I have an epic conversation in store for you all today. Our guest is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, filmmaker, John Lee Hancock. While working as a lawyer by day back in 1986, John moonlighted as a screenwriter, writing script after script. His spec script A Perfect World caught the eye of Steven Spielberg and eventually was directed by Clint Eastwood.
After that success, he went on to direct the crowd-pleasing The Rookie.
A true story about a coach who discovers that it’s never too late for dreams to come true. Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) never made it out of the minor leagues before a shoulder injury ended his pitching career twelve years ago. Now a married-with-children high-school chemistry teacher and baseball coach in Texas, Jim’s team makes a deal with him: if they win the district championship, Jim will try out with a major-league organization.
After the box-office success of The Rookie, John tackled the epic story of The Alamo.
A semi-historical account of the standoff at an abandoned mission during the Texas fight for independence. The Texans, led by Colonel Travis, managed to temporarily hold off the Mexican army of Santa Anna. The Texans were outnumbered 183 to 2000 and eventually succumbed. After the fall of the Alamo, General Sam Houston led another group of Texans against Santa Ana’s army in San Jacinto where they defeated the Mexican army, which eventually led to an independent Texas.
Hancock’s famous five-year hiatus comeback film, The Blind Side, an adaptation of Micheal Lewis’s 2006 book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game yield and performed outstandingly. The film received countless major awards nominations including an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and a win for Best Actress for Sandra Bullock.
The Blind Side is the story of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who became an All-American football player and first-round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.
The Blind Side went on to make $309.2 million internationally on a $29 million budget. Not too bad.
Just this year, Hancock released his latest HBO Max neo-noir crime thriller, The Littel Things, starring Academy Award winners and heavyweights Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto.
Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a serial killer who is terrorizing the city.
John also tackled bring the legendary Walt Disney to the big screen in Saving Mr. Banks starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.
Author P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood as Walt Disney adapts her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen.
The Highwaymen bring John together Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson to the tale that follows the untold true story of the legendary lawmen who brought down Bonnie and Clyde. When the full force of the FBI and the latest forensic technology aren’t enough to capture the nation’s most notorious criminals, two former Texas Rangers must rely on their gut instincts and old-school skills to get the job done.
I had a ball talking with John about filmmaking, how he almost broke Steven Spielberg’s Rosebud prop from Citizen Kane when they first met, and so much more. He really goes into detail about his creative process, how he was able to navigate Hollywood, how to deal with the highs and lows of the business and so much more.
Enjoy my conversation with John Lee Hancock.
Right-click here to download the MP3
- John Lee Hancock – IMDB
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 0:29
I like to welcome to the show John Lee Hancock, how you doing, John?
John Lee Hancock 4:36
I'm doing great. Alex, how are you?
Alex Ferrari 4:38
I'm doing great. Thank you so much for doing this. I've been a big fan of your stuff for a while. And I reached out to you because I wanted to talk to you about your process and and you're in your filmography and how you do stuff cuz you've done. You've been able to write some amazing like perfect, the perfect world. I love that when it came out. I was just like, blown away by that and And a lot of the other writing you've done, but also your directing and how you trance trance transition from screenwriting to directing and and how you've been able to kind of jump back and forth and stuff. So we're gonna get into the weeds a little bit about about what you do, if you don't mind.
John Lee Hancock 5:17
No, no, ask away.
Alex Ferrari 5:19
So first, first things first, how did you get into the business?
John Lee Hancock 5:24
Wow, like, like most people, it was circuitous. And you know, I started off as a lawyer in Houston, Texas. practice law for about three years I've been writing for a good long while but started bawling. Houston started writing screenplays. And I had a screenplay that got accepted to a Sundance Institute satellite program in Austin, Texas over a weekend or something. And thought, Well, you know, maybe I have enough talent, somebody thought so and moved to Los Angeles, get every odd job in town to try to, you know, pay the bills and have time to write, had a theatre company. I wrote and directed plays for friends who were actors, and just kept writing screenplays. And then, you know, lo and behold, a perfect world with Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner got made. And that's kind of that's that was the project that kind of launched you into into your career. Yeah, yeah. And I had other stuff before that. It was one little tiny movie I did. I think it is $100 movie or something. But it was but on purpose, a straight to video movie. And so I don't really count that that didn't put put me way ahead. I wouldn't say but it's called a perfect world, then I've been working ever since.
Alex Ferrari 6:42
So I wanted to go back a little bit farther back for a second. Is it true that you were a PA on my, my demon lover?
John Lee Hancock 6:50
Yes, that was my first credit. I was a PA on, you know, for commercials and HBO was just starting out. And so I met met other pa 's and met producers and things like that. And the opportunity to be a PA on that movie in both LA and New York. I took after that I figured out we just do pa work on commercials because it took me away from writing for too long.
Alex Ferrari 7:15
Right? Exactly. Not on that on that show specifically, was there anything you took away any major lesson? Because I remember doing pa work when I first started out and I realized really, really early. This sucks. And I don't want to wake up at three o'clock in the morning to set up cones.
John Lee Hancock 7:34
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. I had one of those. I think it was in Washington Square Park at 3am. As usual, when it was not a good neighborhood. And as you go out there to talk to the crack dealers off their corners.
Alex Ferrari 7:51
Yeah, shooting here today. Can you move your crack dealing down a block? That was really appreciate that.
John Lee Hancock 7:56
Yeah, exactly. And shooting an alphabet city before it was gentrified? You know? And there's a lot I mean, people peeing on you from their windows and you know, ever.
Alex Ferrari 8:11
Oh, New York.
John Lee Hancock 8:12
I love New York. But yeah, like you, I decided that I didn't want to have a like in production, and do a lot of PhDs who have continued on and then they became first IDs and ups and things like that. But they were more cut out for it. I liked the process, but I didn't want to have a life of that.
Alex Ferrari 8:32
Exactly. Now, your first film hard time romance, which was that $100,000 straight up? How did you get that off the ground? And how did that whole project come to be? Because I mean, it is your first time.
John Lee Hancock 8:44
Alex Ferrari 8:45
Directing on set and it is a big thing. I know. It's not your big break, but it's like your first time doing it.
John Lee Hancock 8:50
Yeah, we my Theatre Company, one of the one of our friends and our Theatre Company was Brandon Lee, who was Bruce Lee sunny and tragically, I don't set and who makes an appearance in the little things, but I will get to that.
Alex Ferrari 9:08
I think he does. Yeah, okay. You'll tell me where it is. I think I remember seeing him but
John Lee Hancock 9:12
yeah. But Brandon, we were good friends. And he would read everything I wrote. And I wrote that script, which I called via canvas. And they changed it to hard time romance. I don't know why. But anyway, I wrote the script. And he was dating a girl at the time who worked for a company in the valley that did straight to video movies. And this was before DVDs before blockbuster even but there were video stores. And so all those video stores had empty shelves. And people were really taken with the idea that they could go actually rent the movie and watch it that night and bring it back and so she smartly set up a company that would do little movies, sometimes using stock footage that she would buy Have a car crash or something and then you know bought go buy that the Nova that crashed, go buy a nova painted the same color and you've got a medically got a set piece that you don't have to pay for. So it was it was that kind of a deal. But anyway, yeah, we shot in Las Cruces. And so anyway, so I, so Brandon gave the script along, the producer said that she wanted to do it. And they were gonna pay me something I was wasn't in the Writers Guild, yet I forget what they were gonna pay me. Maybe it was $1,000 or something for the script. And then they were trying to find a director and I raised my hand and said, you know, I'd really I've been directing theater, but I'd really love to direct film. And so she said, okay, but I'm not going to pay you for that. And I was like, that's fine. You don't have to. So we we cast it, it was Mariska Hargitay, one of her very first roles. Friends, Leon Rippy, who's and Tom Everett, who are character actors who have worked all the time. We're both in it. And we went to Las Cruces, New Mexico, because we had some kind of a deal there. And I don't remember how many days we shot. Maybe it was 20, I don't remember. But I do remember, we would routinely lose locations. So we would be at a location in an alley or something. And I'm out there with the actors trying to block the scene. And also we're using we have a very specific amount of film. And so we're using short ends and things like that and go, Okay, this scene takes 27 seconds, do we have enough film in the in the roll on this yet or not? And all those kind of things. So you really had to turn into a math problem almost every day. But you'd be out there working with the actors, and he would come the producer, who says we're leaving, we're going to the next location. I said, Well, what about we're gonna come back to this one. It's like, Nope, it's gone. Take it out of the script. I said, but what about all the stuff that happens in the scene that's important, nobody will be able to make sense of this. And she goes, you'll figure it out. So yeah, I would have to take bad exposition, and, you know, kind of campus diddly, stick it into another scene. So it turned into kind of a really bad version of Days of Our Lives with somebody saying, remember last week when Bruce went to the hospital? But yeah, so that was that was that? We finished the movie, I got locked out of the editing room, because I had too many I had too many ideas. And then I think they let me back in at the end. But you know, it's, it's perfectly fine, I guess. But
Alex Ferrari 12:38
no, look, we all go through that, that we all go through those. Does that mean? Look, I've heard so many stories just like yours? Like, I'll do it for free? Yeah, you have no control. And you're killing yourself to do it. But at the end of the day, you got your first movie made? And you can I promise I can only imagine the volumes of stuff you learned on the in those 20 days.
