to be aware.

Naren Shankar 9:18
Yeah. It's a tough thing. And it's like, you know, being in a staff. It's so interesting, like, you get different. It's so personality driven. It's like, especially television, it's like, you know, it's like it is a I've seen playwrights who are amazing, who just can't deal with being room feature guys who are like, completely used to like going off for weeks and thinking about three lines of dialogue. It's like, they can't handle the pace. It's like, and you know, and people who are just not gregarious, because it's such a social thing. It's such a it's such a group collaboration, you know, it's like a true collaboration. If you have the right mindset, and you enjoy that it's an incredibly fun experience. That's one of the things I love about television is part of the reason I think I've been And then for so long.

Alex Ferrari 10:01
So you so you get on to Star Trek Next Generation, which is arguably one of the the pinnacle sci fi shows, arguably television shows. I mean, it was just so well written, it was so bad. It's just so well written. I mean, if you go back to those episodes now and you just like damn, and they hold up the effects and the makeup, maybe not so much. But, but this, but the writing is solid, some of those storylines. I remember watching them in high school when I was coming up, I was just like, damn, and this was really well, well written. What were some of the lessons you learn from that first job? I'm like, when you walked on the set, for the first time? What was that feeling like?

Naren Shankar 10:37
Well, it was amazing. I mean, you know, the thing was, Star Trek was an unusual show, in a lot of ways in an unusual structure. It was. It was the first show that was, you know, really the kind of open the syndication market. I mean, this is a long time ago. And so, you know, it wasn't a network show. But it was a very high profile show. It was the reboot of this thing, which had been, you know, before the word reboot existed. You know, it was this thing that was kind of Beloved, and it was, but it was its own thing, but very different from the show. It went through its own kind of struggles at the beginning. What was unique about it, I think, was as a learning experience, because what had happened on next generation was at the end of the third season, which I think that was third third season, I think, was Ron's first season on the show, the entire writing staff got fired, except for Ron and Michael Piller, who was who was the showrunner kept on on and kind of rebuilt the show and in His image in a way and just in terms of how stories were told, and, and, and when I got there. By the time Star Trek ended the last two seasons. I was like a freelance in season five, and then six and seven, I was on the show. It was it was a very young staff, it was everybody was a first timer. It was their first gig in the business. It was Ron, Ron Moore, Brandon Braga, Renee, Murray and myself. And we were the core staff, Jerry Taylor was a was our boss, supervising producer who basically ran the room with us. But it was just kind of like all first timers, we had never, you know, never had other gigs before, it was really really spirited, good. You know, we all liked each other. We're all still friends to this day. It's you know, and, and Jerry had had, you know, essentially taking the position like, look, this is a room where best idea wins. That was like, you know, Mike Nichols, like his, his mantra. And so the arguments were passionate, but it was fun. Nobody was mean to anybody. And Michael was like, he was a really good editor, he gave us great discipline on how to break a story. So as a, as a school, it was a tremendous school for learning how to how to do sort of the work of television writing. And so it was, it was great discipline, I think that all of us took, you know, into, into our careers into into the rooms that we have run ourselves and the shows that we've made. So that was kind of amazing. There was also like, there was this rigid wall between the writing staff and the production because Rick Berman was in charge of sort of, like the, that side of it. Initially, like writers weren't allowed to go to the set. They didn't want us anywhere near the cast. It was like, yeah, it was, that's, that's slowly changed over the years. And, you know, I think, you know, being fair, as, as wonderful, as many of the episodes of next generation are, and there are some terrific episodes that really hold up to this day. You know, it was, it was very much a creature of its time, I think it owes a lot of, to like television in the 80s, highly episodic Instructure you freaking out, it's a kind of hitting the reset button every week. It was also, you know, going to the people of the planet with the problem. You know, it was like, it sort of had that vibe.

Alex Ferrari 13:57
There was a red shirt, there was

Naren Shankar 13:58
Exactly that guy, you know, that guy was, you know, he was not gonna make it. And so, you know, but and it slowly loosened up. I always, you know, I think Ron has said this too, in his interviews over the years, you know, what he did with Galactica was as much a reaction to, you know, to next generation, you know, in a lot of ways, like, Deep Space Nine got much, you know, I think, much more complex and dirtier in many ways in good ways. That was always a struggle the young guys had with the bosses, because they felt like that they were like, This was Gene, you know, Gene Roddenberry's? You know, dictum, this is this is the story that we wanted to tell and how we wanted to how next generation was people were kind of perfect, and they had gotten past all of the terrible parts of human age and we were like, but that's where the fun is.

Alex Ferrari 14:47
You have no conflict. You have no no story.

Naren Shankar 14:49
That's that's, that is really the issue. And the first thing that I wrote the first script that I wrote with Ron was was the first duty which was about like, move the world. Keaton's character Wesley Crusher, like lying, you know, to protect his friends and we're like, he would never lie. And like, of course he would lie. And that was, he's a kid. Exactly, exactly. It's like, and that's how you view the world. And so, you know, those are the some extent that show was like, a bit like writing in a straight jack in some ways. In many other ways. It was a phenomenal training ground and a great way to learn the discipline of writing. And so I look back very fondly on those years. And it was a great staff. And I think it's very rare to this day, when you have so many, like all of us first timers, we've all gone on to do so many things. It doesn't always it doesn't always happen that way. And I think it was a special staff.

Alex Ferrari 15:46
And it was an anomaly, too. I mean, that was just a special place at a special time. When things like that happened. It was a wild, it was almost wild, wild west, like in like to bring in a group of first timers in a writer. That's not doesn't happen now does it?

Naren Shankar 16:02
It doesn't it doesn't. Because what happened was one was hired off of a spec script, Renee was hired off of a spec script, Brandon was an intern for the Television Academy. I was an intern through the Writers Guild. Again, no experience in the business. But part of it was also in a successful as next generation was it was also a backwater. It was like it was like, oh, Star Trek, it's just its own weird thing. I like coming off of that show. Agents wouldn't even want to read a Star Trek script. They wouldn't. It's like, Oh, can you do like a like a real show? It's like, that was kind of the attitude.

Alex Ferrari 16:35
Yeah, I do remember that. It was Yeah. It was like, Oh, that's a movie they do for the geeks. And that's before Geekdom was where the money was.

Naren Shankar 16:44
In it took it took like, I do remember, like, probably about 10 or 10 years later, or so after leaving next gen. Somebody told me Oh, they want people to come from the Star Trek school. Because they understood that, that that, you know, he's a sports metaphor. And that coaching tree was actually incredibly applicable to anything, which is what we always would say it's like, you know, in the context of a science fiction, in the context of Star Trek, we would do a legal show a murder mystery, epic drama. It's like, you know, our version of Shakespeare and war. It's like everything. It's like that science fiction was a superset of genres. It was never treated that way. And I think that the business actually became educated to it. And and now it's like, I mean, you know, here, you know,

Alex Ferrari 17:29
Here we are now. We have geek beyond geek beyond everything. No, there's no outskirts now. No, I told I told you before we started work before we started recording that you and I have a connection. So yeah, yeah. Okay. Tell me. Orlando 95.

Naren Shankar 17:46
Orlando. 95.

Alex Ferrari 17:48
SeaQuest.

Naren Shankar 17:50
Oh, my God. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 17:52
I was working downstairs, out on fortune hunter. For Fox.

Naren Shankar 17:58
Oh my god.

Alex Ferrari 18:00
Remember that? Do you remember I do remember that show I worked on I worked as a PA on an office PA on fortune hunter. And then on my side hustle. I worked on the other show that was right underneath your office, which was us, which was the sketch comedy show, syndicated show, and I was working. Yeah. So I was there during that season. I was there when I was there. In between the last season so was when Roy was his last Roy's last writers last season. And then Michael Ironside. So that's where I went to I went to Full Sail.

Naren Shankar 18:32
That's that's the that's the that is the third season of the show. That's the one year I was on. seaQuest fortune hunter was that was that Steve Aspersa show?

Alex Ferrari 18:40
No, that was Boris. Oh, God, the guy who did Swamp Thing was his big thing. He did swamp show Okay, then. Yeah. So fortune hunter he was it was fortune hunter was on for one season did 12 episodes. And then it got canceled. But it was on Fox it was I was so excited to just be working on a show that I can go on on Saturday night and just look like my name's My name is like, like, you know, and then

Naren Shankar 19:06
I never got down. I never got down to Orlando because we had no I never got down because we all the writers and posts were based in in Los Angeles right at Universal. Okay, yeah, yeah. And the bosses went down to Orlando but I never got to and I think I was supposed to but we got canceled like after after 13 or 12 episodes that season. I can't remember but yeah,

Alex Ferrari 19:30
Because I didn't know anything. I knew a couple of the guys up and I mean pas and stuff like that. But I was on the set of requests all the time and walking around and I'm crazy.

Naren Shankar 19:41
Crazy time man. It was bananas. Bananas.

Alex Ferrari 19:47
It was insane. I remember I remember working because I worked at MGM. And then I also am studios. I think for one of the shows and then they they set up at Universal and man like the kids the star or the kid star would like jump out of the tours would have to stop. And yeah, and then there's like Royce rider walking around him like, where am I? And this is our Lando I know, I know that is our that is our slight connection, sir.

Naren Shankar 20:16
God, I was sad actually, I never got to go down there because the show looked great. I mean, it had many, many, many problems on the page, but the physical production and the sets were beautiful. They were really fun.

Alex Ferrari 20:32
So the set that I worked on was right next door to the soundstage was right next door sequence and then UCC quest props all over the damn Yeah, I mean, there was just so many vehicles and stuff like that was so cool, man. But again, when you're starting out when you're starting out, like it was like the coolest thing ever. And it was the 90s

Naren Shankar 20:51
Well, it was you know, I mean, I do remember those days, like we would go down to we would go down to the bridge when it wasn't obviously in use and eat lunch down there on the enterprise. Because what was cool about the set would close up and for those days, I mean, it was like, you know, internally let the ceiling would come down. And so you can just sit on the bridge and like, you know, eat a sandwich. It's kind of cool.

Alex Ferrari 21:14
Speak to my Subway sandwich. These are the things that like you people don't like yeah, I was like eating lunch on the enterprise. Like, you know, you take those are the kinds of little things that no one really knows about. No one hears about, but that's what you're doing in the production when you're there. Oh, yeah, I used to sneak on I just sneak on the set of sequence. Yeah, of course, constantly, constantly on the weekends when nobody was there. I bring relatives in from out of town. And I would just walk in.

Naren Shankar 21:42
They have those those built in tombs for Darwin, which were for real. I mean, it's like, animatronic fishes like and it's like that is that was a beautifully designed set. It really was.

Alex Ferrari 21:53
It was it was pretty stunning. It was pretty it for its time. It was insane.

Naren Shankar 21:57
Oh, yeah, absolutely. It was insane.

Alex Ferrari 22:00
Now, so how many times so you've been working on set for for I mean, you've been working in television for many years now. Can you pinpoint one of the worst days of something going wrong? Like some crap, something the days you're losing light, something, something really bad happens? And in how did you overcome that day?

Naren Shankar 22:21
Well, the one that really kind of sticks out is I was doing a show for NBC called UC undercover. It was it was, you know, early 2000 was on for one season. So it was 2001. And so I had written it was basically about the US Marshal Service. And it had Odette Farah was the star of your Farmiga was that was kind of her first show. I mean, it's like so great look great production. Shane Salerno created it. It was his first show, as a show runner, and I was I was the number two brought in there. I had written a script about domestic terrorism, a couple of psychopathic brothers who will like

Alex Ferrari 23:10
I already I already know where you're going.

Naren Shankar 23:14
And and the script opened with a sarin gas attack at a football game in which like, you know, I had like 100 people die. And my wife, my wife would read my scripts, and she goes, That's too many. That's just ridiculous. It's like, there's no way that that could happen. So I write the script, we are in prep, and I'm in bed, and I get a call my phone rings at Shane. And he goes, tariffs just slammed into the World Trade Center. We're throwing out the script. We're shutting down to talk later. Oh. And, and, and it is it was like, that was a surreal moment. We went back to the office. Like two days later, a day later. The whole writing staff was like, why don't we do?

Alex Ferrari 24:03
Yeah. Anyone living during that time? No, you just knew.

Naren Shankar 24:07
What do we do? We're in an absolute days. We have no script. The director who was being Ken Fink, who I worked with, you know, for years on seaQuest. Phenomenal director. We had to drive him up to Vancouver because there's no planes. So he can we put them in a truck with a Teamster. And we drove them up to Vancouver, because we needed a director to prep a show, which we no longer had a script for. And there's this place in Vancouver that was called crease clinic. It was a it was an old old hospital from like the built in like the 40s or 50s. And it had become it closed down and it become like this place in Vancouver. You could turn it into anything. It could be a hospital, it could be a prison, it could be it could be whatever, you know, and so film shot. It was it was it was used for locations for a million things over the years. And so Shane goes, Okay, we're gonna we're gonna book that thing. Um, we're gonna make a prison riot episode. And we're like, okay, and so the whole staff and this show was, I just have to say was a was a messed up nightmare. It was like, it was like, every every episode was some various form of disaster, highly dysfunctional in many ways is like, it's like, you know, people quitting as I was, oh, it's one of it was a crazy experience. And I'm actually fond of che, it was like, it was a nutty experience. But this was like, the one time where everybody just pulled together because we just have to get it done. And so we broke a story. We like we, we each like, wrote an act, turned it around real fast sent the the acts one by one up to production, Ken was like, I'm cool. It's like, like, everybody just got their shit together. And the episode turned out great. It was like one of the best episodes of the show. And it was, it was a, it was a terrible, terrible moment. And I still have trouble. I've looked at that script, like once or twice, but it's hard to disconnect it from the experience of that times. And and yeah, it was, it was just that was like that. I still, the memories are very vivid. The memories are very vivid at that time.

Alex Ferrari 26:19
That's well, that's, that's a heck of a story, man. I mean, having to get a phone call Jesus, I can only imagine. Well, so. Alright, so you've been doing this again for a while. I've talked to so many so many writers at high levels in the business. One thing that always surprises me is that every single one of them deals with impostor syndrome. Is that something that you deal with still to this day? And were like, Oh, my God, they just I'm just an engineer. Why am I here? Or do I just kind of just go away as you get go through?

Naren Shankar 26:54
I can't I don't think it says we're like, you know? No, I don't. You know, I don't feel that way. I think I think there is a you know, I think what what definitely happens is, and maybe maybe impostor syndrome is a narrow way to define it. But it is like, it's like you go oh my god, I've been so successful. Do I deserve this? It's like, that's, that's, that's part of it. And that's and that that is much more a psychological thing about yourself. And if you're, if you look at yourself as a good person, or as a bad person, or whatever person or you're being too mean, or you're being intolerant, whatever it is, those are things that are very complicated. And I think that those speak to that ideas, like more like, do I deserve what I've been given? Because, because, you know, it is a look, this is a low percentage success business is there's no question about it. And I think, for me, it's like, I'm very open. And Frank about the fact that I think I just got lucky, you know, I had I had, I had the right, I had the right, I had the right friend, you know, who, who and he had the right friend. And you know, and it's just like, I kind of blundered into it. And, you know, by the way, I came out to LA like a year and a half later, I was on staff, you know, that's like, that's, that's ridiculous. Like, my wife would, you know, she was an independent producer for years, and she never quite got anything, you know, running, she seems so close. And it's like, she got you didn't pay your dues. And I like, I'm like, I kind of didn't I mean, I I suppose I could lie and say, Oh, look, I was in school for 10 years. It's like, that's not I didn't want to be a filmmaker. I didn't I didn't think that that was a thing. You know, it's like, so. So I think, to me, it's it's acknowledging the people who helped you, and, and being humble about the role that luck plays in these things, right. It's like, it's like it is you have to acknowledge that it's like, I think, I think, you know, this idea that, Oh, I'm successful, because I deserve it. It's like, well, it may be you have talents and skills, and again, but it is timing, luck, you know, being in the right place at the right time. It's like, if you're convincing yourself that you're special. It's like, I don't I don't think it's as simple as that. And so, I, you know, basically what I tried to do is acknowledge that I try to I try to be very attentive to the, to the notion that we are an apprenticeship based guild, it's like I take I take the idea of mentorship really seriously. And, you know, I like I like bringing writers into into the business giving people chances promoting from within, because those are all the things that you know, enabled me to get, you know, further. So, it's like, so I don't have impostor syndrome that way. I also feel like every single experience I have is a learning experience. It's like I and I, and I take this back to I did a lot of martial arts and I was in college and the first Time or since they came in to teach us. It's like he like, you know, plus that everybody's asking at the end of the classes like, here's like, and he said, he said, Remember how you feel this way you feel stupid, you feel like you don't know anything, you feel like you're bad. It's like he goes, keep that keep that idea. In your head. It's called fresh mind. It's like me, there's always more to learn. There's always things you don't know. And just, you know, keep that idea in the business. And it's like, then it's joyful, right? You're always learning, you're learning from other people, you're learning new skills. You don't ever have to be the person and you shouldn't be the person that says, oh, no, I know everything. I know how it absolutely has to be like, and so that's sort of how I approach it.

Alex Ferrari 30:45
And of course, you've never met anybody in Hollywood that acts that way. Of course. Never nobody, right? Yeah, no, never, never, never, never, ever.

Naren Shankar 30:56
There there's, there are There are meanings like, a couple of times, I dabbled in features that were so hilarious. Like, my first time I got to write a feature. It was like this won't even specifically give you the names. But it was like it was it was adapting a novel, which is like this thriller, sort of with a slight science fiction bent. And, and the producer had the book, the first thing he said was throw away the one science fiction thing that made the book specialist like what, and then and then he and then he proceeded to draw a graph for me about, about how the audience should feel at any moment in a thing. Because like, they got to be here. And then they got to be there. And there's like, and then you got to build up here. And I'm like, I was literally, just, there's one guy in the room. I knew I was like, I looked, I turned him and I was like, why is he talking? Like, I didn't even understand what was happening. And it's like this. I've been on staff for years at this point, like, What are you talking? It's like, so, so mechanical, and it was, I don't know, if it was like the Robert McKee thing. It was like you're saying, gotta have this here and kind of just do this here.

Alex Ferrari 31:56
And you might have read the hero's journey, and then just all of a sudden,

Naren Shankar 32:04
It's like, but it was so mechanical is like you must write a story this way. I'm like, must

Alex Ferrari 32:12
17 This happens on page 27. This happens like,

Naren Shankar 32:16
Like, why must it happen? Can we have some control over?

Alex Ferrari 32:21
We're the ones creating this. I don't know. That's, that's funny. That is funny. So you, you worked on another little show called CSI for? Small independent show just started out. You worked on that for a while? Eight years? Yeah, eight years on that. So I wanted to ask you, how do you approach because I know a lot of a lot of writers coming up? Don't know this. How did you How do you approach procedural storytelling for a procedural show like CSI, which has an overarching arc of a story for the characters, but there's a new body of the new death a new mystery every week, as opposed to like the expanse, which is much more of a narrative, you know, storytelling with a full arc without the individual, daily or weekly things? How do you approach that storytelling differently?

Naren Shankar 33:15
Well, I mean, you know, procedural, every show has its own sort of specific problem in one way or another. And with CSI, you know, the classic one, our mystery has a lot of has a lot of, you know, built in inherent structure to it. If the intention is to solve a crime, it's like, it naturally goes in a particular way. And CSI had those had those rhythms built in, right. It's like, you have to start with a crime, you have to have different theories of the crime, there has to be some resolution to the case. So in a sense, the kind of show that you're telling dictated that structure. Now, you can say that's formulaic. Yeah. I mean, to an extent but but it's also it's like, couldn't you say the same that any detective mystery novel is formulaic? Sure. Right.

Alex Ferrari 34:06
And it's and there's a crime, you got to figure it out. It's at the end of the day. That's Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes story is a Charlotte som story.

Naren Shankar 34:14
Here is a Sherlock Holmes story. Exactly. So So you have to embrace that to some extent. I mean, I was probably the most, you know, experimental, of the writers on the bosses and writers on that show, is because I was constantly looking for ways to break the format and to change things and make things because I felt that was, I felt that was something that you could do in a show, is that successful is that and I think that we were much more experimental than we needed to be, like, I think we were much more experimental than Law and Order was Law and Order was, was like a rhythm. Right? And so I tried to break those rhythms in a lot of different ways. Over the years and and but but again, you know, I could point to episodes of CSI that are like straight formula episodes of the show. that are phenomenal. You know, and I think that what I liked about that show was it was a different way to tell a mystery story. You know, I watched it first as a fan. I mean, it's like, and by the way, hilariously, I was working on a show when CSI came out, and as an anthology science fiction show and the other one of the other writers on the show goes, you just because of the way I thought or you know, like we would talk about so he does, you'd be perfect for that show for CSI and I go, I'd rather be dead than tell mystery stories. That's like, fucking hell, man. That's just a nightmare. You got to come up with a crime and you come on come up with a it's like, of course. years later, I'm on the show.

Alex Ferrari 35:45
And yeah, I mean, it is it is it is. I mean, thinking about as a writer, you just like, Man, how do you got to come up with a crime every week? And it can't just be like, Oh, someone got stabbed. It's got to be like, some crazy thing to make it interesting.

Naren Shankar 35:58
I think the way I approached it, and the thing I liked about it was, in the early years of the show, it was a very serious crime drama. It was done with incredible high style. I mean, that was that was really, you know, Jerry Bruckheimer. He wanted to look a particular way. And it was beautiful. I mean, it was like, and it was very, very striking on the technical side. And it really used, you know, like, almost like a fashion photography, sort of like a quality to it.