John Lee Hancock 13:01
Yeah, I just every day was was learning just from the, from the, from the nomenclature to the way people talk on sets, to ways to work around problems. I mean, every day was, you know, it was me under the gun.
Alex Ferrari 13:16
Exactly. And that's I always I always tell filmmakers, look, throw yourself into the deep end of the pool, you are going to learn much more than in a classroom. I mean, you could learn about it in a book all day. But until you're in the fire, that's when you really really learn
John Lee Hancock 13:30
true, absolutely true.
Alex Ferrari 13:32
Now you you kind of started your directing, would you start your career in the business really, as a writer, that kind of what kind of launched you into the career and you did this? You wrote this amazing script called the perfect world for a little unknown director called Clint Eastwood at the time. How did that whole like was that a spec script? How did that work?
John Lee Hancock 13:53
Yeah, I was just an idea I had and I had a, I'd written. Let's see, I'm trying to think exact order of everything happened. But I but I just came up with an idea for it and wrote it. I mean, I outlined it for probably six months and then wrote it very, very quickly. I had it all kind of laid out and wrote it in a real writing jag spit most of the time writing it over house with pies in Los filas you know, because nobody was before Los Angeles was really cool and hip. And so Starbucks
Alex Ferrari 14:28
and Starbucks wasn't around just yet.
John Lee Hancock 14:30
No Starbucks or somebody said it was the Dupree back los vieles and Beastie Boys. Yeah. So uh, you know, by seven o'clock at night, that place was empty and I could go in there and stay three or four hours and and work and they would keep refilling my coffee cup and and on like that. But yeah, I wrote it and, and had I was a pocket client of an agent. By that point. Her name is Rhonda Gomez and Rhonda gave the script To her if the time had, I had friends, I think Leon rippy knew some people that had German money. You know, there's all these different waves of money. This is money coming from China's money coming from Germany's money can. And there was a wave of that happening in the late 80s. And so I met with a producer, financier, a German fellow, and he seemed interested in letting me directed. And, and that I was interested in that it wasn't, you know, either way. But Rhonda read it and she said, Look, here's the thing, the German money may or may not be real. But the one thing I know is you need to get inside the walls. And this was one was a very traditional studio system. So you need to get inside the walls. And this, we toss this script over the wall, and I promise you, you'll be inside magically. Because she said, it's a really good, it's a really good script. And I'm not saying it'll get made, but it'll certainly put you on people's radar. So and she said, you know, and then you can, you can direct something else. But let's, let's just play this out. I said, Okay, so she sent it to five producers over the weekend, and told them and knew them all, and said to each of them, don't have this cover, read it yourself. And by Monday morning, I had five meetings set up of the five, only one Mark Johnson, who at that time was partners with Barry Levinson in Baltimore pictures wanted to make the movie wanted to option it option, the script. And the others were we love this script. We're not sure we can get it made. But is there anything else you want to do? Or we've got these three books we on the rights to would you do on read them and see if there any of them interest you? So immediately, I had I got work and was inside the walls. And then you know, it started out being something that it was a script, Mark had the script and was passing it around to different people and stuff like that. And everybody the word spread that it was a good script. And Steven Spielberg came up to mark and their friends and said, I hear you've got a great script, and you haven't sent it to me, how come? And and Mark said, well, it's it's a little it has its there's a little bit of Sugarland express in it. So I just didn't think you'd be interested. And he said, Well, let me read it, and he read it. And so the next thing at all, Mark and I are going over to Steven Spielberg's house for lunch. And even though
Alex Ferrari 17:29
So, stop right there, I just got it. Yeah, let's take this slowly. What is it like? That's a young, unknown screenwriter to be invited over to Steven Spielberg house at the height, arguably the height of his powers.
John Lee Hancock 17:42
Yeah, we'll one the option check. hadn't quite it takes a while. I mean, they you know Baltimore pictured option it or got got Warner Brothers to option it for them. I can't remember what the deal was. But it takes sometimes, you know, four to six weeks to get the check. So I was still doing pa work, even though I said no, I promise you I optioned the script and the Oh, yeah, right. Yeah, sure. Go get my coffee. And, and so I had to, you know, I still had was taking meetings and things like that around town. And I told my I told Rhonda, my agent, I said, if you can ever make meetings, lunches, that's 10 times better for me because I get a free meal out of it. Because I was really broke. And so she would she would try to get lunches in. And so anyway, Mark called and said, Do you want to have have lunch on Saturday? And I said, Yeah, sure. Let's just do it. Because we're going to Spielberg's house, and I Oh, wow. And I'd never met Stephen. And so went over there. And when we got there, we got to the house and got in there. And Kate was there with some of the kids and, and Steven was out at jack in the box with his son, which was the weirdest thing to me thinking about Stephens field, we're pulling through jack in the box. But so he was gone. And I'm there. And I'm talking to Kate, and she's from Texas, and I'm from Texas. And so it's getting really relaxed. It's you know, there's kids and dogs and all that good stuff. It's just a normal great house. Great, great house, we get me wrong, but still it was very comfortable. And at one point, I was leaning, I was laughing and leaned back in my chair against the wall. And I felt something start to fall on my head. And I go, I put my hands back up and it was kind of a Lucite in, you know, box of sorts, but it was huge. It was something mounted on the wall that was coming down and I was holding it. And I turned my head around the sea. And it was rosebud. And I go oh my god was not rosebud. Yes. Oh my god. I you know, I almost just destroyed the most important piece of American cinema memorabilia. And
Alex Ferrari 19:56
for everyone listening Rosebud has not seen Citizen Kane rose, but is a very Important artifact out of Citizen Kane. And Steven Spielberg has purchased that rose. But
John Lee Hancock 20:06
yes, Mark Johnson making a joke said they burned the door. They burned the best one. That was the second. So don't worry about it.
Alex Ferrari 20:14
That's amazing. But,
John Lee Hancock 20:16
but at that time I saw a hand up on it. And here comes Steven in. And he I see him and I'm trying to hold this thing up. I look and he goes pretty cool, huh? And I said, Rosebud. It's it was, so they were often running from there.
Alex Ferrari 20:32
It was surreal to say the least.
John Lee Hancock 20:36
It was in Steven said, I love your script. Do you? What do you do in the next two weeks? We I want to go through it with you. There may be some little stuff we want to adjust. But I want to do this. And do it fast. Because I've got another movie that I'm scheduled to do a dinosaur movie, which became Jurassic Park, yes. But he said I've, I've got a start date for that. But ILM is never going to be ready. I know it's going to get pushed. So I'll have time to fit into the movie. And I'd love to do this one. And I said, Okay, um, he just come over here every day. And we'll work said, Okay, that's it. That's that works for me. So and then then by the end said, Tell you what, though, let me double check with ILM. You know, just to make sure, because if they're going to be ready, I can't push this down the road, it's got to start if we're ready to start, there's a lot of money behind it, and said, Okay, I get it. So for about a week, I didn't hear anything. And then, and then Stephen came back and said ILM said they're going to be ready. And so I have to do it. Now at this point, it would, everybody knew that there was interest from Stephen around town in this and he wanted to do this, it could have easily become Stephen was going to do this, but thought better at it, or changed his mind. And instead, Steven did me a solid, he kind of let everyone know that this was a movie he really, really wanted to make, but was unable to because of schedule. You know, and there's a big difference between the two. So thank you, Steven. During that time, people were sending me stuff, like I said, books and things like that. And Clint Eastwood had Warner Brothers option, a book that he was interested in directing. And he said, so you know, send it out to some writers and see if anybody's got to take on it. So they sent me the book, I don't even remember what the book was called. But at the same time, they sent the script to perfect world, the clent. To read, as you know, here's the here's this guy, john, he's cheap. He's a sample. Yeah, we've been getting cheap. And you know, and he's not bad. So quit read the script and goes, forget about the book, what's going on with the script? And, and they said, well, Stevens, you know, going to do it, because, well, if anything changes, let me know. So when Steven called and said he couldn't do it. The next thing I know, I'm over clouds office, you know, and he, we were talking about it, and he said something that made me know that he was the right guy for it when he said, totally, it kind of reminds me of lonely are the brave, which is, you know, a great movie, Kirk Douglas. And I thought, Oh, he gets this, he gets this. So you know, the next thing you know, you know, he's gonna do it. He's got to go off and do a movie with Wolfgang Petersen first before he's going to direct this he's acting about to start acting in the movie in the modifier. Yeah. In a line of fire with john malkovich. Yeah. So anyway, we've got a little got a little time before we're gonna start. But he he, one day, he calls when you call when you would call, when Clint would call, it wouldn't be an assistant on the phone saying, Are you available to talk to Clint Eastwood? You know, the phone would ring and this is before cell phones. The phone would ring and you'd answer ego. JOHN got out. It's quiet. It's called. So amazing. Yeah. And so he calls he goes, because you when he said, your body doing anything Saturday morning, and I said, No. And he goes, I got somebody, an actor I want you to meet. And I said, Okay, and I thought for a second, I'm going to ask, I want to ask who it is, but I thought if he wanted me to know, he would tell me so fine. So on Saturday, I've been to the Warner Brothers lot several times. I've always been during the week when everybody was there, and all the gates were open. So I knew kind of where my pastor was. I'd never I'd been there once to meet with collapse.