Alex Ferrari 36:24
And then we're in 90s, and 90s, to early 2000s. Style, Bruckheimer.

Naren Shankar 36:28
But you you look at it, it still looks beautiful, it has a look, you know, and I think the television so often didn't have a look that it was, it was so beautiful, just to watch. Right. And so that was part of its appeal. But also it was the inherent message of the show, which was, which was that, you know, expressed by by Billy Peterson character, so many times was like, you know, if you're smart, if you're methodical, if you don't let yourself get confused by lies, you know, just objectively approach the evidence and the facts in the case that you'll get to the truth. That that is a that to me, is the DNA of the show. And so it was, there's so many times when, you know, the show with this unique, unique approach told a mystery story and a crime story in a different way. Um, that's really what I what I liked about the show, as it got bigger and bigger and more successful. There was a pressure on it, I think, to become much more sensationalized, much more fetishized. I think the show in its later years, really, kind of grotesquely fetishized violence, it was, it was part of the thing that I didn't like, as I was towards the end of my time there. Because, you know, one of the, one of our consultants on the show is a criminalist, with the LA County Sheriff's Department said, you know, and that this line made it into the show, it's like she said, you know, we meet people on the worst day of their lives. It's like, you know, it's like, it's like, and, and what she was talking about was, was understanding and the psychological trauma and connection to loss that these crimes had and the show had that focus very early on, and it got further and further away from it, as the show went on, and I found that very disheartening. And, and there's like, there's, there's a, there's a beautiful episode from the second season of the show called Chaos Theory. And it's basically every act is like this girl who dies a college student dies, and, and they can't figure out what what's going on what has happened. Each act they follow Ay ay ay, ay promisingly lead to a dead end and then the next act is okay, let's look at something else. And at the end of it what they realize is it's just some crazy accident it's like she was she was trying to get a cab in the rain and she gets hit by a car knock literally into a dumpster. And and it's just a random occurrence it's just a tragedy and and Billy Peterson's character tells us to the parents and the parents go no, we refuse to accept that no way there's no way it could have been something like that. And they just leave angry and he doesn't understand he goes I thought the truth would actually make them feel better. And Martin burgers character says, you know, it's like, that's not what's happening here. You got to understand that that's a deep idea you know, and it's like it's a those are the things a show did early on that they that they did less than less of the show did less and less of later on. And so I think it kind of went away from my from I think it's true mission. But you know, it also did some great episodes later I mean, we did one of my favorites was it was an episode called killer. And it was the first episode shows like we revealed the murder at the beginning. No, you kill killed. One of the beginnings William Sadler did this part and can think directly this is a beautiful episode. It's not a it's not a who done it. It's a wide done it turned it turned it over. little bit on his head is that you develop the personality this person you understand what he did and why he did it over the course of the episode. And it's just, it's one of my favorites of the entire time. And then we did you know, we did kind of style breaking episodes as we ended up having a lot of lab technicians on the show who are great comic actors, while the Langham was Vasey. They were and they were fun. And they were being underused, they'd come on the show, because they were you know, they had but they were being under use. So I started these episodes called the lab rats episodes, which were once a season, we would turn the entire show over to the supporting characters and just do like a black comedy. And, and they became like one of my favorite things. It's like we introduced them in a season where we had like an ongoing arc about a killer who leaves perfect scale miniatures of crime scenes at crime scenes, which is probably my favorite season of the show. But the lab rats like make this incredible break in the case, like, like, in their, in their, you know, one little episode and then year by year, we would do other shows. And maybe the most fun was, was one call is I think it was called Yeah, it's called you kill me. Which is, which is the entire show is the lab rats discussing about how they would murder each other. How they would, how they would just murder people, and how they how, and it is it's just like hilarious. Like, like, you know, imaginary, dark, dark humor. And it's like, it's, I loved working in those guys that Liz VAs you and I are good friends now. And they were they were super fun. And yeah, so I you know, the show had lots of rhythms, I think. I think it became culturally more of a caricature, in some ways.

Alex Ferrari 41:56
A generation of, of women specifically really became CSI investigators, because of that show.

Naren Shankar 42:04
I mean, that's, that's one of the things I loved about it. It's like, when the show started, there were like five forensic programs around the country. And after and, you know, 10 years into it, there were like, like, 500. You know,

Alex Ferrari 42:15
I mean, it became a real thing. So the show did a lot of good. It did a lot a lot of good. For for the world. Without that. You can't say that, about many shows.

Naren Shankar 42:27
You know, I actually, I liked that. I feel like Star Trek was that way it had that it had that quality CSI was that way. I mean, especially with women, because again, I think it's like their disproportion. It was not a show in which you resolve conflicts with violence. He was writing thought, thought your way through that. And I And so many times, you know, people would come up like a mother and her 12 year old daughter's like, this is our favorite show. We watch it together. It's like, I know, I know. And I'd be like, that's got intense, but it is it is it is a you know, it's just an interesting observation is like they would always gravitate to the puzzle solving aspect of it.

Alex Ferrari 43:05
Now, obviously, you've worked in a lot of rooms over the years, there's this kind of unspoken rule or unspoken information about the politics of a, of a writers room. Can you talk a little bit about what the politics are in the writers room as far as a young writer walking into it? So they understand what's going on

Naren Shankar 43:27
Unspoken politics in the writers room? How do you how do you mean, could you elaborate on that,

Alex Ferrari 43:31
So just kind of like how you know, because I know that everyone, every every show runner runs differently, sometimes they they're in the rooms, and run the actual room, sometimes they have, you know, the second command runs the room, how to speak what not to do, don't try to you know, you when you're throwing out ideas, don't throw out the problem throughout the solution. These kind of ideas. I've picked this up just from interviewing showrunners so those kinds of those kinds of things that young writer might not understand about a writers room and listening to this will give them an idea of how they should approach being in a room not theirs. Some people are too quiet some people are too out there. You know, everyone there's I know there was one writer I had on the show that when he was your showrunner, but when he was a writer, he's like, Yeah, I just kept throwing out I solved the ideas for everything. And the showrunner is like Wow, your universe, everyone, everything gets all thrown away. So these are those little things. I just love to hear from you what your opinion is,

Naren Shankar 44:28
You know, every every room is different. Every everybody who runs a show runs room a little differently. I can only really tell you how the way I look at things and and also sort of describe what I think are the bad rooms that I've seen running. Right. Yeah, you know, I feel like there there are maybe the extremes are one in which everybody is trying to please the boss in which in which it is as, you know, step on everybody else to get your hand raised. And so you get noticed, some people run rooms that way. Some people are very absent, they let their second do something, and then they come in and they blow everything up and say, you're all stupid, and then they leave. It's like, that happens as well. It's like, I, I feel like I don't, I don't think it's really a good idea for show runners to be out of the room. It's like a lot of a lot of bad show runners, I think. They say, Well, I gotta go fix, I gotta go fix Episode Five, it's like a disaster, I gotta fix it in editing. The reason everybody hides out in editing and why it's a very bad sign, is because you don't have to deal with another person's opinion. You don't have to, you don't have to defend anything, really. Because all you said do that do that do that is pure control. And so it's a, it's a, it's a hiding out kind of a behavior. The best rooms that I have ever been in, in the way I try to conduct ours is, is, again, it's that best idea wins. Everybody has a voice, everybody gets to make a contribution, everybody needs to listen to everybody else. If an idea isn't strong enough, and it can't withstand an argument, then you need a better idea. And, and that is there's no hierarchy, everybody's voice is equal. I've taken notes from, you know, suggestions from our pas, you know, it's like, we're sitting there in the room, it doesn't matter to me, you know, it's like, my job is, is probably like a hand on the rudder, right? It's like, I have to guide it, I have to give it shape. Sometimes, if you know, if the question is, should the dress be red, or the dress be blue? If I like red, then the dress is red. That's an aesthetic, you know, that's an aesthetic decision. If I have an idea for a character and or a moment and somebody goes, that's just doesn't make any sense, this character would never do that. And if the argument is good, and change it, right is the answer. It's like, you have to be able, you have to have the courage to do that. And I think part of it, for me, it goes back to my, you know, my background in in hard science, because it's like, it's essentially peer review, right? You write a paper, you put it up, and then you sit back with your colleagues. And then you question the fundamentals of it, you question the foundation of it, is it you know, that's what that is, right. And so you have to have, I think you have to have that is like that kind of when everybody feels comfortable like that, they're going to be listened to that everybody can make a contribution. I think you get the best out of people that way. And I treat departments on the physical production side the same way. It's like these are these people are experts in what they do. It's like, I don't tell them how to make everything, I tell them what I'm looking for, but then let them go and be creative.

Alex Ferrari 47:53
You know, you don't micromanage you don't micromanage you,

Naren Shankar 47:57
There's an inevitable amount of micromanagement that happens because, because it's hierarchical, right? Everybody is responsible for a piece of it, every department is responsible for a piece of it. But the people who are responsible for the whole thing, it's basically on my shows, that's basically me, right? I am the one that that ultimately says, this is the shape of it, this is a story want to tell, this is the cut, this is the, the sound, this is the music, it's like, but you're gonna get a better thing. If everybody at every stage of that process gets to make the thing that they do really, really well. All you have to do is guide them, because you're just gonna get tremendous stuff out of people, I think that way. And that's how I prefer to do it.

Alex Ferrari 48:37
Now, is there a piece of advice you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career, if you can go back and tell yourself when you when you when you were sleeping on that couch? Is there something that you wish you would have known?

Naren Shankar 48:51
I, you know, I actually had the initial my formative experiences in the business were really positive ones, they really were Star Trek was a very positive place to learn good people, good stories, you know, a stable place for several years, you know, seaQuest for negative examples, you know, it's like, like, things that were very clear that you shouldn't do. You know, and but but at that point, I was I was confident enough in my own abilities, that I could understand those. The Outer Limits was my next gig, which I did for three years, the Showtime anthology show, which was a phenomenal training ground just to learn to learn almost every aspect of production because an anthology you're creating a new world, every building yet making it you know, and the range of shows you got to do were tremendous. I mean, because we did, you know, an old western and then a futuristic show that a spaceship show and then a contemporary show, and it's like it's like, all like one after another. And so the amount of The amount of learning you get for literally any kind of production problem was astonishing, you know. And so, you know, I just I think I just got lucky in that sense. I just got good experiences upfront. So I think and good mentors, you know, who were, you know, gave me a lot of opportunities, a lot of freedom.

Alex Ferrari 50:25
So no, no, how did you get involved with the expanse net? Because that's been doing that's been doing pretty well for you. Over the years. I just had Thomas on by the way, I just had Tom. He's great. He's like, Oh, my God, Thomas. Jane is just an amazing human being. He's sitting there with his pipe, clicking on the clicking on his pipe, he has skulls in the background. And I'm like, Thomas, the level of cool that you are, is just not it's natural to it's not it's not manufactured. And you can see it in expanse, too. You could see that cool. Just come right off the street. It's pretty amazing.

Naren Shankar 51:02
He was he was he was so he was such a delight to work with it. I think initially, he was, you know, he's a little guarded when you're getting to know him. And I think he was guarded about just sort of, like, attaching himself to this weird thing on the Sci Fi Channel. But, you know, he. He really I think Mark Fergus, who Mark Ferguson Hawk Osby wrote the pilot, Link Mark, he really connected with Mark, and just in sort of the love of the same kind of movies. And Tom is such a cinephile is, you know, oh, my god, like, hardcore. And then I think he started, he became, you know, he started trusting us when we were delivering on the things that we said we were going to do in a way that we were going to do and, and I think that by the end of it, he became really, he was really choked up, like, like, on his last days of, you know, leaving the show, and it was like, it was really, I think, I think he feels proud of the work that we did on the expanse.

Alex Ferrari 52:07
So how did you get involved expense,

Naren Shankar 52:08
I was like the last element I was. Because the books had been optioned by Alcon mark and Hawk had been attached to write the pilot. They, they had never done television before. So the pilot was sold to sci fi with an on air commitment. And so Alcon was a small studio done, you know, done some, you know, they did the blind side, but they'd done you know, features and, and they were getting a little bit more in that space. But they had never done television show before. And Sharon Hall, who's the president of Alcon at that time, I'd worked with her. She'd been at Sony for many years, we've done development together. And she thought I would be a good fit for this show. And so I just came in and met with with the guys and this was at the pilot stage. They just had a script, they didn't have the production wasn't up and running. And so they just needed somebody, you know, who, who could mount a show like this? And it was, I mean, I'll be to be honest. I had, I had been away from science fiction for a very long time, but 10 years almost. And I was not a fan of what, you know, the Sci Fi Channel was putting on because other than Battlestar Galactica, they had a pretty grim slate of things, and they would send me stuff I read, and I go, and so my agent sent me the script. And it's on the Sci Fi Channel, and I went, delete. And I just deleted it. The first time, I just didn't even read it. And they came back to me, like three weeks later, I said, Look, please read the script, they really want you. And this time, I scroll to the bottom, and I see that mark and Hawk had written Children of Men. And and which I loved, and I'm like, okay, all right. And I didn't know the books. And so I read the script. I was like, Are they really going to make this? It's like, because this is not like the thing that they had they this is not the kind of material that they had. They had embraced, you know, but it was a new regime. Bill McGoldrick had come in there and, and I met with the guys and we talked about the script, and I liked them, and they liked me. And then, you know, there we go,

Alex Ferrari 54:11
The rest of this industry

Naren Shankar 54:13
Six years later,

Alex Ferrari 54:15
Naren I'm going to ask you a couple questions. I asked all of my guests three questions. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Naren Shankar 54:23
It's tough. Realistically, it's a very difficult business to break into. One of the big changes in the business from when I started was, you don't have this regular broadcast TV machine, making a zillion episodes of a show. What you have are really big productions making way fewer episodes with much tighter staff. So the abilities to get into it are actually I think tougher. It's like because the pathways have changed. It's like you don't really have a freelance writing market like you did 2530 years ago. The ways into the biz dentists are becoming a writers assistant, which is a highly coveted job becoming an executive producers assistant, which is another pathway into the business. And so aspiring writers are always trying to find that way in. That's right. Because yeah, you can write scripts, you can get agents to read them, you can get put up to staff, you know, there's always that available. But that's a numbers game too, right? Because it's like, he's just a lot of people in the business. But getting that shot at being in a room really learning. It's just tough. I mean, it's like, so the key is, right, network and try to get one of those gigs, you know, take advantage of internships and fellowships that are all, you know, they're out there at the studios. Those are all really, really good programs and the gills, you know, and, and that's really, and that's really the trick, it's like, and you know, even if it's like, even if the job is a pas job that gets you in the writers room, it's like, take it, take it, take it and learn, you'll learn something, it's learned something. And if you show people something and a desire, it's like, hopefully, if you're on the right people, they'll give you those opportunities and give you a chance to take a step up. I mean, we promoted several writers, from writers assistants and, and EPSS. On the expanse, we did that on CSI. I mean, even into editorial director, writers, like we did a lot of homegrown internal production, I mean, internal promotion. I'm a big believer in that. And I think that's the way things should work.

Alex Ferrari 56:35
I'll tell I'll tell you what I mean, I worked as I learned more as a PA working in Orlando, than I did at film school, I would skip school to just go and be on the set and learn and being and being in the office and seeing things run. I just You just learned so much more than you do at a school because you're just seeing it happen. You're picking up things that are not in books, and the teachers generally don't talk about and like those nuances of stuff that that go on, on set. You just, you know, I remember the first day as a PA, they're like, a bunch of grips like you want to intern in the grip department, or go to the grip department first in the grips did a giant pile of cable that's like 15 miles long, untangle that for me. I learned I didn't want to be a grip.

Naren Shankar 57:18
And the guys, that's hilarious. You know, and when you're on a set, people, people will talk to you, they will they they're happy to share knowledge with you, everybody really does understand this sort of like inherent apprenticeship model. But, you know, you should never be afraid to ask questions. What's the worst that can happen? It's like, Stop bothering me. We'll talk later. And it's like, but I would be like on CSI, we had this amazing experience, you know, focus puller, and his name's Gary Mueller. And he had worked for ever, like he worked in a fifth plug in the 50s and 60s for like, you know, Billy Friedkin, and it's like, he was like, a grouchy perfectionist, but like seeing everything. And whenever I had a question on CSI ago, I could give her as this where he's like, I'll go to Gary and ask him and he told me and I remember was I had this question about like, lenses and lens systems and CSI was, was really interesting, because all of the effects were almost all of them were practical in camera effects. We didn't do any any post digital stuff, really. So we experimented a lot. And I said, this is work because I don't I don't quite understand it. He goes, he goes, would you like would you like me to take you to Panama vision, and just go look at the camera, and I'll teach you like, and he arranged for visit, we went on the weekend. And he said like he said all of his years working. None of the bosses had asked him these questions. And it's like, I'm like, How the fuck do you learn this? Like, how do you learn? It's like, there's so many people who are afraid of looking stupid, because they don't know something. Right? I say, I don't know how that works all the time. Or tell me how that works. And I know a lot. I've been doing this for a long time. It's like, but you got it, you got to take those opportunities. There are people who knows so much and their knowledge is so specialized. And filmmaking is such a weird combination of pure, creative and highly technical. It's like it's an unusual thing. And so, you know, I think a lot of reasons these days that like writer showrunners like what's happening a lot of times now you see pairings like have a writer showrunner. And then a producing director. It's like, you know, because there's a whole side of post production that they don't even that they're terrified of people like to edit. But when you start talking about sound mixing when you start talking about music and talking about color and VFX they just get no you got you do that. That's fine. You show me it's like, I feel like that's like that's, you know, a little bit like a director saying we're just gonna do half a movie. You know, it's like, the right it's like all of those things are part of the experiences like I I have had friends who like I remember I was I was I came into a meeting on some show, and I'm still doing posts on the expanse and, and I said, Sorry, it's like, you know, are mixed with nine hours yesterday. And they're like, what, nine hours. And I'm like, about normal. It's like a seven or nine hour mix is what I do. And it's like, I just go to playback and then just say, you know, give them a couple of notes and then elite, I'm like, you're missing out on a lot of shit. Because you learn you learn you sound sound is half of the way you perceive the world.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:31
You could also see mistakes if it's there any mistakes being made on set you now because if you're just listening to a match, you don't see the details. But like, Man, this boot is not getting it. Oh, man. It's like it's offer. Something's happened and the sound guys not doing his job, right? You're in the mix, you're in literally in the mix, literally,

Naren Shankar 1:00:47
Literally in the mix. So you know, I feel like, you know, that is a That's the deal. It's like, just gonna learn a lot doing that.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:58
What lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Naren Shankar 1:01:03
Okay, I'll limit it to the film industry, because there's probably many things I'm still learning. I think I personally have a tendency to, to take on projects or ideas that I probably shouldn't, because I want to prove that I can do it. And that, that that sometimes is not good. It's like, just to show somebody, oh, yeah, you think that's not adaptable? Fuck it, I'll do it. And then I'll beat my head against it forever, just to try to show somebody that it's not necessarily the best way to really do something, I would do that on shows a lot. And I think I would also I don't know, it's, there's a sort of like a Pruvit mentality, sometimes it's not healthy. And I think that maybe another aspect of that is, is I would, if something isn't working early in my career, I would force it, I would just try to ram my way through it and just just make it happen. I got good advice, saying, You know what, it's a creative thing. Maybe today isn't the day just step away from it and come back to it. It's like, you have to learn that too. It's like you have to learn when you're forcing, you have to learn when it's not being productive. And don't be afraid to just just let it take a step back and go for a walk or take a shower or go for a drive or something because your brain sometimes needs time to make connections between things. And so I'm think I'm much more comfortable doing that now than I was early in my career for sure.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:48
And last question, what are three pilots that every screenwriters who listen read, or every television writer should read? More episodes or episodes of a show?

Naren Shankar 1:03:01
It changes, I would say that changes era by era, and, you know, genre by genre, like, like, what is a? Like, what's a great, you know, if you if you like crime shows, like crimes and cop shows, like, what's a great show to watch now, you could make, you could make a lot of different, you know, you could say the sopranos if you wanted to go back aways, you could say mayor of Easton, you know, if you so it's like, it's really that's very much of a moving target. Because there are, I used to collect like pilots, I thought were really, really terrific. The problem is, they may not be so terrific. When you go back a few years. You know, you're it's like it really does change.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:47
I mean, like the Breaking Bad pilots still. You're absolutely brilliant, even though it was so many years ago when that came out, but you just read it. Well, that's, that's remarkable.

Naren Shankar 1:03:57
They can they can they do last? I mean, you know, I think Game of Thrones is a terrific pilot.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
And men, bad men.

Naren Shankar 1:04:03
Yeah, Mad Men is a great pilot.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:06
Yeah, Mad Men. Sopranos? I mean, David chases. I mean, it's it's the firt the first one. Yeah, there's so many. There's so many. But just,

Naren Shankar 1:04:14
I mean, I used to keep, I used to keep the X Files. I love that. I think I think what it is for pilots, for me, it's like, if you can think of pilots, first episodes of shows that were tremendous. Inevitably, there are like, one or two moments that are so striking that you always remember them. It's like, you know, you like feel

Alex Ferrari 1:04:38
Like a guy with a gun in his underwear. You know, with a mess with

Naren Shankar 1:04:44
The very first image of Breaking Bad, right? It's like, but that's but that's what I mean. It's like I think those are the pilots that stick with you. It's like even you know, independent of era or style or anything like that. I think that I think that really is what it is.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:57
Naren man. It has been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank You so much for coming on the show and sharing your sharing your knowledge and experience with with my tribe and hopefully somebody listening out there is terrified now and won't be in the business but or at least understands what they're getting into. Or you know, get a degree in engineering and applied physics.

Naren Shankar 1:05:20
You know, there are times you just what I really do go like, you know, man, really lucky and it is ridiculous that people pay me to tell stories and make cool shows for a living. It's like it is just a it is just, you know, pinch me and you know, I'll do it as long as I can because it's really fun.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:43
Man, it was a pleasure meeting you and thank you again for being on the show, brother. I appreciate you.

Naren Shankar 1:05:47
My pleasure.


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BPS 199: From Adult Films to Showrunning with Barry Sonnenfeld

I can’t tell you how excited I am for today’s episode. I had the pleasure to speak to the legendary director Barry Sonnenfeld. We discuss his idiosyncratic upbringing in New York City, his breaking into film as a cinematographer with the Coen brothers, and his unexpected career as the director behind such huge film franchises as The Addams Family and Men in Black, and beloved work like Get Shorty, Pushing Daises, and A Series of Unfortunate EventsWe also chat about the time he shot nine porno films in nine days. That story alone is worth the price of admission.

I don’t think Will does get upstaged because his reaction is always funnier than what is actually happening. That is also the reason Tommy is funnier than Will.

In his new book Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker shares his laugh-out-loud memoir about coming of age. Constantly threatened with suicide by his over-protective mother, disillusioned by the father he worshiped, and abused by a demonic relative, Sonnenfeld somehow went on to become one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and directors.

His book is written with poignant insight and real-life irony, the book follows Sonnenfeld from childhood as a French horn player through graduate film school at NYU, where he developed his talent for cinematography. His first job after graduating was shooting nine feature-length pornos in nine days. From that humble entrée, he went on to form a friendship with the Coen Brothers, launching his career shooting their first three films.

Though Sonnenfeld had no ambition to direct, Scott Rudin convinced him to be the director of The Addams Family. It was a successful career move. He went on to direct many more films and television shows. Will Smith once joked that he wanted to take Sonnenfeld to Philadelphia public schools and say,

“If this guy could end up as a successful film director on big-budget films, anyone can.”

His book is a fascinating and hilarious roadmap for anyone who thinks they can’t succeed in life because of a rough beginning.

Barry Sonnenfeld’s philosophy is,

“Regret the Past. Fear the Present. Dread the Future.”

This EPIC conversation is almost two hours and had me on the floor laughing one minute and in absolute shock the next. This is by far one of my favorite interviews I have ever done on the show.

So sit back, grab a drink and enjoy my conversation with Barry Sonnenfeld.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 2:40
I'd like to welcome to the show Barry Sonnenfeld. Barry, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Barry Sonnenfeld 5:10
It's a pleasure. Good to be here.

Alex Ferrari 5:12
I'd like I was telling you, before we got started, I've been a very big fan of your work for a long, long time. I actually, I was in the video store in the 1980s and 90s. So you had a big impact on me with some of your early films, especially stuff with your Coen brothers and, and the stuff that you were shooting as a cinematographer, which we'll get into. But I remember the big standee for Addams Family, right in the front of my my mom and pop store. Yeah, and and man, the whole family, right? Yeah, it was, it was a very interesting in the 80s in the 90s. Were a very fun time. So we'll talk about that as well. But first and foremost, what made you want to pee in this ridiculous business that we call the film industry?

Barry Sonnenfeld 5:56
You know, it was totally accidental. I was I didn't grow up with any sort of love or interest in films. I was not a film buff. I didn't go to a lot of movies. I thought I wanted to be a still photographer, you know, and I bought a Leica and I had, you know, a series of lenses that use like a Believe me, not a new one too expensive. And I realized a I didn't think I was ever going to be good enough and be I thought it would be a fairly lonely profession. And I wanted to find something with just more you know, people in it, you know, more communication and collaboration. But I graduated college and I had I took a year off couldn't figure out what I wanted to do. And my mother had this weird fear. She's very over protective. tend to name is above Barry sonnenfeld call your mother and she's very over protective and said, Why don't you go to graduate homeschool, you should go to NYU graduate film school you love photography you love writing. Movies suggests a lot of still photographs with writing, which by the way is totally not true. Even though I went to NYU for three years of graduate film school, and my parents had no money and they did not pay for my education, I ended up taking out massive student loans. But while at NYU, I discovered I had an ability to shoot I was one of the two really good cameraman at graduate film school. Weirdly, the other graduate student who was a good cinematographer, was my next door neighbor in the East Village. And that was Bill Pope. Pope shot, you know, the matron ambrane the he shot the three matrix movies, he's shot, Sam's, you know, Spider Man movies he shot man and black three for me. So we were the two cameramen at NYU, as it turns out,

Alex Ferrari 8:03
That's that's very you see. that's those are great stories. Those are great, sir. And within that early years, those were the that was the 70s if I'm not mistaken, right. And NYU? Yeah. Mid 70s. Yeah, mid 70s. So Marty was already Marty at that point. And he's already making stuff, obviously.

Barry Sonnenfeld 8:21
Yeah, well, he was he he did teach at NYU undergraduate school, which was on a different campus and all that he had already made a couple of movies I think he had made even had made Main Streets by the time we were either in or getting out of graduate film school. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 8:41
That was a must. That must have been a very exciting time to be in not only NYU specifically but around in, in the film industry, because the Hollywood system was kind of breaking down the old studio system was breaking down in the week giving opportunities due to the young uns to the to the film school crazies.

Barry Sonnenfeld 9:00
You know, what we we weren't in the film industry, we were barely making a living working at network couriers delivering packages from seven to nine in the morning while I graduate film school, while I was fun, actually, at the Graduate film school is that we often had cameraman and, and directors come to the school and show their movie, you know, before it was coming out, you know, sort of. And that was interesting, because, you know, we would have like, who was some of the people there? Oh, there was one cinematographer who was really angry at everything. And no matter what we asked him, he'd say, it took me 18 years to get into the union and then 17 years to move up from assistant operators had dp and I'm, I'll be damned if I'm going to tell you why it took me 30 years to learn and he kept talking like this. And then finally I raised my hand and said, Why You hear? It's a great, great instructor. Great instructor. Yeah, that's great. Yeah. Well, we also had one night that the chairman the first year I was there was a guy named Mel Howard, who is very in the indie world. And he was going to show Bob Dylan who was a friend of his Bob Dylan and several of his friends, the Robert Frank unreleased movie called cocksucker blues about a Rolling Stones tour. And the stones had paid for it, saw it and realize we can't release this movie. But so Robert Frank came, we and the offer. The other thing about it is it was a double system print, which meant the soundtrack and the picture track were not yet combined. And then why you graduate film school is one of the few places on the East Coast that had double system projections. So Mel in order to let his buddies you know, Bob and Roger Gwyn, and Robert Frank, see the movie. He had to let the graduate students in as well. So we got to see this movie that no one's ever seen called cocksucker blues, by Robert Frank and how was it? Oh, it's it's, it's last suitable. Because you're constantly seeing the stone with groupies on their private jet having sex. So it was it was not something that really should have ever been shot. By the way, it was fun. And after the movie, I saw Bob Dylan getting into a Cadillac of Roger McClintock and I said good cards. I said to him as we passed by a good car to drive after a war which is one of the lyrics one of the songs and he gave me the finger which I'm very proud of.

Alex Ferrari 12:00
Now, which which leads me to my next question, can we you discuss the nine pornos that you shot? Well, oh, well, I mean, his his graphic is just just try to keep it as a very hard pG 13.

Barry Sonnenfeld 12:22
Okay, all right. Very hard as ironic, I'd say. So, when I got out of film school, I felt that if I owned a camera, I could call myself a camera man without feeling like a delay. Because I owned the camera there from a camera man. So a buddy of mine from film school and I bought a used 16 millimeter camera called a cp 16 reflex. Now this is way before video. So nowadays, anyone can just buy a Sony A three or Nikon or Canon or a seven and call themselves a you know a camera man. But back then no one was shooting videos. There was no you know, video except you know, in studios and stuff. So I own this camera when my buddy and he knew a guy who was a porn producer and director. And so he got us this job shooting nine feature length movies in nine days. They were 20 hour days. But by having nine days of rental for the camera, it paid for two thirds of what we paid for the camera. So it was worth it because now we you know, we were two thirds of the way there and but it was horrible. You know? I made a contribution because at film school, everything you know film is so expensive, you know 400 feet of Rostock to buy it, develop it, rent it, you know, so at film school, you always pre pre planned everything you did shot list, you knew exactly what you're going to shoot. You never shot masters, you always knew where you're going to be in the close up and only shot those lines. So what I introduced, block shooting to pornos, and why block shooting means is once it block shooting, let's say if you're doing a streaming television show, and you can only get Alec Baldwin for two weeks. Let's say you shoot all of his scenes in those two weeks, no matter who he is. Even if if he's in Episode 147 and nine, that's called block shooting. So what I convinced Dec the producer and director to do

Alex Ferrari 14:46
No pun intended,

Barry Sonnenfeld 14:48
no pun intended either. Very hard 13 is is that once we let a sat be at the bathroom or the kitchen In the bedroom, we would choose all the scenes for any movies that took place in a bedroom. So we would shoot scene three for movie one, shoot scene seven for movie two. If it was in that bedroom, we were already lit, and we would just shoot, shoot that. We also had a dentist that which was incredibly under erotic and because who wants that? in our heart and also water picks are really not sucking devices. They're, they're sucking devices. They're not projectile devices. So it made no sense. And also, you don't want to think about having sex and dentist Yes, or I didn't. But

Alex Ferrari 15:43
That doesn't seem very app. I mean, the dentist is probably one of the more painful non comfortable places to be in your life as a general statement, let alone thinking about having sex in that environment.

Barry Sonnenfeld 15:54
And there's not a lot of room there. Yeah, so in any case, we shot those nine features the nine days and things went horribly wrong on the last day and without going into the details. I ended up when a double insertion some quota double penetration went horribly wrong. I ended up being covered foamy, liquefied, warm, effervescent, human excrement

Alex Ferrari 16:26
Oh, that's an amazing description.

Barry Sonnenfeld 16:29
The problem is I've always been very wide angles, I when I was shooting sales with my like I used to 21 millimeter, I would say half half of the shots in any movie I've ever shot or directed, have been a 21 millimeter, a wider and 16 millimeter, the equivalent of 21 millimeter is called a 10 millimeter. So I was this close to the action when Mark Antony pulled out of this woman's anus, and it was as if her body was a bottle of champagne. Oh, shakin way too. I was literally a fountain farmer, human excrement that immediately covered my face and the camera. I put the camera down and then threw up on them.

Alex Ferrari 17:29
Why is this? Why hasn't this? Why hasn't this scene made it in one of your many, many features? Or?

Barry Sonnenfeld 17:35
Well, I'll tell you the truth. I used to shoot commercial. And I was shooting a series of ups commercials for an agency called amaravati and purus. And I tell them the story people used to hire me to hear the stories, because it's about a 20 minute story. It goes on and on and on. Anyway, I tell the the ad agencies the story. I you know, I'm done. And the next thing that happens about I don't know two years later, turns out that the next director after me to shoot commercials for these guys was Kevin Smith. Okay. They told Kevin this star, the story. And Kevin stole my story and directed a movie called I don't know is something like someone in someone make a porno.

Alex Ferrari 18:33
Zack and Miri Make a Porno movie. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I think with jet Railgun Seth Rogen. And thanks.

Barry Sonnenfeld 18:44
Yeah. I never saw it. But I hear that he's stole my see. Wow, have you seen the movie?

Alex Ferrari 18:52
Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah. I've seen a lot of Kevin's Well,

Barry Sonnenfeld 18:54
I think that there's a scene where a I don't remember that was penetrate.

Alex Ferrari 19:00
Um, I promise you that they, I promise you there is I don't remember because I tend to block things like that out of my my psyche. But I haven't seen the movie in probably a decade when they came out. But I'm sure that that seems in there. And wow, that's Have you ever spoken to Kevin about this?

Barry Sonnenfeld 19:19
I haven't. But his people emailed me and said Kevin is releasing the Special Edition DVD and wants us to talk about your porno experience. And I said, Are you kidding? He stole my story. And now he wants me to also let him interview me for his DVD. So I didn't do it. Oh, alright.

Alex Ferrari 19:42
Well, so I'm, I'm kind of happy I asked you the question, but I'm kind of not so. Right. It's amazing. Because I've you know, I've heard I'm originally from South Florida and in the South Florida market. When I was coming up a lot. There was a lot of guys who I was I started off as an editor before I became a director and There was people like hey, you know, we gotta do porn gotta do porn and like that's the pays the bills. I never ever once got the opportunity I didn't ever he was even asked, I'm sure I would have done it as a younger man, I'm sure I would have edited it. But I could only imagine shooting nine full length feature film porn I was in nine days. Not only is that exhausting, but you must become numb to all of it. Like I'm sure like for the first five minutes, you're like, well, this is kind of cool. And then that's it.

Barry Sonnenfeld 20:30
That not even five minutes, maybe now it was never cool. It was never fun. I always say that if they released porn would smell vision. No one ever see it again. Although truthfully, they would probably dive in different smells like vanilla and cherry and stuff

Alex Ferrari 20:48
like pine and pine. And pine. It was it was terrible. It's horrible. I do learn something though. Did you learn stuff?

Barry Sonnenfeld 20:56
You learn nothing? Oh, yeah, I learned I learned. Well, here's what I learned. I learned that nothing about filmmaking. Okay, what I learned was that the set on pornos is a very feminist driven set. Okay, the females have all the power, the actresses have all the power, because they can. They can either help or hurt the guy, you know, help him with his erection or just be so mean to them that they're soft and flaccid for hours. I also learned that the average time between come shot is four hours, it takes four hours to get a come shot, it takes about 15 minutes to do the you know dialogue. Your sister home if someone

Alex Ferrari 21:47
orders some pizza with extra sausage.

Barry Sonnenfeld 21:52
And then it takes about 2025 minutes to shoot various sexual positions. And then Dec would say okay, we're ready for the come shot at which point the other camera man and I would dim the light we lay just rest our backs against some set wall and take nap. And then it would take between three and four hours for the guy to be able to come. So that's how we were able to work with so little sleep as we had many naps during the day while the guy and if you looked at your chart, so you could only do five come shots a day. Because five times four is 20 hours and you needed four hours to just I was the only one who went home everyone else. The crew was dick. The other camera man who I own the camera with a guy named Eric who was the gaffer and sound man. And then we had a woman whose job it was. She was a paper towel girl. And what she did is after

Alex Ferrari 22:54
that no, no, no, no, you don't have to go down. I completely can connect the dots. I hope I hope everybody listening can connect the dots because I don't want to detail something. It is fascinating. Yeah, honestly one of my favorite origin stories of any filmmaker. It's amazing.

Barry Sonnenfeld 23:17
That was That was my first job out of film school. graduate from 999

Alex Ferrari 23:23
on film no less. And I'm on film and 16 I'm assuming right it was a 16 Yeah, yeah. Amazing. Well, so from from and the guy's name is dick. I mean, you can't make things like that up. So from

Barry Sonnenfeld 23:39
The company was called Mr. Mustard production, which doesn't sound appetizing either,

Alex Ferrari 23:47
I mean, you can't write this stuff. This is amazing. Alright, so how did you go from your porno experience to getting involved with the Coen brothers. Right? Did they see your porno work and say, Hey, Barry.

Barry Sonnenfeld 24:04
I don't think anyone saw it. I don't know why I never traveled uptown. Again, it has to do with me owning a 16 millimeter camera. I was at a party, a Christmas party with people. I didn't know that I knew the hostess. But that was it. And there was one guy across the room who seemed to not be friends with everyone. But tall guy that kind of like howard stern and that was Joe Cohen. And we started to talk because we were the only guys not talking to anyone else. And he had gone to NYU undergraduate school, but I didn't know him at all. From there. And he and his brother Ethan had just written the screenplay for blood simple. And Joel was the assistant editor on Evil Dead. Sam Raimi, his first movie The End fam told Joe, that the way to raise money to make an independent film was to shoot a trailer as if it was a finished movie. And use that trailer to show it to you know, dentists investing clubs and Doctor investing clubs and trend rich friends of your parents or whatever. Because no one can read a script and say, Oh, yes, I I've never worked on it. I've never I'm a dentist, but I'm reading this script. And I think it sounds like a good blue BNL. So, Joel and Ethan had never done anything. So how do you know if they're any good. But by having this trailer, the dentists, the doctors, the inventors, the businessmen could look at the trailer and go, Hey, I can see this movie. Be this trailer looks really cool. See, you guys seem to know what you're doing. So Joel said, we're gonna shoot a trailer of the script we wrote and see if we can raise money. And I said, Well, I own a 16 millimeter camera. And he said, okay, you're hired to shoot the trailer, not the feature. And so we shot the trailer. And it looked great, and we got along great. And it took us a year. Joe went out to Minneapolis where they grew up and hit all the Hadassah women. That's the sort of Jewish you know, women's society out there. Ethan and I stayed in New York with a print and a projector. And it took us here, but we raised the 750 grand Wow. And went to Austin, Texas, and the first day, shooting blood simple, was the first day that Joe Ethan or I have ever been on a movie set. I had never been a camera operator or a camera assistant. On features, Joe had never directed anything except student films and eight millimeter stuff with Ethan. Ethan had never produced anything, he was a statistical typist, that mathys where you just typed invoice numbers for eight hours a day. So I always tell people, declare what you are. And you'll find a way to make a living doing, you know, and that you don't need to work your way up, you should just decide. I'm a cameraman, I'm an editor. And when people say well, you know, how do I? How should I get started in the film business? Truthfully, the best two things. What you learn the most actually is what you did editing, and writing. Those are your best ways to because you learned about the structure. And also the great thing about having a script is no one can take that away from you know, if you want to be a director, they can always find another director. If they want to hire another editor, they can get another editor if you have written a script, and you own it. And you say, if you want this script, I have to direct it. Though, they'll oftentimes say yes, if the script is good enough, because truthfully studios these days, want first time directors, they want to control everything they the studio does, they don't want people that have strong opinions or people that can push around. So I think right now it's almost easier to get a job as a first time director than someone who's been around directing for decades. That's what

Alex Ferrari 28:44
yeah, it is interesting, because, you know, I think Ridley Scott came out and said he goes I can't believe they're giving these $200 million you know, franchise films to to a 25 year old or you know, a young kid and he's very talented or she's you know, but it's not It makes no sense why wouldn't you hire Ridley or yourself or somebody who's been down that road and that makes absolute sense.

Barry Sonnenfeld 29:07
It's because they want the studio's want to control everything. the studio's don't really understand what directors do and think that they that they can do it and that directors are like traffic cop. And, you know, so all those Marvel movies. Look for first and second time. Directors for the most part until they're in the family. It's very interesting.

Alex Ferrari 29:30
Yeah, as of as of this recording, Sam Raimi just got hired to do the next Doctor Strange. Realize, yeah, it just got released today. The information the news broke today. So Sam actually officially signed to do Doctor Strange with a master of madness or something like that. Which makes all the sense in the world because that's a perfect movie for him. Right, which makes sense. I wanted to ask you something in regards to blood simple, and I know that Sam, actually I think he was the first To do it or at least popularize it is putting the camera on to a two by four. And having two guys on each side just run so you get this really insane kind of fast Dolly and then shooting the film a little faster. So it would get like this revved up kind of POV. You guys did that in blood simple as well, how did that whole thing come around? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Barry Sonnenfeld 30:33
Well, Sam kind of invented it, it was called the shakey cam, what gives you the energy actually is not under cranking it by using an extremely wide angle lens, you use a 9.8 millimeter. And this is 30 in 35 millimeters. So it's extremely wide angle, it's pi as a angle of view of 165 degrees or something. It's almost everything and because it moves to space, and changes perspective so quickly because it's such a wide angle lens. I mean like this is a wide angle lens to like, Look I'm I'm you see both my hands on with this tiny little move. Now I'm very tight. And it's because of the nature of wide angle lens is that a little move make two very different moves and perspective. So I'm trying to remember if we use it on blood simple we use it a lot on raising Arizona. No you did.

Alex Ferrari 31:30
There was a saw in blood sample. I remember that was like outside the house. It was coming toward the door or something. Yeah,

Barry Sonnenfeld 31:36
it's Danny had Dahlia had just grabbed Fran McDormand outside the house, and we're way back on the other side of the street and the door opens and, and hidayah is bringing her towards Atlanta, we raced towards him. And she breaks his finger, and then kicks him in the groin, and then he bends down and throws up which is another story. So we learned that from Sam, we use it a lot more in raising Arizona, there's a scene where we go over found over a car up a ladder through a window into Florida, Arizona is now in this fake one continuous shot. I always say that we could read, you know, blood sample cost 750 grand, I said we could redo that movie right now for 20 million. And it wouldn't be any better. We could reshoot raising Arizona, which I think was 5 million. We could reshoot shoot. Maybe it was 12 No, I think it was five. We could reshoot that for 15 million with techno crane sure that of using shakey cam, and then again, it wouldn't look any better. So it's great. How are we able to pull off all that stuff? And make it seem professional?