But they took us in on a Saturday I had to go through an odd gate and park in a weird place. And I remember it was very warm that day, and I gave myself plenty of time to get there and park and all that. But it took so long at the gate to get through it took you know then the parking and then trying to figure out where I'm gonna pass it was and no one was there. Round to ask, right? So I'm racing, running, sweating all over Warner Brothers lot on a Saturday trying to find malpaso. And the meeting was supposed to be at, let's say, 10am. And I walked in the door at 1004, or something, you know, sweating and everything else. And I look in there in the lobby of malpaso is Clint sitting with Kevin Costner who at the time is the biggest movie star in the world. And I just remember looking at them all sweaty, and saying something my dad would always say, from taxes. I said, if this isn't $1 waiting on a dime, I don't know what is. And they. And they laugh. Yeah. Mike judge actually use that because I told that story once before. And Mike judge came up to me years later and said, I owe you an apology. And I said, Why? He said, I stole one of your lines and put it in King of the Hill. And I said, Oh, my God would be so happy.
Alex Ferrari 25:58
Great, great line. So yeah, so Clint, you know, it sounds like you're still paying at this point.
John Lee Hancock 26:06
Yeah, by this point, that option checking had had been wanting to sit down and, and go through the script with me, because he had, he said, I've got some notes. And I thought, okay, and I thought nobody's gonna try to do, I was like, my fear was that he was going to try to soften his character, who is it was named Bush, that he was going to make bush more lovable and nice, because you know, Kevin's a big movie star. And bush was kind of an angry, dark, interesting, complicated guy. And so my fear was that Kevin was going to get in and try to soften the edges on bush. But the first day, he said, I don't want to do anything with Bush, I love Bush, because I want to build up the Texas Ranger a little bit more, because I want Clint to play that role. And because at the time, Clint was saying, I think I'll get Robert Duvall or somebody to do it, you know, and now I'll just direct it. But Kevin really wanted Clint in the in the movie and being fantastic, of course. But I think more than anything, the one of the reasons was, he wanted a poster with his with his face and crunchbase on it, you know, which is the little boy and Kevin that I love. He's honest about it, too. You know,
Alex Ferrari 27:17
it's like, I just, I just, I just want to be in a movie with Clint Eastwood. I'm sorry. It's still. Yeah, I had conversations with a few people have worked with with Kevin, Kevin Reynolds was on the show. And we talked about Robin Hood and Waterworld and all that stuff. And a few of the directors have worked with Kevin. And he I've heard a ton of Kevin Costner stories and that so makes perfect sense.
John Lee Hancock 27:39
avatar with Kevin Reynolds to Oh,
Alex Ferrari 27:42
it was that.
John Lee Hancock 27:44
His dad, Herb Reynolds with the president of Baylor University where I went to college. And Kevin had been in the same fraternity, and he was older, but he didn't ever know him. But I knew his baby sister, who was about my age or maybe a year younger. And Rhonda Reynolds was it's her name. And anyway, Kevin gone off. And then I think he did, he went out came out to USC. And when he went to law school, as well, yeah. So he went to law school and then decided he wanted to get into film and moved to us went to USC grad school and all that. And I thought, boy, there's my mentor. I can see this, you know, we both went to Baylor, we both went to Baylor law school. We both are, you know, trying to make it in the film business. He's way ahead of me and doing great. But he could be a mentor. So I sent him my cinema script, and sent to his agent. And then Rhonda, probably not asking Kevin gave me Kevin's phone number and gave me Kevin's address, which she shouldn't have ever done.
Alex Ferrari 28:49
John Lee Hancock 28:51
But she knew I was harmless. But still,
Alex Ferrari 28:53
it was a different time. Two, it was what what yours is we're talking about late 80s. Early 90s.
John Lee Hancock 28:58
Alex Ferrari 29:00
Yeah, late 80s. So it was a little bit more innocent time. It's a bit more innocent time.
John Lee Hancock 29:06
This is probably 1987
Alex Ferrari 29:07
Unknown Speaker 29:08
I was. I was doing pa work. And I just kept you know, and I would call his agent and leave a message like every two or three weeks, you know, any any word back from Kevin and, and then I would call Kevin about you know, once a month or so and just leave a nice message. And one morning at like 7am I get a call as a call on the phone. Answer. And he says is this John? I said yes it is. Because this is Kevin Reynolds. Can I buy you lunch today? And I said absolutely. And so we met it I remember was Nate Now's or some deli in the in the valley or somewhere and we get there and I go this is all coming together perfectly. For me. I love this because I'm gonna have a mentor. He's gonna give me all this great advice. And Kevin can be very precise, Kevin Reynolds And you know, and such a smart, smart, smart guy, and so talented. So I'm a little daunted, but I get there, and we sit down. And he says, We should go ahead and order. Just we can get that out of the way said, Okay, great. And so, you know, he ordered I think I said, I'll have what he's having me now. Make it easy, right? And then he's he said, Okay, what can I do for you? And I said, Well, did you were you able to read my script? And he said, I read 15 pages, which told me all I needed to know with, which is, you're not without talent.
Alex Ferrari 30:41
Just what you want to hear?
John Lee Hancock 30:42
Yeah. But you've got a lot of work to do. And I went, Okay. And he said anything else? And I said, Well, you know, advice, you know, and he said, If I give you advice, where you take it, and I said, Yes, he goes, go back to used in practice law. He said, because, and I also asked him about, you know, a mentor, and he said, doesn't work that way. He said, you get a mentor, when you've got something to add to the equation, right, you know, and he says, just didn't work. Nobody. He goes, look, nobody wants to hear your competition. Why would I want to, you know, why would I want to help you? So I'm going this is the word this is, this is the worst lunch I've ever had. And, and he said, You know, when he said, Go back to Houston, practice law, he said, Because here's the thing, if you'll take the advice of someone you've known for 15 minutes, you're never gonna make it in this town anyway. And if you leave here, after this lunch, and you go to hell with that guy, I'm gonna write 10 pages today. He said, then this was a good lunch. And I went, Okay, and I did, I was kind of angry, angry with him. And but I went and just wrote like, hell, and so it was probably the best lunch I've ever had in Hollywood, the most productive in a way.
Alex Ferrari 32:08
And Kevin is exactly that. He's a very sweet man very intelligent from from when I when I spoke to him. And and he, I could see that I after knowing him for I spoke for almost two hours. I could see that lunch so clearly in my head, because he is precise. And he is, he will tell you, and he's no BS, which I love about him, he tell you, he will tell you straight up, but in many ways he was your one of your greatest mentors without mentoring you.
John Lee Hancock 32:35
Yeah. And it was funny, because then we're cut two years later, and I'm doing perfect world. And I'm sitting, you know, with Kevin in his office over TIG at Warner Brothers. And, and keys, Kevin Reynolds calls him and he puts it on speaker because, you know, I told him I knew I knew Kevin a little bit. And you know, so we're all friends. And I thought, well, this is really cool. He sent me pretty much you're gonna say yeah, I said, Hi, Kevin. And he is now Hi, hi, how are you? And I said, Fine. You know, we're, I'm here with Kevin, we're, we're working on a perfect world. It looks like it's gonna go. And I thought he's gonna go man, you did it. That's so great. That's fantastic. You know how those years back he's went, congratulations. That was it.
Alex Ferrari 33:23
That makes that makes all the sense in the world. That makes all the sense of the world.
John Lee Hancock 33:27
Alex Ferrari 33:29
great, but no, you know what, but you know, this as well as anybody in this town to get someone who's can't this was candid, and truthful is Yeah, it's extremely rare to find someone like that in this town.
John Lee Hancock 33:42
Yeah, exactly. It's, it's true. Like I said, it was the it was the probably the most important one should I it had early on, you know, it wasn't what I expected. But it drove me to work harder.
Alex Ferrari 33:56
So after perfect after perfect world, then you got another writing assignment midnight in the garden of good and evil, which was also Clint, I'm assuming one thing led to another and Clint hired you to do that as well.
John Lee Hancock 34:07
What was it Clint didn't hire me what happened is it was another producer on the lot. And I was looking at different stuff. To think about what I was going to dap next. And they sent this book over. That was a key member who was in galley, or it had I mean, it hadn't been published yet, I don't think. And they had had troubles. The writer john Baron had troubles with his agent with the book because they didn't know how to sell the book. They said does it go in the travelogue section? Does it go and is it fiction? Is it nonfiction? You know, what is it and so he traded agents and found one that would help him get it get it made. And I read the book and talk to them and I loved the book, the books just masterful. And I and they said you know, it's a shame. No one's ever gonna really read it. And I thought, well, you don't want if we make a movie. Some people will Read it I bet, you know, maybe, but I think it's great. And you know, like when you have a dense, dense book like that, with lots of interesting and colorful and complicated characters, the first thing you have to do is figure out which 60% you're going to exercise. You know, because it's it's a two hour movie, roughly. So anyway, I rolled up my sleeves, said, Yes. wrote a wrote a draft of it. That the producers, the producers liked a lot. And then they were talking about different we're talking about different directors. And I ran into Clint on the lot. And he said, Hey, what are you doing? What are you up to? And I said, I just finished writing the script, you know, for he goes, Well, it's Warner Brothers. I can, yeah, tomorrow. He said, Can I read it? And I said, Sure, because I'm kind of looking for something. So he read it and call me goes, Hey, let's do this. And so all of a sudden, it just upset the applecart in a certain way. Because it was like everybody was one who were going to get the directors and they go, will Clinton doing it? You know, okay, great. Here we go. And there we went. And he was very good to me on on both those movies, because he allowed me to be on the set. And that wasn't something that he had done a lot of,
Alex Ferrari 36:17
right in his in his technique, from what I understand I've ever meeting him or being on set is he's that really short, concise. One, take two take three takes tops kind of guy very laid back non. He's just so comfortable. I mean, he's been on the set.