Alex Ferrari 32:50
No, I remember in blood simple, which I think was one of the I don't know if it was the first time but the lighting in there was a shot where there was bullet holes in the wall, right? And shafts of light would come in with the smoke coming out. And I still remember going back. I don't know where I heard about her Joel Silver, talking about that shot specifically. And he's like, I make action movies. Why doesn't my stuff look like that? And that's a testament I'm assuming to you because you were the DP on that. How did you know when was that something from your commercial world that you kind of brought into the film or like, because I hadn't seen that either prior to that, like something so cinematic, because blood simple is Yeah, it's in your film, but it is very cinematically shot.

Barry Sonnenfeld 33:32
Yeah, no, it's funny. It's one of the shots we also did from the trailer. Because Don't forget, you know, we didn't have actors or anything. So for the trailer, it was very abstract. It was like dotted lines on the road. It was following a you know, like cowboy hat or following like someone's boots, you know, an insert of a gun. And actually, in Hillary's loss. Hillary was a woman who had the Christmas party where Joe and I met. It's now eight months later. No, no, it's now two, three weeks later, we've now built the wall and Hillary's loft, and we're shooting that shot. Not the one that's in the movies, though. But our cheap version of it, which was we drilled these big holes, these big plugs in the wall. We literally had a wall that was probably 20 feet long by 10 feet high that we tackled and everything we drilled these plugs out and, and then we put screws in the back of the plugs and then we replastered the wall. And then I had a lot of little inky so I could shine all those light in different directions because they weren't just one light, like every hole that opened up to three different beings from each show. And so I had all these keys I taught Ethan Cohen, how to be my gaffer and how to put the light bulbs and without burning him. And all that. And as I dallied into the wall, in the back, this guy, Don was hitting the hammer to the screws and the plug, first of all, our side of the room was dark was pretty dark. And also the plug moved to frame so fast that you didn't just look like a hole opening up. And so that was in the trailer. And that's really what got us to 750 grand, I heard a story that Nestor almendros, who is a pretty famous cinematographer, and Nestor was a big believer in motivated light, which I don't believe in motivated lightning. If there's a lamp over here, that's where the main light should be from. If it's above you, it should be there. Nestor saw was a judge at some film festival where blood sample was shown. And he said was a great shot, but the lights not motivated. Cuz, obviously in a bathroom, you wouldn't have multiple beams of light. But anyway, it worked.

Alex Ferrari 36:04
It's still it's still a cool shot. Yeah, it's still a cool shot. Now you brought up raising Arizona, I have to ask you, how in god's green earth did that film get made in a studio? I mean, like, like you can't you read that script, I have to believe you read that script. And you see blood simple, which is completely different. I mean, it has some tones, but it is the other side of the Coen Brothers is like they're serious. And then there's the the Miller's Crossing and the and the Big Lebowski, they have those two, those two just opposite positions of their sensibilities. So you've come from blood sample, which generally in studio world, you got to they just want you to do the same thing again. But they've completely changed and go to raise era, is that a, how does that script get financed? And then how do you explain like, how you're going to shoot? It's such a unique piece of art that was made within a studio, even back then, I mean, now that would never ever in a million years get made. But back then even how did they even get fine? It started, how did that happen?

Barry Sonnenfeld 37:03
Well, Fox was a distributor, but Fox was not putting up the money. The money came from a guy named Ted Pettit, who owned a lot of movie theaters, and who eventually bought the rights to blood sample. So the Cohens at to, you know, be the distributor. So the Cohens had a relationship with Ted Fox was very involved. But you know, the thing about Joel and Ethan is there, they would never do a film for hire, you know, they boys had final cuts. They're always willing to walk away if they don't have Final Cut. Joy says, I don't know how to direct a movie, if I'm not in charge of it all the way till the end. So I think it was a little risky, but it wasn't that risky. It wasn't an expensive movie. So the other reason that Johnny's and can have Final Cut in there movies don't cost a lot of money. As I said, I think it might have been 5 million bucks to do raising Arizona and so that the downside of that cost is not that much per studio.

Alex Ferrari 38:17
Right? Yeah. And they took a risk. Basically, they just kind of rolled the dice a little bit.

Barry Sonnenfeld 38:22
Yeah, but it's not that big of a risk if you lose 5 million bucks. And you can even release it for a big studio. It's not that big a deal.

Alex Ferrari 38:30
Right. Exactly. In the sense, the well, you also went on to you know, you not only worked with the Cohens on a would you did Miller's Crossing as well and right. And three those three correct and the but you also did you did a couple other little films, as a cinematographer that they made a couple a couple bucks. Again, this this is my golden time in the video store. So I know these movies very, very well. Big. When Harry Met Sally and misery just to name a few. There was a few more in there, but those three were massive hits of of their day. And you worked with Penny Marshall, you worked with Carl anacron Korea car car, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob sorry Rob Reiner. And and Rob Reiner again from misery. What is the biggest takeaways you got from working on those kind of big hits? Because I mean, racing Arizona wasn't if I remember correctly, wasn't a monster hit by any stretch. It was kind of like a cult. It's a cult thing. But was big. The first kind of big thing that you'd worked on. That was a big box office, or was it

Barry Sonnenfeld 39:39
the movie? The movie before big was Throw Momma from the Train? Yes, yeah, that was the first movie. Although I had been hired to shoot big. And then after I was hired about two weeks into it, the studio shut it down. Because they didn't Petey wanted. De Niro for the lead and Barry Diller wanted to hang so we shot shut down to wait for Hanks and that allowed me to go shoot Throw Momma from the Train with Danny DeVito who became a good friend of mine, but I think that it's funny that I think Danny's movie was the first movie where I was sort of like, you know, in Hollywood, making, you know, a real movie unreal stages. And what's funny is throw Mama was shot on stage three, eight, at Hollywood center studios. It was before that it was zoetrope, which Francis Ford Coppola. So the first movie I shoot in LA is throw Mama. And it stage three. And then when I'm shooting When Harry Met Sally, part of that takes place. Some of this, we had some of it in New York, but all the sets we built, and we were on stage three, eight at Hollywood center studios. Then what? What, then we shoot, misery and misery is shot on stage three, eight at Hollywood sent it to you. And then I become a director. And, and the first thing I'm ever doing as a director is we built the mansion, The Addams Family mansion on stage three and eight at Hollywood center studios. So I said to my wife, I call her Sweetie, I said, you know, everyone says Hollywood is the film capital of the world, they seem to have one stage. That's the ceiling where they give you probably four different times, the first four times they ever shot anything in Hollywood, was all on the same stage.

Alex Ferrari 41:45
So what So what are some takeaways you did had from shooting those kind of big movies like big and when he gets out and just being in the, you know, I've had other guests on the show that they've been in the middle of like a cyclone of like big hits. And I always fascinated, you know, you're still you were cinematographer at that point. So you weren't like the head. You know, the the creative force behind it at that point. But, but you know, when you're the DP of big and then When Harry Met Sally, and Throw Momma from the Train and misery, back to back to back to back, there's a very few guys in town who are doing this. How does it feel like to be in that time period of your career?

Barry Sonnenfeld 42:21
I really enjoyed being a camera man, I really loved the job. I wasn't looking forward. I wasn't saying I should be a director. You know, I wasn't that guy. I was really happy. Being a cinematographer. It was interesting to watch how different directors worked, although truthfully, because one of the things I believe in, both as when I was a cameraman, and now as a director, and a producer is I believe that the camera can be more than more than a recording device. The camera can actually be our storytelling device, it can be a character in the movie, you will get blood sample, you look at Throw Momma from the Train, you will go raising Arizona, you look at Addams Family, or what I did for three years on a series of unfortunate events for Netflix. The camera is a character in the show. So even though I was a cinematographer, I, I was very involved very, very involved in in everything, you know, I would often you know, after lunch actors are usually tired, they've just eaten all the Bloods, you know, working to digest your food, you know, so, you know, I would always I would I always put myself not to cinematographer but the friend is a director. So I could say to rob or Danny or whoever, I think they had more energy in the master before lunch, you want to just remind them to pick up their energy, which is stuff that if a cameraman said to me I'd be really annoyed by but somehow I got away with it. I guess I was always a bit of a filmmaker. You know, I did most of the designing of the shots to the other directors less so with Joel and Ethan. But like on big I designed, you know, all the shots and stuff like that. And we're Rob on his movies. I was very instrumental in the way those movies worked and all that. I recommended the ROB hire Kathy Bates to be the lead in misery. Not a bad choice. Not a bad choice and Kathy and I became really good friends. Every morning she'd arrive on the set and go fuck you son and fell and I go fuck you, babe. That was like our way of saying hi. Here's a horrible moment on the set of misery. Jimmy kamino spent most of the movie in bed and at one point You know, Kathy Bates goes into town. So he gets out of bed and he's, and he's in pain because his legs all screwed up. And he has to crawl across the floor and I'm underslung with a very wide angle lens, you know, the cameras right on the ground, and Jimmy's crawling towards me. And Jimmy says to rob and myself, Jimmy says, Hey, back. Oh, he says, Hey, hey, Rob, how far Should I crawl and Rob looks at me and goes back, and I go, and I spit on the floor. And Rob Reiner, because I have no respect for Jimmy at this point. And Rob Reiner says, crawl to the loogie. Jimmy, Rob has respect for Jimmy either at this point. So you know, the, the main difference is on big features. You've got more money, you've got more equipment, you've got more cranes, you've got bigger crews, you've got more light. And also, it's easier, actually because if you fall behind schedule, the studio has more money, you know, I'm blood simple. There was no more money. If we needed reshoot. We shot a lot of real little inserts and stuff for blood sample in my backyard in East Hampton, Long Island. You know, there was there was no more money to be found on big budget films. There's always more money this studio isn't going to like say we're not finishing the movie. So I found the bigger the budget actually, the easier it is.

Alex Ferrari 46:40
Now I heard stories about Mr. Khan on misery. And I heard that a bunch of different things it was there. No when you say no respected you guys did just like Robin him and you just have a bad situation back then.

Barry Sonnenfeld 46:55
No, no, no, it wasn't no fights or anything like that. It's just that Jimmy is the most frantic, energetic, sort of on able to sit still, you know, you're talking to him, and his knee is doing that, you know, got it. And for that actor to have to spend 80 pages in bed, the wrong guy to have that job. And he just, you know, I remember you often told me that, that he would spend a lot of time in the Playboy Mansion. And, and he said that he had slept with he had had sex with 17 straight playmates for the month. You know, this is decades ago, as I said, I said, as a joke. I said, so Jimmy, what month turned you down? I didn't ask for her name. I just said what month turned you down? and Jimmy are bad. I can't tell you that. I said you can't tell me the monitor. Nothing you year. I mean, that's a year know what you were talking about. And this was, you know, years earlier, it wasn't like a momentary story. It was a story about when he was hanging out the Playboy Mansion, you know, years ago. Bad. Can't tell you that much. So anyway. But he's, he's a lovely guy. He's just got way too much energy to be at bedframe he paid?

Alex Ferrari 48:28
It's like It's like trying to strap down Robin Williams for 80 pages, like in a batch. Right? Just Right. That's just ridiculous.

Barry Sonnenfeld 48:36
Well, and in fact, you know, and I write about this in my book, you know, I directed Robin in RV. And one of the issues is that Robin and I really liked each other's people. But Robin did not like me directing him because I didn't want his, you know, his jazz his improv, I wanted a really sort of controlled performance. And Robin is all about improv and joking around and this and there were too many kids on the set that needed to know when to come in with the next line. And they you know, kids know, okay, my line is after he asked me what my favorite color is, and I'm going to say green. So for Robin to improvise and say So how old are you? The kids going? Do I say green? Do I say eight? Do I is that even dress? So I kept trying to convince Robin this was a wrong movie. And there were too many kids for that wild improvisational stuff. And I loved his improvisational stuff but didn't want it in the movie. And I don't think Robin had a good time. There was it but it was tough.

Alex Ferrari 49:54
There was I've only met a couple people who have actually met or worked with Robin and I had the pleasure of Meeting Robin once, and I had never met a human being whose energy literally just kind of like vibrated off of him. And when I met him he wasn't on. He was just right. He was just hanging out, not cracking jokes, not looking for attention, not trying to make a smile. He was just a human being with his wife doing his thing, but I had never met a human being you could literally feel it. Is that something that you felt as well working with him?

Barry Sonnenfeld 50:29
Oh, yeah. No, it was it was. It was amazing. Here's some other things, you know. You'd have to have six pair of all wardrobe because he's sweat so much. He was the hairiest human being I had ever met, you know, every day, they would have to cut whatever hair was from here up, it would come out over the top. And yes, to that, I knew that they had shaved it yesterday. It does. And he would sweat so much that after four or five tanks, with all of this energy, you'd say, the wardrobe person would say we need to change your shirt. And so there would be all these wardrobe people with hair dryers in the distance drying shirts, because we only had six of everything. And he was going to them after every four takes. So it was those section go there. The other thing about Robin is one on one with Robin, and again, this is in the book, but one on one with Robin was a pleasure. All comedians do three things. They collect fountain pens, they collect watches, and they collect cards, Robin was fountain pens, watches and bicycle. You know, he is a major biker. And he had hundreds of bicycles. But Robin was great one on one. I remember being at this restaurant called chinchin in Vancouver, which is where we shot RV. And we're sitting there I'm learning about astronomy and the Kabbalah and about comparative religions. And then the waiter comes over. But so now instead of two people, there are three and that means Showtime. And Robin became a different person. He made fun of the guys tie. He did this, he did this. And years later, I'm back in Vancouver, 13 years later, producing a series of unfortunate events. I go to chinchin and the maitre D comes in it's his day off he comes in he goes, sir, you don't know who I am. My name is Richard. I came in on my day off 13 years ago, I was your waiter when you had dinner with Robin. And for several years after that I went to terrible pstd as did every other guest who was into a restaurant that night I saw your name. Remember this so well. I had to come in to see you to see how you were if you had to work with him every day. So that's Robin was incredibly talented. You could give him a stick and say give me an hour. And he'd give you an hour of comedy pure comedy and stuff. Yeah. Yeah, no, he

Alex Ferrari 53:11
was he was he was a remarkable human being no question. Now you say in your book that you really weren't looking to direct you kind of fell you kind of fell into directing? Well, your first movie was Addams Family. How did you fall into that? Because if I remember correctly, Addams Family was not a small little movie. It was a it was a studio film. It was on a on a stablished IP. And you guys were trying to basically rebooted before reboots were reboots for movies. So how did you fall into that? Like most people are dying to get that job? You just fell into it?

Barry Sonnenfeld 53:46
fell into it. I was in LA. I was staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and I was finishing up misery. And was Sunday morning. And sweetie and I were watching the Indianapolis 500 on the television and the front desk, rang and said, Scott Rutan just dropped by a package. We're sending it off. And in the package what was a letter from Scott saying read this and meet me in two hours that you goes, which is a restaurant, sort of a hippie dippie restaurant, and if you like scrambled eggs, and spaghetti, that's your restaurant and read it and meet me in two hours. And it was the script for Addams Family and I had grown up I was not a fan of the TV show. But I liked the monsters more weirdly. But I loved the Charles Adams drawings that appeared in The New Yorker and The Addams Family is based on those drawings. So I read the script. I didn't think it was very good. I said this witty, the script isn't good. And she said take the meeting, which God maybe he knows it's no good to so I go and have the meeting. And I say say to Scott, why me And he said, Well, there are two reasons. One is I went to Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. And they both pack. And I thought if I can't get those two, if he said all the good directors path, instead of taking the chance on some comedy hack, I'd rather hire someone who has a very specific visual style. And who knows comedy. And Scott before he became an independent producer, ran Fox, when we did, raising Arizona, and when I shot big, so he saw all the dailies, he heard all the stories about MIDI and Penny and, and he knew that I had designed all the shots and all that stuff. So Scott knew that I might be capable. And, you know, I told him what was wrong with the script, he agreed, we got Paul rods neck to do an uncredited rewrite. And next thing you know, I said, I said this guy at the end of the meal, I said, Look, I'll tell you what, this guy's very persuasive. I said, if you can get me the job directing the movie, I'll do it. But I didn't think he would. Right. So he, he and he and myself went up to Orion, which was the independent studio at the time. Who was famous for being the most director friendly studio, it was like the Netflix of the day. You know, right now you want to be working in Netflix, because they really respect directors, etc, etc. So, um, so did Orion. So, Orion thought I was a nice boy. And they trusted Scott. And, and we, they agreed to let me make Addams Family.

Alex Ferrari 56:55
No, but wasn't. was The Addams Family Paramount?

Barry Sonnenfeld 56:59
Well, that's a really good question. And of course, this story, which is also in my book. So here, what happens there? Orion partially because they were so director friendly is on the verge of bankruptcy. Yeah. And the one piece of property and we were halfway done shooting it. Right. So the one piece of property they had and we were halfway done, that might get them some some money to stay solvent was Addams Family because it looked commercial, it looked like it was going to be a hit. So I also had the best editor there ever was Didi Allen, who cut Bonnie and Clyde and you know, flash shot and red Serpico so the the kind of 15 minute reel of some scenes, and Scott Rudin took it around to all the studios. Universal almost bought it but they didn't offer enough and on Friday morning, Frank Mancuso, senior of Paramount Pictures, buys, the book buys the movie, so it's going to become a paramount movie. Orion will make get some money, just to keep them afloat for a while. independent of him buying the movie later that day, he gets fired. And the new guy that comes in is Stanley Jaffe, who looks at the same 15 minutes and Stanley is humorless. He sees the same 15 minutes and says this movie is uncomfortable and unreasonable. So for the next six weeks or eight weeks I'm working at a studio that hates the project that looks at dailies every day and the the, the studio people assigned to my movie are calling Didi Allen and Fang. We saw the dailies we don't think this scene will cut together. And Didi says Well, of course it will cut together it's a really funny scene. But faster and went they are never in the same frame. Indeed. He says yeah, that's what makes it funny. Okay, well we don't so okay fine. So now they hate me they hate the movie etc, etc. I get done. The day you get done the director on on DGA movies studio movies have a 10 week director's cut right. During that time, no one can see the movie no studio executive can come in and look at it. You don't have to show it to anyone. It's 10 weeks for you to rearrange the movie which is now just in dailies and rough cut into the movie you want to show the studio. The day I get finished the not the chairman of the studio, but the president Gary Lucchese calls me up and says Can we have lunch?

Alex Ferrari 1:00:03
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:00:14
Sure. Gotta have lunch with him in the studio Congress and the executive commissary, you know, like where bill Shatner and the members of the bridge from Star Star Trek, have lunch to not to cling on. But the, you know, the Star Trek guys get to have a deck. And I meet Gary and this other guy named Bill, who's creative executive scientists. And Gary says, show us a movie now. Don't take your 10 week DJ cut, show it to us now. I go, Gary, it's not going to happen. It's a union thing. I have these 10 weeks that don't have to he goes, Oh, I know. You don't have to but show it to us so we can help you. I said, I don't want you to know. Because we're your friends. I said, No, you're Oh, you're not. And I said, You know what, guys? This has been fun, but I gotta go. Thanks for the Cobb salad. And I get up to leave. And Gary says, take a bath. If you won't show us the movie, Will you at least tell us what it's like. And I go, I really shouldn't do this, but I will. It's like a much sadder version of Sophie's Choice. I leave I go back to my office. I guess there's a phone is ringing down the hallway. I pick up the phone and Scott rude. Did you just tell Gary Lucchese that Addams Family is a sadder version of Sophie's Choice. I don't know. Because why did you tell him? I said, I told him it was a much se that says, Oh, I'm back. He believes you call them back. Scott, how could I turn? If they had seen dailies? How could you look at those dailies and think I could turn this into a sadder version of Sophie's Choice? Because, first of all, everyone's frightened because family doesn't like the movie. Second of all, executives don't know how to look at dailies called Gary back. Okay. Hello, Gary Lucchese, please. Barry sonnenfeld calling one more. Okay. All right. Hello, Barry. Hi, Gary. Hi. Hey, listen, Garr. Remember when I told you that Addams Family was like a much sadder version of Sophie's Choice. Yes. Well see. Here's the thing. It was like kind of a joke. I didn't actually mean it was just like a joke. Well, then, what's it really like, Barry? I said, Well, really? It's really really funny. Are you serious? Close. That's fantastic. So easy, easy, equally willing to listen to whatever I thought Sophie's Choice, very funny movie. And, and then, you know, it was it was tough. You know, Stanley saw the movie, you know, after the 10 weeks and hated it. In fact, it was in my contract. When I did add some family values that family had to bring his wife to any recruited audience screenings of the movies so that she could tell them when it was fun. That's how I was in your contract. Yeah, because the man had no sense of Oh, I had other things to my contract. Like that. I was in charge as a set and Scott couldn't tell me what to do or whether to scout drove me crazy. He was on the set on the first one every single minute screaming at me and screaming at me, you know, when the you know, in pre production. We often met in his office and things were so difficult between the two of us because he you know, he, you had to God thinks he's right until proven wrong, which is what a producer should do, or director should do. But I also believe that I was right until proven wrong. So there were a lot of disagreements, a lot of fights and at some point with him, screaming at me, I would make a fort out of his couch, I would take all the pillows and bolsters off, and I would build a fort and I would crawl into the fort and then put the pillow last remaining pillow where the entryway was. And I would yell at him. I can't hear you. I'm in the form. And Scott would scream. Get the fuck out of there. I don't have time for this shit. This is full of shit. always obey the sanctity the fort, he always knew that I was there, he never kicked.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:06
He never kicked it open and never kicked that open.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:05:08
He never went like that and said, Hello, and so forth. He paid me to get out of the for the couch, right? And I'd say a nod to tell you apologize. All right, then we got to know. And then he'd say, All right, I'm sorry. Get out of the fucking court. I got that. Okay. And I, you know, raised my head out and build the couch, back into a couch. And we would continue, because here's the thing. Everyone's afraid, everyone tempted to or, and, and, and if you have any strong opinion, and fight for those opinions, you'll usually when it's what I learned from Scott, rude, Rutan, his whole thing is Maggie Smith. You want her and everything. So like, I'll be in the car with him driving somewhere, and he'll be on the speakerphone with some studio and he'll say, If I can't have Maggie Smith for that role, I'm going to quit and shut down your fucking production. And without Phil, they go, Okay, okay. You can have Maggie Smith. And I'm thinking really, Scott, you've got all these other things. And if you can't have Maggie Smith, for that one scene that she's in, you're going to shut down, are you? And Scott says they don't know that they're just afraid. You know, Scott taught me that if you stand at the edge of the cliff with a studio executive and say, let's hold the hand and both commit suicide. They'll back down. They'll say no, no, no, I don't want to die. They won't say all right, let's do it. shithead. Come on, you want to die too? They won't do that. Because, God, such a bully. Just like Donald Trump. They're such bullies. To some point. Everyone goes, Okay, okay. Like, I want what Russia gave Trump on. Lindsey Graham. I'm sewing. But I digress.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:01
But so let me ask you, I always like to ask directors of your statute. This when you first walked on the set, on the day one of the Addams Family as a director, you had been on many sets before you've worked on many things before. What was that feeling? You're like, Oh, this is all on me. I everything is riding on my shoulders. I'm the director now. I'm not, you know, you know, working with a director as a cinematographer. How did that feel?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:07:29
Well, two things. One, as a cinematographer, I always felt everything was on my shoulders. Yeah, that we had to make the day. I mean, any martial would do 15 master tapes and then go into coverage of extras who now are getting upgraded quiches giving them lines. And you know, none of this will be in the movie. And I'm looking at my wife saying, Oh, my God, we have 20 setups today. And we're about to have lunch in an hour. And we're still on the master. It was I always felt it was always my responsibility in any position was here in the director. However, having said that, and by the way, as a director, I was equally nervous and threw up constantly because at a weak stomach, I was constantly showing up on the set of blood sample, which was the first thing I ever did. What I did on Addams Family, which was, if I may say so myself, really smart, and I continue it to this day, is I never understand directors that hire weak people so that they can feel stronger. Yeah, I feel like I'm gonna get all the credit. Anyway. Let me get people way smarter than me. So I had DD Allen. So instead of thinking, I want a first time editor, so I don't feel insecure around someone who's done this for 40 years. I said, I want to find someone who's done this for 40 years. So I've got DDL and as the editor and also as the camera man, this was a really you got a minute Oh,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:07
we've got all the time in the world, sir.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:10
So you know as as a cameraman becoming a director. I looked at the other cameraman who had become directors. Gordon Willis, one of the great shot of the Godfather movies. Prince of Darkness heaven without

Alex Ferrari 1:09:27
reference of darkness. You

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:29
are into darkness right as Bobby green hood says this man lights for radio.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:35
It's a great line to I'm gonna steal that line. Oh, that's a fantastic line

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:40
Yeah. So Willis direct one movie called a window. Bill Fraker, one of the great direct one movie called The legendary The Lone Ranger and john Alonzo, who shot Chinatown and Farewell my lovely one of the great tunes. One We'll be called FM. Why did none of those three cameraman all much better than the really great cameraman? Why did they fail? Why were they only able to direct one movie, in each case, they move that camera operator up to being the DP. What that meant is they didn't want to give up the camera. They didn't want to get someone better than them then which would force them to be the director. They really wanted to feel comfortable by being able to go back to that camp. So I said to myself, if I'm going to succeed, I need the camera man, so much better than me that I won't say shinza 10k go over there. Because, because then I'm not talking to the actor, right? And what my biggest fear was, was the actor because I had never I've become friends with the actors as a dp, but I've never directed actors, you know. So I hired Oh, and Roy's man who shot The French Connection movies. You know, all Tootsie, all these great movies. So that it would force me away from the camera, and forced me to actually direct actors. And what I discovered was that I loved actors, which I didn't love when I was a dp, I liked them and what hang out with them, but they never hit their marks. They would rehearse things one way, and then play it another way when they came out of hair and makeup and knew their lines. So for me, the actors were the big unknown, because I knew my way around the set, obviously, what I didn't know is, did I have any method of talking to actors. And what I discovered is, all I want actors to do is talk fast. They talk fast, they don't have time to act, and you don't want to see acting, you want to see reality, you want to see pace, you want to see energy, and you never want to see acting. So after every take, all I ever say to act is is can we do one, like, do one more like 10 times faster? Everyone 10 times faster, just for fun. One more time, everyone talks much faster. And that's always the one you use. And that's what I kind of discovered. And as little as I know about film history as someone who has exclusive work exclusively directed and shot comedies. And by the way, stylizing comedies is really hard. Yeah. And so I think that's why Rutan hired me because it's rare to see a comedy with visual style.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:50
It's usually very flat or very, you know, just because this comedy is playing for the gags not

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:12:54
playing for the lights. That's right. That's right. But so my favorite movies were Howard Hawks, comedies like bringing a baby and his girl Friday, and all the press and surges comedy, Palm Beach, don't raise solvent travel and everyone, no one's listening. They're just talking. No one's even waiting to understand what someone just said. They're just talking right over the next line. And that's the way I love it. And on Thursday, unfortunate events. When other directors were directing, sometimes I'd be up in my office, working on Edit to previous episodes and all that. And Malena Weissman, who played violet on the series would come up to me when there was another director and and say, I always know when you've arrived on stage, because the director will come to all of us and say, let's just do one much faster. Meaning Oh, Barry's here. He's gonna like say that. So let me say it before he does. So. Yes, it was really scary. But it wasn't because I was on a movie set. It was because I was going to have to talk to actors, and I didn't know what that was going to be like.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:02
Now you shot a little movie called men in black. Which, correct? Yes, yes. Yeah. You directed a film called men and black. It was just a small film with a young upstart. William something. Yes, Mr. Smith, Mr. Willis, Will Smith. When you were directing men and black? What What was it like? Well, I was probably the biggest thing. You'd have a director at that point. I'm assuming the budget was much larger than Addams Family at that point, correct. Yeah. Right. And then and then you had Will Smith was who was fresh off of independence day if I'm not mistaken. Correct. Now, yeah. It was meant meant back first.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:14:42
Independence came at independence game day came out first, but Well, we're shooting the last two weeks of independence day when we started shooting men and black so the only movie he had done was called six degrees of separation. That You know, obviously Fresh Prince. And that's

Alex Ferrari 1:15:02
how I know so he wasn't a star. He wasn't a monster star while you were shooting, he was still Fresh Prince of Bel Air who got the lead in a huge studio movie basically. That's right. Yeah. And I guess they I guess they saw him on an independence day or something. And they said, Hey,

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:15:16
Nathan, they had nothing to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:19
Did you? Did you cast?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:15:21
Yeah. Oh, what happened? Okay. So I get the script. And, and I, we didn't I read our scripts together. We like, this is before email. So we got sent two copies we do is give me a 60 page Head Start because some of the flow reader and we finished the script. And I turned to her and I said, Tommy Lee Jones. And she turned to me and said, Will Smith and I said, Who's Will Smith? And she said, Have you not seen fresh print? And I go? I guess not. She says you want Will Smith. And you always do what your wife tells you. So. So the studio and Spielberg and the producers don't want Tommy Orwell they want Clint Eastwood and O'Donnell.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:11
Oh, that's right. I heard about that. Yes. That was the original cast that crystal Donald.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:16:15
Right. Yeah. So Bill bird says, you know, Chris is in LA, I want you to come to LA and convince Chris to do a movie. He's staying at the Four Seasons Hotel, we'll put you up to Cyclades LA, said support season. Same place. I was when Scott Rudin sent me the script for Addams Family. And Chris says, look, you know, I read the script, I think the script has potential, but right now, it's not very good. And I also have this other project that I'm being offered that has the loan in it. So tell me why I should do men and black. And I said, first of all, you should definitely do the movie with Stallone. He's really smart. He knows everything about camera. In fact, Stallone fired me off of Tango and cash. I heard about Africa. So he's really smart. So you should do that. And second of all, in terms of the script of men and black, it's not very good. And I don't know how many how to make it better than true. who's really, I'm not much of a director, Chris, Chris path. Shockingly. Okay. So Chris path. By the way, Chris is a really, really good actor. It's just that my wife told me that I wanted well, Smith. So that's the end of that story. So I lived around in East Hampton for 30 years. And Bill Burns spent the summers there. And so we were both in the Hamptons. And I knew Will Smith was in Philly at a wedding. And I arranged for a helicopter to come up and fly well to meet Spielberg. Wow. So Bill Berg met well in East Hampton will was very funny and charming. And and they agreed to let me hire will. In fact, Independence Day didn't come out until about two weeks before we wrapped Principal photography on men and black so I had 18 weeks before well as a movie star he was just a television star so that was easy for me. The last two weeks when that will be open will became will became a movie star.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:41
Did did he become a movie star in those last two weeks?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:18:44
He's always been great is always then relaxed and funny and you know irreverence?

Alex Ferrari 1:18:51
Yeah, that's that must have been amazing. And how was it working with like was I know you did some visual effect work in in Addams Family but men and black was a whole other world

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:19:03
Yes or no? You know, the truth is I was very lucky to have hired Rick Baker to do the the creature design. And Rick taught me and it's something I believe in to this day. Rick taught me that anything you can do with puppets or you should and was so like all the worm guys seemed in men and black, you know, our our rod puppets, you know, we built we always placed the worm guide so that we can have rods coming through a wall behind them. Because then you can add lead. Then your actors are working with other actors because all puppeteers are funny and charming. And are members of sag. And, and they have senses of humor. So you can I there's a line in the First Men in Black where, which wasn't written I threw it into the set which is I said to Tommy, Tommy Yes, the worm guy. pouring your coffee. if, if, if, if it's the same old shit today, and the worm guys goes now Vinnie cinnamon was my favorite kind of coffee when I lived on the Upper West Side was Viennese cinnamon, you know, cinnamon infused in the beans. So you couldn't do that with visual effects. Because most visual effects, supervisors and designers and animators, their strength is not comedy, you know. And also, I gotta tell you, I really, really, really don't like the luck of most modern visual effects movies. I cannot look those Marvel movies. they disobey all they look like video games. First of all, they obey all rules of physics. You can't have Hulk in the foreground on the San Francisco Golden State gutten, the San Francisco bridge, super close up. And all of the San Francisco in the background also be in focus. As soon as you do that, as soon as you don't play depth of field, the audience knows it's not real, the audience knows they're watching a video game. And it just takes you out of the movie. So like even the whole ending when dinajpur yells spacecrafts that he's stolen from the World Fair, crashes into the ground and comes racing up to will and Tommy and a good break through the use of fear. Those were all miniatures, they were giant miniatures, they were all 2025 30 feet big. But it was all shot. Real. Because if that was visual, whenever you go the visual effects, you can put the camera anywhere, you can cheat, you can play with depth of field, and the audience knows that. So Truthfully, I always thought that men and black was a buddy movie with a few visual effects. If you look at it again, it's very rude. And I mean, it's real. And it looks great. But there's not a lot of VFX in it.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:07
I guess you I guess I guess you're right. It is a lot of miniature work there. I mean, it started getting a little bit more like in by two and three, there was a little bit more visual effects in it. But the first one I think was You're right, it was very more pure in the sense of in camera as much as you could.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:22:21
That's right, whatever you can do in camera, whatever you can do with puppets, even if they're, you know, radio controlled puppets or whatever, the whole Men in Black three, you know, the whole Cape Canaveral thing and all that that's all visual effects. I mean, we built the big, fat, but you know, it's way enhanced and all that. But the first one was not a big visual effects movie. But I've always been comfortable around visual effects, you know? Until you know why, because visual effects require pre production. And we talked about this earlier at NYU, when film stock was so expensive. Yeah, always, always design shots way early, because the worst place to ever make a decision is on a movie set. The worst place is not knowing where you want the camera and you'll look out the window as a set. And the crew is all lying on like sound blankets and sunpad we're playing frisbee and a day is a couple of $100,000 a day to shoot and you're wasting time while crews are sleeping. That's devastating. But all visual effects acquires the same thing that low budget requires which is everything is pre planned and there are no surprises

Alex Ferrari 1:23:40
if I you know men and black reminds me of like 48 hours with with aliens basically. In a sense, in a sense like that, because this is the buddy cop movie and they're complete opposites and stuff. I I'm trying to I'm just racking my a crack in my band back and I can't think of a movie. Like men and black or like the buddy. Action sci fi. I think it was the kind of the first one to do that. Am I wrong?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:24:08
I don't know. Because I'm not a film buff. But you might be right. What's the other one? Midnight Express? No, not Midnight Express. Brolin. Josh? No, no, that's

Alex Ferrari 1:24:19
midnight run. But I'm talking about sigh run. Yeah, so

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:24:23
midnight run is like 48 hours and that it's a buddy movie. This comedy disguises his big mob thing. And in fact, I always thought that Marty whenever there were those big chase scenes and police cars, that I didn't want that I wanted more buddy stuff. And so I think men in black may have been the first buddy science fiction movie, but I don't know. I don't want to take credit for it. But I will say it's a buddy movie. And chemistry was fantastic.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:55
Yeah, that's the thing that people when directors and filmmakers don't understand chemistry We can save you. And so much like if you have good chemistry with actors, it can save that production value. It could save other things like because people are so drawn in by that chemistry. And you could mean Well, we'll just just oozes chemistry, you know, like his his his his energy, but with mixed with Tommy Lee, who is completely opposite, but they get, it's kind of like the ying and yang just works so beautifully together.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:25:26
It's George Burns and Gracie Allen with Will Smith is Gracie Allen and Tommy Lee Jones is George Burns. And, in fact, Tommy, on the first movie hated me because he thought he was in a comedy and kept trying to be funny. And I kept explaining to comedy, Tommy, that. You're going to be funny by doing nothing. You are the audience's point of view. You are the reaction shots. The reality is that more or less, you're the straight man. And he didn't understand coming at all. Well loved him. I loved him. Tommy loved Well, I loved Well, we all love each other. But Tommy really had a problem with me. Luckily, well, so it's okay. And the other problem with Tommy is, he's like a little kid. He was always playing with it. neuralyzer and breaking them. And whenever they had to shoot their gun, because they were space guns, you know, and they didn't make any sound. And he didn't have where he would make a town so he'd go. Army. Go don't make the sound of the gun. I didn't. Well, Tommy. Yeah, you you did it again. Sir. You made the sense. No, I did. Tommy will tell it. Alright, we do. Eight takes where Tommy would one after another like that and not hear a sound so he would do it. Go he was making the gun sound. It's fun. But it was great.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:56
It's funny that my short film had the same problems in it that men in black did because I had guns and my actors would go, I'm like, dude, stop that. We can't, you're ruining the audio.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:27:09
Right? And we're speaking you make sound.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:12
That was the thing. It was like you got to stop to the Pew Pew or the Chuck Chuck.hat's amazing. Now you also directed another film, which I absolutely loves one of my favorite comedies of all time is Get Shorty. Love, love, love Get Shorty. And and the way you got Get Shorty was through mama Throw Momma from the Train all those years back and you kind of explain that that whole little connection.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:27:42
Studio didn't want to make Elmore Leonard movies no movie that Elmo that had been turned into a movie from an Elmore Leonard novel had ever made money and no studio wanted to make movies that were inside Hollywood. The reason I bring that up is because I bought the paperback of Get Shorty and no one has the rights to it. You know normally right everyone would think you know before you know in galley, they would have read it bought it. Elmore was like not someone that the studio wanted to work with, because none of his movies had done well. Not that he had written, but that he had written a novel not the screenplays, but in any case, I'm on this cruise in my wife I read Get Shorty. And for me Get Shorty is about a guy who's so self confident the Travolta role that he will go from a numbers runner to a big time producer just because everyone in Hollywood is afraid. So if someone comes in with any self confidence, they will rule. Right? Well, I was thinking, who's the most self confident person I I've ever worked with, for no apparent reason. And that's Danny DeVito. So I read the book. I say, sweetie, read this book. Bufalino really, really read the book. She says, Danny, I know exactly. Because Danny is so self I called Danny. I go, I just read a book that you should read. He goes, Okay, I'll buy it. you produce, I'll produce it. You'll direct it. I'll start I go great. He gets the rights to it. He calls me up about six weeks later, says we got the rights. I said you love it. He goes I don't know. I haven't read it. I just bought it because you wanted it. Right. That's pretty great. Wow. So it takes years every studio passes for those two reasons. Elmore Leonard. It's a movie script about moviemaking, Holly. Yes. God Frank has written a brilliant script. For years, no one wants to make it in fact, near the end of the five years it took to even get a studio to agree to make it I get 10 men and black. I get hired to do men and black. I quit men and black, because I'm not getting along with the producers.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:11
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:30:22
I direct Get Shorty. And then men and black is still available. I see the head is the president of production at the IV at this shore with Huma Thurman. I go up to him and I go by the way, I finished Get Shorty I'm in post production if you want to rehire me to do men and black so now avail so

Alex Ferrari 1:30:43
You shot half of men and black. And then you you have left?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:30:47
Oh no, no, no, I quit before we ever shot and Scott that I like. So I quit. And also because we finally got MGM, who agreed to make Get Shorty. And I'll tell you another story about confidence. And how we got Get Shorty made the budget forget shorty was $30,250,000 mg, MGM said, we'll make the movie for 30 million US to lose 250,000. So Danny DeVito and the line producer and I went to MGM. And I said, All right, have you want to lose the 250? And they said, Well, we've been looking at the budget and truthfully, the budgets very tight. You know, but we do have a few suggestions. You've got 20 $500 down for parking. Isn't that a lot? Can we lose it? Granted? Nope. can't lose it. You got to it's a union rule. You got to pay for parking. If you're on a set instead of sage. But couldn't we do it for 1500? I go, Oh, Jesus, we're gonna save $1,000 here. And Graham says no, it's 2500. And then someone else says, Oh, wait, in this scene. Look at these first four lines. We use the first four lines. Yeah, and I go you know, that won't help because they still need exactly the same setup. repaid see so and then I said look, I'm going to tell you how to lose $250,000 and if we lose the 250 do we ever green light can I leave this room with a green light and we can do this movie if we can lose the 250,000 and now Danny and grammar shot because they know the budget and they know we can't lose 250 and Mike mark is the head of MGM says yes, if you can lose the 250 It's a greenlit movie. And I said okay, there's a scene where Travolta's visit Gene Hackman, his character on the set of one of his 10 day wonders, Gene Hackman is basically playing Roger Corman, you know, Pac Man does these 10 day movies, I said, it's a great scene and it'll be bloody hatchets. And we've got Ben Stiller, who's willing to play the young, and why you recently graduated director. And I said, that scene takes place over two nights. Each night costs $125,000. It's a great scene, but it doesn't move the story forward. If we lose that theme. No one will ever say How did he know? It's just a great scene. But it's not a plot scene. It's a comedy scene. And my philosophy is if you can take a scene out of a movie without it hurting the movie, get rid of it. It's why Get Shorty is the only movie that's over 90 minutes that I've ever directed. And that's because the script is 20 pages longer than a normal movie. So I said we lose that theme. It's two nights 125,000 a night. We save 250 we're on budget and we can get a green light. Mike says find another way. I love that thing. I said you don't need it, Mike and you can't afford it. seen this house? Because it's not out. I love that scene. I said the budget 30 million. With that scene out. We're on budget. We're on schedule. Now. You can't have it. You could Don't tell me I can't have it. I'm the head of the studio and have it because why would take the habit. I said you got it. So I said okay, just to be clear. up this movie is now $30,250,000 with that theme in there. He says I just told you that so I said okay, just checking. So, but the reason I had power was because I was willing to lose the thing. If I wasn't willing to lose the scene, if I was faking it. They would have known it, but I meant it and I met And by the way, this scene is not in the movie. We shot it. And it's a hilarious scene. And Ben Stiller is great. And there's a joke because Travolta who's never been on a movie set who loves movie movies keeps sitting on different director chairs. And people keep saying get out of my fucking chair. So that's sort of a comedy runner. Ben Stiller was hilarious. But it didn't move the story forward. And I could tell the audience was going to get antsy because it came after two other scenes, that were really good thing, but also didn't move the plot forward. It came after the scene at at the movie theater where Travolta is watching Touch of Evil, great thing, you could cut that out of the movie, it's just the scene that shows how much Travolta loves movies. And he's mouthing lines, you know, he's mouthing the line, the fat guy did you know, whatever. So I have my first recruited audience screening. And I have Final Cut on that movie. And Mike Marcus comes to the first recruited audience screening. And the scene isn't in there. Because I knew it wasn't going to work. I didn't even want to try putting it in. Even though it was a great thing. Because once you lose an audience in a comedy, it takes 1015 minutes to ever get them back again. And you hear them scratching their butts and coughing. So I didn't want to ruin the first recruited audience screaming so Marcus is sitting right next to me, Mike Marcus, and he says, Hey, fucker, where's the scene? I said, Mike, it's not going to work. Even look, you have Final Cut. Will you do me a favor? at our next recruited screening? Will you just put it in there so I can see it and convince you otherwise? I said, Mike, I'm going to lose it. shithead you have Final Cut. I've seen it this way. Just do it. Everyone calls me shithead and little fuckers. The next recruited audience screening we have I put the scene in there. Halfway through the scene is starting here. The audience cough and Russell. And Mike leans over to me and says, You fucking piece of shit. You were right.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:31
But what's fascinating is that you pull the Jedi mind trick on him. in that meeting is like for that extra 250,000 it was fascinating how you turned it on. On on its head. It's it's Hollywood 101 it really is a masterclass of how to work that room, if you ever able to get into that room.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:37:50
That's right. But the secret is, you have to mean it. And you have to be what dumped off at. Scott Rudin does the same thing, but he's full of shit. When he says, Come on, let's jump off the cliff. Or if I can't have Maggie Smith, I'm gonna you know, shut down. I don't believe Listen, did you ever see Jake has been movies a TV set?