John Lee Hancock 36:34
Yeah, he is. I mean, john Cusack coined the phrase for him. He called him the Zen daddy. Yeah. And, and that, and that's, and that's clear. I mean, you, you know, I try my best that to emulate kind of how his sets work in terms of I don't, I don't like like, clean. I don't like screaming. I don't like yelling, like running people running around, or, you know, doing that kind of stuff. I mean, I think Clint told me one time because they don't run in hospitals and they're saving lives. You know. So what do we have to run? What a great line.
Alex Ferrari 37:11
That's an that's so but it's so true. And you see all these? I mean, I can't stand working with first ladies who are yellers and screamers. I'm like, if you're yelling and screaming, you obviously don't know what you're doing, in my opinion. Like, it's enough. Yeah, you should, you should be able to do that job without yelling and screaming.
John Lee Hancock 37:27
Yeah, it was a great, it was a great film school for me, because I could just sit there and ask him questions. I didn't want to bug him too much. But he figured that I was not a writer that was going to be an obstructionist, who was going to go Whoa, she's supposed to say, and tomorrow, not tomorrow, you know, I wasn't going to be that person. Right. And then so, so I would ask him questions. But also, importantly, Kevin, who had just won an Academy Award for directing as well, with Dances with Wolves, they both just won in the last three years. So I had two Academy Award winning directors, you know, to talk to. And Kevin said, at one point, before we started, he said, You write like a director. And I said, That didn't sound like a compliment. And he goes, No, I don't I don't mean that. What I mean is you have a very strong visual sense that comes from the pages Do you want to direct? And I said, Yeah, eventually he goes, you should direct this movie. And I said, Well, we get this eastward guy, he just won an Academy Award, I think we should stick with him. And and Kevin said, No, you should prepare to direct it. You know, what, you know, you know, the scenes, you know, what the call sheet says, We're shooting tomorrow, if you'll come up with shot list, or thoughts, and lenses and things like that, I'll talk with you in makeup. In the mornings, you bring your stuff and we'll talk about it. And it was fascinating, because, you know, I'd bring my stuff and and Kevin would go Yeah, I'm with you until here, I would do this differently. Or I would do that differently. And sometimes I agree with you, sometimes I didn't. And then you get to go watch Clint actually direct the scene. And he sometimes it would be like, that's exactly the way I was gonna do it. You know, and other times. It's the opposite of the way I was going to do it. But I think it's better. So this was such a great film school for me between those two guys being so generous.
Alex Ferrari 39:23
Oh my god, that must have been amazing to to basically prep an entire movie directed paper. And then you have two Oscar winning directors to kind of want the bounce off of and the other ones that like watch them do your scene and go Yeah, I was I was I wasn't on the mark on that one. But I was right on the mark on that when he did it exactly the way I'm doing it and it was like, That must have been amazing.
John Lee Hancock 39:47
And sometimes you'd look at it and go, I don't I don't see how this is gonna work the way it should. And then you'd go to dailies right and you get you go. Oh, oh, okay. Yeah, now I get it. Now I
Alex Ferrari 40:00
get it. And that's the genius of Clint, you know,
John Lee Hancock 40:03
yeah. Yeah. And also you we weren't, you know, I was there by camera by him watching this go down. But there aren't any, there aren't any monitors that, you know, sometimes now I'll have a clam or something where he can watch in case there needs to be a timing element or something. But back then it was just sitting and watching. You know, watching the camera move and everything and just watching the actor's eyes. So a lot of times, you know, I would know what lens was on, for instance, or whatever, but it wouldn't be until dailies when I would actually see what was being captured. Right. So it was a great experience.
Alex Ferrari 40:37
Now, when you're writing, do you start with character or plot? Because I know that's a, that's a chicken and egg scenario. A lot of screenwriters start with a plot and then fill it in with characters. A lot of people start with characters and then fill in a plot. How do you start when you're writing other than when you're adapting? Obviously?
John Lee Hancock 40:54
Yeah, I, I usually kind of start with something loose plot, but very quickly thereafter, it becomes about the characters and then let the characters inform the plot. I mean, with a perfect world, it was a weird one, because I had a whole bunch of scripts I was working on and different ideas for script. And one of them was, I was interested in doing a story about an older, older Texas Ranger who's about to retire. And it's the week of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. And, and kind of how that assassination really humbled Texas, it's like, How could this happen here? Why did it have to happen here kind of thing. And to see somebody who was probably in his younger days, more, more sure of himself. And then like, a lot of us when we get older, by the I knew that the last line of the of the of that movie about this Texas Ranger is going to be I don't know nothing, not one damn thing. And that's all I knew. And so I had that when I go, but I'm not sure what the plot is. Then I had another one that was loosely based on. In in, you know, there was a kid who was abducted in our small town in Texas. And you know, so it was with guys who had broken out of prison for like three days, and he was grabbed in the morning, early in the morning. So that had that but I didn't know what to do with it. And then I had growing up I was we lived in I was born in Longview, Texas, in East Texas, and in second grade moved down to the Gulf Coast. But when we were Longview, when we were living in Longview, we were right next to a field with trees and things like that. And my younger brother, Joe, would we have read the first year we the first time we ever got storebought Halloween costume, he got Casper the Friendly Ghost. And he wore it. I mean, he must have been four years old or something. He wore it all the way through the holidays, and into the spring. And my mom finally had to cut off the sleeves to make shorts and short of it because he was worried every day. And so I had this image of him and he would be playing by himself in the Casper the Friendly Ghost outfit running around the field. So I have a Texas Ranger at the end of his career, Casper, the friendly ghost in a field, and a kid who gets abducted. And these were three different things. And they all just and that's why I'm saying it took a long time over the course of six or nine months of me just kind of figuring how they could blend together. And so that was that was the weirdest script I've done. Because that's no way to no way to write a script.
Alex Ferrari 43:32
Yeah, it's that that's definitely the hard way to go about it. Mm hmm. But so I just kind of varies bit by story by story, whether sometimes you'll start with character, sometimes you start with luck, but the loose plot is kind of where you start very loosely.
John Lee Hancock 43:46
Yeah. I mean, when we talk about the little things that can talk about that to us, it's also a story I made up. But it was part part plot and character I knew that I wanted a different third act from a lot of psychological thrillers or, or serial killer movies and things like that, because they tended to be become kind of rote paint by numbers, third Acts where the good guy and the bad guy face off. And the good guy kills the bad guy. And you know, in heroic fashion, and we go, the first two acts were far more interesting. So that was one of the ideas for that. But then I settled in on God and pretty quickly played by Denzel Washington and kind of knew that I wanted to write a movie about Joe Deacon.
Alex Ferrari 44:33
Fair enough. Now. Your first your first feature after that, that nd that you did was the rookie. Now, I've seen the rookie, I don't know how many times I absolutely love the rookie. I love that when it came out and I kept watching and watch. It's just one of those movies that when it's on, I just watch it because it just feels so good because and I and I like it more as I get older. I like I like it a lot more now. My 40s that I did when I was or even in my late 20s, but I still enjoyed it cuz it's just a great Underdog Story. How did you because that's the first jump to a major studio directorial debut? How did you jump from screenwriter to that?
John Lee Hancock 45:15
It's, that's also weird when I mean, because I had movies made and how to deal with Warner Brothers and all that I had different things, I would pitch them and I would pitch myself as I want to direct this one. And so they make a deal. It's a writing directing deal. And they're probably thinking, Well, you know, if the scripts really, really good, and we want somebody else to do it, maybe we can pay him to go away. Or maybe he'll be the right guy for it, you know. So there's, it's, they believed in me, the people at Warner Brothers believed in me and Clint vouched for me and said, Now he's a director, you should give me shots on time. So I was sitting there. So I had a couple of different projects that I was attached to as a writer, director. And I always thought the very first thing i, the first thing, big movie that I directed, would be something that I'd written just because I would have a leg up and know where all the bodies are buried and could be a little lighter on my feet, I felt. So anyway, Mark Johnson, who continues to be a friend, and who produced the little things as well and also produce the rookie, he was brought on to the rookie, as a producer, along with Mark TRD, and Gordon gray, who had initiated the project. And so Mark sent it to me, and he said, Would you do me a favor and read a script? He said, it's and Martin grew up in Spain, and didn't know much about Texas, raising kids like Virginia and Spain, were the two places he had lived his life. And then Los Angeles, of course. But he said, it, I think the scripts are good. But is it authentic? And, you know, the way that people talk? And does it feel like it's a New York version of what they think Texas is, you know, and and I said, Sure, I'll read it. And you know, and I read it and just love microjet scripts so much. And I thought how in the world that this guy from Portland, Oregon, discover West Texas, and show it off in a script in this way. And, and it's because he did tons of research, and we spent a lot of time down there. But so i got i called called Mark back and I said, the scripts fantastic mark, so don't let him screw with it. You know, it's it's very authentic. And he goes, you know, what, and you know, Mark can be very calculating and a smart producer. And in this way, he's, you know, what he goes, you've proven that you can get a job by going into a room and selling yourself as a writer, your your long past that. You want to direct you say, but you haven't proven that you can go into a room and get a job as a director. So he goes, you're not going to get this job. Because and here's why. There was it was a strike, you know, everybody's saying was going to be a strike. So you we had to finish at a certain time. And they wanted to had a very specific low budget for it. And they said, We want someone who is directed before. So it'll be tightly run and end on time and give us what we need, you know, because there's no international and sports movies, and we have to hit this budget and all that. And so he said, you're not going to get the job. But I think it's worthwhile for you to go in and think about this as a director would, and try to pitch yourself as a director. So I said, you know, what that makes, that makes actually makes really good sense. So we made an appointment. And I didn't even tell my wife, you know, that I was going in for this because I'm not getting the job. And it's just something I'm doing. So I go in, and I'm there for an hour talking about everything from what film stock I would use to lenses to, you know, the feeling I want from it, what the music should be. And you know, and they asked really good questions. And I answered honestly, because like I said, I'm not getting the job. You know, I can I can speak honestly, it's the last thing I said was I know, I'm probably not going to get this job. But don't let somebody come in and script these words. Because my Christian beautiful job, and, and they go, Okay, thanks for that. And I left and then got a call from Mark Johnson, who said, You're not you know, I hope you were serious about wanting to direct it because you just got the job. And I went, What? He goes, Yeah, he said Nina Jacobson said, I know it's the risky choice, but I don't think there's any doubt that he's the one they they've met with lots of directors that he's the one who gets the material better than anybody else. And so I came home and walked in and I go, I think I'm directing a movie, and she said, Brad's, which was this other project I had, and I go, No, it's called the rookies because what know what is the rookie? And I said, Well, maybe you better read it before I say yes to this
Unknown Speaker 49:57
because she was pregnant at the time, too. With our first kids and all that, so anyway, she read it and she said, I understand why you want to do it. And and I think you should. So we went off and I got john foresman have worked with john many, many times to be our dp he had. He had been in Michael Bay world and done a beautiful job on lots of Bay movies. But he started off doing Binney in June, and wanted to get back. Yeah, he wanted to get back into being the character guy and all that and not just the big explosion guy, because he was capable of doing all of it very well. So we could get we could afford to get john because he would cut his rate to help make him more relevant across the board as a dp and not just Michael bass be paid. But and so then other people love the script and came on board. And, you know, then next thing, you know, it's it's getting made, and we were so we're such an inexpensive, we were the lowest budget movie of the year for Warner Brothers. And they had Pearl Harbor, they were dealing with Pearl Harbor in post and getting that out. They had lots of other expensive movies they were dealing with. And so they pretty much forgot about us. We went down to the best place that we we went down to the desert in Texas and they forgot about us. At one point after about a week because they were looking they knew they would carefully watch dailies just especially those first couple of weeks to see when they made a horrible mistake hiring me. And after about a week, somebody at the studio called john Schwarzman because they had a real great relationship with john and said, john just went through all the dailies. And I think you're really good, right? And john said, Yes, they're really good. And said, so he's doing okay. And john said, Yeah, leave him alone, as we've done. So they said great, and they never bothered us again.
Alex Ferrari 51:50
And that's something that I found. And this is something that they don't tell you this is this is where the politics of directing come in. JOHN, if you would have had a bad relationship with john john could have fired you What got you fired off the EFF off that set because you'd had no no juice whatsoever. And I've been on sets before where the the script supervisor was the mold for the producer to see like it can can this guy direct. And I didn't realize that until like laters. Like later in the time that that was I was being watched. A lot of first time directors don't realize that they're especially at the studio level. I could imagine you're being watched until someone vouches for you. And, yeah, and that's why it's good to be friends with
John Lee Hancock 52:34
me. Yeah, you're right. I mean, it's, it's, it's really an integral relationship, your relationship with the DP, production designer, your costumer, you know, your production staff, your first ad, it's all I mean, all really important relationships. But when you're talking about how you see something, I, I was not the I was not the kind of guy who wanted to come in and go, you know, give me a 17 on a on a on a sandbag down here and point this way, I'm just not that what I'd rather do is talk about feelings the same as like talking to actors. I don't tell them how to act. I just hope to say something that provoked something in them, you know, that they can do so with john, it might be can we be lonelier and wider, you know? And then he would say, like a 17 and a sandbag. And I go, Yeah, that sounds great. So anyway, you know, we had a great relationship. And you know, we were together. And this was back in the days when you would watch dailies. At night, you'd finish shooting, we were out in like thorndale, a lot, shooting outside of Austin, and we drive back into Austin, and go to our facilities there where we would watch film dailies, and there would be 10 or so minutes, and we'd have some pizza and some beer and whatever, and watch dailies and really learn from them together, you know, but mostly, they were just they were really beautiful dailies mostly just patting each other on the back.
Alex Ferrari 54:07
Exactly. I want but I wanted to Disney Wasn't that a Disney release? Yeah, that was a Disney movie. So it started at Warner's and then it just got
John Lee Hancock 54:14
sent over? No, no, it was. It was always a Disney release. It was set up at Disney. Um, it was I had a deal at Warner Brothers to direct the movie, but then that one came up over Disney. Got it.
Alex Ferrari 54:27
Okay, so it was
John Lee Hancock 54:29
Yeah, it was Disney. Got it. Got it. Got it. Got it. And I felt bad because I said I'm going off to direct a movie for your rival studio. And I had a great relationship with Warner Brothers. And I had a little tiny office. It was just me and an assistant, a Xerox machine by a bathroom or something in it was no no great shakes, but I loved it. And I said I called Warner Brothers and said, I'm about to go off and do this movie for Disney. And so I probably should clear out so you guys can get somebody else in here. And then by that point, I had, you know, 500 books in there on the walls and stuff. And they said, No, you know what, don't worry about it. It's fine. It's no big push, we'll,
Alex Ferrari 55:09
we'll figure something out.
John Lee Hancock 55:10
We'll figure something out. And so then I came back from directing it, and then started feeling still worse about going to the one and so I said, Guys, I'm gonna, I'm going to give you your office back. So anyway.
Alex Ferrari 55:20
So the rootkit comes out. It's it's a fairly big hit, if I remember it was it was it did very well, the box office. Yeah. And that, of course, it went when something when something makes money in town. everybody's like, oh, you're now the new darling. Everyone wants to take you out on a dance if he wants to. He wants to date you, and all that kind of good stuff. And you jumped into a fairly large project, let's say called the Alamo. Yeah. Which was, I mean, I mean, the rookie is a very, it's a small film, comparatively, it's this character piece. Right? Not this giant, you know, that, you know, extra 1000 extras and horses and all this kind of craziness. How did you jump from? Not only that, the budget to that you're talking over $100 million budget at that point? How did you make that jump? And how did someone because it's one thing to make a hit at a 20 million or $50 million budget movie. It's another thing to give somebody their second film 100 grand. And by the way, I had the same I had the same question for Edwards, a wick, when he went from all about last night to glory. And his story was fantastic. But I want to hear yours. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
John Lee Hancock 56:38
Well, mine was I had a good time with Disney. And Disney really loved the rookie, and it did well the box office and made money for him and all that. And they had set up the Alamo there. The time it was just called Alamo and was originally a script by les bohem. Who's there's a friend of mine. And and it had gone through rewrites. And Ron Howard was attached. And it the first thing that happened was Ron Howard, who I knew, you know, some we met several times, and I like Ron a lot. And he called me said, Would you do me a favor? And we've I mean, I've looked at his movies, and he's looked at my movies, and he's, you know, he tried to help each other out? You know, since then, but, um, he, he called him, would you read a script for me, because I know you're from Texas. And, and I just want, I would just love your read on it, because I'm not sure how to wrap my arms around this one. And so I read it, and we had, you know, some discussions about it. And, you know, stuff that I said, I think he might push this a little bit more lean into this a little bit more and, and some of those kind of things. And he said, Okay, thanks. And then they had a falling out at Disney over the radii. And Russell Crowe was was loosely attached at that point. And he was going to play Sam Houston. And so then what happened was, it was going to be R rated. And then Disney said, it's such an expensive movie, it was like $100 million movie, that we can't afford to leave all that business behind. We need this to be pG 13. And so Ron, you know, said Well, I kind of whatever, I'm gonna do this, I kind of want to do an R rated movie. And, and I think he actually in his head was thinking, I'm not sure I want to do this movie. Anyway, he had another one called the missing I believe, with Tommy Lee Jones, and Kate and chat that he didn't said, but but he stayed on as a producer. When Disney came to me and said, Deke cook came to me and said, Would you consider doing the Alamo? Because at this point, they already had started building sets. And you know, it was something like 60 acres of sets in the hill country outside of Austin. I mean, this is like, the way they used to do it in the olden days. This is no VFX you know, really, it's, it's these are actual buildings, that Michael Coren with our brilliant production designer designed and laid in and then there was waterways he had to create and all this stuff anyway. So they asked me, you know, if I'd be interested, and I and I said, Yeah, but I need to do a rewrite on the script. I mean, I am interested, I'm intrigued. And they said, Would you so we had a couple of discussions about that. And then they, they said, Would you go down and we have a production designer and we have a costumer already on the show have been working for many, many, many months. Could you go down and see what they've done? And of course, you can bring your own people in or whatever, but just, you know, go see what they've done. And I said, Yeah, I'm interested in directing this Ron called. And he said, the only thing I would ask is that you, you absolutely have the right to bring your own people in, but go look at what they've done first, just to see, and then then you know, then get rid of them and hire however you want, but just go see what they've done. So I went down to Austin, and went out and saw those brilliant sets being built and all the progress and then went to the warehouses and warehouses filled with, with Mexican army uniforms and swords and scabbards, in good, and went to the ranch, where all the horses were that we had bought for the movie. And it was just, I was a kid in a candy store. And so one, I certainly wanted Michael and Daniel to stay on if they would, and to then I sat down to do a pretty extensive rewrite on it. To make it the story that I I kind of wanted to tell.