Alex Ferrari 1:38:14
No, I haven't. I know that.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:38:17
Jake has been directed this fantastic comedy about pilot season called the TV set with David's the company. And part of the issue part of what David's the company is a writer director. And they what they do is they they know they want this actor. They want actor a, but you never bring one actor into the studio room to audition. You always need someone who the studio can say no, don't like them, right. But you usually bring in an actor who's good enough that if they say we want after being you're not stuck, but in Jake's movie, they bring an actor a who they all want, you know, except the studio and then the Worst Actor ever and the actor and the studio of course as well. We love that terrible actor we so the company's characters stuck directing the Worst Actor ever. So you don't want to pull a fast one and and be called on it. Like you don't want my markets and say, All right. 30 million means not having that theme. So I'm not having it. So that's why don't pick a scene you really want pick a scene that you really believe. If that's and I'm always a big believer, I always say I'd rather do 90 scenes perfectly, where I have the right budget and the right cranes and the right actors and I didn't need a day player and I was able to cast this guy, the 91 scene where every scene is compromised because there's just too many scenes. So I couldn't have the techno crane and I had to go with a day player. So I'm always willing to pare down the budget to lose stuff I don't need to the stuff I have left, I can do really well. They're very smart. By

Alex Ferrari 1:40:12
Now. Can you tell me what your favorite part of the whole filmmaking process is?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:40:18
My two favorite parts of pre production and post production. The worst part is directing and being on the set, because I have to, to follow his favorite part, his post. And it's kind of my favorite part too. But you know, to follow says, the worst your movie is ever going to be in the last day you're shooting, and then you get to make it good again. Now, you wanted a sunset, but it was overcast that day, there's no sunset, but you have to shoot anyway. It's only disappointing. You never leave the set at the end of the day thing. That was surprisingly much better than I thought you leave the set every day. I don't know if we have the theme or not. But that's we're moving on. On down tomorrow, so. And then in post production, you lose stuff, you get rid of stuff. You have ADR, you have music, you have visual effects. You suddenly discover I remember there was a scene in Addams Family. And Didi and I were about five months into cutting and I said to dt, should we just lose the thing and vd one? Yeah. And I said, How long? Have you known that? She said, Well, a couple of months. And I said, Well, why didn't you tell me? She said, like a good psychiatry. She said, you had to discover, to lose. And I suppose we lose it. She said, yeah. And or sometimes when the third act isn't working, don't touch the third act, touch the second act. Oh, people are so bored in the second act that they've given up on the third act. just shorten the 32nd. Act and change nothing the third act, and people say, why don't you change is the third act, not a thing. It was all an act an act. So post production, what you learn is that film is a very fluid plastic medium where you can change things. Also audiences are so stupid about continuity, and oh, yeah, change things. And, you know, in blood simple, we use five different cars for race. There's a Fiat, there's an Oldsmobile, a bow, a Buick, and another Buick one Buick was yellow and one was green. And no one notices that they're fun that ray is driving five different cars. And they think it's just one cartel. My favorite part is, post. My second favorite part is prep, where you have all the time in the world to design the shots and figure stuff out. And suddenly, you're with the writer saying, Hey, listen, I, you know, can you add a thing here? Because I need more space to get from A to B for the actor because I want to be tracking with him the whole time without a better way? Or do you say the production designer? Can you move that window so it's exactly opposite the door so roll can open the door and I could pull back through the whole set out the other window and see pubert been jumping off, whatever. So post and prep, anything that's not dressed related.

Alex Ferrari 1:43:24
I like and shooting is the most stress related there is and what I find what I find funny is that no matter no matter how big the movie, or how small the movie, The problems are similar, and they're just the same like everything you just said, I have gone through on my indie movies, my indie productions, my indie commercial, doing commercial work a music video work a TV work, it's all the same $300 million dollars or $30,000

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:43:54
it's absolutely blood sample had the same problems that men and black three had except men and black three, actually, we could just throw more money at it and play simple. We could. So but it's the same problem. You know, losing fat, that kind of stuff. Wrong actor.

Alex Ferrari 1:44:12
Yes, yes. Now, can you tell us about your new book? Barry Sonnenfeld call your mother.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:44:19
Yeah, well, the second half of the book is pretty much what we've been talking about you know, it's about meeting the colon and blood sample and there's a lot about Addams Family and there's a lot about there's very little about men and black or any of that stuff because it says you know always hope for sequel but to the second half is about my career in the movie business, Scott Rutan, all that stuff. So first is how I got to where I am today, which is by having totally insane narcissistic parent. The title of the book Barry sonnenfeld. Call your mother is because at 220 in the morning Night, April, January 1970, while Jimi Hendrix was warming up Madison Square Garden 19,600 people over the PA system, Barry sonnenfeld call your mother titled The bug, my mother was very protective over protective I said I'd be home at two, it was 220. So therefore in that 20 minutes, she assumed I had died, obviously, obviously obvious. And this is, you know, way before painful as this is before you know pagers or cell phones or anything, he has to go to the payphone. And call your mother weeping because you assume your father has died. because how else would someone be able to convince anyone who picked up the phone to go through enough levels to get this Weeping Woman to speak to the person who has to decide Yes, we will make this announcement. I mean, it's truly amazing. And I'll tell you a funny story. I was there that night with my girlfriend, we were seniors at the highest School of Music. And, and due to the Coronavirus, she had been looking to some bio boxes and found the ticket stub of the fact that she and I went to the mats at Shea Stadium. The day the Mets won the World Series and had sent me that stub and she said, You know I couldn't find your dress. So I did some research. And I see you have a new book out called Barry sonnenfeld call your mother. I remember that evening. So well, you must really remember it. So I have proved that I'm not making up the story that my girlfriend from 50 years ago, found me send me the ticket stub for the Mets game. And remember that, that it referred to the Madison Square Garden. So the first half is about my young life, how I became sort of a person fed with neurosis. And based on all the sort of adventures I had growing up. And they they sort of interweave like in the middle of a story about my fear of flying based on my mother's convincing pilots to drop the oxygen mask because she thought she was having a heart attack while flying on our first commercial flight to Miami. I'll make our move. I'll interweave that with having a meeting with MC Hammer. At the end of Adams family, you know he wrote this great family, of course, yeah, they do what they want to do say what

Alex Ferrari 1:47:44
They want to say live, how they want to live, play how they want to play, of course.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:47:50
But that that fear of flying sorry, becomes leading MC Hammer, the fact that I knew I was going to sell one of my 1962 Lincoln Continentals to a black person. And when I was meeting hammer, I parked my Lincoln right in front of where we were having our meeting at Paramount so that he could see the the car and I said to hammer how many cards do you own? This is after, you know, we convinced them to write the song. He says, Well, I have 12 and I said I think it's going to be 13 and he says, Wait, that's not your Lincoln, is it? So I felt MC Hammer my Lincoln. So these stories are into woven within the body of the book for the most part,

Alex Ferrari 1:48:30
You are fairly well adjusted for a man raised like with a mother that neurotic I I too had a Cuban mom, a Cuban Cuban mom from Miami. So absolutely, if it's 202 you're dead. If you're dead, you're dead. You're dead in the streets. If it's two, if it's 220 The devil is taking your soul. So there's no there's no confirmation of the dead body. So now we have to up it dead is not enough. The soul is gone.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:49:04
By those Cuban mothers can give the Jewish mothers who run for their money.

Alex Ferrari 1:49:08
Man, I feel you my friend, I feel it. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:49:20
Okay, if you're a writer, write a script because what we talked about is that a script is something that you own, that no one can take away from you. You can either sell it or insist that you're the director or they you ever producing credit or whatever. write a script. If you want to learn how to make films, I would say try to get a job in the cutting room. Because editing is where you learn to structure and storytelling. The great thing about nowadays is because there are video cameras that are very available and cheap and because there's so many outlets. The other thing I would do is if I wanted to be a film director or a cameraman or something Or filmmaker, I'd find a couple of friends that are very good actors. And I would write some stuff for them and shoot these eight or 10 minutes things and start to develop storylines or characters for these little show. So, you know, I did recently did a q&a with Jerry Seinfeld and said 92nd Street y in New York. And someone said, to Jerry, how do you become a writer? And I loved his answer so much. He said, How do you write there, he said, You got a pen, and you get a pad. And you turn off your phone, and you turn off your computers, and you sit there. And he said, you're writing, even if you haven't written anything, just don't touch your phone. That's, and at the end of the day, maybe you've written four lines, maybe you haven't written anything, but you your process of sitting there with that pen and that pad, you are writing. And I think it's so brilliant and so true. And then the same way, if you declare yourself a director, and you start directing, you are a director. So get out there, make those small, little films, find a couple of great actors write some funny or interesting or, you know, there was this guy, when GoPro first did this amazing parkour thing. And he got himself a feature from it. And I don't think this feature did well, but it was just so visually arresting was about an eight minute video, you know, where the camera went everywhere? So what I would say is, start doing stuff, don't talk about it, go out and start shooting.

Alex Ferrari 1:51:44
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:51:50
Okay, I'm going to talk about that film industry. The lesson I took me the longest time to learn, and I finally learned it is, although this book might queer that deal, because I might anger some people. But in any case, I would always when I had disagreements about the studio, you know, with on the men and black movies or whatever. And we were going to do some reshoots, or whatever. And some and, you know, head of the studio, whatever had ideas I go, I couldn't disagree more, or can I totally disagree with that? That's what we need. Will Smith kept saying to me, he called me bad. Keep saying bad. That's, that doesn't help. Don't don't take that approach, because now they're on the defensive. And I'm many black three, I wanted to do some additional photography. And the head of the studio had one, one series of ideas, and I had a totally different set of ideas. She presented her set of ideas. And instead of saying, I totally disagree, I said, I so. So see why you think those scenes are great, and I so appreciate why those seeds are exactly what you think we need. And without any more saying why I think those are great ideas. Here, here's what I have come up with, that would say totally different stuff. But I would get it and I was allowed to do what I wanted to do, because I didn't immediately anger everyone by saying, I disagree. Or that's a stupid idea, or that's not what we need. Instead, I'd say, totally understand all those reasons. I think they're all great ideas. I have some different ideas. And I'll tell you what I think my ideas will do for us. But I no longer say bad idea. I disagree. I start out totally agreeing with them. So that they are no longer adversary. But we're on the same team. And that took me decades to learn.

Alex Ferrari 1:54:01
You're very Jedi Master esque. When you speak like this

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:54:07
250 grand. I came to Jedi very late. You don't want that person you want. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:54:19
These are not the droids you're looking for sir. Now, what was the biggest fear you had to overcome when you made or you were first walked onto a set, whether that be blood simple, or like that convinced you to? I can do this? Like what was that fear you had to overcome?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:54:39
Well, as a cinematographer, I needed to start to see dailies and to see that the way I thought because this again, is way before video tap even. So it's not like now you're on the set and you look at a monitor and what you see is what you get, because everyone uses video cameras. So I had to discover that I was good. And that I didn't know what I was doing as a cameraman. I mean, literally, I had shot a bunch of porn and some industrials for Rabbi Gelman picture. boxes. So, on the set of blood symbol, I had never done this before, literally had never shot a feature. So I hadn't started to see stuff to see, oh, I'm okay. I can do this. And, and then when I became a director, again, I had to spend enough time with the actors. And believe me, I was totally stressed out. I fainted on The Addams Family set one morning, I, I then convinced myself just overtime, you know that. The other thing is, the more you do it, the more comfortable you get doing it. Right? is why I was saying to your audience, when they're starting out, just keep doing it, do another one, do another one, do another eight minute video, do another format. Do that. Because the more stuff you shoot, the more you realize, Oh, I see if I'm over the shoulder here with a 50 millimeter and then I come around to the other over the shoulder. And I'm on a 21 millimeter, it doesn't match and they don't look like they're in the same roomy than I should use the same lens on both over the shoulder stuff like that. You don't know until you do. And that's that's the great thing about film school. Although now you can do it on your own. Which is it allows you to make movies and until you actually make them. You don't. You can't watch a lot of movies and figure out all those things. You got to do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:56:43
Right. Yeah, you could look at someone writing music. But until you actually start kidding. I listened to a symphony. It's easy. I could do this. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. Now the toughest question of all three of your favorite films of all time.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:57:00
Oh, that's easy. Dr. Strangelove. That's my number one. I really like taxi driver. I haven't seen it in a long time. I want to say taxi driver. And I'm going to say Palm Beach story, which is a comedy directed by Preston Sturges.

Alex Ferrari 1:57:22
Now, since you said Dr. Strangelove is your favorite, I have to do a follow up question which is your favorite Kubrick film? I'm assuming you're of Kubrick fan. Dr. Strange.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:57:32
It's a strange job is my favorite movie ever. My favorite Kubrick movie number two, I would say it's 2001. I didn't like Eyes Wide Shut. I don't think I saw Clockwork Orange because it seemed too scary. You know, I've never seen a scary movie I've never seen like, shiny now, or Exorcist or anything like that. You know, the prom was when I was a kid. I want to see Jason and the Argonauts. And there's that scene was a skeleton. And it was scary movie I ever saw. I think it was like 10 and I would never do I've never seen a twilight zone or or an outer limit or anything.

Alex Ferrari 1:58:20
Never seen so sorry. More. So in your wheelhouse the comedies the comedies in the action. Yes, yes. Yes. And can you tell the audience where they can find the book and when it's out.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:58:35
The book came out on March 10. And it's hard to get right now because Amazon, the bookstores, the claws, so I what I would say is either buy the Kindle version and read it on your iPad, there's about 100 photos in it so the iPad is a really good way to read it. Or the audio book is read by me. You get 10 hours of this voice but I'm very sarcastic while reading it I don Katz is the CEO of audible.com told me that rarely does he has he listened to a book where the reader knew where to put the quotation marks within their voice and I have great thing and I pause and just the right place. So he thought I did a very good job reading it which was surprising to me because I didn't want to read it I wanted max Greenfield curry that Max's as become a friend of mine but they wanted hash one is the publisher wanted me to read it. So I did. So you can order it as a hardcover from either you know, Amazon or Barnes and Noble it just takes a while because your backlog because of shipping other things for Coronavirus and stuff like that. But I would say if you want immediate gratification even the audio book, the audible dotcom book or the download the Kindle version,

Alex Ferrari 2:00:03
And it makes the most sense that you, you would be a good audio book reader because you tell stories you've been telling stories your entire life. So you have that knack already to just the pacing, the story of just listening to you tell your story so brilliantly. The pacing, the timing, it's it's there. I'm sure at a party, you are the center of attention.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:29
Well, I'm an only child and I'm Jewish. So I'm supposed to be.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:33
Exactly. And before we leave, can you tell the audience your philosophy of life?

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:44
Yeah, nine words.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:47
Go ahead.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:48
Regret the past. Fear the present. Read the future.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:55
Very optimistic.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:57
Well, okay, I'm gonna leave you with this.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:59
Yeah, go ahead.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:01:00
There's no upside in being an optimist. There is only an upside in being a pessimist. And I'll tell you why. If you get on a plane, and you stand with a guy sitting next to you, and you say, this plane is going to crash before we get to Cleveland, either one of two things happens. If the plane starts to nosedive, you get turned to the guy sitting next to you and go, Oh, was I right? or walk? Or if the plane doesn't crash, you win. Because you've landed successfully in Cleveland. It's a win win, as long as you're a pessimist.

Alex Ferrari 2:01:38
Because if you would have been positive in that situation, like yeah, I think we're gonna be clear sailing. And if it starts going nailed down, you're just like, Well,

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:01:46
No win, no elbowing the guy next to you going Hello. Oh, yeah. Sorry, always be a pessimist that's my.

Alex Ferrari 2:01:56
And on that note, sir, I truly thank you for all the time you dedicated to to the show today, it has been an absolute pleasure. I know, we could probably speak for another four or five hours. But thank you so much for your wisdom and your humor, and your entertainment today. Because it's been an absolute joy talking to you. So thank you, Barry.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:02:16
You too, it's been a total pleasure and I stay safe. And we'll see each other when I eventually get to LA.


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BPS 192: Writing & Showrunning Friends, Grace & Frankie with Marta Kauffman

Marta Kauffman is an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning television writer, producer and showrunner behind the hit series Friends and Grace & Frankie. After graduating from Brandeis University, Kauffman got her big break alongside David Crane when their pilots Dream On (1990) and The Powers That Be (1992) were greenlit. The pair then launched Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions with Kevin Bright and became the trio that created the iconic sitcom Friends.

Marta’s expansive and successful career includes creator, director, EP and showrunner credits on a number of television series, films, digital series and projects. In 2015, Kauffman started her production company, Okay Goodnight, with industry veteran Robbie Tollin and Hannah KS Canter.

Their first series, Grace & Frankie, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston premiered on Netflix in 2015 and is Netflix’s longest-running original ever. The series has received multiple Emmy and SAG nominations and is premiering the final episodes of its seventh and last season later this year. In 2018, the company produced the documentary Seeing Allred, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on Netflix.

Kauffman has received a number of honors and awards including the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for lifetime achievement in television writing from the Writers Guild of America, the 2016 Outstanding Television Writer award at the 23rd annual Austin Film Festival & Screenwriters Conference, The Kieser Award at the 44th Annual Humanitas Awards, and Variety’s TV Producers Impact Report for consecutive years in 2019 and 2020. Okay Goodnight and Kauffman currently have numerous projects in various stages of development at multiple networks

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, Marta Kauffman. How you doin' Marta?

Marta Kauffman 0:14
I'm good. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Oh, my God, thank you so much for coming on the show. You know, I'm slightly geeking out because obviously I am of the generation of when Friends came about. So I was in I was there, I think I was their age when Friends was. So I'm about I'm a little, like, only few years younger than the cast. So I was really feeling it. And I always wondered, how can someone afford that apartment in New York, but we could get to that later. But, um, and I wanted to kind of go down the road of how you started, how did you get started in the business?

Marta Kauffman 0:53
Um, honestly, I started as an actor, and discovered when when there was nothing in college for undergraduates to act in David Crane, and I said, Well, let's write something that that we can act in. And very quickly realized that the writing was a lot more fun than the academic. Yes. And we wrote a musical. The following year, we wrote another musical that ended up off Broadway. And when that show happened, our theater agent at the time brought a woman named Nancy Josephson who said, Why aren't you two doing television? And we went, Oh. And she is to this day, still my television agent.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
That's amazing. That's amazing. So you, so Was there something that started you on the path of trying to even be in this ridiculous business that we call show business? What was the thing that kind of lit your fire?

Marta Kauffman 1:58
You know, I've always loved telling stories. I didn't growing up know exactly what that meant. But and it wasn't until I started studying theatre and writing myself that I sort of said, I There are stories I want to tell, there are things I want to say and things I want to do. And you know, my mother was a dancer. My father could play any instrument you put in front of them. So I grew up in a very creative household. So it as much as they didn't want me to go into the business. She told people for a long time that I was going to grow up and teach mentally handicapped people, and we told them forever, until I finally had to move to LA and said, You know, I'm really doing this and she was furious. But once we while we were still living in New York, we were going back and forth between LA and New York, and I had a baby at that time. David Crane was like the other parent. We do one rule, I couldn't nurse during a pitch. That was a decent rule. And we were writing stuff and nothing was happening, and nothing was happening. And then we got a meeting about dream on interest. And, you know, they were looking for writers to do something with these millions of, you know, tapes that they had of old TV shows, and they were scraping the bottom of the barrel talking to to, you know, musical theater writers. But we were able to come up with something and get it made.

Alex Ferrari 3:50
Right. Like it, it seemed like from your from your proof from your, your filmography that, I mean, it seemed pretty quickly you got something, you know, you got a pilot produced, like, which was Dream on. And, you know, and it seemed very, it seemed quick, but I always wanted to know, like, how did you get Dream on? Like, how, because there's not a lot of time between when you first got your first writing gig to being a showrunner like you jumped pretty quickly. And that generally doesn't happen in the business.

Marta Kauffman 4:25
You know, again, I have to thank Nancy Josephson for this, um, when when dreamin right before Drumond happened. We met with the agents, and she was there and they said, What do you want to do? And we said, we want to write our own show. And they said, no, no, you can't do that. Was miss you. You've got to work on somebody else's show. And my feeling was, I had a baby. If I'm going to be spending time away from my baby, I'm going to have it be my thing. And then dream on happened. We wrote a pilot, we shot the pilot. And we were trusted to run the show. But I, it's a miracle. I don't know who convinced who,

Alex Ferrari 5:22
Like, how does that happen? Like in? I mean, I don't want this everyone listening, you have to understand that this is not the normal route of things. You don't know young writers are not given shows to run. And that was an HBO show at the time, right? I think it might have had a little something to do with. Yeah, might have had some to do with H because it was HBO and HBO was in the wild, wild west at that time period. Is that a fair statement?