Unknown Speaker 1:00:55
And Disney was was great. I mean, they were great every, every step of the way. And they were and they were lovely in post too. But I would say shooting the movie was as much fun as you can have. I mean, it's daunting, you know, you're, you're driving out to the set, and you see 50 trucks, and then some days we go, we've got, you know, 2000 extras today, it started getting dressed at 1am just so they can move them all through. And you know, there were days when I think we fed 3000 people. And it's, it's daunting, but it's also it feeds your ego in a kind of a good way to say I'm up for this, I can do this, you know, and and had a blast making the movie. And then we had a very short, I mean, something Clint had told me that I didn't listen to what he said. He told me and I was about to go off and do it. He said, just make sure you've got plenty of time in post. He said when you in by that I mean, not only the number of days in post, but make sure you're not driving toward a release date. Because you just you want to make sure that the movie can be the movie it wants to be and then you after you do that, then you decide when you're going to release it. And it was scheduled for a Christmas release, Christmas Day release. And I essentially had less time on that movie in post or close to the same amount of time as the rookie. And you know, it just the footage alone going through the footage is Oh, man completely different than in coverage? Yes, yes. So yeah. And so we were racing racing and to meet the Christmas deadline, we need to start having previews. And so I had a cut of the movie. That was a little a little a little long, probably, you know, but I still I hadn't finished editing yet. I said, Well, let's put it together. And then we'll learn from the preview, thinking, yeah, it's not gonna preview through the roof, because historical epics never do. And, anyway, so we had that first preview, and I said, this will help me know what 15 minutes I want to cut out and where it's going to feel slow and all that stuff. And we tested and I believe we tested a 69 which for historical epic is not bad. And I think master and commander had tested within those two weeks as well and it tested similarly to it. But you know, Tom Rothman looked at that number and said, well, it's a historical epic. It's, I think it's a great movie. It's Keep going, keep going, keep going. And Disney coming off. You know, my, my success with the rookie was thinking, how come we're not in the 90s? They were like, well, you're never gonna get the 90s with this, you know, it was supposed to be an ambiguous ending. I mean, Texas was born through through blood, and it's somebody to rogue and some of it's definitely not a rug. It's a I mean, it's a story of a Mexican civil war is what it is. It's it's not it's not jingoistic patriotism, which I think in some ways Disney was hoping for and counting on, you know, that maybe they didn't read my script. But. But, again, they were completely kind and tried to be helpful, but it was just post was a nightmare. I learned a lot from that, which is trust your gut.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:18
And, yeah, I just find it fascinating jumping from something like a rookie, to something like the Alamo, which is so much more massive. And on the set, like you were talking like you're driving by and there's 50 trucks and you're feeding 3000 people. I imagined that there's a certain amount of stress and pressure that you feel and you feel that stress and pressure on your I'm assuming you felt that same stress and pressure on those days are doing your first feature, different stress and pressure because this is your first time. When you're at that level. How do you process that kind of pressure because you'd literally have $100 million plus budget on your, on your on your show. welders plus the PNA, that's going to be another 50 million or whatever it is now probably more than the budget itself for pnn, these kind of giant movies. How do you deal with that? And how does that how do you not only deal with it, block it from the creative process, because I can imagine that pressure can just collapse on you and just hurt the creative process. And I've seen that happen. We all seen that happen throughout history to some directors, under that pressure, you can see the movie just suffers, because it just couldn't deal with it. How did you deal with it?
John Lee Hancock 1:05:29
Well, I, I think, because it was early in my career as a director, I didn't think about it too much. I mean, ignorance.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:37
Ignorance is bliss.
Unknown Speaker 1:05:39
I didn't consider I knew it was an expensive movie, I knew I didn't want to waste Disney's money. But to their credit, they never, were constantly reminding me either, you know, they choose to do the work, do the work, do the work. And, you know, our schedule was sufficient to the task. And you know, it was always about making the very best it can be, and, and a great crew and great actors and all that good stuff. So I didn't think about it too much. Until it until post probably. But more than anything, I mean, it's the same if you're doing if I can do this, or the rookie or the Alamo, I mean, the sun comes up, the sun goes down. And this these are the hours you have to you have to capture what you need to capture. And the rules are the same. So you know, you have common traits with you know, the person doing a student film, you know, they've got the same limitations, they've got a budget, they've got rentals on their camera, the sun comes up, the sun goes down.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:37
It's simple. It's so dope, basically, for a dress was bliss, and you didn't think about it too much. So you actually sat down and started watching this footage, you're like, holy crap, this is a big movie.
John Lee Hancock 1:06:47
Well, I knew it was I knew it was one of those things where it's like on the set, it would be. I mean, when we had like the storming of the north wall, and we shot that for, gosh, so many days, I think maybe two or three weeks or something because we're lots of little intricate details. But it was just so fabulous. Because we'd be out there at night. And I would talk to we had all our historians and stuff at the Toluca Battalion, they're going to be coming from the from the northwest here, then they're folding in the cannon back there that and we would block this. And we would block it until lunch, right, you know, in the middle of the night. And we say okay, now we now we've got we've we're going to do, we've got 12 cameras capturing this. Some of them are in ditches, some of them are hidden here, we've got a big Dolly, we've got 155 feet of Dolly track, it's undulating, and going up and down, and all this stuff, and so we get it all set. And then we do we can go to lunch, we come back after lunch. And sometimes before lunch, we would just do a let's do a quarter speed, you know, you're not running full blast, you're just jogging so that we can start to time out the dollies and look at the lens and help help the operators out. And I think there was there were certain days, we had 12 cameras, and all the monitors set up and I was like, you feel like you're directing Monday Night Football, it was like, you'd have to watch them all back. So anyway, so
Alex Ferrari 1:08:10
lunch, a good f go to D
John Lee Hancock 1:08:14
walk, you know, you know the sweet spot for like, where it's coming to the place where the guy's gonna fall in the ditch on the camera, and they're at it. But it was a blast. And so we come back after lunch and go, Okay, let's give it a shot. And we would just do the whole thing. And then, you know, run out of film and say, Okay, let's reset the squibs. Let's do all this stuff. And we'll go one more time. And you'd say you do two texts in a day, it takes all day long. And you get great stuff. And then what you do is that, then what you do is you know the next day you come in and go, Okay, now we got to be more precise about this and this and this and this and you start breaking it up into pieces. I mean, you know, making a film is a little like a giant mosaic. Because on the day you go there's a blue tile, and there's a green tile and here's a white tile and I need more yellow here. And you're right up next to it attaching all these it's not until you're able to step back and see it you've got Oh, I see what it is now. So it's it's difficult. But the fun part of directing is that you have to keep your head down on today's work but also keep checking the horizon to make sure that you go in the right direction.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
right because sometimes you you keep your head down to like oh my god, where am I am in Toledo when I really wanted to be in Vegas.
John Lee Hancock 1:09:33
Alex Ferrari 1:09:35
Now after after the Alamo. He took a little bit of a break. He took like about five year break in your career, or at least three years at least from release to release. And then that little film called blindside, the blindside shows up. How did you get involved with that film and and that whole story.
John Lee Hancock 1:09:53
It was you know after the Alamo I was beat. It was a long process and it had taken its toll on me emotionally, physically, everything. I also had small children. So I thought I want to go and shoot do another 100 day shoot where, you know, not that anybody was calling me to beg me to do it. But I'm just just saying, I don't know, I don't want that. And I was also writing a lot. And so I was getting jobs writing and was able to stay home and be with the kids and all that. So at some point, when I did the blindside, the writer from the LA Times, Patrick Goldstein contacted me and said, so you were in? So you've been in director jail for three years. And I go, I didn't know really I said because I was still getting I was still getting offers to direct stuff, but it was just nothing that I wanted to do. And and I said I didn't know I guess it's I'm glad again, ignorance is bliss. I was just writing and working and it's not like I wasn't making money and all that and staying home and so
Alex Ferrari 1:11:04
it just everyone's clear Alamo wasn't Alamo wasn't a blockbuster. It didn't. It didn't do well at the box offices. That's why you work that's why they've considered you and blocked in director jail. And we've all heard I've heard of director jail when I talked to Kevin about Waterworld. He was like, I understand, like you mean, there is there is a thing called director jail. And you do get kind of put into that for a little bit. But you had the blessings of being a writer. So you can constantly be writing as well.
John Lee Hancock 1:11:32
And I'd always wanted to I'd never been a person, then still haven't been who wants to go movie to movie to movie to movie? Mm hmm. Not not Tony Scott, who's going to be in postman one in prep, and another, you know, rest in peace, Tony love, Tony, that he was. That's what Tony did is just keep going, keep going, keep going. And I like to recharge and write, and think about stuff and figure out what I want to do next, because it's two years of your life. And you know, I don't like to wake up at four in the morning. So if I'm going to choose, it's got to be something that I'm going to be invested and interested in for two years. And so sometimes it's hard to find those things because something's you go. This is a great script. I'm not sure I'm the right person for it. And I think I would get bored with it after nine months. So anyway, one of the things that came to me was a producer and Gil Netter had secured the rights to Michael lewis's book, The Blindside. And I'm a big Michael Lewis fan, and, you know, read everything he writes. And he sees fantastic. And I was, you know, and so I was gonna get the book and read it anyway. It's Michael Lewis. And the call came, would you like to read, you know, read the book. And, you know, they want to gauge my interested in in adapting and directing it. And so I thought, Well, yeah, I'll read it. I'm going to read the book anyway. I don't want to do another sports movie, though. I said, I don't want to do that. I had talked to Ron Shelton, once, and we were on a panel together after the rookie and baseball movies and all that, you know, and he said, okay, you made it out unscathed. The movies, Greg. Don't ever do another sports movie. I said, What what? He goes, Nah, man, you get into a rut that nobody thinks I can do anything with sports movies now. So he goes, just be be cautious. Be careful. So here comes I'm not gonna do another sports movie. But I read it about halfway through I go, I've got a, I've got a specific take on this. And I think I think I've cracked it. They're probably going to disagree. It was over at Fox. So fun. I will have a meeting. I went to have a meeting. I love the book, went to have a meeting pitched an unconventional mother son story. And they, you know, eventually they said, yeah, we want you to do it. So we had meetings and meetings and meetings meetings and talking about it. And then I wrote the script. And it became and everybody loved the script. But it became obvious that something happened along the way there when I first finished it. Julia Roberts was very interested in it. And Fox was desperate to be in business with Julia Roberts. So it might as well have not been called the blindside, but instead, Untitled Julia Roberts project. And I met with Julia who was awesome. And we had several meetings about it, and she was interested. And then finally, she got to a point she said, I'm not sure my head's in this, and you need to make this movie because the scripts great. And she said, I feel a little bit of Erin Brockovich in it, and I don't want to I don't want to do that to this character or to your movie and and she also had small kids and you know, all that and so I got it completely. So she was out. And at that point, Fox became less interested in the movie. And it was obvious they weren't going to make it and and so al-khan who I knew the guys at our con because Mark Johnson I produced along with Jay Russell, my dog skip weed, which was our one of our cons first, maybe maybe their first movie, and it made money and we made it for $4 million, or something, you know. So it made money and continues to make money that it's the little dog could. But so I knew them, and they read the script and loved it. And they said, if you can get it out of Fox, we'll do it. And so we negotiated a very strict turnaround situation from Fox where we had to be in production on this certain day, or flick reverted to Fox back to Fox, who was thinking about, they were thinking, well, there are more men in their 40s that will make this movie with than women in their 40s they will make this movie with so they said, make it a father son story instead of a mother son story. And I said, that's, it's it's not the truth. It's not the book. You know, it's, you know, alien to he would fly here and kick your ass. So anyway, thankfully, we got it up and running very, very quickly. And you know, and then Sandy was in it, you know, that was great. I was it was a great experience making the movie. Nice. Nice to be on a set again. We were in Atlanta.
I was loving it. I had no idea. I thought it had commercial instincts, and potential. But you never know, you know, how's this all going to come together? I knew that I that Sandy had essentially just kind of taken over Lee into a. She talked like she walked blacker. She wore her clothes, the watches everything the rings. They're all you know, based on Leanne's actual stuff. And she had Leanne read the script for her out loud, just so she could have things and we ended all the lines and, and all that kind of stuff. So it was a it was a great experience. And then, you know, we had our little movie and it tested through the roof. And it was a crowd pleasing kind of feel good movie. So it needed to Warner Brothers opened it wide. And that first weekend I remember, it was Thanksgiving. It opened, like on Thanksgiving day or the day before Thanksgiving, or whatever. So we had a long extended weekend, Thanksgiving weekend. And the studios would come out with their projections, you know, every studio would make the projections on their movies and other movies around town that were passed around by getting Jeff Blake. And so Warner Brothers. Like Fox said, the projection for the blind side is $12 million. I'm making that up. But it was something like that, which would have been for our budget would have been made it a success. But and then somebody else I think it was Sony maybe said 15. And then Warner Brothers came out with their projection and it was 20. And the thing is, what studios do is they don't pop up their own movies, they would rather project low. And you know and not get people to overly excited. So my agent, David O'Connor, at that time when he saw the projection from Warner Brothers at 20. He said they think it's going to do 25 or they wouldn't have put 20. No, it's and the other thing was we opened we were supposed to open originally this the following spring, but a slot opened up with Warner Brothers. And it was going to be going opposite. Oh gosh, what is the vampire?
Alex Ferrari 1:18:49
Oh, what are the Twilight series?
John Lee Hancock 1:18:51
Yeah, quite quite the first Twilight. Oh, you know. So they said, Do you want to open it? And so that I was like, well, we're not going to win the weekend. It didn't matter on our budget. And so we we went into that the reports were good, the reports were good. I was hoping that, you know, at least the minimal would be Fox Fox this projection to 12. And it did 34 million
Alex Ferrari 1:19:17
and that was a monster it was
John Lee Hancock 1:19:19
and then it gets the kids it just never went away six different times. It outperformed his previous weekend during its run, which is I never heard
Alex Ferrari 1:19:29
it's staggering. I remember that with like home alone. Like Home Alone came out and then like it kept growing and people were like what and Titanic kept rolling. You like what the heck's happening? No, no Blindside was an absolute smash hit. And then you get an Oscar nomination. And then and then Sandra wins the the Oscar for it. And it must have been you must have been on cloud nine. During those times.
John Lee Hancock 1:19:49
I wasn't it was one of those ones because there was no expectation with it. I thought it was a nice movie and a good story. And I thought this has commercial instincts. We'll see. And then it never we never talked about awards or anything like that. It was just the movie.
Alex Ferrari 1:20:06
Sports movies sports movies generally don't Yeah, yeah, definitely don't get that kind of
John Lee Hancock 1:20:11
reaction. And there was no like press stuff going on for it. No push for anything for awards. And I remember at al-khan and Warner Brothers, they said, you know what we everybody's talking about Sandy Bullock. Like she, you know, she went get a nomination, we should probably put some bucks into pushing this a little bit. And remember, the first thing was a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres party. This for Sandy, you know, didn't it was all press people and stuff. And it was, and people were over the moon for, you know, for the movie and for her performance. And then it was just by surprise, all of a sudden, it was like, How did this happen? You just get swept along, you know, and you go, Wow, this was kind of great. And I told me why I said none of this will ever happen again. You know, the idea of this movie making this much money coming out of nowhere, and coming out of nowhere for an award season that are so calculated, I mean, award season, it's like months, months, months and months of preparation and laying the foundation to leave at the right time and get nominations and this just happened.
Alex Ferrari 1:21:17
Yeah, it is a once in a career kind of situation to say the least. Your two next films, which are Saving Mr. Banks and the founder, you tackle again real life characters and stories with with tackling, Saving Mr. Banks like well, Disney must have been daunting. Just to, to portray, I mean, you're working with Tom Hanks, and Emma, Tom, Emma, and it just must have been amazing. How did you like approach trying to bring what is there to the screen with?
John Lee Hancock 1:22:02
People The first thing was that, you know, the script Kelly Marcel script was fantastic. And even though I'm not a huge fan of Mary Poppins, or musicals, or any of that kind of stuff, I was just really drawn to the Father daughter aspect of PL travers. And, and the fact that it was her movie, and this was just two weeks in the life of Walt Disney really, you know. So I think I didn't think about it that much. But, you know, the first thing that came first name that came to mind, of course, was Tom Hanks. And then you know, we that we cast Emma first. And then Emma was there, and she's great and perfect for it. And then everybody started talking around town about it. And Tom, you know, wanted to meet. And so we met and, you know, I was prepared for tons of different questions and things like that, or, because that's a daunting task for for him. You know what Disney's never been played?
Alex Ferrari 1:22:59
Right, exactly. And then if there is anybody that can pull it off.
John Lee Hancock 1:23:03
Yeah. You want someone you want someone who is I wanted? I wanted to need an icon playing an icon. Absolutely.
Alex Ferrari 1:23:11
Yeah, you can get an unknown for that.