Marta Kauffman 5:44
Yes, it really was. We were one of their first shows. And I think they were more willing to take big swings, then then other places might have been a network would never have let us do this.

Alex Ferrari 5:57
No way. That's what Yes, that makes that makes a lot more sense. Now, you

Marta Kauffman 6:02
Also simultaneously, we got a job. And this is what brought us out to LA what we've just here working for Norman Lear's company developing TV. So that was also happening at the same time. Um, it was we did a suspend and extend thing, which means we suspended the contract for a little while. So we could do dream on an extended at that length of time. And then we had to do both a show for them. While we were doing Dream on. And David, nice to say we used to pass the baton on the freeway as we pass each other going to the other room.

Alex Ferrari 6:44
That's amazing. Now, your first writing gig was everything's relative. And that was the first as your first official writing gig as a writer in a room

Marta Kauffman 6:53
As a TV writer. Yeah. Well, I would say my first writing gig was we wrote questions for a game show.

Alex Ferrari 7:00
Okay. That's amazing.

Marta Kauffman 7:04
But we'll put that to the side. Fair enough. Yes, that was the first that was the first TV experience we have. So then as what was terrible,

Alex Ferrari 7:15
Which okay, so I wanted to get into that, was there a major lesson you picked up from being on that show as a young writer that you brought into the rest of your career?

Marta Kauffman 7:26
Um, well, one of the things we learned was, we want to do our own show, right? We were not in the room for the rewrite. And the rewrite was massive. And, you know, we didn't have the experience to understand exactly how this works, and that they're going to take it and put it in their own vernacular, you know, the way that their characters speak, which, you know, we watched the TV show was barely on the air for a minute before we did this. And it was a, an experience where there was very little communication, very little inclusion. So yeah, that was our first experience. Thanks for bringing it up.

Alex Ferrari 8:14
Anytime I'm trying to bring up the worst and the best of your past. Learning, I'm trying to I'm trying to pick up some learning tips along the way, some lessons that we could give to everybody. Now, what is with you and you and David, what is your writing process? Like? How do you start? You know, a show idea or have any kind of storytelling? What how do you start like literally your process? Do you wake up in the morning, every day? Go to the to the desk at eight o'clock, I'm there. How's it work?

Marta Kauffman 8:42
So that's a very interesting question. And my process has changed. Since you could no no longer writing together, I had to learn a whole new process, I used to say that I wrote out loud, because David was always at the keyboard. Got it, he won't be at the keyboard. And I had to learn that I wasn't going to be able to speak things out loud. So I started acting in my head. And what I discovered about the way I write is that I write in waves. I'll sit down, study a scene, do my vomit draft is what I call the first draft. Do that scene. And then I have to walk away for a little bit until the next wave comes and I know what the next scene is about. And I sort of let the first scene settle. And then let the second scene start to bubble up. And as soon as things start to turn, in my head, I jump back in and ride the next wave. Now sometimes it's more than one scene. But generally it's it's it's about riding waves as opposed to I'm picking these hours and these hours and these I leave my day open.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
So it just anytime that during the day you're Just like okay, Muse, I am here. Yep. Anytime you want to show up, it could be at eight in the morning, eight at night midnight whenever.

Marta Kauffman 10:08
Well, it's a little more disciplined than that, in that I, if I know today is a writing day? Sure, I'll sit down. And the reason I call it the vomit draft is I know that to get started, I just have to get words on paper,

Alex Ferrari 10:21
Right!

Marta Kauffman 10:23
However terrible they are. The words have to go on the paper. And once that starts, once you get past the blank page, then the waves start to come start coming. And it's it's not really I mean, yes, I do like to call my museum, but it's not a matter of I'm in the shower, for idea happens. You know, and I jump out and go sit right.

Alex Ferrari 10:50
I gotcha. I gotcha. Well, I always love asking this question to creators, you know, even when I write, there's that moment that, you know,

Marta Kauffman 10:59
Excuse me one second, I realized I didn't really answer your question.

Alex Ferrari 11:02
Okay. So go ahead. Oh, yeah. to process the process.

Marta Kauffman 11:05
Yeah, there's a little more about the process in terms of creating a new show, okay. There are a couple things. Sometimes there's IP, a book, an article or something. And those can be incredibly inspiring. We have a couple projects based on books, and they're very exciting. And and I hate to say this, but part of why they're so exciting is you don't have to start from scratch. You have a basic idea of characters, and perhaps the shape of a story. And yes, it has to change. And it's I'm not saying it's easy. But it's a different process than when you're doing a show from scratch. And you know, here's the logline ID and then you have to discover who each one of these characters is. And you have to discover what the story is. And it is a painstaking process. It's a painstaking process. But it's one that I mean, generally. It's one that I don't write down immediately. Okay, I percolate on it for a while.

Alex Ferrari 12:32
You let it simmer? You let it Yeah, you let it kind of, you know, satay in your head, if you will?

Marta Kauffman 12:37
Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I find that sometimes that the walking away, is when my brain is most productive.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
Agreed, agreed, 100%, it's sometimes you just gotta go for a walk, go take a shower, go into Drive, whatever that thing is for you. I always found it. And this was a question I was gonna ask you, with, with creators, especially writers, I've always found the moment that you're able to tap into the flow, huge that the wave, which is the first time I've ever heard it referred to as a wave that you kind of ride a wave of inspiration, or that the thing is coming through you. I always found it that we're almost conduits from something else. I don't know where it comes from whatever you want to call it. But writers generally, and I think most writers I've spoken to have agreed with me on this is that there's that moment in time where you, you're just writing and then you stop and you read it. Like who wrote that? Right? Do you find Do you find that happening to you? Like you kind of like in that flow? It's not all the time. Sometimes it's much harder than that normally. But you get those moments.

Marta Kauffman 13:40
I'm the pilot of friends was one of those moments.

Alex Ferrari 13:43
I imagine it is. Yeah.

Marta Kauffman 13:45
That I mean, and mainly because we always say it wrote itself. Right? We didn't do anything. We just put the words on the paper it just wrote itself.

Alex Ferrari 13:56
It's just something some from some other place it just kind of like you guys were chosen, like you two are going to do it and it just all of us. And I've heard that from from from creators who've created these amazing properties and television shows and movies that when it's when it's so well received around the world, it's generally like something that just kind of like, like Rocky and Stallone like when he wrote Rocky, he's like I wrote in three days. The rough, the first draft, right? It was just there. It just it was it's like who wrote that? And that's

Marta Kauffman 14:28
Like, it's a little bit like one of my favorite pieces of sculpture is I think it's called the slave. Okay. Um, and it's a big square piece of marble. And coming out of the marble is a figure. The bottom half of this figure is in that big block of marble Sure. It exists in there. You just have to click All right, rest of that sculpture is in there. So it you know, it sort of makes me wonder if what we're doing is knocking away removing all the stuff that gets in the way from the piece of work that you're trying to create.

Alex Ferrari 15:21
That's yeah, that's what it is. Is it? Is it the VINCI or Michelangelo? Who said that? I think one of the Michelangelo? Yeah. He said, That is like I just there was, I just took the David all the pieces that weren't the David. Which sounds so simple. It doesn't, yeah, just just write, it should be fine.

Marta Kauffman 15:41
No, and the other thing, I think that gets in the way for a lot of writers and we've spoken to writers about this, but I think many of us feel like fakes.

Alex Ferrari 15:54
Oh, imposter syndromes. Absolutely. Imposter syndrome. Oh, big time.

Marta Kauffman 15:58
It's a big thing. It's a big thing, which is what makes it so hard to face the blank page. So hard to look at your vomit draft. And I always said, I'm a Rewriter.

Alex Ferrari 16:15
But the match. But let me ask you a question to why. Why do you believe that is? Because you're absolutely right. By the way, me speaking to, I mean, Oscar winners and Emmy winners and everybody. They all you know, they all seem to have that even after they've won Oscars after they've won Emmys. They're super successful. And yet, every time they get onto the page, there's like, I feel like someone I've heard this, like, I feel someone's gonna come into the door and go, What are you doing security? Get him or her out of here? Like it's but it's a weird thing is that thing is just inherent in writers weren't artists in general, because it's not only writers directors feel the same way? Actors feel the same way. Why do you think that is?

Marta Kauffman 16:56
I think if you identify yourself as a writer, then your failures are more painful than you think like I failed as writer as opposed to well, I'm not really writer. So that's why that didn't work. Right? I think that's a little piece of it. Sure. I, another piece of it, is that, as artists, we strive for perfection, which we never achieve. We just want to make it better and better and better. And we, I think, come face to face with our limitations on every script. I mean, I watched friends, mainly, what I see are the things I wish we changed.

Alex Ferrari 17:49
But that's an artist. That's always the way it is.

Marta Kauffman 17:52
Right. Right. I think that's part of it. And I think, I mean, in my case, I actually had a teacher write on a paper, once that I was the least in my AP English. I was the least perceptive student she'd ever had. And like, never be a writer.

Alex Ferrari 18:10
Those are the best stories ever. I love those stories. But that but that that kind of fed the fire a bit I'm I'm imagining?

Marta Kauffman 18:17
Well, what I realized is, I can't write an essay. Right? I can't write an essay. I can write dialogue. But I cannot write it. I couldn't write a novel for I just couldn't do it. I write you know, dialogue. That's what I do. I act it out in my head. I play all the characters and, and I it's, you know, in shorter sentences, you know, I don't have to be descriptive. I have to be clever in how I do exposition, and stuff like that. So I think that's, that's certainly another piece of it for me. I haven't yet met a writer who doesn't feel the imposter syndrome.

Alex Ferrari 19:14
I really haven't either. Yeah, it's just it's not again, it's not just the writers I think directors to to. I mean, I mean, maybe James Cameron not but but even in the quiet moments of James's Mo, you know, I'm sure there was a moment of like, No, I don't think so. I think I think he's good. But most, but most mortals, most mortals do feel that especially as artists are concerned. Is there anything you wish you would have been? You wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career? And like Man, why didn't someone tell me this?

Marta Kauffman 19:56
There are a few things I wish someone had told me I wish someone had told me that there was going to be misogyny that I could do very little about.

Alex Ferrari 20:10
I can imagine.

Marta Kauffman 20:12
I wish someone had told me that. And and I faced it a lot. I'll tell you one story, we writing a movie. And I had a had to have a minor, benign tumor removed from my breast. And it was happening on the day that we were supposed to meet with the producer for whom we were writing this movie. And David sat down with this producer. And he said, I love the script. I wish it had more TNA. They said, By the way, where's Marta, and David Flint, she's having her tea operated on.

Alex Ferrari 20:54
I can imagine in the, you know, the 90s 80s and 90s, that, you know, there was no me to movement, there was no awareness, there was no real way there was nowhere for, for females and people of color to, there was no, there was nothing, you just had to deal with it and move forward.

Marta Kauffman 21:12
Didn't really have role models. I mean, mine was Rosemarie from the Van Dyke Show.

Alex Ferrari 21:17
Minds was Robert Rodriguez from El Mariachi is the first time I ever saw a Latino filmmaker. I mean, they had been before but Robert was the first guy I saw was like, Oh, my God, I can I can be a filmmaker, I can go out and do what I want to do it with, you know, I'm sure Spike Lee was for other people and it of a certain generation, you know, Melvin van Peebles, and the list goes on and on. But you didn't see a lot. Now. It's, I mean, so much more, there's so much more to be done. But there's so much more representation out there. There's so many more different stories from different perspectives, which are so important.

Marta Kauffman 21:56
I think there's finally an awareness that we need to do that, that all people need to tell their stories. Right. Right. Exactly. And that there's an audience for that.

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Oh, yes. Exactly. It because at the end of the day, it generally always, you know, I, I had a, I had when I came up in a video store, you know, in the 80s. In the 90s, I worked in a video store. And there was one moment where I, there was a, I had some had a racist situation happened with a customer. And they called up my Oh, my boss, and he was like, I can't believe this Latino kids telling me I'm late charges or something like this. And I was first time I'd ever really been, you know, in front of fronted with that. And he said, I'm going to tell you one lesson, he was a Jewish man. And he said, the only color that people care about is green. If you can make the money, it all goes out the window and a lot of ways. And I found that that's generally the way it works. In Hollywood specifically. Do you agree with that? Like they just like if you're making a lot of money for the company, or for the movie or for things? doors, the doors, but just I don't know, it's I don't know. I would just love to hear your opinion on that.

Marta Kauffman 23:12
Yes or no? Yes. And no, I mean, after, during friends, you know, David, and I would go to a meeting and there were certain men who would not look at me, in the meeting, walk straight to David. And I'd be sitting right there talking. They'd look at me when I talk, but then they would talk to David. Um,

Alex Ferrari 23:39
And you had the biggest show, you had the biggest show on television.

Marta Kauffman 23:43
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's it. It's gotten better. I have seen a real change since I started in this business in the 80s. Short Course. It's, it's been massive. And I still think we have a very long way to go. But I feel like finally people are paying attention. And I won't get things like we were pitching a movie where there were two women at the center of the movie. And the executive said to us, if it isn't Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, you're not getting the movie made? Nobody wants to see a movie about two women unless it's those two.

Alex Ferrari 24:27
Even now, or

Marta Kauffman 24:28
This was maybe six or seven years ago?

Alex Ferrari 24:34
Still close enough. And that's, that's another thing I want people listening to understand. I mean, you've obviously had a lot of success in your career. It doesn't mean that you get to do whatever you want and that a lot of a lot of writers think that like oh, well you wrote friends and and Grace and Frankie you do what you basically all you do is make a phone call. You get something financed and you get something produced. I've talked to everybody I've talked to. I've talked to all these It's not the case, they all have to hustle, do it even even well into their 70s I've had people that like, yeah, I, I still lose jobs. I yeah, I still get rewritten.

Marta Kauffman 25:11
It's actually one of the pieces of advice I was going to say, young writers is you can never rest on your laurels ever, ever. Um, you know, because the next minute you're out there developing, and for whatever reason, just because you're an Oscar winner doesn't mean they're gonna buy the movie.

Alex Ferrari 25:32
Correct! Correct.

Marta Kauffman 25:34
I mean, we went through a year of Developer Summit this year, that was sheer hell, not the development part of it. But the part where, you know, the, just the pluses. Yes, that's what we want. And we write in the go, we don't want that anymore. The lion. We had quite a few of those kinds of experiences. We actually were writing something we pitched something about a pandemic. But it's not really about the pandemic. It's it. Anyway, it's based on a book. Sure. We pitched it right after the news from Wuhan came out. Oh, yeah, exactly. They bought it. We wrote it. And then we're like, yeah, yeah, we're not.

Alex Ferrari 26:27
There's nobody wants to watch a pandemic show. Nobody know.

Marta Kauffman 26:32
We're moving. That's another thing that happens is you get caught life life, the world where you have a great idea and you go pitch it and they go, Oh, we have an idea about brothers, even if they're completely different.

Alex Ferrari 26:45
Right! No, yeah, exactly. I'm assuming there were a lot of terrorist scripts were shelved after 911. Like,

Marta Kauffman 26:54
I That's true.

Alex Ferrari 26:55
I it's just it's, you know, it happens things happen in the world. And, and then also, sometimes the opposite happens. There's a script about something that all of a sudden you have Mandalorian. And like, Oh, we're looking for that. And it just happened to be the timing for it. So timing works.

Marta Kauffman 27:08
And there's also there's also a tendency to oh, that worked. Let's do more of that.

Alex Ferrari 27:18
Of course, that's Hollywood's bread and butter.

Marta Kauffman 27:22
Rather than let's find something new and fresh and exciting. Let's just do what's good. It's no, it's got to be Ted lasso.

Alex Ferrari 27:32
Oh, God. How many Ted lasses by the way, Ted last was absolutely phenomenal. I just finished binging it for the first time. Oh, it's wonderful. But now I'm sure how many Ted lasso rip offs are going to come up. I mean, I always I always go back to Pulp Fiction, how many Pulp Fiction rip offs were there, once Pulp Fiction came out, and there was like five or 10 movies that came out, they're all trying to be Pulp Fiction, because that's just the way Hollywood works. So I have to ask, so I have the question I've been wanting to ask you is how did you come up with friends? How did friends come to be? How did it get produced? How did someone say? Sure, six kids living in New York? I think you'll be okay. How, what's the story behind? I'm sure you've answered this question a couple times.

Marta Kauffman 28:15
Um, so basically, we had just finished doing Dream on, which was a show with a single lead, who had to be in every scene which was extremely difficult on him. Every scene he was in. So, David, and I said, the next thing we do is going to be an ensemble. Okay, we didn't want to do that. And we started developing some stuff. We did a couple of pilots that obviously didn't work out. And then we were doing this was our second year of development. And we started thinking about where we came from. We lived in New York, we were part of a group of six people who did everything together. In that case, four of them turned out to be gay, which was a shock honestly, at the time, who like really but we were extremely close. And then I was here in LA driving down the street and I saw a sign for insomnia cafe. And I thought, that's, that's where to go. You know, the place you go get coffee is the place to go talk and to be together and to you know, it just felt like besides the apartments, which you always see this is, this is the meeting place. This is the gathering place. We actually sold it to two places, ended up at NBC, obviously. And there was a period of time right after we did the pilot, where they said, you know, we're worried about doing a show about six young people, that's not going to get the audience except for young people. Can you bring in an older character? Maybe the guy who owns the coffee shop, the coffee house,

Alex Ferrari 30:35
Your Schneider?

Marta Kauffman 30:36
Yeah. We used to call him a cop. And we said, No, you don't need that. They are everything for each other. They are their community. They don't need to go to some old guy for advice, or women. They don't need to go to someone for advice, because they have each other. And they let us do it.

Alex Ferrari 31:09
In how so what point, you know, in the casting process that you go, Oh, we have something special here was it after the first pilot. I mean, that because that magic that that cast has, and I'm not I'm not saying anything revolutionary here. But the magic of the friends cast is so palpable, you could just say, you can sense it. When these six people got together, it just worked in a way that is unexplainable. Like you couldn't write your letter, write that as a story. It's, it's,

Marta Kauffman 31:41
You know, it was, it was not easy to cast with 140,000 people. I mean, it was it was not an issue. But at our first rehearsal, the first time all six of them are on stage together. I got to chill up my spine. And sort of when Holy shit,

Alex Ferrari 32:09
Really that early. You felt it

Marta Kauffman 32:11
It was the first time they were all on stage together.

Alex Ferrari 32:14
So you guys didn't do chemistry reads or anything like that. You just You just cast them individually, and then threw them together and what happened happened, essentially,

Marta Kauffman 32:24
Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Alchemy happened. That's gold. Yeah, little gold. And this is one of those cases the stars were aligned. Things would have been different. The stars were aligned.

Alex Ferrari 32:38
Yeah. Wasn't there like wasn't is it Jennifer that was on another show? Or was on another show? Yeah. And she had to get she had to get out. And I think I think I think it was in the reunion. I just saw that. She said, Yeah, yeah, go to that show. He'll get canceled after a year. Something like,

Marta Kauffman 32:55
That shows not gonna make you a star.

Alex Ferrari 32:57
That's the quote. That's the quote. Yeah, that's the story. That's like gonna make your star.

Marta Kauffman 33:00
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 33:02
And, and that was the thing too, with that show with the characters that were also beautifully balanced. You know, you had the flighty one, you add the you know, the series, you know, the not as bright one, the two bright, like, you balanced the characters, I mean, just a balance that you and David were able to put together of the characters just on a character development standpoint. How did you develop each of those characters? Or did this cast bring in some flavors that you later added and developed more with him? Or did were they pretty fleshed out originally on paper?

Marta Kauffman 33:36
The answer is a little bit of both. Look, a character you write is one thing in your head. And then when an actor breathes life into it, they bring something to it. And it elevates it, especially with this past, they elevated everything. One example is we didn't originally write Joey as stupid. But he played it so well. That it just became part of who he was. And that was not in our initial description of him.

Alex Ferrari 34:13
So he wasn't originally the dim one. Correct! Yeah, but he was the actor. He was an actor.

Marta Kauffman 34:19
He was an actor.

Alex Ferrari 34:20
So brilliant. Dr. Jake Romano. I mean, oh, God did all those lines. I mean, there's so many. I mean, the list of quotable lines from that show. Were any of them ad libbed? Or were they all broken in a room with with the writers do they you can remember like, Yo, how you doing and all these kind of things like that.

Marta Kauffman 34:44
Well, we may have written how you doing but but the way he did it, right is what made it incredibly special. How you doing as a line is like whatever.

Alex Ferrari 34:55
How many people have said I mean, we say that, uh, how you doing? Yeah, yeah, but it's performing made it

Marta Kauffman 35:01
His performance made it.

Alex Ferrari 35:02
Yeah. And anytime you refer to that you never hear someone guide that line how you doing as how you do it like everyone does. Everyone does that. Right? And, and to find six characters, six actors who melded so beautifully together and stayed best friends really to this day. such good friends is almost unheard of in a series environment for 10 years without somebody wanting to kill somebody look as look like his family, we all get families or families we all have, you know, fights and things like that. But generally speaking, they all stayed together for the entire show. Ah, it's remarkable it is it is I don't remember another series that had this kind of ensemble. And the other thing that I found so fascinating about the show, is there really wasn't a breakout star. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because they all were breakout stars. And that's unheard of, you know, it's your experience as well.

Marta Kauffman 36:03
Yeah, in my experience as well. And you know, it was also when we cast it, we didn't want to cast a star, right? We didn't want someone who was going to pull all the attention towards themselves. You know, by an audience, we wanted six people who worked as a unit, who made the characters come to life. And who could, you know, hopefully meld? And you just won't know, you don't know until you do it. But but you know, it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 36:41
Yeah. Wow. And Courtney was the only to my knowledge was the only kind of known person at that time, because she had been, she had been, you know, into movies, and obviously the perspex thing, music video, and she'd been around for a little bit at that point, but she wasn't a star per se. She was a known actress. Right? What is it? Like? Can you discuss the process of breaking an episode in the friends writers room? Like how do you do from season one to like season eight? Like, what are the main differences from breaking that first season, as opposed to breaking the eighth or ninth or 10th season?

Marta Kauffman 37:19
Well, the biggest difference is in the first season, you're making the arcs, you're creating the relationships between people. By the time you get to the eighth season a you really know who they are, and be there are things in the works. So what starts to happen is, the show begins to tell you what the stories are. Interesting, you know that the show tells you which direction to go in, for example, our idea with Monica and Chandler was they have a one night stand, and then it gets really, really awkward. But the audience reaction when we shot it was so huge had to go. Wait a minute. What are they telling us? Yeah, and we had just switched courses. But we had to, you know, you have to be incredibly flexible along the way. That's number one. In terms of breaking a story. You know, it's a bunch of funny people sitting in the room going, either. You know, what might be funny. And then it's spitballing and spitballing and spitballing. And sometimes it's I gotta tell you what happened last weekend.

Alex Ferrari 38:42
Right! And they bring

Marta Kauffman 38:45
As an example, the Taylor's story. Joey and the Taylor.

Alex Ferrari 38:53
Oh, god, that was amazing. I remember. Yeah.

Marta Kauffman 38:56
True story.

Alex Ferrari 38:57
That's a true story? He went he went a little too far. And he's like, up in the ball. And you guys will it has to be Joey has this up first.

Marta Kauffman 39:09
Ofcourse he does.

Alex Ferrari 39:12
Yeah, so Yeah, cuz I remember when, I mean, look, I've seen the show. I've probably watched it a ton of times over the years from the first viewing and when it hit Netflix, I want to hit HBO Max and I just, you know, watch it. Now my kids watched it. My kids are I think when they start watching it, they shouldn't be watching because it's inappropriate, because they were eight. But we'd fast forward they couldn't get a lot of the references. But they would now even to this day, they'll see Jennifer Aniston somewhere like oh, there's Rachel or there's Joey or there's Chandler and they that's that's how they refer to the actors because they just that's all they know. it's generational. Now. It's like one of those things that will be brought along to other to generate and that doesn't happen very often in television.

Marta Kauffman 39:56
You know, I have a My youngest daughter is two 23 now but when she was 16 and the show went to Netflix, a friend of hers said, Have you heard about that new show called friends? They thought it was a period piece.

Alex Ferrari 40:16
Yeah, they thought like this is a great new show. And remember when I hit Netflix the millennials were just like, this is fantastic this this period piece show. They're talking about CDs and stuff is amazing. The phones were this big and they used to go someplace and sit down. It's amazing. It's I heard about that couldn't stop laughing when I heard that. It's, it's remarkable. I have do you have a favorite episode? I know. That's hard to say without the hundreds of episodes. Is there something is there one that you just like, that's the one that really did it for me.

Marta Kauffman 40:50
No, it's a little bit like saying Do you have a favorite child? But yes, I do. The episode with the game and Oh, yes. embryos, the empty embryos. When the other part is Phoebe is getting her eggs fertilized Wright Brothers. Of course. That's the other piece of the story that's in there.

Alex Ferrari 41:25
But it was the game it was you mean the game when they lost the apartment? Why? Oh, it's it's that's an amazing episode one of many. But that

Marta Kauffman 41:33
I love that episode. So much. I love it so much.

Alex Ferrari 41:36
It's It's It's perfection. I want to ask you.

Marta Kauffman 41:40
I love to. Um, but but that to me is that's just my favorite.

Alex Ferrari 41:45
Now, is there something that you look for specifically in a potential writer for one of your rooms?

Marta Kauffman 41:51
Yes.

Alex Ferrari 41:53
What is it?

Marta Kauffman 41:56
That I can be in a room with that person for 12 hours a day. No matter how good the writing is, if the person is obnoxious or too shy, or too shy, it's true, are afraid to talk. I won't hire that person. Look, you read a script, you respond to it or you don't? Correct. Part of what happens is as you start to put together a writer's room, you go alright, this person is really strong on story. This person's really good at jokes. So the script I read of that person may have been hilariously funny with not a great story, but that's okay. In a writers room.

Alex Ferrari 42:47
Right! You're taking the best pieces, you're taking the best pieces,

Marta Kauffman 42:51
Right! You want to balance you want to balance but I also feel that when people stay with the show, they start to you know, gain depth as writers of course, you know, and and learn and learn to strengthen their weaknesses and show their strengths.

Alex Ferrari 43:11
I mean, the best advice I've ever gotten for being in this business is don't be a dick. Best advice I've ever gotten, and it's and people are like, Oh, you've got to be super talented like, that helps. Don't be a dick. I promise you. You could be the best writer you could be the second coming of William Goldman. And if you are an ass and you can't work with them at any in any any field in our business grip. Gaffer DP director, writer. If you're hard to work with, in maybe you get in, I've always seen this too. Maybe your talent gets you in and then you become the dick. The moment you stumble, the second you stumble, you're gone. And yeah,

Marta Kauffman 44:01
We we and I feel that you're right. It's about the whole business. I mean, as a showrunner, one of my priorities is a happy set. Absolutely. A safe and happy set. And anybody who can't participate in that can't stay on the show. There's nobody else there's no yelling, period. End of story. You don't yell. Right. You know, there's an end there are ways it's being show runners sometimes it's like being a camp counselor. I'm not always but sometimes that is what it feels like when you're sort of supportive, supporting uplifting cheering on your cast and crew. To make them feel good about coming to work every day.

Alex Ferrari 44:58
It's not easy. A lot of people think I mean, look at Hollywood and being in the in the show business and, and television. It's fun. Don't get me wrong. And I know you know that as well. It's fun. But it's hard work you work 1218 hour days sometimes. Yeah, everyone's well compensated at all, that's all great and dandy, but at a certain point, it doesn't matter how many, how many dollars come into your checking account, it's still 18 hours, and you're still busting your your butt and you and I can't even imagine the prep the financial pressure of being a producer, on a show like that, you know, and because at a certain point was one of the most expensive shows on NBC, his roster at a certain point, you know, that we're making a lot of money with it as well. But that pressure as long as well as trying to be creative, as well as trying to keep a happy set. People don't think about things like that. But it is an immense amount of pressure. I can't even understand this point.

Marta Kauffman 45:45
It's true. It's a lot of pressure. It's enormous stress. But and I would say this to a young writer. We work too hard not to find joy in what we do. Great as a writer, if whatever you're working on doesn't speak to you. It's not going to come out well, and you're not going to be happy doing it. Absolutely. It's got to be something that you feel in your soul in your gut that this is something I have to write.

Alex Ferrari 46:24
Well, I have to tell you, my new obsession is Grayson, Frankie, and I, my wife and I watching it and I saw the trailer for it when it came out originally. And I jumped on. I think I jumped on Season One. I was an early adopter. And I was just sitting there going, how in God's green earth that this get made? I can't I'm so happy it did. On paper. It doesn't play well. But you know, you mean like, you know what I'm saying? Like, you know, it's it's something that you never see you never see people of that age. On on a show. Obviously, you I think you had the same luck that you had with Dream on. HBO was the Wild Wild West, I think Netflix was very much the wild, wild west. To a certain extent. It's still it's the wild west over there. And you pitch them the show. I'm so happy that it exists in the world. And we're obsessed with it, by the way. So thank you for making it. How did you how did Grace and Frankie come to be? How did that idea come to be? Because some of the ideas in that show are just wonderful

Marta Kauffman 47:30
Umm, well, it was kind of a fluke how it started. I had lunch with a woman named Marcy Ross, who was head of the television department at Sky dance. We'd known each other previously. And she said the Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do TV. I thought she meant together. I called my agent and I said, Is it true? The Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do a show together? She said, I don't know. I'll call you back. And 20 minutes later, she calls me back. And she says they do now.

Alex Ferrari 48:17
Because you were asking.

Marta Kauffman 48:19
Yeah. Well, and also because they hadn't thought about doing it together, you know, and it was like, their friends course, they were very excited about it. And then, you know, we knew certain things we knew we wanted it to be about what it is to be that age, sex and sexuality and friendship. And we have a few pads to it. And I was sitting in the car with my daughter who is now a VP of my company because she's so freaking good. And she's the one who said what if they are women who don't like each other? Their husbands work together in a law firm and the men fall in love and want to get married.

Alex Ferrari 49:08
She's the one that came up with that. What? Oh my god. What? That's amazing. And and the ketamine Martin and Sam it just

Marta Kauffman 49:21
And then it tell you Alex, there were days when you could do table reads. Look across the table, right. Am Waterston Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen, and I would go what is this real?

Alex Ferrari 49:46
It's remarkable and the topics Yeah, I mean, I've never seen a show like that because it's just something you never see characters of that age on on television as the main star, just just it doesn't happen. There's usually a side character But there's that then the topics they cover like you're talking sexuality, that's taboo. You don't talk about things like that. And then that they open up a vibrator company is just the most brilliant thing I've ever seen. And then the toilet thing and oh my god, it's just, every season keeps getting better.

Marta Kauffman 50:18
It was all for us about life starts at any age, right? Um, and also was a little bit about no one talks about Dr. vaginas but they're a real thing. Right about them and you know, on Netflix, you can talk about it.

Alex Ferrari 50:36
Right! This is not gonna happen on on on a network show. Guys, and fairly even not happened on any of the major networks. That's just not gonna happen. But, you know, by the way, did you I'm sure you've seen it at this point, the SNL wrap.

Marta Kauffman 50:52
Oh, my God. Oh my god. So it made us so happy. We watched it in the writers room, and we were just so happy.

Alex Ferrari 50:59
Oh, my God, Pete Davidson. It's just the it was the bet if anyone's not I'll put a link to it in the show notes. It is when I saw cuz I'm a fan of Saturday Night Live. So I was watching it. I'm like, are they? Are they doing a rap about Grayson, Frankie? This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. And that Jane and Lily showed up at the end

Marta Kauffman 51:16
I know it made us so happy. Made it.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
Yeah, it's not crossed over. Because that's the thing. It's because on paper. It's not a great pitch. Don't get me wrong. It's not a great pitch on paper. Because you're like, well, it's only going to it's earned this is what the studios would say it's only a certain demographics gonna watch us only an older generation. Is that kind of the generation that we're going after. But their biggest fan base is young millennials. Yeah. You know, and Gen X like myself and like and everyone in between because good story writing is good story. Good acting is good acting.

Marta Kauffman 51:51
Well, it's no similar to friends when they said, you know, you can't do a show about six young people right out we've always said and this was the case with Grayson, Frankie too. If the stories are identifiable, if you can connect with the characters and the stories or something you can empathize with, then it'll work. No matter how old they are.

Alex Ferrari 52:17
You're absolutely right. And in the you have the record now of the longest running show on Netflix. There is no other show. No other show that's ever done it and that was the thing in the wrap to I love that. It was like in the log is flicks. Again if on on on paper, you would have told me Oh, yeah, this is also going to be the longest running show on Netflix as Netflix is infamous for more than two seasons, you're out. Right to three seasons, you're out if you can make it the four or five my god you're at this point your Orange is the New Black or House of Cards. You know, but this little show and it's that little bit this little show about you know, older people talk about Dr. vaginas and vibrate. That's now longest running show on Netflix. I mean, do you do you believe? I mean, I think you said it already is like it identifies and crosses the generations. And that's why I think people connect with it so much. And I mean, obviously it's the performances as well and Jane and Lillian Martin and Sam are just their magic as well. You've you've hit you've hit the lottery twice. I did it.

Marta Kauffman 53:27
I'm very grateful and very lucky.

Alex Ferrari 53:33
So I have to ask you I heard the rumors. is Dolly showing up? Dolly is it is official out there.

Marta Kauffman 53:42
Yes.

Alex Ferrari 53:44
Because on Season Three I'm like when it's Dolly gonna show up as a cameo. Jesus, somebody bring Dolly back, please. When I see the three of them again, because I'm of a generation that remembers nine to five I love nine to five I watched it. Oh god so many times. It just was one of those movies at that time. That movie was a monster hit. Wow. She was it was in the zeitgeist at that moment in time. And the three of them are so magical together. I cannot wait to see that. I'm just dying to see what you guys do with them. And when our winners show up with the final episodes because I already binged the second you teased out a few episodes

Marta Kauffman 54:26
I don't have an official date yet. Okay. I don't have an official date yet hopefully in the next I think it's gonna be in the next few months.

Alex Ferrari 54:37
Next few months so yeah, as this we're recording this in January so hopefully in April sometime last what I'm hoping for Yeah, hopefully around April sometime it'll come out and how many episodes are left? Oh 12 total?

Marta Kauffman 54:52
12. Left. We were six. It was 16 episodes.

Alex Ferrari 54:57
Oh, that amazing you got extra because there's normally what was The normal episode run

Marta Kauffman 55:01
13

Alex Ferrari 55:02
So you got three. So good. I'm so excited. I cannot wait to watch Grayson Frankie again, see where this where this this start? I'm no seriously it's like there's very few shows that I get obsessed about Grayson Frankie. I'm also obsessed about Cobra Kai because it's a Cobrar Kai. So, but is is, I don't get obsessed by shows. Oh, Yellowstone too. I don't know if you've seen Yellowstone?

Marta Kauffman 55:28
I haven't yet but I am. I'm having my knee replaced. I'm saving it for that.

Alex Ferrari 55:31
Oh, it's off. Taylor is off. It's amazing, amazing writing. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I ask all my my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Marta Kauffman 55:44
Well, a couple things. One is, before you take scripts out there, get some friends together, read it out loud. So that you know that you have a product that is acceptable. And then I would say and I know, there's a lot of controversy about this. Um, I think agents can be extremely useful. I happen to have had a very good experience with mine. Other people have had good experiences. Some have not I understand that. But I think getting an agent is really important. And that's, by the way, one of the ways you do that is knowing other writers who can say hey, I met this person who has a great script and to do that. I really think getting into a writers room being a writer's assistant starters, a writers pa if you have to be a writer's assistant, we had every writer's assistant we had except for one ended up being a writer on the show.

Alex Ferrari 57:04
On what show Grace and Frankie are friends are both Chris and Frank.

Marta Kauffman 57:08
Quite a few on friends as well. But on Grayson, Frankie everyone, really? That's awesome. A woman who started as a writers pa ended up as a producer in our last season.

Alex Ferrari 57:20
How does and I have to ask how do you go from writers PA to producer in the scope of the series? Like why so people listening can understand what she did that.

Marta Kauffman 57:32
Well, in my room, I run a very democratic room. Okay. And if a writer's assistant has a joke to pitch, I want to hear it. Okay. Um, I, you know, I want to hear what they have to say for writers assistant has an idea. The room may not necessarily be the right place to do it, but then pull me aside and say, you know, I was thinking, what about this? And then we can go back in the room and I can say, Brooke just had this amazing idea.

Alex Ferrari 58:02
Because there is that there is a politics of the room that that that's not spoken about a lot is like how to, you know, especially there's a showrunner side of the of the room. But then there's the writer side and how to politically do it without stepping on toes and egos and things like that?

Marta Kauffman 58:17
Well, it depends on the showrunner. Exactly. It depends on the showrunner if you have a showrunner with an ego i It's tough, but you still would learn a lot in a writers room. And, and start to get to know writers. I mean, I a lot of my writers were working with the writers assistants reading their scripts, giving them advice.

Alex Ferrari 58:39
That's great mentoring them almost.

Marta Kauffman 58:42
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 58:44
That's amazing. That's great. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Marta Kauffman 58:52
Wow, that's a really interesting question. And I could go in a bunch of directions. I'm not going to go to the dark place. You know, bringing it full circle. I think I learned that I'm a writer.

Alex Ferrari 59:15
Took you a while to figure that out?

Marta Kauffman 59:17
Yeah. Took me a long time.

Alex Ferrari 59:20
Really?

Marta Kauffman 59:21
Yep.

Alex Ferrari 59:23
I want everyone listening to hear this. That someone is as accomplished as you had a long time to figure out that they were really a writer that that imposter syndrome was was bad. Do you still deal with it? You have to not deal with it as much. Did you still deal with it? Really? But you but you figured out like that's just a voice in my head? I'm a writer.

Marta Kauffman 59:48
Yeah. Yeah, I figured out all right, I've done before I can do it again. And just get words on paper. Just get words on paper. And then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:02
Are there three pilots that everyone should read in their specific genre that you would recommend?

Marta Kauffman 1:00:11
Um, you know, my so called Life was an amazing pilot was I remember it was an amazing pilot. I learned a lot from watching that pilot. So that's one squid game had a pretty good pilot.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
She says, What the hell with that Jesus Christ that show? What a thing like how well like I don't even I have to do it. I have to get that show runner on the show. I've just if he speaks English, I want to speak.

Marta Kauffman 1:00:46
You know, I It's funny that I mentioned those because I don't watch a lot of comedies. Okay. I mainly watch dramas because watching comedies work for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:58
Right! You're analyzing it, you're picking it apart. You're like, oh, that didn't hit right. That didn't hit right. Why did that get through?

Marta Kauffman 1:01:04
Or how did they get to that? How's that the story? Why is that doesn't make any sense or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:10
So you know, alright, so So mostly drama. So squid games, my so called life and what was the third one? You think?

Marta Kauffman 1:01:17
I'm debating between a couple.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:19
Okay, you could toss them both out.

Marta Kauffman 1:01:22
Sopranos had an amazing pilot. David was I mean, Jesus. Genius, genius. But I have to say I recently watched a show that I've long since forgotten about. The pilot for lost is really good

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
The pilot was amazing. Amazing. Oh, remarkable. I mean, they kind of, you know, it took them. They went off. They went off the rails a little bit.

Marta Kauffman 1:01:53
They didn't know where they were going.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:54
They were just like, in a smoke monster shows up. Like, but that first season was yeah, some of the best television. Yeah, in a long time. I always throw in Breaking Bad because I think it's one of the Oh, that's a really good. I mean, you add another 15 minutes to it. It's the it's the best independent film of that year. It's true. It's remarkable. And just for fun three of your favorite films of all time. She's wiggling in her chair. She's wiggling in her chairs.

Marta Kauffman 1:02:29
I am, um, I loved there's so many. And some of these may be a little controversial. To Kill a Mockingbird. Fantastic film is an amazing film my favorite film made from a book, Now this one's a little strange. The original West Side Story. Okay. I grew up on I will sometimes just watch the dances.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:08
Oh, they're so beautiful. Amazing. Did you see the new one by the way? Did you see Steven? Yeah, I hear I haven't had a chance to see it yet. But I hear it's phenomenal.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:19
Watch it and then we can have a conversation.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:22
Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. Okay, and what was that and what's another one?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:30
Um, what was the first one he said the favorite

Alex Ferrari 1:03:34
To mark To Kill a Mockingbird?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:36
Oh, the favorite.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Oh, the favorite. Oh. Which one?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:42
The one with Olivia Coleman.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:45
Oh, god. Yeah, yeah. Okay.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:48
I loved that.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:50
I haven't seen that movie forever. But yeah, I remember that movie.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:54
Oh, it's just Oh, and I also love arrival. I do love science fiction. I watch a lot of science fiction. Really? Sad arrival. Great

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
See that you never think that Marta coffins like a big sci fi fan?

Marta Kauffman 1:04:06
Huge a huge sci fi fan.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:08
Did you see that? Have you seen Mandalorian Do you watch any of that stuff? Or? No? I do. Did you enjoy it? Yeah, I enjoyed it. This fun? Yeah. It's popcorn. It's popcorn.

Marta Kauffman 1:04:17
Exactly. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:19
It's popcorn. It's fun. It's you know, it's not changing dinner. Right? It's not a it's not going to change the world. But man, is it fun? And I just started watching the book of boba and just like, it's fun as hell man. If I saw I saw this meme of. It's like kids playing with Star Wars toys. And it's like Jon Favreau, David Fillion, and then making the Mandalorian and they're just literally having the fun playing with there. Isn't someone's filming it? Um, Martha, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and it has been.

Marta Kauffman 1:04:55
Thank you Alex. I appreciate your thoughtful questions.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:58
It was wonderful talking to you and continued success thank you again for bringing for Friends into the world and also a Grace and Frankie and I cannot wait to see what you're up to next. So thank you again so much.

Marta Kauffman 1:05:08
Thanks so much. Bye


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BPS 162: Writing Blockbuster Movies & Television with Danny Strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy my enlightening conversation with Danny Strong.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 50:03
Ridley Scott Ridley Scott,

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

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

Danny Strong 50:49
What I just told you?

Alex Ferrari 50:51
Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Shonda Rhimes Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the Creator of Scandal

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The internationally respected Shonda Rhimes, whose TV credits include ABC Studios’ Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Catch

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Shonda Rhimes ’91, the wildly successful television writer and producer, told the Dartmouth Class of 2014, “Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”