John Lee Hancock 1:23:12
Yeah. And he all he said to me was all this stuff in the script that shows me smoking, and shows me, you know that I have my scotch at five o'clock. And I curse a couple of times. And I curse a couple of times. Just make sure that just tell me. Is that going to stay in the script? Because I'm really drawn to this. I'm drawn to Walt Disney's a human being not an icon. And I said, Yeah, it's gonna stay in or I'm out too. And he said, he said, Let's shake on it. So we shipped on it. He said, Okay, let's do it. That was it. It was like a 10 minute meeting. That's Yeah. And it was wonderful. That was so much fun. We had so much fun making that movie. And the movie turned out, turned out, turned out great. I'm very proud of it. And then wonderful. The founder was also one where the script came to came to my desk, and I read it really liked it. But I thought, you know, I've already done all these real life characters, but I felt like that nobody really knew or looked at Ray Kroc the way they did it, Walt Disney or something, you know. And there was also something about the script Rob Segal wrote, it was beautiful, where I was pulling for this guy in the first half of the movie, and then actively rooting against him. And I thought, that's an unusual high wire act to try to pull off right. And in the in the first person that popped into my brain was Michael Keaton, you know, because there's some similarity and you know, how he and croc look and all that, that just it he's Michael's a great salesman, and I mean, that is in the nicest possible way. There's something about him, there's an energy that he's selling you whether it's he's telling you a joke, or whether he's talking about a movie, there's an enthusiasm there. I thought man he is he is. He's this guy. He's this guy. And he wanted to make sure that it was awards and all portrayal. He said, we're not going to shine him up at the end. I go, No, no, not at all. I want you know, he said, but I want to be true to him. I want to be true. I want to make sure that we under everybody understands what a complicated individually is. He said, because there are things about Ray Kroc that I greatly admire. I mean, everybody said, even his enemies. They never met anyone who worked harder.
Alex Ferrari 1:25:27
And how was a when and how he was like, in his mid 50s, right when he launched started.
John Lee Hancock 1:25:31
Yeah, yeah. I mean, he was at an age in his early 50s, maybe 54. I can't remember now, where all his friends were retiring. Because this was back then, you know, you've retired at 55. And he felt like that he had had some success in business. But it never really rung the bell. He ended that one thing and he thought, why not me? How come not me? I work harder than everybody. I had these ideas. I you know, I push them. The multi mixer, the folded up table that he's just trying, he's just hustling, hustling, hustling. And I love that about Ray Kroc. But, uh, but yeah, I mean, in the end, so anyway, I liked it. And, you know, we did do a rewriting on it. And Michael said, Yes. And we was a little tiny movie we did. And I love that movie. Yeah, and I love
Alex Ferrari 1:26:21
I always love characters, or I love movies, where the villain turns into the hero or the hero turns into the villain, or they jump back and forth. It just makes it so much more interesting to watch. Because you're right, Ray, you're rooting for him at the beginning. But towards the end, you're like, he's destroying these. The McDonald brothers. Like he's like stealing them. It's under from under their feet.
John Lee Hancock 1:26:43
Yeah, no, I always thought of it as deck of a Salesman with a very different ending Willy loman takes over the world.
Alex Ferrari 1:26:49
Right. It's that's essentially it. It was it was it was a remarkable, remarkable film. Now, your latest film, the little things. I mean, you've got three, arguably three of the most powerhouse actors and hot work in Hollywood today, Denzel Jared. And I always forget his first name. Rami Rami. Thank you, Ronnie. Who have just these powerhouses. I have to ask you. How do you direct? Three, just powerhouse actors in one scene? Because there's a couple of times in the movie that all three of them are together? Yeah. How do you direct those scenes? Because you got three? Are they all same schools? As far as acting your concern? is one more method now? Because I hurt themselves much more method or less? No, he's less method. But there's just a different style. So how do you direct that?
John Lee Hancock 1:27:40
I think I mean, every actor is different. I mean, in some ways, in some way every actor is method and if they have a method to get them to the character that they need to play, right. In terms of it being method, Jared is probably more traditionally what we think of and that he stays in character. And we didn't have read throughs or rehearsals with Jared and Rami and Denzel, where they met in real life. When they met Albert sparks played by Jared he was Albert's barmah. And when Albert's farma saw saw, saw they had a scene with Adele was not Dinsdale. It was Joe Deacon. And so that just elect electrifies everything that everyone does, everyone is different. I mean, it's just in you kind of have it's in some ways, being a director is like being a really good coach. And I think I learned more about directing from having had some good coaches, where do you got a locker room of people that all have different interests, some of them don't necessarily get along, but they have to unify for a period of time, you know, to go and accomplish the goal. And some of them and you know, and some athletes need praise and some need challenges. And suddenly, you know, these two guys obviously, there's, you know, it's just a it's just a conversation. I mean, they're all just, they're juggernauts. So So I mean, I just love watching them all act. So for me, it wasn't about maneuvering them in any way, one way or the other. It's just we'd already talked about everything we do. I mean, I spent time in prep with those guys.
Alex Ferrari 1:29:15
So it's I imagine watching like Emma and Tom working on saving on Saving Mr. Banks, and watching these guys. You must just have like, as the little boy in you, who wanted to be that director must be like, like this going. This is awesome.
John Lee Hancock 1:29:32
I remember one day, early on. My, my old friend, Bradley Whitford who's also in the movie came up to me. And he goes, man, you're directing, Tom. How cool is that? That's pretty cool. It's pretty,
Alex Ferrari 1:29:50
it's pretty darn cool. Like Clinton, like Kevin Costner is like, I just want a poster with Clint Eastwood that it like the little boy and I was like, I I need
John Lee Hancock 1:29:58
this movie. Yeah, no. Yeah, exactly. And, you know, just those guys too. Sometimes it was just you forget the cut. And that was the same with the little things I would just, you know, we did go on and on, I'm just watching denza work or Jared rommy work. And the scenes over it, I'm just letting them roll Indians or anything else, you know, I gotta know, man, I just, I just love watching you act. So
Alex Ferrari 1:30:26
just to join the ride and just join the ride. Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions, asked all my guests, some quick questions. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
John Lee Hancock 1:30:37
I think, knowing what you want. And then presenting it to the world is, knowing what you want is one thing, announcing it to the world is a harder thing. Because when you're starting out, you can say somebody said, Mike said, I want to I want to direct movies, and they know it in their head, but they don't are not prepared or ready to answer, announce it to the world. because there'll be scoffed at or there'll be, you know, yeah, right, or whatever. And we're all fragile. So I would say, knowing precisely what you want, and then announcing it to the world. I would say, john Sayles told me many, many, many years ago, he said, if you want to be a writer, right, if you want to be a director, direct, because that was what I did, you know, back in New Jersey, or wherever it was, he said, you know, if I wanted to write, I would write something or somebody else would write something or whatever, I'd write something. And then I'd get my friends who were actors. And then I would say, okay, we're going to do this in my living room. You know, but I would be directing. And he said, it's just, it's vitally important not to wait around for someone to go, yeah, you who really haven't directed you should direct this movie. Because it just, it doesn't doesn't happen. So yeah, I would say, Do you've got to, you've got to, if it's the thing that you would do for free, then you're in the right business. I mean, it's, it's, you know, it's got to be a hobby that you're hoping to make a living at something that you love, so much you do for free.
Alex Ferrari 1:32:09
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? Mm
John Lee Hancock 1:32:18
Hmm, that's a good question. Don't talk so much. I sometimes have a tendency as you have you seen in the last hour and a half, to flap my gums too much. And I should, you know, I should listen more. And I try to remind myself to listen more, especially in conversations with, with actors, and when you're working on a movie, or you know, someone's reading your script for you. You know, to give you notes on it, it's, it's and also to ask more questions, not just go Yeah, I like that, too. And here's why. It'd be like, did it seem this to you didn't seem that to you. I mean, asking questions and listening to answers, I think is, is you get you get further ahead. That way then
Alex Ferrari 1:33:12
yapping on like I do. And last question three of your favorite films of all time.
John Lee Hancock 1:33:18
Hmm. Well, that's a rotating list. It depends on your mood. It depends on what you're in the mood for on the day today. I really love a named Mike my Corporation after a line of dialogue from Badlands, so I'll throw that Terrence Malick Badlands in there. I love Love, love the conversation, which is my favorite couple of film. Let's see Gosh, a third one. Man, so many so many. Love lonely are the brave love. The conformance Bertolucci's the conformist. Love the whole, the whole run of Michael Ritchie, movies, the candidate is, I think, a brilliant movie because it started out as satire. And now we'd look at it and it was just present. You know, it was a documentary. It's a documentary now. Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 1:34:15
John Lee Hancock 1:34:17
That's a lot. But yeah, those are a few.
Alex Ferrari 1:34:19
It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you this, this this last 90 minutes. I truly, truly appreciate you taking the time. And and sharing sharing your journey with with filmmakers of the of our tribe. And hopefully this will continue to inspire some people down the line. So you have been making some really great movies over your career. I hope you can continue to make many, many more in the future. So thank you so much, sir.
John Lee Hancock 1:34:41
Me too. Thanks for having me, Alex. I appreciate it.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Please subscribe and leave a rating or review by going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show? Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors