BPS 117: How to Be a Screenwriter in Hollywood with Marshall Herskovitz

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

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

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

Marshall show, ThirtySomething, which only ran for four-season was quite successful. Co-created with Zwick, the follows the stories and journeys of seven thirtysomethings living in Philadelphia who struggle with everyday adult angst.

The show’s success earned over a dozen Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and personal honors for Marshall from the Writers Guild and a Directors Guild.

Herskovitz’s filmography is pretty adventurous. We discussed as many as we could in this interview and he was totally down for the ride. But if we are to highlight some must-mentions, Traffic will get the spot. Herskovitz co-produced Traffic in 2000 alongside esteem producer, Laura Bickford and directed by Zwick.

The film holds a constant 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won numerous Oscars BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globes awards in 2001. It followed through grossing a total of $207.5 million on its $46 million budget

The President appoints a conservative judge to spearhead America’s escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is a crack addict. Two DEA agents protect an informant. A jailed drug baron’s wife attempts to carry on the family business.

Another classic of his is the 1999 TV show, Once and Again. A divorced father and a soon-to-be-divorced mother meet and begin a romantic courtship which is always complicated by their respective children and their own life problems.

Marshall dropped all sorts of knowledge bombs on the tribe this week. You have to listen to the episode to hear all those extra deets he shared with us about the attempts at rebooting ThirtySomething and many more.

Enjoy this conversation with Marshall Herskovitz.

Right-click here to download the MP3

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 0:05
I like to welcome to the show, Marshall herskovits How you doing Marshall?

Marshall Herskovitz 0:10
I am. Well, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:12
I'm doing well, my friend. Thank you so much for doing the show. I'm a fan of of many of your films, including the films that you've just written and produced, but directed as well. And we'll get into that in the future. But I, I heard nothing but good things from you from Ed, who was on the show as well. Edward Zwick, and, and I said, Well, I kind of get Marshall on the show, too. I can't just talk to Ed, I want to talk to Marshall as well. It's so thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate it.

Marshall Herskovitz 0:40
Well, I'm happy to do it. And just know if I say anything that Ed said. Yes. stole it from me.

Alex Ferrari 0:47
Fair. Fair enough. Fair enough. Okay, give me one second. Hold on a second. technology's acting up. So give me one second. You're

Marshall Herskovitz 1:00
just like your room there.

Alex Ferrari 1:03
Thank you. I worked hard on it. I give my wife the excuse that it's for business. That's how, and I always tell. I always tell people that the Yoda was a is a pre pre wife purchase is definitely a pre wife purchase. To say the least because it's a hard it's I have kids now. And it would be it'd be it. I can't have that conversation. I know the kids need money for school, but I need a life size Yoda. I get it. Alright, so. So before we get started, Marshall, how did you get into business?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:50
Well, you know, it's funny. I went to Brandeis back in the early 70s, which dates me severely. And I majored in English. In fact, I majored in Old English, I was very interested in medieval England. I was a Tolkien freak, and just loved sort of Beowulf and that whole kind of, you know, early medieval, epic poetry sort of thing. And at the same time, at that moment, for some reason, I can't explain. There was a huge interest in old movies. Like when I was living in Boston, there were two different revival movie theaters in Cambridge. And then on campus, one night a week, there was an old movie shown. So basically, I was watching three old movies a week. And when I look back on it, I realized that the real education I got in college was in movies. I just didn't know it at the time. And I fell in love with movies, I fell in love with classic movies. And by the time I was a senior in college, I wanted to be a filmmaker. And, and the odd thing is, all I wanted to do was make medieval epics. That's that was my goal, go to Hollywood and make medieval epics. And here I am, 40 years later, and I haven't made one. But, you know, there's still hope, at any rate, that is what propelled me into the film business. I graduated, I made a short film, which was not a medieval epic, it was a very intimate, you know, drama. And I, I came out to Hollywood, thinking that that would be my ticket to fame and success. And I literally could not get one person to even look at it. It was that was the most disheartening. And in those days, all you had was the Yellow Pages, I went through the Yellow Pages for all production companies, and called every single one in Los Angeles, and no one would look at it. So after about six months of floundering, I heard about this amazing film school called American Film Institute. And I thought, well, maybe I should do that instead. And so that's, that's where I went. That's where I met ad on the first day. And, and really, that gave me my start, really, and you guys just just, you know, school, school chumps who got together and then and just

Alex Ferrari 4:05
stuck together for the last 40 years working on projects together. That's amazing. That's

Marshall Herskovitz 4:09
right. That's right. We're the longest living partnership in Hollywood right now.

Alex Ferrari 4:13
Really? That's actually saying a lot actually.

Marshall Herskovitz 4:16
Yeah, actually is no, I told me I'm very proud of and, and I know he is, too, and we have worked independently all along, but nevertheless, our preferences to do things together.

Alex Ferrari 4:29
Yeah, absolutely. I, I had a similar education when I but I didn't, I had a video store. I worked at a video store for a while. So I did the same thing. I'd watched three movies a night, you know, high school, so there's nothing else to do homework. So I would just, I would just take home movies and just watch and watch and I got such an education. And that was before I even wanted to become a director at the end. I was like, I guess I guess I kind of want to be a director kind of similar to you. So you wanted to make Excalibur but never did

Marshall Herskovitz 4:55
is what you say that's correct. Yes, yes,

Alex Ferrari 4:58
but there's still hope. There's Till hope,

Marshall Herskovitz 5:00
I finally after 30 years got to write a screenplay of the story of 1066, the Norman Conquest of England, which was something I had desperately wanted to do. And, you know, I still have hope that we'll make that as a movie. But you know, it's not exactly a moment now in the history of the film business when you can make big films like that. So

Alex Ferrari 5:21
we'll see. I mean, you put a cape on the main character, I think you have a better shot.

Marshall Herskovitz 5:28
I know that's the world, you know, with superpowers could these various people have? It's?

Alex Ferrari 5:33
No, is that is that is that a serious conversation that someone actually have a conversation with you about that?

Marshall Herskovitz 5:39
Not about that, but about something as ridiculous. Something I don't even want to go into. It just, it was a thing about Vietnam. And someone suggested that maybe if they had different superpowers, people might be more willing to look at a story about the Vietnam War. upsetting

Alex Ferrari 6:01
It was kind of it's kind of like when when they went in and pitched James Cameron Titanic to, you know, Jack's back like that a certain point, you just got to go. It's enough. It's enough. Now I have I have to ask, I was looking through your filmography. And I have to ask, what was it like work writing for chips. I mean, I'm a 70s. Kid. So I have to go right there, I went straight to it. I went straight to chips because I had the By the way, I had the pleasure of directing Erik Estrada, and some commercials years ago, and the stories Oh, my God, the stories he told about what happened in the 70s. People just don't understand what the 70s

Marshall Herskovitz 6:39
I understand. By the way, I never went near that set. So I have no stories to tell about the production of it. All I can say is that that was the low point of my career. I wish when I got out of film school, right, I spent about three or four years trying to be a freelance writer in episodic television, which is, by the way, doesn't really exist anymore. They don't really have people to make a career as freelance writers and television anymore. And, at one point, chips was the only job I could get. And I read one of their scripts. And it was like it was written in another language, I just had no idea how to do this thing. There was no connection there. Once he went to the next dialog didn't make sense, I literally was completely lost. And I came up with it with a sweet idea, actually, about an old Native American who thought his grandson was losing, you know, was not knowing enough about the old way. So he was raising his grandson in Griffith Park, away from people, you know, hidden away. Nice. And they bought it, they liked that do and it was Michael ansara, who played him, of course, because in those days, Michael and Sarah play Native Americans. And so it didn't turn out so bad. But for me, it was a very humiliating experience, because I had no idea. I just was not the type of thing I knew how to write. And in fact, that was part of what catalyzed, I think, the most, one of the most important moments in my career, which was a decision I made after three or four years of doing that, that I just was going to stop. In other words, I sat down and wrote a screenplay as a spec thing. And I wrote out the work the story together together. And then I wrote the screenplay. And I said to my wife, I said, you know, either this is going to work, or I'm leaving the business because I just cannot go on doing what I feel to be a bad job, doing other people's voices, meaning the voices of shows, you know, and and. And so that willingness, I think, to take that chance, and to say, I'm either going to make it on my terms, or I'm going to walk away. What's what turned everything around. And the interesting thing is that that screenplay that I wrote, had never been made. It was almost made three times. But it did change everything for me, because people were able to see my voice and I got work from it. And the work I got from it was what then gave me my career. So the willingness to bet on myself, was a scary thing at age 26, or 27. But that was that was what made it happen.

Alex Ferrari 9:31
I mean, that's pretty enlightened for a 26 or 27 year old, to be honest with us, God knows I was in much worse shape than you were at 26 or 27. I was lost. I was in the darkest pit of my time. That's a whole other story for another podcast. But um, but in most, most 20 year olds don't have that kind of reflection or that honesty, that kind of bravery. to just go, you know, I'm gonna make it on my end, and people listening. It's a very different industry than it was when you were doing this. It was less competition that it wasn't cool to be a screenwriter or director. It wasn't. Nobody even knew what that was to just knew that movies were made.

Marshall Herskovitz 10:08
Yeah, I know, it's true. I mean, it was hard to break in it, by the way, there were trade offs, because there was much fewer product. You know, there were three television networks in those days instead of 200. You know, it's easier to get a job today, but harder to have your own voice today. You know, I think you could have a voice in those days. And, and, and I felt that I had one. And it was something that I that I felt I needed to listen to. So you know, look, the one thing has always been true, which is to make it in this business, you have to be driven, you have to be, you have to need to do what I remember, when I was still in Boston, talking to some person who had been to Hollywood, you know, saying, you know, how do I do this? And, you know, do I have a chance of making it? And this person said to me, basically, if there's anything else you can do, you'll end up doing it? If there's nothing else you can do, then maybe we'll have a chance.

Alex Ferrari 11:15
I don't listen, I don't know if it happened to you. But I mean, I've gone through this, I mean, I've got a lot of shrapnel, I'm sure as you do in this battle of these years working in this business. And there was times I wanted to leave, I'd like I just I can't take it anymore. I want to quit. It's I'm like I and then the voice in the back of your head, like what else you're gonna do? What are you going to go and get real job? What does he get it like it's at a certain point you just like, and that happened to you multiple times? And how did you break through that? Because it's still happening?

Marshall Herskovitz 11:53
I have to say about that, I have to say about that. First of all, I had an inherent belief in what they now call the hero's journey before he had any idea of what a hero's journey was, it's so deeply embedded in our culture, that I believe that everything was a test. And, you know, they're going to throw the shit at you to try to get you to quit, and therefore you just have to try harder. Why I thought that I don't know, no one told me that. That was just my belief. And so my belief was Okay, I get it. Oh, now, six bad things have happened. And I want to leave. Okay, this is the moment when you have to dig down and say, No, I'm not going to leave. I don't know why I believe that. I'm grateful that I did. Because I think it got me through. But the other thing is, it took me many years to realize this something somebody Ed and I talk about a lot. There's a cycle in this business and probably other businesses, but I think it's more of this business, because it's so speculative. The cycle goes like this, you are nobody, you have nothing to lose, you do something bold, you do something original. people notice it, you get attention, you they start to build you up, you start to make money, people start to believe in you, you start to think that you know what you're doing. And in thinking that you know what you're doing, you become cautious, and, and maybe arrogant. And then you make a stupid mistake, and you come tumbling down and are completely humbled by the business. And in the midst of your despair, you have nothing to lose, and you could start being original again. And I could chart five times in our career, when that sort of thing has happened where in some way, you know how they say in Southern California, fire is a natural part of the lifecycle of this environment and it you need to have fires. Well, failure is a natural part of the lifecycle of a career. You have to have failure, you have to fail at things. That's the only way you learn. That's the only way you you grow and become better. And I think people are so afraid of failure, that they become mediocre to avoid it. And the business now allows for that, you know, you know, we always talk about how people fail upwards, which means they're mediocre and they don't make a huge mistake. So they sort of keep sort of moving up. I'm not a believer in that. I'm a believer in you take the chance and then you take what happens

Alex Ferrari 14:32
you know like I mean there's a filmmaker out right now who's you know, taking swings at the bat that I'm so regardless if you'd like the movies or not but someone like Chris Nolan who oh my god is taking massive swings at the Bat believable. Yeah, unbelievable swings at bat and I'm so glad there's guys like him and Fincher and these kind of guys that just go up there and just take massive because there's there's you could take Creative choices are creative challenges and do things that are original at a lower budget. But when you get up to the 150 to $100 million, and you do something like inception, or 10.

Marshall Herskovitz 15:10
I know

Alex Ferrari 15:11
that's, that's a that's a risk. Because imagine if that really badly, you could put in direct to jail. And that's the thing.

Marshall Herskovitz 15:20
I understand. And I have enormous respect. And as you say, it's like I couldn't even follow Tennant. You know, I'll be honest, I couldn't follow it. I want to watch it again. Watch it backwards, you know. And then he makes Dunkirk, which is like, sublime. Do you know what I mean? And it doesn't matter, because he's an incredible filmmaker, who has a vision, who has the resources, the wherewithal and the courage to follow that vision. And, and and you're right, we need people like that. We need a business that will still support people like that. And if there's one big difference between today and 3040 years ago, it's that there were more people in positions of power, who were willing to trust filmmakers back then. That's just a fact.

Alex Ferrari 16:08
I mean, look, we wouldn't have Star Wars. Without Alan Ladd I mean, Alan lamb took a risk on a filmmaker who made THX 1138, which was a horrible bomb. He's like, Hey, you know what? I think let's give him like 9 million sure you can have the merchandising rights. I'm sure that that will work out fine for everybody.

Marshall Herskovitz 16:28
You know, one of the most famous stories in Hollywood merchandising story was amazing. Well, because

Alex Ferrari 16:34
all contracts were rewritten after that. I mean, it would have for that

Marshall Herskovitz 16:37
totally.

Alex Ferrari 16:39
Because like there's no money in lunchboxes and our action figures. What is that to a sci fi movie at? You're taking kid? It's, it's absolutely remarkable. I always talk I always talk about the the punch that everybody gets in this in this business. No matter how big you are, no matter how accomplished minor were what stage in life you are. punches continues to come all the time. And as you get older, as you get older, you learn how to duck, a bit. Like when you're younger, you learn how to take it, you learn how to take the punch and keep going like you were saying like, okay, they threw six or seven things at me. Screw you, I'm still going. That's the taking of the punches. But some people get that first punch and their outfit out of the game. They're cold cocked. Yeah, as you get older, sometimes you could duck sometimes you can weave, sometimes it gets getting off you and sometimes it just misses you all together. But that's that's age. That's experience.

Marshall Herskovitz 17:35
Well, can I tell you, I don't think Ed and I have ever learned how to duck or we've, I think we got one of the worst punches of our career this just this past year in 2020. And we were just destroyed by it just destroyed. And I'll even say what it is we we thought we were doing a reboot of 30 something. Yeah, I had a great idea. It basically, it wasn't a redo. It was basically saying it's another generation, all of their children are now in their 30s. And it's going to be as much about their children as it is about the original cast members. And we wrote seven scripts, and we thought it was going to go and we had our our whole heart and soul in this thing. And ABC decided not to do it. And we were just like, we were undone. So here we were, you know, there was no ducking, there was no weaving that was a straight punch right to the face. Yeah. And, you know, and, and the, you know, the thing about the business, if you're a creative person, meaning if you when I say creative person, we're all creative people, what I need is if you make your living by creating things, either as a producer, director, writer, that sort of thing. This is gonna happen over and over and over again, you have to be willing to endure that kind of rejection, which is not the same as failure failure is once you've made it, and people shit on it, you know, rejection is before you get to make it, and people don't take it seriously, or they don't think it's good enough, or they decide they don't want to do it for whatever reason, you know, and and, you know, the point is, it takes just as much work we have, we put months and months and months of work into that, even though we hadn't shot you know, anything. And it was it was awful. But that's why that's that's the that's the job if you can't handle that you

Alex Ferrari 19:39
can't do this job. And that's the thing that I want people listening to understand because a lot of people think, you know, someone like you and Ed, you know, all all doors are wide open. They just, you know, how much do you need? Marshal? How much do you need and because of your track record, I mean, you guys have an remarkable track record individually and as a team remarkable track records as writers producers and directors. And yet and I've said this so many times I look, I always use the example of Spielberg, but I'm going to use you guys as an example. But like Spielberg couldn't get Lincoln gonna get Lincoln, you know, finance, you have to go. So Scorsese couldn't get silenced finance for 20 years ago. And to do icon Yeah, they're too iconic. And yet, Graham, I

Marshall Herskovitz 20:17
don't read my go, Oh, they should be able to do it. Also, I know it would be

Alex Ferrari 20:21
impossible, right. And you know what I've said that story to other people like yourself, and they're like, you know what, I'm not crying for Steve. I'm not crying for Marty, either. But I understand your point. But there's people at every stage of their career at every stage, no matter what they've done Oscars, no Oscars, big box office hits non big opposite, you still is still a struggle. It's still a struggle,

Marshall Herskovitz 20:45
constant struggle constant.

Alex Ferrari 20:47
And that's what I want people listening to understand that, like, there is no magical place that you'll get to in this career. We're just doors, doors will be wide open all the time. It might happen once or twice. Yeah, after big hit after a big hit. You're that you're the toast of the town. You're the belle of the ball. What would you like, and that's when you stick in that that project that you've been wanting to get done for the last 20 years? Like a medieval Excalibur reboot?

Marshall Herskovitz 21:11
There you go. Correct.

Alex Ferrari 21:15
Now, when you brought up 30 something, how did you guys you and had come up with that? Because I mean, I remember when I was growing up, I mean, I wasn't in my 30s then but I do remember 30 something was a he was a monster hit it was a monster hit for ABC. When it came out? How did you? How did you guys come up with that whole that whole thing?

Marshall Herskovitz 21:33
Oh, there's a funny story behind it, you know, we Oh, my God, you know, I'm trying to figure out how far to back this up. But But essentially, out because we had done this TV movie called special bulletin, which I can talk about later, which made a big splash in the 80s. It was about nuclear proliferation and nuclear bombs and all of that, it kind of put us on the map. And we were offered a television deal at MGM television, right. And of course, we didn't want to do television, we want to do movies. We thought television was you know, shit. And so we took this deal at MGM television, explicitly for the purpose of the fact that I wanted to put a second story on my little tiny house in Santa Monica. And it would pay me just enough money to do that. And the idea was to try to get out of doing anything they wanted us to do, because they were going to pay us a guarantee. But we didn't have to do anything, you know, we were only obliged to try to sell the television series. That's That's it, just try to sell the television series. So the moment came, where we were going to have the pitch meetings at the network's. And, you know, we had come up with ideas for series and I turned to Ed, and I said, you know, these are all terrible ideas. What if we sell one of these? It's like, we would have to make this this is awful, you know, I and so, and this is not a joke. We sat down, we said, okay, what we need is an idea for a series that has no chance of going. But if it goes, we wouldn't mind doing. So we said, What would that look like? And I sat there and I thought well, you know, what's interesting is that on television at this moment, we're talking about now 1986 there is nothing that represents the baby boom generation except Saturday Night Live. And show called Kate nalli.

Alex Ferrari 23:27
Yeah, remember kitten alley? Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 23:28
Yeah. And that was it. Everything else would had nothing to do with baby boomers. And I said to add, you know, look, we know all these people in this moment in their lives, they're having babies are messy with their careers, you know, this person is afraid to settle down. And it's very interesting, because ed is normally so open to everything looked at me with this look, he gets, you know, we have the same. It's like, he gets this look, that looks like a grimace. And I go, why are you tilt down on this already? And he goes, I'm not down on it. It's just my face. I'm not making a face, you know, they right? He gave me that face. And he was he was just completely, you know, didn't buy this. And in those days, of course, we had this stupid little office at MGM and and at one in the afternoon, we could just go home because we didn't have anything we had to do. So we went back to his house, and his wife Liberty was there. And I tell her this idea I have Why don't we just talk about people we know know, Ed's will point was, but there are no cops in it. They're no lawyers, no doctors, how you going to sell a television series that doesn't have any of the franchises. And I said what do we care about that? Their story and and God bless her Liberty went, Oh my god, I love that idea. And she started just listing all the people she knew and all the dilemmas in her life. And because ed is added he loves liberty. Somehow when she said it, it made sense to him when I said it didn't make sense to him. So literally by the end of that afternoon, we had sketched out this seven characters. You know, by the next day, we had written this sort of manifesto of the series, we went in the day after that to ABC. And of course, who are the executives in the room, they're all in their 30s. One is pregnant, they were exactly the demographic for the show. And we basically sold it in the room to them. And, and, you know, it was the whole thing was kind of charmed. And the irony was, we didn't want to do it. We did not want to do it. You know, it's sort of, that's when Ed started quoting that great john lennon line of you know, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans, because at every step along the way, you know, alright, so we wrote the pilot. And people loved the pilot, they said, Go make the pilot. And then I directed the pilot, which is the first thing I directed, and they loved the pilot. And then, in those days, they had what was called selling season in New York City, in May, where they would, you know, show everything to the advertisers and decide what they were going to pick up. It's what now it's called, whatever the sweeps, like sweep, sweep, not the sweeps, you know, the the, the TCPA is whatever they're called, up front, basically. But in those days, there were no cell phones. So you were ordered to go to New York and sit in your hotel room for five days and be within range of your telephone in the hotel room, because you might get a call that your show was picked up. So we sat there like idiots for for four days in New York on the on the fourth day, we get a call from the head of the studio. And that's a whole other story. David Gerber, who was one of the greats is such a character. Every second word was it was a curse word. And he says, and he had this, he said, they love this package. Oh, that's great. But you got to change the name. They don't 30 something, make no sense. But you got to change the name, they want to use grownups. And we go grownups. That's a terrible idea. He goes, Well, they don't know if they can get it because she'll swiper older, but they want to use grownups. And we go, Well, we hate the idea. We don't want to use grown up, we want it to be 30 something. So he hangs up. Okay, so we thought it was over, you know. And then of course, the next day at noon, he calls he goes, they're picking up the show.

Alex Ferrari 27:21
So you're actively trying to sabotage, sabotage.

Marshall Herskovitz 27:25
And not only that, I'll go further. We hang up the phone, and he's like, you guys are amazing. They're like, you could hear cheering behind that they picked up the show. We hang up the phone, and we look at each other. And the thing is, Ed, and I have this shorthand with each other. We don't speak very often, you know, in sometimes these situations, we just looked at each other. And we listed, you know, shook our heads, and went for a walk up madison avenue for about an hour, thinking that our lives had just been completely derailed. And now we were doing a television series instead of being movie makers. And in those days, remember, TV was the great wasteland in those days,

Alex Ferrari 28:03
right? It was about to say that it's not the thing like now TVs have no place to be.

Marshall Herskovitz 28:08
Yes, no, we were sellouts. It's like what are we doing with our lives? It's so and I say that in the full knowledge of how stupid we were at that moment. And I delight in our stupidity at that moment. But that's where we were, we thought, Oh, fuck, we sold a television series.

Alex Ferrari 28:25
I guess we're gonna have to go do it now. And that's the thing. That's the one thing I've I've heard this from multiple people in the business. If you want to get rich, you work in television, if you want to be an artist, you go to movies, because because there's a lot more money to be made, at least there was back, you know, when the residual there was much more money to be made in television than there was in syndication and all of that kind of stuff. As opposed to a movie. It's just a one. So it's like,

Marshall Herskovitz 28:54
That's right. That's right. Yeah, nowadays. You're one of those few people, you know, who, you know, the few directors who can make $10 million, a movie or they can make 20. But they're very rare. Very rare, and especially in today's world. I mean, look, the last few movies Ed and I have made literally, we ended up losing money on them. You know, we made a woman movie called woman walks ahead, we ended up not only giving up our fees, but each of us paying $25,000 you know, in the post process, and so we lost money on that film, when you know, so that's, you know, basically the movie business now consists of 90% indie films where nobody makes money and 10% these big studio productions that are $200 million productions, and that's a very small club that makes those movies

Alex Ferrari 29:45
right in you're absolutely right. And I mean, movies, some of the movies that you guys got made, like, glory, I can't see glory getting made in today's world. Sure, you know, legends of the fall. I mean, Even even if even if you still had Brad Pitt and and Anthony Hopkins in it, I'd still be a tough sell as a studio movie, it might be more as a mini major kind of scenario,

Marshall Herskovitz 30:12
we have a follow up to legends of all i don't mean a sequel, I mean a, a piece that said in 1905, not the same characters or anything like that, but it has a lot of the feel of Legends of the fall. We can't get anybody to even consider making that movie because they're, it's just a different world. Now.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
That's all again, super if you put a cape on them. I'm Jeff, hey, I'm nobody. I'm just saying it might be a lot. I'm just trying to help. I'm just trying to help Marshall. So, so obviously, you and Ed have been, you know, you've obviously been great friends since since the AMI days. What is the writing process? Like? What is the process? How do you guys actually do the writing? Like I always love to hear really good questions. Yeah, I love it.

Marshall Herskovitz 31:01
You know, what's funny is that when we started, I did the writing, we would do the stories together. And then I would do the writing. And when I was supposed to write the pilot of 30, something I was seriously blocked. I mean, I was so blocked, that after three weeks, I had written one act. And, you know, he and God bless him. He he came in one day we were, we had these little offices, like I said, at MGM, and he sat down next to me. And he just took the keyboard. And from that moment, we started writing together. We never said a word about it. We never had, we never discussed what the terms were how we would do it, we just started doing it. And it was all Him, He saved me a demo, he literally saved me. And I think over the years, what we've worked out is we just hand off, in other words, some period of time I have the keyboard some period of time, he has the keyboard. And by the way, this works just as well. Over zoom, actually, we use a thing called goto meeting, but it's the same thing. But you can at least look at the document while you're doing it. Or in person. And one person is looking at a monitor and the other person has the keyboard. And basically, the person with the keyboard is kind of the captain of the ship at that moment, the other person talks and yells and says no do this. And but the person or the keyboard says no, I'm doing it this way. You know, unless we scream too much, then you know, but basically, we we listen to each other. Um, we, you know, it's funny, when when Ed and I started out, he had a very specific set of skills, and I had a different set of skills. And over the years, we've learned each other's skills, but he's still better at what he started out at. And I'm still better at what I started out at. And that's part of I think, what makes us such a good team. And, and that differences that Ed has the greatest story sense of anyone I've ever met in my wife. I mean, I used to say, you could drop ed in any story. And in five minutes, he can tell you where it came from and where it's going, it'll his his ability to, understand the schema of what has to happen, what happened before where it has to go, where the other people fit into it is astonishing. And his speed at it's like speed chess, watching him work, sort of structuring a story. When I met him, he didn't really have much skill at sort of depicting how people actually speak or what happens, you know, between people in a scene, and that was my strength. I hadn't a clue what a story was no clue at all. But I could write a scene, I could, you know, get into the nuances of how people behave with each other, and why sometimes people say what they feel or don't say, what they feel and why they sometimes don't talk and why and other times, they can't stop speaking. Um, and so, you know, we quickly learned to respect the other skill. And so if I'm writing a scene, and he would say, why are you doing that back and forth? So many times, I would say just shut up. It's gonna work, you know? And then he would see that it would work because it would all go boom, boom, boom, just like that, you know, two people why? I don't know, we actually know. But you said that, that other people talking over each other. That was something I understood. Whereas he would say, this scene makes no sense. It doesn't fit into what you're doing, I would learn to understand that he's right when he says that. So. So we each apply our skills as it's going along. But there's a certain level of trust you have to have. I mean, I couldn't do this with anybody else. Because basically, you're like, you're you're just saying any stupid thing that comes to your mind. And what we've come to realize, by the way, and I think this is really important to understand is we've come to understand that if there's a moment where you hesitate because you think Your idea is dumb or embarrassing or revealing in some way. That's the moment where the other person has to say, what is that your thing? You're thinking right now? What is that thing? Stop right now tell me what you're thinking right now. Because whatever that thing is, that's going to be great. The thing you fear is going to be bad is going to be the good idea. And so we expect that in each other. And it's a vulnerability, that it's a sort of a mutual vulnerability, where you know that the things that are the truest are the hardest to say, and therefore you're, you're not going to want to say them. And by the way, corollary to that is that we both hate writers rooms. I mean, I, you know, I know we are far outside the mainstream, but I think writers rooms are terrible places for just that reason. Because the best ideas can't be said in front of eight people. It's too revealing to say it in front of eight people. And so when we do our shows, we don't have writers rooms. I mean, we bring everybody in, and we will sort of talk about the season in general. But then when we're working out each episode, we bring that writer in and we we we get we we work out the outline for that episode with that writer and let that writer going right in. And that works out much more efficiently. And with a much better product, we feel for that very reason. Because people then are less afraid to say what they're really thinking.

Alex Ferrari 36:25
Now, you talking a little bit about fear, and breaking kind of because there's this whole town is run by fear. Let's just be honest. Everyone in the entire town is run by fear. This entire industry is run by fear. And it's getting worse and worse and worse as the years have gone by even in my short tenure in this business.

Marshall Herskovitz 36:46
I've seen the corporate America is run by fear. And now the movie business is corporate America. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 36:52
So you always so did you ever write a loan before at or did you guys just start and just that's

Marshall Herskovitz 36:58
not always I wrote alone? I but we both wrote alone? I wrote a bunch of things alone before. Yes. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 37:04
Okay. So my question to you is, when you decided to say to yourself, I want to be a screenwriter. And you sat down and you saw a blank page, because I'm assuming there wasn't a screen at that point, it might have been more likely might have been a page or a screen. And up to you,

Marshall Herskovitz 37:18
though, it was a page, it was a bit.

Alex Ferrari 37:20
So when you looked at that blank page? Yeah. What did you say to yourself to break through the fear of actually starting to write because it is the most terrifying thing for a writer to see a blinking cursor, or a blank white page, it is a terrifying place to start.

Marshall Herskovitz 37:34
It's the most terrifying thing. It's the thing. And by the way, I would say did me and for 20 years, I mean, I think why was I blocked when I was writing 30 something because I have that fear you're talking about? I just, I couldn't break through that fear. I think, look, I'm a I'm a big proponent of psychotherapy. And I think psychotherapy in particular, when it comes to work, when it comes to the creative process is incredibly valuable. Because each of us has a voice inside our heads. That is self loading. Then you just wrote us a piece of shit. And it instantly goes into we'll tell you exactly. We humiliated you will be when people read that horrible thing you just wrote, and it's paralyzing. That kind of fear is paralyzing. That's shame. It's really shame is what we're talking about. Writing is so filled with shame, because you are exposing yourself. And you're exposing yourself to the worst kind of criticism, shaming criticism, how could you have thought that? How could you write that you bore me, you know, you're uninteresting, you're bad, all of those things. So you have to develop the ability in yourself the compassion in yourself, to say, I'm going to write this anyway, even though I might be shamed. You know the words it's about letting the shame wash over you and realize you survive on the other side. Now, Ed's wick, who is less afflicted by shame than I am, although he certainly is afflicted by it, for sure. But he's, I think we're able to cut through that his invoice is right at bad. In other words, go right for the shame. Just write it bad. Because it won't be that bad anyway. But the point is, except that it's going to be bad and write it anyway. Because you can always rewrite, rewriting is much easier than writing. I think, once I learned that, once I learned, I could try a scene. And if it's bad, it's going to take me 30 minutes to rewrite it anyway, what's the difference? It was very freeing. And so it's much easier for me to write now than it was 30 years ago because I was so consumed with shame and fear of shame at that time, so I feel for every writer, this is our lot in life issue is to face that shame. Every single day, but it's to understand that it's shame. That's what you're afraid of, is shame

Alex Ferrari 40:06
at the I've said this on other episodes about this, and it's something that I've, I think all creatives go through, but I think we, we, we go through it a little bit more as filmmakers and screenwriters is, the ego is a very dangerous, dangerous thing inside of ourselves. And that that voice that you're talking about, I always use the analogy is, if you go out and you have a big meal, and it's you're stuffed, and then the dessert tray comes, that voice in the back of your head goes, go ahead, have the cheese cake, you just work out tomorrow, it'll be fine, then you get the cheesecake. And then later that evening, when you're at home and you're undressing in front of the mirror, that same voice goes you fat pig, hi, could you have eaten that damn cheesecake. And that is, and that is the voice. And this is similar voice to the shame voice that you're talking about. You can have voices the one that got you to write, but then the other one, but it's also going to shame you it's it's it's horrible thing that we have to deal with,

Marshall Herskovitz 41:04
as human beings, as human beings. And by the way, I see it as two different voices. Okay, I see, we all have parts. And that's what I believe we all have parts. And there's one part that's a shaming part. And there's another part that has the appetite and the desire and wants to be a big deal or be creative, or be famous or be rich or any number of things. We have different parts, you know, and the problem is at any given moment, one part is Ascendant and the other part is pushed down. So yes, you look at that cheesecake, and the part that says, Oh, I can do this takes over. And then the next morning, the shamer says, You idiot, why did you do that, you know, and, and it's learning how to live with them, and, and sort of figure out some middle ground between all these voices. And also, I believe, very strongly at this point in my life, in the idea of compassion for yourself, I think that's the thing I did not have, for many, many, many years, I had no compassion for myself. And I, you know, I think most people would have described me as a very compassionate person toward other people. It was something that was very important to me, I had no compassion for myself. And that was very hard won and hard fought. And it's changed my life to be at a point where I do have some compassion for, you know, why I became that way why I'm so susceptible to shame. And here's the problem. People don't go to Hollywood, we go into this business, if they're all right up here.

Alex Ferrari 42:38
I've said that 1000 times

Marshall Herskovitz 42:40
1000 times some hole to fill, you know, you've got some deficit that you're trying to get over from your childhood, if you're out, you're trying to do this, instead of going into the family business in Pittsburgh or, or becoming, you know, what I mean? Honestly, they're, they're, we are propelled by by darkness, you know, in many ways to do this. And that, that's a part of our makeup that were damaged in some way. I believe that and and I have a lot of compassion for that, you know, other people and in myself, and as you know, I like the percentage of damaged people in the film is this must be higher than than other, per capita,

Alex Ferrari 43:21
or industry, per capita.

Marshall Herskovitz 43:25
I mean, patiently, you're surrounded by crazy people of one kind or another. This is one of the few, this is one of the few industries that rewards you if your bipolar rewards you if you have ADD, you know, rewards improve things that would normally harm you in other businesses. So, you know, look, we we are that thing about the tilted the country and all the nuts and bolts, all the nuts went to California, there's some truth to that, you know, because, because there was an ache that brought us out here to try to achieve something and you have to understand that that ache, that's never you're never going to find a source of that in success, you're going to find a source of that in healing yourself.

Alex Ferrari 44:08
Yeah. And I would agree with you. And I think that's something that a lot of writers go through is that that self compassion, and I mean, in my early years, and even into my mid to late 30s, I was brutal to myself, brutal, I just would just pound myself and beat so hard and literally just tear myself apart, where I was more compassionate to people outside of me. And it took my wife to be pointed out to me she's just like, you've got to stop Do you can't beat yourself up about that. Till Finally I I finally get into the place where I'm like, I gotta I gotta give myself a bit of a break, man, because it's, I'm only hurting. You're only hurting yourself. You're hurting your chances only makes it worse. The only makes it worse. It's tough enough, and it's tough enough. Yeah, it's really true. Now you you have gone through a lot of ups. You've got you've gone through a lot of ups and downs in this business, you've been at the highest of highs, and I'm sure you've been at the lowest lows. How do you handle? How does the the psyche, the ego handle, you know, being at, you know, the Oscars, you know, with a project or and then having 30 something, your new 30 something completely just get punched in the face? How do you deal with that at different stages of your life? What's your advice for that?

Marshall Herskovitz 45:27
Well, I think, you know, it's it's along the lines of what we've been talking about, which is, is understanding that, that you're free. There's a, there was a wonderful book 20 years ago called iron john by Robert Bly about what it is to be a man. And a lot of people made fun of that book, because there were all these men's group that respond from it, which were kind of silly, but the book itself is filled with incredible wisdom. And that book helped me understand the idea that, you know, that that failure is part of the lifecycle, and that no man can really avoid failure forever. And that, you know, you have to embrace failure. And so I think understanding that as a big, big help, but it's Look, these blows are just, you know, I had a terrible thing happened 1314 years ago, where I had a startup called quarter life, that was a, that was a social network, and also show an online show. And the online show was successful for a while, but the social network failed, because at that time, the whole point of our social network was it Facebook was only open to college students. And we thought, Well, what happens when you get out of college? You know, and of course, right, when we were developing our website, Facebook just opened itself up to everybody. So our entire financial model went away. And I lost a huge amount of money in this, this was a huge humiliation for me, and not just humiliation, it was destructive. And it was horrible. And I had to say, you know, what, I took a chance, this is something I believed in, and I took a chance and it didn't work, and I gotta move on, you know, and so, that took a while, but you pick yourself up. If you if you still have that fire inside to do something, then you have to listen to that and and say, there are more challenges ahead. So that's all you can do you live with the shame of that and you you move on.

Alex Ferrari 47:36
I mean, look, Katzenberg, you know, put out to put out kwibi. And yeah, he took a swing, he took a very billion multi billion dollar Swing, swing, and you know what, and he he was he was chatting, he was taking a chance and he's like, you know what, I think this is where it's going. I have a pretty decent track record. I think this is what's going and on paper it seemed like a solid investment. But unfortunately, it didn't go up but you know what, I give them nothing but props for taking the swing. You got to gotta have people like that. If not, you know, if it wasn't, you know, for SpaceX or Ilan Musk, or or Ford or Edison, or jobs, or any of these guys who took those big swings in every aspect. We wouldn't be where we are today. So Oh, boy, that's that bravery. And I think as a creative as a screenwriter. Sometimes you got to take that that swing as well.

Marshall Herskovitz 48:26
Absolutely. I I've lived that way I believe in that. And I and I'm willing to take my lumps because I believe in that because you will because you're going to take lumps if that's the way you're going to live.

Alex Ferrari 48:39
Again. No question. Now I wanted to I wanted to take you to your first your first directorial debut jack the bear with Danny DeVito. I love that movie. It was it came out during my my window, my window in the video store. my years at the video store came out so I remember recommending it. I remember the Bach the VHS box on the stage. Like, like I tell a lot of my guests 87 and 94 I'll beat anybody in Tripoli will pursue one movie serviette because that's the time I saw everything that came out. When you when you did that film, which was a wonderful film. You didn't write it you directed if I'm not mistaken.

Marshall Herskovitz 49:16
It was written by Steve Zaillian

Alex Ferrari 49:17
right, not about he's he's okay. He's done. Okay. He's done okay for himself. Um, what was the biggest lesson you learned directing that film? Because I'm assuming I know you direct to some episodic at that point. But

Marshall Herskovitz 49:29
yeah, you

Alex Ferrari 49:30
were you were you were you were at the game. You were at the at the Big Show?

Marshall Herskovitz 49:35
Well, I learned a lot of lessons from directing that film and most of them were negative lessons. Um, it was a very difficult film very, very difficult. There were a lot of problems attendant on that film. And, And truth be known. In retrospect, I think I should have withdrawn and not made it actually. And that's a hard thing to say. Yeah. But, you know, without going too deeply into it, here's here's the issue. I think that although I think Steve Zaillian is one of the greatest writers of our, of our industry, that script has structural problems when I got to the project, by page 60, you did not know what that story was about. And and I don't think a movie can sustain that. And so I, I wanted to make some serious structural changes in the first half of the movie. And Danny DeVito, who at that moment was very ascendant in his career. He was actually prepping hoffa, which was his going to be his big

Alex Ferrari 50:43
directorial,

Marshall Herskovitz 50:45
big, big directorial project. You know, he had script approval, and Dan and, and Danny love the script as it was. And so they would not allow me to make any changes in the script. And I knew that it didn't work. It was a wonderful script, from page to page, in the scenes, the dialogue, you know, was wonderful, but structurally, it was very problematic. And, and so, I remember, it's very interesting. Danny and I had an interesting relationship, you know, in pre production. We argued a lot about the script. And, uh, and he is he, he's a very smart guy, Dan, and he got, he saw what my fear was, and he and he went right to it one day, he said to me, he said, Look, you're the director of this movie. And when we're shooting this movie, you tell me to stand here, I stand here, you tell me to laugh. I laugh. But right now we're talking about the script. And, and that's what's important. And, and he understood that I, as a first time director, I had anxiety that I was working with this big star, you know, and he was true to his word, you know, as an actor, he was great to work with and, and, and cooperative and, and collaborative. You know, the issues were about the script. And we went ahead and shot the movie, we had a lot of issues in the shooting, because the the, the, the schedule was too short. And I knew it, and the people in production knew it. But the studio didn't want to spend more money on it, because it was a soft kind of movie. And so we went behind schedule, as I knew we would, and got into big fights about that. But the big problem came in editing, the problem came in editing, because when we put it together, sure enough, the beginning part didn't work, as I had told them, it would not work, because, you know, it just it was it needed to be sort of condensed into something that you understood where you were going. And so they wanted to fire my editor. I said, You're not firing this editor. This is a guy Steve Rosenbloom, who we've worked with, both at and I've worked with since film school, who I think is the most brilliant editor in Hollywood. And, and, you know, I put my body in front of him, they actually brought in a second editor in addition to Him, who finally gave up saying, I don't know what to do with this. And, you know, we spent a year just editing that film. That's unheard of less than three months editing a film, three, four months, tops, editing a film, you know, a year just editing. And finally came up with something I suggested two days of reshoots to help knit some things together. And they gave me the two days of reshoots, and we were able to sort of create, you know, sort of knit together the story in such a way that that beginning part worked. And so, you know, it was a difficult painful process it you know, as a first movie, to have to do battle with the studio head to do battle with your star and all of that. It was it was, it was tough. It was tough. And then it came out and of course, did no business at all. And, you know, and critics, here's an interesting thing that I that you know, it you know, we talked about you you never see the bullet that hits you.

We, we knew the problems were in the first half of the movie. Once we got through the first half of the movie, it worked like a top. Okay. And so I'm sitting there with my editor Steve, in a in the first preview, and the audience is laughing and they're into it and we get to halfway through the movie and they're clearly loving the movie. And we're like high fiving like we solve this and then you get to that last part of the movie where it turns dark right and you know the the neighbor Norman you know, attacks the boy and oh, That you could feel the energy in the audience change immediately. And we realized, oh my god, people don't like this at all. And what I realized is that when you have a tone change in a movie, late in the movie, people don't like it doesn't mean it's not good. It means they don't like it. There's a difference, in other words, that they thought it was one kind of movie, and then it became a different kind of movie. Now, when you look at the movie, I put in 100 warnings, what's coming? Some of them, I think, very overt, of like, watch out, watch out, watch out monsters are real monsters that are real. But people don't listen to that. Do you know what I mean? They were taken by surprise. And they thought it became a different kind of movie at the end. And that was, you know, critics hated that. And, and it did no business. And so, you know, I look, I look at the movie. And to me, it still works as intended. And I think those warnings are there, and they work. But for audiences, it didn't work. So, you know, I learned also that you have to think, like an audience member,

Alex Ferrari 56:12
you can't

Marshall Herskovitz 56:12
just think, as a filmmaker. And now when I am writing, and when I'm directing, and when I'm editing, what I'm doing is on the audience, I'm not just the Creator, I'm the person. I'm looking through both sides of the telescope. And I'm saying what is my experience as an audience right now? And is it what I expect? Am I disturbed by it? I'm disturbed in a good way in a bad way. Am I taken out of the movie? I think about that much more seriously than I did before that process. So I think there were lots of lessons from that movie.

Alex Ferrari 56:51
So I love I love the concept of the tone changes because that is something that's a very dangerous thing to do in a film is to change the tone because you'll lose your audience. And the the, the one film that always stuck with my head is a Tarantino film, which he wrote but didn't direct which is called From Dusk Till Dawn, which was the first half of the movie is basically a kidnapping heist film right? Out of nowhere, vampires show up. And then the, and then it turns into vapor. And the tone shift just jars so jarring. There's nothing before that tells you. Hey, there's some vampires coming out even a poster on the wall. Nothing. Nothing. So that's something that writers listening really careful with that tone change because it can really just throw you off.

Marshall Herskovitz 57:38
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It's it's just one of those things. It's the difference between movie reality and real reality and real reality. Shit happens. You know, all of a sudden, you have a car accident and your life just changed.

Alex Ferrari 57:52
Tone shift, but tone shifted. Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 57:54
But but in movie reality, there has to be some unity of of not just tone of character of Overwatch thing. So that's what's what people expect.

Alex Ferrari 58:04
Yeah, like, you can't have Darth Vader all of a sudden be the nice guy at the end. Like, it's that that doesn't but but yeah, I've seen that happen in bad movies with characters that just, yeah, they weren't the guy. They weren't the kind of character that would kick the dog. But then halfway after halfway through the movie, they kick the dog. You're like, wait a minute, I know, No, you can't. You can't take me down a road. And then Sucker Punch me like that.

Marshall Herskovitz 58:28
It's Yeah, yes.

Alex Ferrari 58:30
It's very, very tough. Now, another project you were involved in as a producer, which I would love to hear any, any stories behind the scenes or how you even got involved with it with traffic? I mean, that that is such a I mean, obviously, it's at this point in legendary film, I remember when it came out. It's, it's bizarre Berg, who's, you know, brilliant, and so on. But, yeah, it was a risky film, like the way he shot it the way you constructed the storylines. How did you how did you get involved the movie? And how did that go?

Marshall Herskovitz 59:00
Well, first of all, that was mostly Ed. I mean, Ed wanted to do a story about the war on drugs. And, you know, I, I think, I think my participation in that was more supportive than than most of the things especially because, you know, we didn't write it. We didn't direct it. I mean, Ed was going to direct it. But when he found out that Soderbergh was doing something very similar and had the rights to the traffic miniseries, you know, he called Steven I'm sure he had told the story that he called.

Alex Ferrari 59:32
He didn't he didn't tell us Oh,

Marshall Herskovitz 59:34
it's very, very interesting, because he was kind of stuck and on, on how to make it work. And he called Steven and said, Listen, we don't know each other. I know you're doing this thing. We're doing the same thing. Let's not try to do two things. Let's work together. Would you be open to that? And Soderbergh just said, done. That was it. That was the whole conversation. You know, so from that moment on, you know, yeah, he was gonna direct it, we were gonna produce it. And he kind of, you know, got it together in such a way that the script worked and went and did it. And look, we had no interest in telling Soderbergh what to do. I mean, he was, he's amazing, you know, and, and we learned a lot from him. He has such a different style from us. And I just wanted to see how he worked. And I'll tell you an interesting thing that happened. You know, it's basically three or four different movies. I mean, the casts in their stories almost never saw each other. Okay. And yet, there's this incredible consistency of performance throughout the film. And I remember I was doing a panel when the film came out with with two of the actors. And one of the questions was, how did Sodor How does Soderbergh work with the actors? And they each said, Soderbergh never said a word to me. He never gave me any direction. He just I was so shocked, because you know, I spent a little time on the set, but not enough to really like, you know, first of all, Soderbergh was the operator.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:20
Yeah, he's he's the DP Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:01:22
And so you know, you're he's right there with the actors, you're back with the monitors. I didn't really know if he was talking to them or not, you know, so. But I was shocked that he, they said, literally, he didn't talk to us. And I, and it's funny, Ed has a theory that, that, you know, that a lot of directing is osmosis in the sense that your bio rhythms as a director, get transmitted to the actors? And you know, and and so you have to be very careful what your biorhythms are, because it's going to affect their performances. And what I realized at that moment was that Soderbergh if you know, him, he's very taciturn. He, he's not that expressive as a person, which I think puts a lot of people on edge and makes him seem very serious. He's actually not that serious. He's very funny guy, but he seems very serious. And but I think actors, when they're around Steven, they know they can't fuck around. They know they have to show up. And there's something about his, that that fear of being judged, because he's not judgmental. I'm not saying that. But when somebody is not expressive, or reactive, you put it in, you put out that thing, right? You know what I mean? Right, right. So I think having this guy six feet away from you holding the camera, and sort of in the scene with you had the same effect on every actor, which brought out sort of their A game, their most grown up self, you know, and, um, it's an amazing effect, that, that, you know, in some alchemical way, he got these consistent performances from everyone because of who he is. And that was a very interesting lesson for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:18
I mean, because the cast was I mean, the cast was remarkable and so many different styles of actor and actor

Marshall Herskovitz 1:03:26
yeah and performance are wonderful and they're so every single one of them is so internal and so available when I say internal it means I can see into they're actually not internal they are they are their windows of into their thinking process is so open, you know, and Benito Del Toro is, is sublime, just sublime. In the movie. It's like, just watching the dailies you're going this guy, I it's like, you can't even imagine. You can't even call it acting. It's something else. It's some it's some. He's some possession, possession, possession, whatever it is, you know, um, and Michael Douglas and all of them and Don Cheadle. They were all Catherine's place. Yes. All over some place that was so remarkable. And, you know, that's Soderbergh's gifts that he creates that that world on the set that allows these actors to to inhabit that place in themselves.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:27
Is that the is that the first app? Please remind me because I mean, I'm not I'm not that keen on Soderbergh's history, but was that the first time was the big hit cuz I know Erin Brockovich, and obviously the documentary was the same year.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:04:43
He was nominated. He's one of the first he's one of the only directors should be nominated against himself as a director cheese or an Oscar. He was up for two Oscars as director that year. And, and

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
and Best Picture two,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:04:57
I think right black Best Picture. Yes, yes. He wants to traffic. He wants to record. You want director for traffic. And I remember telling him on the phone I said you just have to beat that asshole Steve Soderbergh?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:10
I mean, he's everywhere. This guy, this guy is everywhere. I mean, he left.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:05:15
And by the way, when we were at the Oscars, it's just so terrible. You know, you're, we're in the second row. And you can see into the wings at the, in the in the auditorium. Right. So Michael Douglas comes out to give our best picture. And you could see that first of all, they had three Oscars for best picture, and we had three producers. And then as he opened the envelope, I can see that the film is one word. I couldn't read it, but I could see it's one word. And so I hit head, and I whispered, we won. And he goes, and the winner is Gladiator, which was one word and had three Oscars. You know, it was, it was one of those great, horrible moments where we thought we won, but we didn't. But you know, so what?

Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
Yeah, it was all No, I made it. Overall. It you guys did. Okay.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:14
You know, just don't get ahead of yourself more. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:18
And honestly, talking about you know, guys who swing take swings at the plate. I mean, Jesus Sonnenberg I mean, he's not making use of his iPhones. IV is

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:30
really absolutely remarkable. So much respect for him.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:33
I have to I have to ask, when you start writing? Do you add, start outlining first? Do you start with character? First, you start with plot first? How do you how do you start that process?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:44
It's a good question. What we have learned over the years, is not to try to structure anything at first, including the conversation. In other words, so much of what we do when we're starting something is just talk, talk about how we feel about it talk what what is it what ideas come to mind, how do we see the characters but not not in any organized way, we will just go from history to things we've read to what this reminds us of this is like my aunt Marcy, this is whatever, you know, that, that we just kind of inhabit that space. And that could go on for a week, you know, we're more where you're just kind of living in it. And, you know, it's like somebody wants said, you know, if you are want to make a sculpture of an elephant, just cut away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. Yeah, you know, that in some way the thing exists there. And you have to just pull it out that in some way, that's true. It's just harder when it's something like this, that's a story. But we still believe that in some way, it exists. And we have to find it. And that means being open to the most gossamer foggy notions that might be true and be willing to change and follow something down a line. And so it's the willingness to be unguarded and unguided in that beginning part that allows you to really start to have a sense of what the thing is, and then, you know, then we talk about the characters a lot. And I think we get to structure at the at, that's the last thing, you know, there may be some things we know we want to happen. Or we know we want the person to be this kind of person. And so that's going to dictate certain things are going to happen. But but to actually structure the story. That's the last piece of the puzzle for us before we start writing.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:40
Now, there was a movie you did that was in your filmography, that kind of like one thing, like that old song, like something in this thing doesn't belong, which was jack, jack Reacher, which is, I think the only sequel you ever did, right? And it's, you know, it's a, it's a, you know, Tom Cruise vehicle. It's an action movie. Obviously, there's a lot of action and a lot of like, Last Samurai and other things you've done, right? But this was different. How did you guys approach this? And I mean, when I spoke to Ed a little bit about it, he's like, I've never done it before. So I kind of just wanted to try it and see if I could do it. How did you guys approach the writing process of that?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:09:16
Well, I think, you know, first of all, I mean, I'll talk about this I I tend to not want to talk about anything that pertains to other people what other people said or did and so I'm going to be a little bit circumspect, just out of respect. Sure, those people. But basically, the idea behind that film was to take one of the novels where Reacher is in relationship to someone, because usually he's not that much in relationship, because they wanted to humanize him a little bit. And so they picked that novel. And so our mandate was to and I think why they used us was because they wanted the relationships they wanted that sense of connection between him and the woman and the girl. And that's what we wrote. And that's what Ed shot. And they loved it. And I remember Tom, who we love working with, by the way, we're going to movies with Tom. And he's a great guy to work with. So he's, that's a whole other subject.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:22
No, I mean, I've heard john

Marshall Herskovitz 1:10:24
out. I'm happy to get into but he is. He's, you know, who was it? Who said, Tom shows up on the set each day and basically says, How can I make your dreams come true? I mean, that's how he looks at movies, he's full of gratitude, and wants them to be great. And it's so it's a great experience. So at any rate, we made the film, Tom looked at the film, he turned to Ed, and he said, this fucking film made me cry, none of my films make me cry. You know, thank you, then we test the film. And women love it. And young men go too soft. In other words, the idea didn't work for the intended audience of the movie. Now, have I said too much? Maybe? I don't know. But what the hell, it's past history. So we, you know, we did some work on it didn't take that much. We did some work. We we did some things together, we shot a little bit more action, we just kind of toughen it up a little bit. And that's something I believe in I look, I believe in the post production process very strongly, maybe because of my experience with jack the bear, but maybe also even from television, that you can surgically change something and make it into something that works better. And and we've done that a lot. And so that's what we that's what we did with that. And, um, you know, I think it's, it's, you know, it sounds some audience, it's just, it was each of these things looks to me, it's a miracle movie ever gets made. Amen. Is it good? No, I don't I look at that. And I go, Okay, I'm proud of it. We, you know, we did what we were supposed to do, and and then we did what we could do, and a lot of people liked it. So you know, if it's not the most popular movie of all time, we can survive, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:27
and, and I've spoken to multiple people who've worked with Tom and they say, I've never heard of a negative word come everyone's always like, he is the utmost professional,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:12:38
he shows up, he just is can I tell you, when we when we did Last Samurai with Tom, and we went to New Zealand. After we'd been there a week, it was an article in the local paper saying that everyone on the crew had to sign a affidavit that they would not speak to Tom and they would not look Tom directly in the eye. And not only was that not true, but the opposite was true, which is of all the people I've worked with, he's probably the most polite to fashion on the crew. If someone says hi to him, he will actually stop and say hi, how are you and talk to them? You know, he's incredibly available to people. And I suddenly realized, maybe that's never been true. Maybe there's never been an agreement where you're not supposed to look at the star. You know, we could we all think that that's like something that that people have and I thought maybe it doesn't exist because it certainly wasn't true with him.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:39
I mean, I'm assuming you don't want to be in an actor's eyeline. But that's just being professional.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:13:43
That's different. Yeah, different. That's just a that's just a matter of, and in fact, that that's just understood on the set. And anyone who is in the eyeline, we usually tell them to get out because it's just not nice to them. You know, that's different. It's called

Alex Ferrari 1:13:56
being it's called being professional bf. I've heard all the, I only want green m&ms. In my in my trailer, I heard that actually, I actually heard that the origin story of that, which was really the origin story, too. I can't actually say I'll tell you off there. Because there's it's a little it's a little saucy. But heard the story of that one. But yeah, you hear all these stories and look, you know, talking to a lot of a lot of people like yourself and professionals in the business when they work with these big actors. The amount of attention and and you know, that gets thrown on someone like a Tom Cruise or Will Smith the rock under these giant movie stars. A lot of times it sells papers. It's sensationalism. And a lot of times they want to tear tear them down. A lot of times. It's just a

Marshall Herskovitz 1:14:48
weird thing that with Tom. And by the way, the thing that always hurts so bad for me, was that thing about him jumping on the couch for show It's like, that's Tom every day, almost the most enthusiastic person I've ever met. It's like when we did the final battle of Last Samurai, and I came up with a set that day. And we have 500 men on each side, and he's in the full Japanese armor. And we've got seven cameras up on towers. And Tom comes over me and he grabs me by the chest, and he screams at me. This is fucking great. It's just fucking great. That's Tom. He does love the guy. He's the most enthusiastic person in the world. Why would you make fun of him for jumping on a couch? It's like,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:37
God bless him. They always wanted they always want to tear down and that's the thing. Look someone like Tom and then we'll stop talking about time because I could talk about Tom forever. I've been a fan of his since since the beginning, since all the right thing all the right moves. There is a charisma that these these these stars have, there's an energy that they project on the screen. There is a reason why Tom Cruise has been a movie star for 30 plus years. There's not a lot of movie stars. who have been who are still

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:06
movies. Exactly, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:10
movie star, he's still the biggest movie star in the world. He really he green lights a picture today, just like he did in 1990 after he did Rain Man, or Top Gun or any of these things. So there's a reason there's a reason for that. Yep. And you gotta kind of respect that about him. Yeah, look, we all have. And we all have bad days. And of course, when you have a bad day, and you're Tom Cruise, it's news. When you and I are having a bad day.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:38
nobody hears about it. No one cares about it.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:41
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests Marshall. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:49
Oh my gosh, that's such a good one. Um, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Alex Ferrari 1:16:54
comes up very often.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:56
Yeah. Um, Chinatown for sure. And I would say Annie Hall, probably. Because I'm Annie Hall. It's funny, because everyone's talking about this right now. And it's been a, it's been a very particularly difficult experience for me, because Woody, first of all, Ed has known woody since Ed was 23 years old. And in relationship with him, and he's not just a hero of ours, you know, creatively, he was such a touchstone for us. And, and, you know, it's just been a very painful, painful experience. And, and the only way I can live with it is to understand that many of the artists that we revere turned out to be monsters. Picasso was a monster, Wagner was a monster, a lot of people, you know, and, you know, artists art, and I cannot take away the fact that, you know, of, you know, Annie Hall is probably my second favorite movie of all time. And that's just will continue to be a fact because he packed so much about what it means to be a human being and what it means to be in relationship into that movie. It's, it's amazing, and you can't take that away from him.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:18
So I mean, how do you in that's a conversation about being able to separate the artist with the art. And, you know, his van, you know, his van Gogh? Do I appreciate Van Gogh differently? Because the way he lived his life? Yeah. I don't know. And that's a that's a much deeper question and a more controversial conversation to have. But at the end of the day, you know, any halls any hall?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:18:46
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:47
It was any hall for a long, long time. You know, tomorrow morning, tomorrow morning, Francis Ford Coppola could go out and murder 30 people. But, but the Godfather

Marshall Herskovitz 1:18:58
made the Godfather, but the Godfather

Alex Ferrari 1:19:00
and the Godfather two and the Apocalypse Now and Dracula and all of these classics. It's, it's still the Godfather. Right? By

Marshall Herskovitz 1:19:07
the way. I think I should add a screenplay to that. Yes. Which is it's a wonderful life. You know, we named our company Bedford Falls FPL. And it's a wonderful life. Because for me, it's far and away the best movie ever made. But it's really the best movie ever made. Because it's the best screenplay. It because it shows what you can accomplish in storytelling, that this is a man that I think I once counted. I think there are nine different stories in that movie that are then turned around in the period when he comes back and he never existed where you instantly understand what has happened to those people because he didn't have an effect on them. And if you think it's easy to create nine stories, and in one second understand the effect this guy's had on people's lives because he didn't exist. It's an remarkable piece of work, and also filled with things that add an icon gifts to the audience, which is something I think I learned from George Lucas from from Star Wars, you know, that just thinks to delight you. In other words, when you look at It's a Wonderful Life, the fact that the squirrel crawls up uncle Billy's shoulder that they have a crow in the office and, and the little bits that they play and and, and that, that and he says at the end, I've been saving this money for a divorce in case I ever get a husband. It's like, there's so many great things in that film that are all in the screenplay, you know, and and, you know, as somebody said, you can have a shitty movie from a good screenplay, but you can never have a great movie from a bad screenplay. And that that's, that's the truth. It all starts with the screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:47
Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:20:51
That's simple. I've given this advice a lot. I have a theory about this. I believe there are 1000s of undiscovered great actors. There are hundreds of undiscovered great directors. And there are no undiscovered great writers. Because if you can write you know, people will see it right away.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:13
And you're absolutely.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:21:15
And you can get people to read your stuff, you can get assistance. I'm a big believer in assistance, I think, you know, assistants run this town. And if you can get on the phone and get an assistant to read a script, because by the way, every one of those assistance is ambitious and wants to move up. And their capital is finding people especially like if they work for a producer, or they work for an agent, that sort of thing. And the thing is, if you can write, and I'm not saying this isn't, this isn't really about talent, per se, it's about whether your writing fits with the movie business. If you're writing fits with the movie business, people will see it, they will, they will recognize it and there will be an energy coming toward you. And what I usually tell people is that this is very Darwinian, and it's a sad, but true fact of life. Be willing to write three spec scripts. If by the third spec script, you don't feel that energy coming towards you, then you should probably do something else, because you're missing something. Now, maybe you can learn it from one to the next and see what you did wrong. But if after three, you haven't learned it, just it's not going to happen. Because you because because it's electric. When when people like what you've done, it's electric, that energy that comes toward you from people, because there's such a desire for good material. So I just tell people, look, it's the simplest way to break in you just right? It's not the easiest way. There is no easy way. But it's the simplest way. You don't need money. Yeah, you have to live. But I mean, you don't need equipment, you don't need to hire people, you don't need people to like you, you just have to write which is hard enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:57
It's one of the toughest things any artists could ever do is to write a good, solid story. And I've said this a million times as well, in the show, I feel that screenwriting is probably the toughest form of writing maybe next to a haiku that you can that you can do because of the condensed and the way it works. A novel is so much easier. And I've written and I've written, I've written, you know, books, and I just oh my god, when I when I've written scripts, and I've written books, when I started writing the book, I was like, Oh my god, I'm free. I could just write whatever I wanted. Right? I don't have to worry about it. And you just go Where is the screenplay? You're like, what is the mean in this in this description? is do I need the Can I do a B there? Can I do a to like it's,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:23:42
it's by the way rudall show true. Show true. We just go through and take out words, right like why do you need a complete sentence there? You know what you know? Um, yeah, that's why it helps to read the Great's because you realize how little they actually have people say, you know, and, and also the greats who have people talk over each other and and create a kind of a kind of real interaction between people that you could just see on the page. Yeah, and

Alex Ferrari 1:24:15
I've seen descriptions by some of those greats like the Shane Black's Aaron Sorkin's, you know, those guys, that you look at, in depth descriptions, like one word sentences, like,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:24:24
just that, just because you want the script, you want the reading of the screenplay, to feel like you're watching the movie. So if you're going to spend a page describing the scene, you know that you don't have a minute of the movie to do that. You're gonna see that in one second. You know, so that's a really tricky thing. How do you convey a lot of information in a very short number of words.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:46
As you said earlier, this is our lot in life. This is our lot in life. This is why we get paid the big bucks. This is why we get paid the big bucks if you're able to

Marshall Herskovitz 1:24:56
do that. If you can do it, you can do it. Well, now you get the medium About a million bucks,

Alex Ferrari 1:25:01
media bucks, no residuals. Media bucks buy out. That's it. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:25:14
Oh boy. Um, well, I'm gonna tell you something that I don't usually talk about out loud. having to do with why I don't direct anymore. And when I direct, I'll direct an episode, but I don't direct movies anymore. Um, I suffer from an anxiety disorder. And it took me many years to admit that I've obviously affected my life a great deal. But all I ever wanted to be was a film director, I only became a writer so that I could direct films. You know, and I'm, after I made two films, because the second one was dangerous beauty, which is actually my favorite. And something I really loves Beautiful, beautiful film, I love that film and, and it still has a life today, people even though it didn't do well, when it came out, people still watch it. I realized that I paid too high a price directing a movie, that it's just too hard for me to get up every single day for 75 days. And go out there and function for 16 1718 hours a day at your top. I'm the kind of person that needs a lot of time to process, what's going on, that's how my anxiety, that's how I deal with my anxiety is that I need downtime. And you don't have that you're suppressing it constantly. And you know, you basically have to work all that time to be able to just fall into bed, fall asleep, immediately, get your six to seven hours of sleep, get up and immediately just perform at your best every single day for however many days of that schedule, and I it killed me, it just killed me. And I realized it was a very painful realization that the here's this thing that I had wanted so much my whole life was to be a director. And part of that was ego, let's face it, you know, and part of it was creative, that it just made me miserable. You know, it just wasn't worth doing if it made me miserable. And so I said, I'm gonna stop. And that was very painful. And, and by the way, still is because it affected my career. In fact, in how much money I made affected, you know, how people saw me. I think a lot of people didn't understand that it was my choice that I stopped, right? Because the movie didn't do well. So they thought maybe I couldn't get a job after that, actually, I was offered jobs, it was my choice to stop, because it hurt too much. And so you know, I think that was, I think coming to accept that you are who you are, you have your strengths, and you have your weaknesses, and they are all connected, you can't have one without the other, you know, my sensibility, my sensitivity, my ability to see and to help people feel it's very connected to my anxiety, you know, it's all it's all part of the same thing. So I think, again, it has to do with compassion for yourself that, that I realized, I just can't keep breaking myself on this rock, just to prove something that I don't need to prove for myself, you know, so I've had a very good time since then, as a writer and a producer and directing occasionally when it's only a few days, you know, to an episode or, or something like that. But it's very painful at the time.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:29
I first of all, I appreciate you sharing that because I think that's something that the audience needs to understand, first of all, to be being honest with yourself and who you are, is self realization. Huge, huge thing in our in our business, but as a human being in general. And the there's always this kind of myth of what a director does. And after I've talked to so many, so many, like, you know, I mean, I feel that I think I think it kind of started with, with Spielberg. But then I think Tarantino put fire on that with that, which is called like the rock and roll director was like, it was cool and hip to be a director when, like in the 70s in the 60s and 50s. No one knew who made these things. Really. I mean, Hitchcock probably, but that's it. But the reality of what it takes to be a director like I stopped directing commercials, because I just couldn't it suck my soul. Like I'm like, I don't want to sell a product. This is not what I do it paid well. But I just said you know what, I it's not me. I got a I got I'll just pull back I'll I'll go into post production. I'll open up a post house and I'll produce and I'll do my short films and I'll write and I'll do other things. But it was a decision that I made for myself but it was it's all about that self realization. So people who have the dream screenwriters listening now, they think I'm going to write and direct my friend like listen, it's it's a chore and I've also talked to so many directors on the show that they they've told me when I go to direct the movie, I got it. I go into training. physical training because it is

Marshall Herskovitz 1:30:02
brutal on the body route. It's brutal. It's brutal. Yeah. Brutal it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:08
Yeah. And then and then mentally, it's your psyche. And, and that's a bet that's best case scenario without a star that's giving you problems without studio executives trying to sneak in other people trying to, you know, cut your knees out underneath you because it's their agenda. There's so many other politics. And, and that's one thing I never actually asked you about. This is kind of a side note. Can you please talk a little bit about the politics of being a director? Yeah, politics behind the scenes because so many screenwriters, so many filmmakers don't understand that. I mean, an agent told me once when I'm looking for a director, I'm looking for three people, I'm looking for an artist, a politician, and a business person. Because that's what I'm in the greats, all the greats have those three, have those three? Yeah. What? Can you explain just a little bit about your, your experience with the politics, you did another with jack, the bear? But any any any tips on how to deal with that?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:31:04
Well, I think it's, you know, every situation is different. And by the way, I think the business has changed a lot. I think that when we came up, it was understood and expected that as a director, or producer, you could be very difficult and take stands. And and, you know, and and go in the face of studio executives, and when now if you do that, that mostly fire you. So you know, unless you're Nolan, you know, you don't get to do that anymore. So you have to sort of you have to be more political today than you were then. But I think, nevertheless. Okay, I'll tell you a little story. I don't know if we're getting going over time or not. There was a wonderful book called Shogun in the seven about medium exam. Yeah. Okay. And there's a scene in that book, where one of the Japanese warlords had captured the English soldiers, and he was boiling one of them alive in a big VAT. And he was having his people sort of gauge the temperature of the boiling, so that the screams of the man would be just the right pitch for him. That would be like poetry for him. It was very brutal, and horrible and sadistic, and at the same time, spiritual in a way, you know, that, that he would do this, okay. And he's name was Yabu. That was the that was the name of that character. And I remember saying to Ed, that when you're budgeting a movie, and you're in pre production, the studio will grind you and grind you and grind you down. Until the pitch of your screams change. This is not a joke. I realize this is true, okay. They, either consciously or unconsciously, they depend upon the director to actually protect the movie, because at first you're getting, I'm not gonna cut that thing out. But there's a moment when you become desperate, and you feel like they're destroying the movie. That was the moment when they would relent, because they were actually depending on you to know what the movie really needed and not. And so when your screams change, that's when they would say, okay, that's the budget. Now, that was the old days. Now, they decide beforehand, by a mathematical model, what the budget is going to be, and they don't care what your screams are, and they won't make the movie. They just won't make it. It's like, they'll you know, they'll just, they'll just say, forget it, if it costs too much, you know. So it's a very different world now. And you have to decide, can I make the movie I want to make without help from these people, they say where your partner in those days, they might have been mean about it, but they were still your partner. They just don't want it a great movie. Now. It's different now. It's pretty much mathematical. It's the best. Yeah. And because we can get our money back, and you don't have that sense of that these were cowboys in the old days, who would take chances on things they believed in? You know, you don't have that now. I mean, it's rare. You occasionally have it, but it's rare. And we can you imagine taxi driver today?

Alex Ferrari 1:34:19
I mean, we had to put a superhero in it. And that was Joker. Yeah, there you go. That's the only way taxi driver would get made in today's world. I heard Guillermo del Toro say this once. And I think it's so an amazing analogy for working in Hollywood. He said, in Hollywood, you're going to eat a shit sandwich. Now, you can change the bread. You could put some avocado on it. You could put some really nice Grey Poupon. But at the end of the day, you're eating some shit.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:34:50
By the way, we have our own version of that, which we have which we believe to be absolutely true. It's based on an old sexist joke, where a man is hitting A woman at a cocktail party. And he says to her, if I paid you a million dollars, would you sleep with me? And a woman says, Well, actually, if you actually paid me a million dollars, yeah, I probably would sleep with you. And he says, Well, if I paid you $5, would you sleep with me? And she says, What do you think I am a prostitute? And he says, Well, we've already established what you are. We're just negotiating the price. a horrible sexist joke.

Alex Ferrari 1:35:23
It is it is.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:35:24
But but but the point is, that applies to filmmaking, right? Which is, and it's not about money, it's not about sex, it's about quality, that in the end, you're going to compromise the quality of your film, you're going to compromise, it's not going to be as good as you want it to be. And the question is, negotiating the price, how high quality can you get before you have to compromise? It's that simple. And each film establishes that sort of going into it, you know, based on how much money you have, how many sets you have, who the actors are, you kind of get, like how good that movie can be. And you fight that every step along the way for the highest price of quality that you can fight for before you give in. But every day you give in every single day you give in and and you have to understand that you give in it every day. You're just basically losing at the highest level you possibly can. That's unfortunately the truth. But if you keep it there, then you have a good movie, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:36:32
and it's about and and the filmmakers that get those masterpieces done. It's about the battles that you can wage. And when I mean Coppola was I mean, look, we had to go through with godfather Apocalypse Now Jesus Christ.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:36:47
Oh my god.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:49
I mean, she's his apocalypse is out.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:36:51
I mean, God for that documentary, so we know what he went through.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:54
Oh, that's by anyone listening prerequisite. You need to watch hours of darkness, the documentary, apocalypse that

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:00
was such him on the phone saying, You mean I paid Brando a million dollars of my own money. And he's now not going to show up when you see him in his kitchen.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:12
Yeah, you go, oh

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:14
my god. It's like, I never want to do this. As long as I live. I never want to be in a position

Alex Ferrari 1:37:20
where when my or my machine punches the mirror out. And he's like, he's about to he's drunk. And he's about to go after Frances mother while they're shooting. Yes.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:31
Keep it in the movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:34
His hands all bloodied out is that Oh, yeah, totally. I mean, it's it's it's insane. But it is about when riders it's tougher because you have less power. But as a writer, producer or writer, producer director.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:48
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:49
It's about fight. And and look, I'll say this man, you and Ed have have fought some good fights, because you guys have put out some amazing quality work over the years. Some of my favorite films. I mean, Last Samurai blood, I mean, Blood Diamond and other just everything that both you guys work together and separately together on it is you fight I mean, look, you can't get Last Samurai to where it was, without fighting a couple battles.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:38:19
Creative. Oh, we fought many, many battles. Listen, I feel very lucky, Ed feels very lucky because we spent our entire careers making only what we were passionate about. So very few people get to do that. Very few. And, and we are so grateful about that. And, you know, whether that was a combination of we're, you know, difficult or, or, or, or ferocious or, or people liked us or whatever it was, you know, to be given that gift to make movies and TV shows that you really love and care about and that you're not pushed into making is a great gift. And and and always be grateful for that. Marshall,

Alex Ferrari 1:39:06
Thank you so much for your time and your and your just transparency and your raw, brutal honesty, which is what, what what I'm all about and what this show is all about hope. I hope it scared and terrified people in a way that if it's not, if you're scared and terrified and you don't think you should do this don't. But if this is but if this is embolden you to like you know what, I can take that I can take that hit and I can keep going forward, then this is for you. But I'm so glad that you helped us with that. So thank you so much, Marshall.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:39:36
Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.


Please subscribe and leave a rating or review
by going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show?
Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors

BPS 112: The Craft of Epic Story Screenwriting with Oscar® Winner Edward Zwick

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

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

Faced with the fear of going to law school during his first five years in the industry if filmmaking didn’t work, Zwick cards turned and launched him into projects that are now some of the most critically and commercially acclaimed in the business. His work spectrums the comedy-drama and epic historical genres. You can see just some of the films he written and directed below.

About Last Night, Edward’s directorial debut was about aman and woman who meet and enter a committed relationship for the first timedespite their personal problems and the interference of their disapproving friends.

He next tackled his first historical drama, and definitely not his last, the Oscar winning Glory.

This is the exceptional story of America’s first unit of African American soldiers during the Civil War and the young, inexperienced Northerner who’s given the job of training and leading them. Based in part on the actual letters of that young officer and brought to life with astonishing skill and believability.

Legends of the Fall: This epic romance follows a man’s fight to come to terms with himself and a family struggling to preserve its simple way of life. Taken from Jim Harrison’s popular Novella, LEGENDS OF THE FALL tells the story of three brothers and the beautiful, compelling young woman who irrevocably changes each of their lives.

Courage Under Fire: A soldier discovers how elusive the truth can be in this first major film about America’s role in the Gulf War. Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) was the commander of a unit during Operation Desert Storm who mistakenly ordered the destruction of what he believed to be an enemy tank, only to discover that it actually held U.S. soldiers, including a close friend. Since then, Serling has been an emotional wreck, drinking heavily and allowing his marriage to teeter on the brink of collapse.

As a means of redeeming himself, Serling is given a new assignment by his superior, Gen. Hershberg (Michael Moriarty). Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) was a helicopter pilot who died in battle during the Iraqi conflict, and the White House has proposed that Walden be posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Serling is asked to investigate Walden’s actions on the field of battle, but he quickly discovers that no two stories about her are quite the same; Ilario (Matt Damon) says Walden acted heroically and sacrificed herself to save the others in her company, while Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillps) claims she was a coward who was attempting to surrender to enemy troops.

Meanwhile, reporter Tony Gartner (Scott Glenn) is hounding Serling, trying to get the inside story on Walden and on Serling’s own difficulties. Matt Damon lost 40 pounds to prepare for his role in Courage Under Fire, which resulted in a potentially life-threatening illness for the young actor.

The Siege: When a crowded city bus blows up in Brooklyn and a campaign of terror begins to make it’s bloody mark on the streets of New York, it’s up to FBI special agent Anthony “Hub” Hubbard (Denzel Washington) and U.S. Army General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) to find out who’s responsible and put an end to the destruction. Together, they face explosive danger at every turn when they team up towage an all-out war against a ruthless band of terrorists.

The Last Samurai: Tom Cruise stars in this sweeping epic set in Japan during the 1870s as Captain Nathan Algren, a respected American military officer hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country’s first army in the art of modern warfare.

As the Emperor attempts to eradicate the ancient Imperial Samurai warriors in preparation for more Westernized and trade-friendly government policies, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Japanese warriors, placing him at the center of a struggle between two eras and two worlds, with only his own sense of honor to guide him as The Last Samurai.

Blood Diamond: An ex-mercenary turned smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio). A Mende fisherman (Djimon Hounsou). Amid the explosive civil war overtaking 1999 Sierra Leone, these men join for two desperate missions: recovering a rare pink diamond of immense value and rescuing the fisherman’s son, conscripted as a child soldier into the brutal rebel forces ripping a swath of torture and bloodshed across the alternately beautiful and ravaged countryside.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back:Ex-military investigator Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) leaps off the pages of Lee Child’s bestselling novel and onto the big screen in the explosive thriller the critics are calling “taut, muscular, gruff and cool”*. When an unspeakable crime is committed, all evidence points to the suspect in custody who offers up a single note in defense: “Get Jack Reacher!” The law has its limits, but Reacher does not when his fight for the truth pits him against an unexpected enemy with a skill for violence and a secret to keep.

Edward even won the Academy Award® for producing Shakespeare in Love.

Shakespeare in Love’ showcases a young Will Shakespeare as the up and coming playwright of the time, but he has been disastrously struck by the bane of the writer’s life – writer’s block. His comedy “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” isn’t going anywhere and the playhouse is under threat of closure.

What Will needs is a muse, and she appears in the form of the beautiful and betrothed Lady Viola. The path of true love does not run smooth for Will, but the joys and tragedy of his own life find their way onto the page in a moving, witty and spellbinding tale.

The list goes on. Edward has had a remarkable career so far and still has much more to give. Speaking to Edward was like sitting in my persona filmmaking masterclass. We discuss ho he made the jump from a low budget comedy to epic historical dramas, his creative process, navigating Hollywood, directing some of the biggest movie stars in the world and much more.

Prepare to take notes on this one tribe. Enjoy my conversation with Edward Zwick

Right-click here to download the MP3

LINKS

  • Edward Zwick – IMDB

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 2:37
We have on the show the legendary Oscar winning filmmaker, Edward Zwick. Now, Edward has directed and written some of the most influential films of the past two decades, starting with about last night. Glory, Courage Under Fire, legends of the fall, the siege, Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, defiance, jack, Reacher and many, many more. He is also the producer of the Oscar winning Best Picture, Shakespeare and love. He's also the creator and executive producers of shows like Nashville 30, something and many more. I mean, the list goes on and on. I was humbled to sit down with Edward and discuss his career, his creative process when he's writing and directing how he directs legendary movie stars like Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington just to name a few. I was absolutely in awe of, of Edward while we sat down and discussed his his craft and the way he did it, it was awe inspiring to say the least talking to Edward. It was like sitting down in a master class of cinema. So I cannot wait to share this episode with you. So without any further ado, please enjoy my eye opening conversation with Edward Zwick. I like to welcome to the show Edward Zwick, thank you so much how you doing my friend?

Edward Zwick 4:21
I'm doing as well as can be expected given the circumstances of all of our lives.

Alex Ferrari 4:26
Amen. My friend event it is a weird and wacky world that we live in nowadays. And I mean, we've been locked up for a while now. And I'm sure for directors even. It's like your projects on hold, can we can we not shoot?

Edward Zwick 4:44
There's of course, all of that. I mean, I am also a writer. So social distancing. And that kind of sheltering in place is too familiar to those of us that that have to write so I mean, a bit of that.

Alex Ferrari 4:59
Yeah. I'm a writer, and I've been in post for 25 years. So I completely understand. So before we get started, how did you get into the business?

Edward Zwick 5:11
Oh, man, it's, it's a bit of a tale. I began, you know, working in the theater as a kid.I even began directing theater when I was about 15. And on through, I went abroad to France on a fellowship, after college and in the fellowship was to work with experimental theatre companies, Peter Brook, and Irianda Skien. But the truth is, the whole time, I had, you know, had a desperate love affair with movies. But it was a it was a, you know, a passionate fan and a viewer, I didn't really know much about the technology, I'd never really learned exposure. I took stills, but I had, you know, I couldn't read a bolex or work of a viola. And so I, I just didn't, I thought it was somehow, you know, forsworn, because I'd spent all my time in the theater, but through an odd set of circumstances, very odd. I had worked for a magazine when I was in college called the New Republic. And while there, I had had a correspondence with Woody Allen, because he was writing for The New Yorker at the time, those occasional pieces. And we had asked him if he wanted to give us some pieces as well. And he said, Yes. And so he was briefly published in the New Republic that year that I was there. So when I was in Paris, I had heard he was shooting there. I was walking down the street, in Santa Monica prie. And I saw him walking toward me. And I did something that I would never dare do now. Particularly knowing you know, how shy he really was, and is, and I just went up, introduced myself, and I said that he and I had corresponded. And I said, I was around and I was on fellowship money. And would it be okay, if I could just come by the set some time and see what he was up to? He said, sure. But actually, what he said was call me at the George V. And I thought, Oh, well, he's blowing me off, you know, which is fine. And I called him he said, Oh, no, come on by. And I did. It turned out that really, he was very lonely at the time, he was one of the few people when a few Americans there. And I spoke English, but I also spoke French. And within a very short time, he offered me a job to work on the movie as a PA slash assistant, which I did. Right. And, and the he actually was very kind he took me to, to Hungary with them, it was a movie called Love and Death. And, and then, that was really it. Except that he was exceedingly generous. He just suffered my ridiculous questions. And let me just observe, I was despised by the French crew, because there I was talking to the director, which is absolutely forbidden in any kind of hierarchical thing and, and yet, he was quite willing to, you know, indulge me. And and so that I had done something actually in college that Joe Papp had seen, and I had a sort of half assed opportunity to go back and maybe work at the Public Theater when I got back to the United States after this year. But I decided instead that I was going to do it, like so many people before me that I was going to sort of reinvent myself in the movies. And I applied to the American Film Institute, from from France, and it was a very early time there, it was not a it was a very small, not very known circumstance there. And I sent them reviews of plays, I'd done I tend some some things I'd written and I sent them some songs I'd written and for some reason I got in, and I came to Los Angeles in 1976. I think never having been to California, not knowing anybody, I arrived it was you know, about 180 degrees and there the hills were on fire, and nothing

Alex Ferrari 9:31
much has changed.

Edward Zwick 9:32
And I thought that I had made a terrible mistake, having left this this apartment that I'd been subletting in Paris and, and, and and went to the American Film Institute did very, very badly my first year would go home and just cry myself to sleep facedown on the mattress every night. But somehow, by the end of the first year there I had somehow managed to slipped by, and was one of the people asked to come back the second year and make a short film, which I did. And he did no good for me whatsoever. But I,

Alex Ferrari 10:11
you know, was that was that was that Timothy and the angel?

Edward Zwick 10:14
Yes, it was, it was it won a prize at a Chicago Film Festival meant nothing except, you know, some, you know, little plaque that I still have. And but the I had two years of the kind of demystification that you need when you first come here, when you understand what people mean when they say these things to you and and that whole nomenclature of Hollywood and development and you know, those horrible critical phrases that that development executives know, and you have to learn the translation. And probably the most important thing that happened is it Marshall Herskovits. And I met, he was there also as a director. And we became friends. And more than that, I think, after we left film school, because there is no, you know, continuing education, I think we remained each other's friends, but also became each other's teachers in a way. And finally, we began to get some kind of work, and it was horrible. The other would be willing to tell the other person it was horrible. And we would try to analyze why. And that relationship began and continued up, day in both and informal ways. At the same time, I met a guy there named Steve Rosenbloom, who cut my student film who'd never cut anything before. So we figured out that Viola and, and then esteem back and, and, and he has cut everything I've done since as well as having several Oscar nominations. And and I don't know, it was just that sort of that cauldron, that that very serene moment where you actually form certain relationships with people who are actually willing to tell you, you're full of shit. And, and you admit your aspirations to each other. And that's sort of how it began.

Alex Ferrari 12:23
Now, with when you did your, your, either your first short film or even when you apply to, to, or went to LA for the first time, what was the biggest fear you had to overcome? Because a lot of a lot of people listening might have not even taken that first step to walk towards the path of following something that they're passionate about. And they have something blocking them. What was that? Was there a fear? Or did you just go gung ho?

Steve Hodgins 12:47
Well, well, I mean, to be true, really honest, and my father had gone bankrupt when I was in college. And I had applied and had been accepted to law school. So ironically, when you get accepted, I don't know if it's still true now. But in those days, when you got accepted to law school, they and I had gotten this fellowship, they gave me a, what's it called, there was the, the possibility of coming back the year after, or they were able to attenuate my acceptance. And so I had that thing, that piece of paper. And my greatest fear is that I would have to go back and go to law school, because I just, I really had no wish to do it. I applied because I was scared. And I was a middle class kid who thought I had to somehow have something to fall back on. And I guess, you know, that continued for several years, because while I was starving and mooching off my girlfriend, who was willing to, you know, let me stay in her this little rented house. And, and I was, even if for years after that, when I was a script reader and the various things that I did to try to make money, those people who had graduating and clerking for supreme court justices and going to work for white shoe law firms and making a shitload of money and really advancing to the world and I was not as none of you right away. And so there was a, you know, a certain period of time, I would say, the two years of film school and maybe two or three years thereafter, where I was struggling,

Alex Ferrari 14:26
where as you would and and for people listening today, when you were trying to become a filmmaker, it was not the cool thing to do. Nobody really even knew what a film director did.

Steve Hodgins 14:37
Really, sort of true. I mean, I mean, look, I went to I went to an Ivy League school and particularly there I mean, that the couple years before me that I went to Harvard and the guys from the lampoon had come out, and you know, Doug, Kenny, and and and those guys. They had not yet made movies, but they were finding their way here. I seem to remember seeing Animal House like the first year that I actually was there. I don't remember Animal House what year it was. Was it about 77? Is that a good guess? 70?

Alex Ferrari 15:12
Yeah it was rough. Yeah, it was like mid to late 70s. Yeah.

Steve Hodgins 15:15
I think in any case, it was not an acceptable thing. There wasn't a mafia of people all from the same school who had come out here and, and there had never been film courses in the school that I'd gone to. And so it was all very, very new. But when I lived in Paris, all I had done was go to the movies, I probably should have spent a lot more time a lot more time, you know, doing the work I supposed to have done which is working with experimental theater companies, but the cinema tech was their only luck while I was still the head of it. You could spend four francs which was $1. And you can see three movies at a six o'clock and at eight o'clock and 10 o'clock show at the Cinematheque and that would be the Festival of Truffaut or it would be Antonioni, or it would be you know Zoo or Kurosawa and or Indian American films to and Paris, which few people know is probably the best revival city in the world. So they would have a John Ford Film Festival, or they would have a no Preston's Burgess festival. And that's every day, we just go to the movies. So my point is that, that I was there, and I at least had a sense of what I aspired to. I didn't know how to do it. And I did work at ASI, and I listened. And when all the fancy people would come in, tell me about their experiences. I thought I was paying attention. But then when I would try to go and do the work, it never resembled what Sidney polycon been talking about, or, or what Roman Polanski was talking about, as he talked to the students. And I, I just wasn't getting it. And I felt despairing about that. And, frankly, it wasn't for several years of just doing work that was mediocre. And until one day, the penny dropped, and I can't really explain exactly why it happened when it happened. But something was revealed to me about the relationship between what I wanted and what the cameras saw. What I wanted to say and what people said it the actors in their mouths and how stories were told and and and and really it happened like Helen Keller at the pump, I don't know if you've ever seen.

Alex Ferrari 17:37
Of course, of course. Yeah.

Steve Hodgins 17:38
The moment when, when she's got Patty Duke is there and she's pumping in she goes water just oh, Lord. Oh, and suddenly, at that moment, suddenly she can understand language. And for me, that was some language. And, and from then it was a very, very fast trajectory. After very little trajectory, it then began to really gather steam.

Alex Ferrari 18:03
But you struggled for years until that moment happened. And just

Steve Hodgins 18:08
Yeah, I would say the aggregate was was certainly certainly five good years of struggle. And by struggle, I also mean self loathing, of getting an opportunity to write something and then seeing it was bad. And even when I got an opportunity to do a television movie, finally, it was bad. And then the next one was just as bad. I mean, I mean, I'm not sure that they knew at ABC, or even the producers how bad it was, but I knew how bad it was compared to what I was trying to compare myself to.

Alex Ferrari 18:40
Sure.

Steve Hodgins 18:41
And I was embarrassed by it. No, better.

Alex Ferrari 18:45
No, there was. I mean, I've been a fan of yours for a long time and with your filmography, but I saw you on a DVD of this, this this little known amazing acting, directing the actors course called the Nina foch course, because

Steve Hodgins 19:03
Ah,

Alex Ferrari 19:04
can and and I saw you there and and, and of course, George Lucas was in there. There's like a ton of amazing directors who Nina really helped. And I, when I first launched the new film, hustle, I was probably one of the biggest sellers of our course, as I sold tons and because I took it, I'm like, No, I got to promote this to to an audience. And I love that course. But you actually I took the video course you actually took her course. Right?

Steve Hodgins 19:30
Yeah. I mean, there are a few people that mark you I mean, I was lucky enough to have several good teachers in high school and certainly one or two in college but she she just was so radical. I mean, you know, I've I know a little bit about Brando's life and because Anne's life and, and and what who Stella Adler was, and and and what effect she had on people and um and and Sandy Meisner, and and Nina was a student their's, and she took their gospel and apply and then really translated into her own understanding because she too had had a more Hollywood experience. She had been a contract player for Louis Mayer in the in the 40s. And she had then been, she worked with George Stevens and William Wyler as a coach.

Alex Ferrari 20:26
Yeah, then she worked with Kubrick and I think sessile made a million.

Steve Hodgins 20:30
I think something like two mil, she used to tell the middle story. She had the best stories of anybody. But she was also unbelievably tough. Yeah, she was unsparing about what the calling was of directing. And not just directing the actor. But but but storytelling. And, you know, the funny thing, when you have a great teacher, pay attention, you don't always get it right away. What happens is that, at least for me, a year later, or five years later, you'll find yourself in some situation, and then something will happen. And then you'll say, Oh, that's what you meant. And then a whole reservoir of things that will still have been in you will then be available to you, because nothing really leaves if you're paying attention, it's there, it can be called upon. And I think for me, that I just needed to have some thought sort of practical application of doing a thing for it to then be somehow internalized. But once I had done it, and even done it badly, and I maintain good teachers doing it, well, I was able then to reference what she was talking about. And all the things that she talked about, in terms of how one elicits a performance from an actor, how one uses behavior, how one really breaks down a script, it became something that I then took in and applied some of whatever my own experience had been been to try to make it my own. But, but she was she was really formidable. And and, and believed in it as a calling or believed in it as a you know, like a race to it

Alex Ferrari 22:34
almost like a priest.

Steve Hodgins 22:35
I was gonna go there. And I thought at least you said the pretentious part about it. Yes, I think that's true.

Alex Ferrari 22:42
And, and she was I mean, she was a formidable in the, in the DVD and the video course that I saw, I could only imagine being in the room with her. Yeah, it was amazing. I really was. She She was remarkable.

Steve Hodgins 22:54
Now, really, she would really take you apart. She had played the they created something that if I called the narrative workshop, where you would show something that you had shot and we all worked on tape at that time shot at single cameras, if it were film, broke, cut it ourselves. And the exercise was like a Communist Chinese self criticism session, where you have to show the film to your peers, and you're not allowed to speak. And they just tell you what they've seen.

Alex Ferrari 23:24
Oh

Steve Hodgins 23:25
And you have to sit there and fucking take it. And then and then you do some kind of that that repentance thing that you know the Chinese, I am guilty of the sin of pace, I am guilty of this kind of indulgent sort of session.

Alex Ferrari 23:44
That must that must have been amazing. Now, you, you You did a movie in the 80s, which was at least one of those classic 80s movies, which is about last night with Rob Lowe and john Belushi and, and Demi and Elizabeth and it was such a wonderful film. Last night, one of those amazing 80s films and it's a very small, I mean, that's small but it's it's a comedy. And then from from a controlled more controlled comedy you go to glory. Right? How the heck did that convert? Like? Was it an agent? Was it the script? What like what like, how did you get that gig because generally speaking, you don't go from romantic comedy to Epic civil war movie.

Steve Hodgins 24:28
Yeah, it was it was one of those again, flukes. Um, I will say that I had obviously studied American history. So I had a very particular interest in it. I had about last night and had the good fortune of doing well. It's a movie that was made inexpensively made a lot of money for the studio. So they were predisposed to be interesting what I might be interested in. When I said that you can imagine their response was the same as yours. But there's a guy named Jesse Jansky, who had actually been to college with me who had gone to work at that studio. So I had a personal connection with one of the executives there. And two things, they said to me finally, as I, as I first worked with Kevin, john, when they were considering doing it, I was involved with a producer named Freddy fields, who's a very sort of legendary character for any number of reasons in Hollywood, as a producer, and then having created what is now ICM, but um, we found out that there was going to be a reenactment of the 100 and 25th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg taking place on the field with the reenactors. And there were going to be 1000s of men, maybe three or 4000 men on the field that day, July 4 125, years after 1863, that would have been 63. A, it was like 89, something like that. And we convinced them to give us $25,000 or $20,000, whatever it was, where I could go with a friend of mine who's a cameraman, and another cameraman we picked up in New York, and Freddie and me to go on to that field, and just shoot what it might look like. And I didn't know what I was gonna see when I got there. But I read about these reenactors. And we went there. And we had to put on the union uniforms because he wouldn't let anybody on the field who wasn't actually in the reenactment. But there we were running around, is 100 degrees in Gettysburg in this mid summer. And we we shot hot, several 1000 feet of film. And I brought it back to LA and Steve Rosenbloom, who was not yet an editor. He was actually an assistant. But my my close friend, we took the film, and at night in the cutting room, when he was done with his day job, we snuck in there and we cut the film together and put it to music and put together about couldn't have been more than a five or six minute reel. But it was magic, because it was the dust would come up and the horses would go through and these cannons would go off. And, and and there was no narrative,

Alex Ferrari 27:23
right? But it was a sizzle. It was a sizzle.

Steve Hodgins 27:26
I invented the sizzle, apparently,

Alex Ferrari 27:29
apparently, because I was like this is the most amazing sizzle I've ever heard of.

Steve Hodgins 27:32
Exactly. And so we did that. And showed it to the studio. And the one thing the studios are sub are subject to and this is I think explains the sizzle. Which is Oh, well we're incapable of imagining it. But if you show me something that is in fact there, maybe maybe that makes it makes sense. I mean, I I find this sizzle to be a little bit offensive when someone's taking my film and 10 other directors films and saying that they've done it. But that's how it's gonna be because God helped them if they could do it the same way. But, but that was one thing that happened and they looked at it, they went, Wow, that's pretty great. They said to me, we will make this movie for a certain budget, if you can get Matthew Broderick to agree to do it. Now, Matthew Broderick at that point had done Ferris Bueller. He's not exactly the most logical, you know, choice to play in this kind of movie.

Alex Ferrari 28:35
Right.

Steve Hodgins 28:37
But that began in a bit of a conversation with Matthew and and some real hesitation he had about doing it and having to win him over to that idea. But the good news was they said basically, if you could get Matthew Broderick to do it, then all the rest of those guys, you know, those black guys, you know, well, you know, you'll you'll take care of that.

Alex Ferrari 28:59
Yes, it does a couple guys, whatever, whatever doesn't matter, which which, you know, amazing, amazing.

Steve Hodgins 29:04
It's an amazing story. Because I mean, I had known Denzel, because the year before we had started 30 something and, and, and Denzel was, I think he was they're still doing Sandy elsewhere at the time right away.

Alex Ferrari 29:17
That's right. He did say nice.

Steve Hodgins 29:19
And I'd seen Morgan do something that bam. And Andre Brower was still a senior it was still in. Still in his final year at Julliard. He had never done anything before. But it it bespoke something that's, I think, also interesting to talk about which that their approach to it was essentially as a white savior narrative, No, man, and that's what they wanted the movie to be. And therefore there was a lot of a lot of pressure put on me to really lift up that character of Shaw and talk about his how he was trained and where he was born. And it got there and there was literally, but two reels of film and, and really to put the burden of the narrative on him. And I had to write a lot of it. And in fact, as we started, I had to shoot a bunch of it. But it became abundantly clear that when I started rehearsing with the guys in the tent with Denzel and Andre and Morgan, Jimmy, that there's that was, that was the story that we shot that first scene and looked at it in dailies. Or let me back up for a second when I looked at the stuff with Matthew alone. And it looked like a kind of bad movie for television, because it was arch, and it was stilted. And it was just something you'd seen before. But when I started realizing what these guys had, it just all revealed itself to me. And I began to write more for them and figure out ways that there would be other scenes in which they would have figured even more prominently in the plot. And so that when I finally showed the movie to the studio, I cut the first two reels, I literally began with Matthew Broderick, on that field in that letter, and he meets Morgan Freeman, you know, three minutes into the movie, when he's lying there on the field, and starts meeting the other guys, you know, six minutes later. And the movie became what it became, which is not to diminish anything that Matthew did, or or to diminish his import, and, and, and, and his performance. But these guys were in a state of grace. They were they were representing something that I could only imagine or humble myself in front of.

Alex Ferrari 31:54
Yeah, and, and, and from what I when I saw the film, I mean, all I all I can remember from from the back of my head is Denzel just, it's just Denzel, I mean, Morgan and everybody else. And Matthew was great, but it's just Denzel. You just saw, he became Denzel and glory, like he became

Steve Hodgins 32:14
Yeah, in a relationship with us where we made several more movies together. But, but one thing we will say also, and this is how I tried to make that transition. And I think this is really important to say.

I know that about last night was you know, people in rooms talking and 30 something we should come right after at the regional Mirage the same time was the same thing. But I shot so much film, meaning in that movie, and in those 40 episodes that had preceded this I'm like a lot of the directors that became really great directors, who shot to Reelers, you know, George Stevens who had shot you know, a Mac senate and and john Ford, who had shot you know, crummy westerns and all that shooting film, cutting film, doing it, figuring out what makes a scene work was, again about gaining a kind of Felicity and, and, and the kind of chops as a jazz. You know, trumpeter might fingers scales as a pianist might. And one more thing, which is I went back to some of the Masters that I had so loved. And I think I watched Ron and Kaga Boucher, and the Seven Samurai 100 times. Because what Kurosawa did with those movies, he did not have a lot of money, and we didn't have a lot of money for glory. He showed me how to fill that frame and how to stage that in depth and how to give the impression of scale. And I, you know, stole mercilessly from his technique, even though it was different, you know, period and whatever. And I would have, I could afford, you know, four days in the movie where we had six or 700 extras or five days, right. And I figured out how to space those shots, when I needed them through the different aspects of the story. So that then when I only had 200, or even 100, and Phil inserted those shots into the bigger shots in your mind as the audience you're there among the 700 or 2000 of them, because you have to remember there was no CGI,

Alex Ferrari 34:47
none at all in

Steve Hodgins 34:48
All camera. It's all in camera. We couldn't we couldn't duplicate and tile and do any of those things.

Alex Ferrari 34:56
That's amazing. Now moving forward in your in your career. I've noticed that you worked a lot on the upcoming. Yeah, you've worked with a lot of up and coming. actors, like from Denzel. You know, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon encouraged to fire, you have a heck of an eye?

Steve Hodgins 35:17
Well, I mean, I thank you. And and I do, I am proud of that. And by the way, I would include, um, Claire Danes, and Evan Rachel Wood in the Intellivision, too, I think it's, it's, it's freeing, frankly, is that would go back to the theater and, and having some confidence in my estimation of who an actor really is, and who he is for that part, as opposed to what his reputation might be, or what other movies you might have seen. of, I would like to think that I would cast unknown actors as movie stars, and I would try to cast movie stars as actors that trying to find some equalizing of the voice and, and ask the same thing of both of them.

Alex Ferrari 36:08
Now, how do you know how do you sculpt those remarkable performances? Because throughout your filmography, I mean, you have amazing actors, obviously, but but use your films for specifically this, the performances are so sculpted, how do you work with them? How do you kind of come up with these from Leonardo and Blood Diamond to to Tom and Last Samurai? And these kind of films, like their performances are? So there's depth to it? How do you sculpt a great performance? Um,

Steve Hodgins 36:42
I think it begins with a kind of trust, that has to be earned. And I think that comes out of some set of conversations that begin, and they begin very early. Sometimes it's doing the research together. Sometimes it's doing physical things, you know, Denzel and I, I mean, the guys, even all of them in the tent, as they were learning how to, you know, load a musket and do drills with with the, with the reenactors, or Tom working with the sword or, or drinking Jagermeister, with Leonardo with guys who had been in the South African Defence Forces. There's a building of vocabulary and, and trust that that's part of it. I think there's also a commitment to honesty, about not bullshitting an actor or a movie star, about what what they're doing and not being the person whose job it is to suck their cock, but rather to really demand something of them, right, because you've done the work and, and, and the truth is, they want to do the work. And, and I think, obviously, over time, when you've done a certain number of performances, actors might come there, knowing that you might have some notion of what you're doing. Right and, and how to get them there. But by the way, you evoke Nina. And, and, and, and there's a very, very good example of something that I might things I might have heard her talk about, when I was 22. That then, when I found myself at 35, in these relationships with movie stars, or 45, those, that's when a lot of that stuff came in handy. Because, you know, she had worked with mighty Clift, and she had, you know, understood that, that that, that actors and actresses were a very particular breed. And there are very specific kinds of issues that you could understand that they have to deal with. And, and you could be sensitive to those. And then one other thing, I think, and that is maybe it's going to sound a little bit woowoo. But I think the directing, kind of directing, and I believe there's a certain amount of exchange that happens, a kind of my experience of the material first say as a writer, or even breaking it down just as a director of someone else's work, but that as I approach it, I want to understand the nature of the experience that the actor is going through. And when I go and talk to that actor, somewhere in me, I'm also communicating to him or her. What I believe the nature of that experience to be, and it might be the tone of my voice. It might be a touch on the shoulder. It might be my posture, it might just be the intensity and the sweat. I don't know what it is. But I think that there is some willingness to go deep. And to understand where that actor wants to get to.

And to create an ambience where that actor can be comfortable to discover something. And to feel like they have the time to discover it, a lot of what you do as a director is to is anti entropic push away all the entropy of life of noise and traffic and pressure and your watch in the end, is to give them at least the illusion that they have a safe space,

Alex Ferrari 40:46
Right

Steve Hodgins 40:47
which they can create. And, and something that I that I talked a lot to Steven Soderbergh about when we work together is creating a circumstance in which the default is truth. And just to say, the script and what you're asking the actor to do, is to not make some ridiculous transition into lines is not to have to give along expository speech for no reason. To have a costume that feels right, to have a set that feels like it's real, to not ask them to not to stage things in a way as to be arbitrary for the camera, but to have let life in to that process. And as a director, however much I prep, there's no substitute for me sitting there and letting them play an experiment and discovering myself even things I might not have known, because there is life happening in front of me. And if you can create enough of that, that the actor feels as if, as if they're cheating. As as if there's just life happening. And by the way, when you read about it, and you read about what the gift was suddenly of Kazakhstan and Brando, or, or James Dean or, or, or, you know, different actors, that was the Revolution, the revolution was was bringing life onto the stage and in front of the screen that was not very different than the life we know it to be. It's just that life put into extreme circumstances.

Alex Ferrari 42:34
And I think I think the two words that really sum up the performances I've seen in your films is depth and truth. Is there is that there is just, there's substance, it's not it's not it's not a veil, very thin performance, with all of them. Because some actors, you know, movie stars, in some movies, they're Oscar caliber. Other Other times, you just like what happened. And it happens with that happens with every artist in every field. But but but there's a consistency in your work. And that's why I wanted to ask you that question.

Steve Hodgins 43:09
Well, I mean, I think it's also it's also who you're surrounding them with, yeah, what are the nature of the words, you're asking them to say, you know, I listen, I I have found at times that the hero of a production has had been the, the, the costume designer, yeah. Or the prop man. Or, you know, the skinny knife that Brad has, and legends of the fall that was the built and that somehow becomes this, this thing and I and obviously, the the DP who creates this universe, everybody, if you're if you have those magnificent people, they are also creating this edifice on which the performance then can rest, but the edifice is already higher up and the performance is already lifted in some way. So it's, it's, it's, it's about everybody else, too. And of course, not me. I sometimes think that it's the hair and makeup, people who are in the trailer, who are the first people to see that see the actor in the beginning of the day. And the last people to see them at the end of the day, that are as instrumental in giving them that sort of confidence to to go out there like on a, you know, those umbilical lines that the guys go out on a spacewalk, you know, out there, they're out there in zero G, and you're back behind the camera with a cup of coffee, but but they're out there and they have to feel like they're like they're being taken care of and supported.

Alex Ferrari 44:39
Now, another another theme I've seen in your films is just the massive scale of many of your films. It's just so many like very, you know, just very epic films from legends of the fall to The Last Samurai to glory. As a director, how do you work with such a massive Live, not only crew, but just the 1000s hundreds, if not 1000s of people that might be in front of the lens sometimes. How can you like because I look, I have a, you know, when I'm directing, I'm directing a scene, I'm directing a scene with four or five people in a room. And you just try to keep hold of two or three cameras, and making sure everyone's you know, just trying to take the narrative. How can you even grasp that man?

Steve Hodgins 45:23
I know this, this is gonna sound a little bit fatuous. But I think it's it's just as hard to direct a scene with five people in a room as it is with 500. I think, you know, when you have 500, it's, it's about your canvas. What what is on your palate? And and in some odd way, there's more to photograph when there is 500 people out there, right? There's there you can juxtapose what's that that meyerhold phrase, neither, you can never be too close nor too far away. I mean, you have the you have the long shot, you have the great scale thing, which then juxtaposes to a close up you have, you have a kind of palette that is exciting. Action, certainly, particularly action where there is stakes that are emotional, where you're not looking at action for its own sake, but you're actually following the story. And that action has a purpose with that story that you're telling me that individual actor or that set of actors. And part of it is the thing that I never thought I would be well suited for it always having a certain amount of patience. I mean, you know, there, there have been there have been days when you arrive, it's 530 in the morning. And then about five hours later, six hours later, the ad says, okay, that's lunch, and you haven't got a shot. When, and, and, and, and Okay, and you know, you're getting written now it's three in the afternoon, and you're convinced that you're going to get fired, and you're going to have to lose student days, you have to get some confidence that you're going to then accomplish when you do those things, the things that you want that you've got the number of cameras, and then you've got the right shots, and you've done a shot list. I mean, II don't do shot lists of people in rooms and talking and whatever. But on those things, you damn well better have your shot list because you're not coming back there, you know, with 500 extras the next day?

Alex Ferrari 47:23
Yeah, so like, it's kind of like that old, that old story of john Ford on a script. The Indians take the fort. Like it's literally one line, but it took two weeks to shoot. And I'm assuming once you move that machine to reset that machine, that's another day, almost sometimes,

Steve Hodgins 47:41
there's so many great stories about that I won't bore you with and there's there's a great one about David lean, and they're setting the the the, the attack on aka but you know, without the camera without filming the cameras and, and, and there's, um, what was I gonna say there was another thing that reminded me of, of I, you know, yeah, you just have to that that's a real, that's about a kind of redundancy. I read a now something really weird has happened to the visual on the front, okay. I am I there's a book that I read by Rick Atkinson called the army at dawn. He's a Washington Post reporter about and it's about the Allied it was part of a trilogy about World War Two. And it's about the invasion of North Africa, which was an utter failure. And it's about all the preparations they had to do to create amphibious landings. Well, they'd never done them before, what is an obvious landing, they had invent the amphibious craft, and they had to understand about supplies and all of this. And it was about the redundancy of checking and rechecking and having these endless meetings with all of the departments and making sure that everybody's on the same page and, and being honest about you can and can't accomplish. And what they discovered when they did the landing, is they got it all wrong. But they never could have done D day if they hadn't fucked up so badly in North Africa. And so part of it is also making really stupid mistakes, as long as you then don't make them twice,

Alex Ferrari 49:27
then that's pretty much filmmaking. Not one one part of filmmaking that is not really taught in schools very often. And I know I felt I've had to deal with it I'm sure you have to every director has ever had to deal with it. Is the inevitable politics of being on set the hierarchy dealing with politics of actors or crew or studio or producers. Can you talk a little bit about how you as a director deal with those, those those panels Tick moments, which, when you have a group of people, it's going to happen.

Steve Hodgins 50:03
Yeal. well, you've you've mentioned, you know, by those seven people you've mentioned, if you if you triangulate them, you've mentioned about 49 different relationships, so, so maybe more, so I can only I'd have to talk about them somewhat separately. Um, the one thing I would say is I have over time, come up with a kind of an analog to what a film set is. And, and, and, and because it's not a startup, and it's not a team. It's not a business. It's this, a group of people all coming together with a common goal. But the goal is ephemeral. The goal is a story. And I think of it a little bit like the sort of like the sailing ships in the 16th century. Everybody on that ship is a master, the ship's carpenter, the sail maker, the cook, the navigator, everybody is really is an expert in what they do. Um, and at the front of the ship up in the in the in the prow of the ship is some guy with a big long beard, blown back by this spray in the wind. And he said, I don't really know the way, right, he has idea. But somebody's got to say that. And all the rest of them are probably capable of being that guy who's up there, but they don't want that gig. They're perfectly happy being in their own depart, doing their thing as experts, and also grumbling that the son of a bitch up there doesn't know what he's doing. But, but they're wonderful people, they might film people on a set are funny as shit, they are capable of working in long hours in inclement conditions with crummy food. And, and, and, and, and there's a love there. And there's a commitment to this thing. And it's, it's romantic, it's a beautiful thing. So generally, I find a crew to be just the best part of it are all that now, when you fold in the actors who have their own little world and their own set of issues, they have to be that they have to be dealt with in a very particular way. So as to be able to keep that separateness to a certain degree and be able to have the focus and the concentration that they need. But you'll also find that if actors are not in gratitude for their opportunity, or not aware of what's happening, they could lose a crew to an actor could get a crew to do anything for them. Or they could have a crew that's working against them. And it's all it's often a factor of what their nature is, you know, a little bit have a little bit of sensitivity on their part or kindness or awareness of what other people are going through goes a very long way. And and vice versa. Because a crew could sabotage an actor just in some very subtle but very unhappy ways.

Alex Ferrari 53:19
And when No, and I think the same goes for directors like it if you don't, I mean, I've had crews, I see I've been on sets where the crews are completely against the director, either in either in television, because television is even rough. And that's a whole other conversation. Yep. But in a feature world, they come in and if you just a little bit of kindness, saying hi to them, saying thank you, you know, all those little things, making sure that they that they're fed on time that these little little things go such a long way when you get when you're at our 12 and you need them to go another 30 or 40 minutes. Totally,

Steve Hodgins 54:01
totally and, and also I listen, I started I was very young, when I started really directing. I mean, I was maybe 26 wives, and I would do some of these shows at Universal. And those guys, you know, they had been working for 35 years, they've done 1000s of hours, right? And even when I started making movies, it became very clear to me that the dolly grip I was making my third movie so I shot six hours of film and he shot 600 and when I would start to say Okay, now we're gonna put the camera over and by the time I point he was already moving the dolly over to where the camera was going to be because he knew so so the part of it was actually surrounding myself with people who really knew much more than I did and trying to pay attention and really ask you know, dumb questions and and and try to listen

Alex Ferrari 54:57
their absolute absolute absolute

Steve Hodgins 55:00
When you when you try to then factor into the executives, and oh, yes, that's that's a whole other story about you know, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 55:08
that's another podcast, that's another podcast. Now, um, have you ever had to deal with an unprepared or difficult actor? And if you have what do you as a director? If it's a star, if it's a bit player, if it's if it's a secondary supporting character? How do you deal with that as an actor, as a director to keep the engine going?

Steve Hodgins 55:34
You know, I've dealt with actors who were too anxious to do well. And that's something you deal with. But when you deal with an actor who's not prepared, was drinking at lunch? At the bad scene, and I'm not sure I handled it very well, I'm not sure I even knew what to do. Because there's not much you can do. I suppose if you're in the position to fire someone, you can. But you also know that when you fire someone, you're also hurting yourself. Because the they're not going to necessarily say, Oh, it's fine. We'll go back and reshoot all this, and we'll give you all the time back, it'll inevitably hurt you in some way. I think there are two things. One, there are a lot of us, I think, who are perfectly willing to call each other out of the blue. And I won't mention names of guys who called me. But I could tell you that I have presumed to pick up the phone and call another director and say, before I work with this guy, I've heard something just talk to me, tell me honestly, this will never go any further. What am I looking at? What am I up against? Because that's the kind of honor among thieves. Yeah, if they've had a bad experience, they don't want they don't want you to have a bad experience. Directors, ironically, are very, are very supportive of each other, we may be competitive in some, in some industries mind as to who could do a better film, but any director who's been through it more than once, or has a life in it has real compassion for for their peers. So I will call people and they will call me and so that's one failsafe to avoid that thing happening. And only once I've been forced to use an actor that I didn't want to use that I heard stuff about. And it almost ruined, I think it actually did really hurt the third act of one of my movies, and I will not mention who that is, but it was, it was bad. And I hated it. And I should have fought it harder. It was because the movie was going out way over budget and that needed, they felt they needed another star and it was just a bad scene. So that was that. Um, but the other thing is, try to if there's a way that you know, you're not gonna get a movie star to read for you. Right? But you can, but you can try to spend time with them. And, and even though it seems awkward, really try to talk honestly and get the measure of who that person is. Because people will tell you who they are. I mean, there's, if you really listen, when you anybody in life, when you beat them, they want you to know who they are. And, and and if you can get past your own anxiety or your or your expectations, you know, I need this person to be in my movie, therefore, I'm going to like him. Right? In fact, what they're saying is crap, or what they're saying is terrifying about, you know, their, their entitlement or their, you know, pomposity, or, you know, they're ingratitude things that really make you crazy. You end up if you end up casting that person, then you get what you deserve.

Alex Ferrari 59:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Amen. Amen. Very, very, very true. Now, in Last Samurai, which by the way last summer is one of those movies that if it's on, it's a it's a remote throwing kind of throw away the remote kind of movie for me. Like if it's on wherever it is, in the movie, I just stopped Okay, I'm in I'm in and I'm, it's one of those films for me. I absolutely adore it. I also am fascinated with Samurai culture and cemetery history and I haven't recorded our autograph. In in, in the it's, it's on the wall in the back. I'm, I've got my samurai sword in the other room. I mean, I'm in so that's why when I saw that trailer for the first time, I was amazed. Some there's so many things in that movie that we could talk about, but The fight sequences in that film are so wonderful and so amazing. And I know Tom, from what I hear from other directors I've talked to who've worked with him, and also just the legend. He is a serious, committed, professional actor, and he wants to do everything himself.

Steve Hodgins 1:00:20
Yeah, I mean, yeah, there. Um, I would say, there is only one shot in that movie that Tom did not do. And that's when the horse that he's riding in the final charge takes a fall. Right? Right. Because, first of all, the insurance company would never let us do that. And I would never let him do it. Because the guys who did it were the gypsies from Spain, from zingaro, the great horse circus, who were the greatest writers in the world, and who had trained with those horses for four months before then. But he wanted to, but he wanted to do it. Oh, I'm sure and by the way, he's riding in the charge. He's, I'll tell you what he's in. He's in the charge on the on foot when the two armies come together and hit each other. Oh, he's in that shot that. But But what I remember is, is it was February, we didn't start shooting the movie. We till like September, October. So in February already, I remember he was renting a house someplace on the west side, and like, there was a tennis court there. And I went to go see him one night, and it was foggy, cold. And it was nine at night. And I remember walking down to the tennis court, and he is out there with a sword guy working out. And that's seven months before we shot the movie. And, you know, some of the learning Japanese. And I mean, you know, there was a great guy, a guy named Nick Powell very talented stunt guy who was really good with sword. But I also found that a lot of the Japanese had their own you know, experts and they had shot a lot of Samurai movies. And and there were there were some guys on that on that field of there were 700 Japanese who came to live in New Zealand with us, when we made that movie even created a village with our own doctors and diet and whatever. But there were guys on on that field who had been in those carousel movies. So and and there are certain guys in those battles, who must probably who die about 100 times, I think that it's

Alex Ferrari 1:02:46
as good as good stunt people. Do you just put another wig on them? Get them out there again.

Steve Hodgins 1:02:51
But But I do remember that literally. It was a kind of ghoulish exercise, certainly in that final battle about saying, okay, okay. What's another way to kill someone? How many ways are there that I could devise to kill someone? tell you another interesting thing. You probably like we there's the scene when that when the samurai first come out of the mist and they charge and they're on horseback and horseback week week, we built an app that's an animatronic horse. It was a million dollars to build a horse. That is probably only in about 28 seconds of film.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:36
How is that? That doesn't make a lot of sense ROI wise. Like there's not a really good return on investment or is there? I

Steve Hodgins 1:03:42
mean, seriously? No, it does. Because in the middle of this remarkable season, you have your movie star, doing things that you would never let a movie star do. Okay, horse rearing, turning sword bending, twisting to an end then getting t boned by another horse and going over.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:04
I guess you're right. I guess you're right. You're absolutely right.

Steve Hodgins 1:04:06
There's no other way to do it. And you save yourself. Okay, this whole sequence is going to be five minutes. If you got 30 seconds of that movie star doing that in the middle of it. It's probably worth it in a movie that cost $130 million. That million dollars was well spent. Yeah, but true.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:26
That's amazing. So like so that sequence that fight sequence in the in the back alley, the when the samurai surround Tom and that the way you shot that in the way that the timing and the slow mo and the way he the way he was thinking like the images. How do you approach a scene like that?

Steve Hodgins 1:04:44
Yeah, I am. I I read a I read a book by john McPhee talking about Arthur Ashe, and I think it might have been osuna playing a tennis match in the 60s. And it's a brilliant analysis of, of sport, but also competition and I remember him time trying to break down a tennis stroke into the composite motions of every change the weight and and and a vision and timing and and what the human brain might be capable of doing and understanding all at once. When you see a player in hang time twisting and reverse the ball and then going opposite Elio, since you know, things that are or I once had a cat, that I slow motion and dropping the cat from higher up upside down and seeing the cat come and find his feet with a kind of gyro ability that he would have. So the idea was to say, how would it be possible for someone because you know, in Samurai movies, when you see it, they're doing it, but it's very fast. And you're taking it on faith? That that's how it would have been. But I said to myself, okay, is there a way that we could literally break it down and see it, and do it in the reverse? Usually, what you do in action, or at least what I seen before, with action is some action starts in it immediately goes into slow motion

Alex Ferrari 1:06:33
Right?

Steve Hodgins 1:06:34
And that's how it happens. And I said to myself, well, what happens if we do it, and then find a way to then go backwards, and almost like that, that, you know, he's been training? Right. That's, that's why this makes so much sense. And when you're, when you're training it, you know, you train and you train and you train, and they try to say to you, and the whole theory of that was, which is what coaches used to say to me, if you did well, oh, man, you were playing out of your mind? Yeah, you're playing out of your mind. What does that mean? The zones are opening, you're only reacting,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:14
Right?

Steve Hodgins 1:07:15
So this first show him playing out of his mind, almost been unaware of what he had done. And then go back and almost to recapitulate it, in that penultimate moment, that leads up to the last moment, that was the whole theory. But Tom, I will say, Does every, and those guys are swinging, they're not they're not sharpened swords. But if one of those swords would have hit him in the face, or in the arm, that would have been, you know, the, if not the end of a career would be the end of a couple weeks of shooting. So, so imagine the amount of time that he spent rehearsing that with those guys to do that. It done all I wanted to show it all in one take first.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:05
Yeah, and that and the reason why all of that works so beautifully is because it works into his character. And that's what I love about that action sequence. It is it is a statement about what the character is gone through. It is not just an action sequence to look cool, which is fine. And there's those those stories in those films. But in this your action sequence are actually telling is a storytelling aspect. It's not just look how cool you swing a sword. It I mean, I believe I'm not interested in action for its own sake.

Steve Hodgins 1:08:36
I mean, I like it sometimes. So this is not who I am. I, if there's a reason. If something is accomplished narratively in it, then there's a reason for it to be in the movie. And sometimes that's a by design. It's great if you can reveal anything through behavior, rather than through exposition. And in this case, it It literally begins with that first scene with the character playing YuGiOh hero hero Yuki sanada when Cruz refuses to, to, to lie down, and get up, he's trading that stick Oh, so good. But it's a progression. And even that scene, by the way, which we did in the rain, which made it much more dangerous hurry for him. It happens to be a master. But that to have slipped if one of them slips at that moment in that wet, sloppy mud. That's just, you know, right out. So

Alex Ferrari 1:09:43
it is it is again and if anyone listening has not watched last time. Please do yourself a favor and watch it because the actual sequence is the story. I mean, I cry at the I mean, you're just tearing at the end of that. It's just so emotional and so well done. You go to something like Blood Diamond, which is again, another dis. I mean, it's not a war movie, per se, but it is a war movie. You know, there is definitely elements in that. And that's one thing I wanted to ask you. There is something I've noticed in your filmography as well, is there's a theme, a lot of the stories you tackle are deal with war, and even even pawn sacrifice about Bobby Fischer is a internal and external war of one character. So what draws you to that kind of material? Because it started way, way early with glory.

Steve Hodgins 1:10:37
I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:42
Because, I mean, you do see you sort of pattern, right?

Steve Hodgins 1:10:45
Yeah. I mean, look, I'm not the first dramatist to realize that, that in those extreme circumstances, you can find great story. And you got to go back to you know, let's start with Homer. Right, right. Right. And then and then the aliens are pretty good one.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:03
Time, it's okay. It wouldn't, it wouldn't have a good box office opening,

Steve Hodgins 1:11:06
I'm just gonna write and Shakespeare did, okay. With, with several different wars. And, you know, I mean, I, you know, in those moments, obviously, things are simplified. Yeah, the nuance of care, I had done plenty of ambiguity and ambivalence when I was doing 30 something and doing little, you know, modern, you know, behavioral comedy. But with this, there's an opportunity to juxtapose that kind of emotionality that's at the same, it's not strange to see that at the same pitch. Because that's the world that it's in the outside the external reality matches the internal reality there. So it doesn't seem stupid. For that to be at a certain depth of intensity.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:00
Now, the siege which is, by the way, one of my wife's and mine favorite films, which is he she adores that film. Um, she's the one thing I want to ask you there, it's an eerie Omen to 911 like you did that in before 911. How, how did you come up with that story? Because, I mean, imagine when you, you know, when you experience 911, you're like, oh, Mike, Oh, my God. I mean, it's Yeah,

Steve Hodgins 1:12:24
obviously, that certainly was a but

Alex Ferrari 1:12:28
comparing it to your to your story to your film, you're like, Oh, my God, this is? Wow. Well,

Steve Hodgins 1:12:32
I would say two things. One is that I was reading a lot about Europe, and what Europe was going through with terrorism. And, and I have a number of friends who went into government, and whom I could talk to write out what they anticipated. Because a lot of times, what seems like it's happening someplace else, is inevitably going to happen here. And I you know, and, and, and, and that only gets faster and faster. We look no further leaving in the pandemic, you know, which Oh, that's gonna be just over there. No. It is. It is one world in that regard. And, and so, I guess I was paying attention. I wasn't prognosticating. I was trying to pay attention to what was happening in the world. And, and I just felt that that was coming here. And by the way, the guy two people helped me on that script very closely. The first was Larry, right. Larry, right, who then wrote the looming tower. He's one of the greatest journalists of our day. And he wrote this book about the pandemic. A year ago, before this all happened. He's a, an amazing journalist who's paying great attention. And the others men omis, who's a friend and a great writer, he was actually I think he wrote a couple of the Indiana Jones movies and and he's a politically very savvy guy. So it was, you know, I had help. And I also had helped by talking to people from the, the the FBI, CIA, counterintelligence, Task Force, Task Force and and talking to people who were, you know, experts in the field of hostage negotiations, and at every stage, you know, if you're, I mean, I did have some experience at the very beginning of my life as a journalist, and I still hold on to the understanding that there's no substitute for talking to people and know what they're talking about. Especially if you bring a movie star with you.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:54
That always helps is what you're saying.

Steve Hodgins 1:14:56
Yeah, it really does. You mean then i would i would be there with the CIA with Annette Bening and and and and then would they would have stonewalled me at the minute she walked in it was like, Oh, wait, let me show you this secret document from like,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:12
what do you want to know who shot JFK? Like? Exactly.

Never underestimate the power of the star power of movie stars and trying to get anything done in this town in general. Now, you you have been, you've been a writer from for most of your career actually, I think it was in most of your career you've always been writing and you write most of you work that you direct. And then also you write scripts that are are, are that are not something that you direct. What is your writing process? Like? How do you get into it? Because arguably, directing 500 horses, taking a hill is probably easier than looking at a blank page. Yeah, I

Steve Hodgins 1:15:57
think that's a fair way to put it. I mean, I know that when I'm writing, I'd sure rather be out on the set with 500 horses, but I conversely, when I'm out there with 500 horses, I sure wish it would like to be back someplace else writing.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:11
It's, it's Yeah, it's always that yeah. So but what is so what is your process? Do you start with character? Do you start with plot? Is it Do you like what is that process for you?

Steve Hodgins 1:16:22
Hmm. I mean, I mean, I I do believe I mean, I mean, sometimes there are simple things I know when I when I started writing Blood Diamond. I Chuck Leavitt had written a very interesting script that really didn't have much to do with what we were doing but it was set in the time of you know, that the conflict diamond you know, moment and but I kept thinking and thinking about the story would be in as reading a lot of books and reading a lot of articles and talking to people whatever. And I came up with a phrase and the phrase was the child is the diamond. And like that, I put that on my like on a post it note and if you think about it, um, you know, the the the Solomon Vandy character is looking for his son. Leo is looking for the stone, Jenny Connelly is looking for a bus story. And somehow, the idea that the each had these goals were started it all spinning in my mind as to as to how one could, it's sort of a john Houston sort of plot really, where these different people have these different agendas, and they come together and, and apart. That's conceptual. And part of it is conceptual, I think, certainly, for samurai, no, Marshall and I, and john Logan, we've had because john Logan and I did the first drafts together. The idea that a man would end up turning against everything that he has been trained to do and believe in and fighting to the death for it.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:20
Right

Steve Hodgins 1:18:21
is a concept. Yes. How does that man get from that place to that place? And then we talked a lot about Samurai culture. We talked a lot about Zen. Um, so that's part of it. But the other part, I know is going to sound it's kind of sounds kind of hokey. But what's a movie that I really want to see that nobody else is making?

Alex Ferrari 1:18:46
Okay

Steve Hodgins 1:18:47
Can I entertain myself? Can I can I give myself the experience of doing this kind of doing this movie? Because while you write a movie, you are living it. And in fact, maybe the best performance of it is the one that nobody sees. It's the one that only you have been able to imagine and see in your mind. Because it's inevitably going to be reduced by compromise of money and time and performances,

Alex Ferrari 1:19:14
right.

Steve Hodgins 1:19:15
Is there any way that I can, you know, just sort of re imagine my experience of being a kid in the movies or that person at the Cinematheque at 22 years old? Just just been, you know, hypnotized by, by a thing that that really interests me.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:38
Fair enough. And that leads me to the next question. What drives you as a storyteller?

Steve Hodgins 1:19:48
Oh, look, you early in this conversation, you use the word calling?

Alex Ferrari 1:19:58
Yes.

Steve Hodgins 1:19:59
So I'll throw it At the end, I'll say, I'll say, I think that there is purpose. And I think there is value. In trying to hold a mirror up to our society, I think the storyteller had a role in the primordial cave cave, trying to explain to everybody why that saber toothed Tiger came and took that child away that day, or what that Eclipse meant, you know, that we've, we've, we've had a role. And it may be just to make people laugh, and it may be to to deal with their fears. Or it may be even to explain their own ambivalences or to give them language for something that they don't have. But but there's there is something of a ministry in it. And I and I do think that the reason that certain movies are memorable and others are forgettable is that the movies that are memorable, somehow dig into those personal secrets and, and internal workings of the mind and of the heart that that people want to explore. And they want to start with it. And when we are in movies, we are weeping for ourselves, we are weeping for those characters, but we're weeping for the parts of ourselves that identify with those people in that moment that have something of them or have experienced something, or will experience it. I had a conversation with James Newton Howard yesterday, who is a some wonderful composer with him. I've done several films. And he said, You know, people say they, they, they they, they make movies. Because they want to explore something they've experienced. He said, I write music, to experience something that I've never felt.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:06
Right.

Steve Hodgins 1:22:07
And that was so beautiful to me. It's very honest. And he and I want to have an experience. And and and then I want to offer it to other people. And that's a whole other way of sort of turning it around.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:21
Fair enough. Now I'm gonna I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I ask all of my guests. If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would that be?

Steve Hodgins 1:22:34
Be? be bolder,

Alex Ferrari 1:22:37
take more chances. Take more chances. You'll be okay. It's okay. Yeah, don't be so scared. Yeah. I'll agree. I'll agree with you that I feel like my 20s were a complete waste. Yeah. Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Steve Hodgins 1:22:59
Well, I mean, it's kind of remarkable in that, you know, with it with a consumer HD camera and, and avid for Mac and, you know, some you could make anybody can make movies now. I mean, I saw you actually had Shaun Baker on your show once before. Yeah. And, and and his first movie, and even a second. I mean, you you know, he, I think that it's not nearly so much about technology as it is actually coming to understand why you have any notion of telling a story. You know, what is it? The i i've never, yes, there's a whole world of people that, that make movies, because that's cool. And that's a comic book. And, sure, God bless them. And it's fine. It just, it just, it just does not, you know, my jam. But, but you've got to have something to say. You've got to, I would say, for a filmmaker, it's not just to look at other films, but to try to look at life and to read books about psychology and politics and science. And I think it's curiosity for the world about how people behave and how the world behaves. I just don't think it's about trying to figure out where to put the camera. Or, or or you'll you'll be, that was, by the way in going all the way back what I watched with Woody Allen, when I first was 21 years old. He didn't know any of that stuff. They were people I realized he was a writer who has somebody wanted to say and some of it was funny, and so it was emotional, but he had people who could help him learn that and he learned it and I loved it too. But I'd like to think that there were things that I was interested in beyond the process of making the film. I love the making of the film. And we've talked about that today even. And it's, it's delicious. But it's actually what's gonna give a film some kind of substance is something in it something worth saying.

Alex Ferrari 1:25:27
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Steve Hodgins 1:25:36
Boy. Yeah, I guess I would say that, when I was really young, and beginning, certainly in the, in the industry, that I thought that I was making movies, so as to get something else was to get fame or money or sex or, and some, some validation that I didn't get in childhood. And, and so so so my process was fraud, my process was contorted to some degree. And, eventually, and it took a while, I realized that, Oh, actually, it was the doing of it. That was the gift. I made movies, because I really liked doing it. I did it, for the joy of it. And, and, and the reward. It's not the credits on IMDB. It's not anything because they're all going to be forgotten. Like, everything is forgotten. It's it's, it's the the reward is the those relationships and the memories of, of the struggle, and, and the defeats and the triumphs, but to have the experiences that is that is the thing that that I have.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:08
And what you've just said is so perfect. So, so profound, that I just want to touch on it for a second because as as filmmakers, because I deal with independent filmmakers on a daily basis, and I've spoken to many over the years. And there is I mean to be a director in many ways there is there has to be some sort of ego there to be able to say I'm gonna, I'm gonna go do this. But a lot of them get caught up in the whole awards, or my legacy or what I'm going to leave behind or, or, or then of course, the more shadow things like rich, famous Sex, drugs, money, whatever that is. But if you look if you start to study history, you know, most filmmakers today, most people who really can name one Orson Welles film, can maybe name one or two john Ford films, unless you're a real cinephile can go in there. And at the end of the day, you know, no matter how many Oscars you've won, how many how many awards, you've gotten, what you said, is so profound, because it's about the experience, it's about the religious, it's about living life, it's about going through all that. And it's not about the awards. It's not about them, if you can make some money along the way, and when a couple of words along the way, great, but it doesn't mean anything. It's more about that experience. Would you agree?

Steve Hodgins 1:28:28
Think of the privilige of being an artist?

Alex Ferrari 1:28:31
Oh, god, yes.

Steve Hodgins 1:28:32
You know, and and by the way, it's it's it's maybe a pretentious to even use that word in film, because it's a film business. And so you're an artist, businessman, but whatever, you are sure. That rather than punching a time clock, or doing something that I despised, so as to get a pension, or, or deny, I have gotten up every morning, just excited. Now, what that day might hold, I've been given the privilege of exploring my imagination and my fears, or my fetishes, or my anxieties or my desires, and been overpaid for it, you know, really wildly over rewarded for it. And given some sort of sort of validation. I can't begin to describe, um, it's, it's that there's that commercial where it says, Oh, this thing is valuable. This thing is, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:29:34
right, right. Right. Right.

Steve Hodgins 1:29:37
Ivaluable, whatever. But no, I mean, that, that that is it. It is it is this astonishing privilege, and to have been in relationship with really great, brilliant people, artists themselves, really, you know, passionate people who care about what they're doing. You can't even can't even estimate its value.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:02
And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Steve Hodgins 1:30:05
Oh my god. Well, I named I already named no parasolid movies so you could take any one of those as

Alex Ferrari 1:30:13
many as fair enough, fair enough. I'll allow that cheat. Okay.

Steve Hodgins 1:30:22
Uh, I guess I have this movie that I really love. Um, yeah, it's by Ettore Scola. The Devil in Love. We all loved each other so very much.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:36
Oh

Steve Hodgins 1:30:37
It's in by Ettore Scola. It's an Italian movie that I really really love. It's going to be such a hokey thing to talk about, you know, to talk about you know, the Godfather one and two. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 1:30:49
sure.

Steve Hodgins 1:30:50
You say you throw the remote away. that's a that's a remote thrower away. I hope that if that movies on and it's 11 at night, I'm gonna be up till two you know it just

Alex Ferrari 1:31:02
I was seeing an interview with Tom Hanks once he's like, all things can be all answers are in The Godfather. Like if you have a question about life,

Steve Hodgins 1:31:11
it's true

Alex Ferrari 1:31:13
leave the gun, take the cannoli. That's a profound.

Steve Hodgins 1:31:17
And by the way, and and in and anything you want to know about, about about film about directing, is in The Last Samurai. It's narrative action, characterization, humor, pace. It's all there to staging. So if you had one on a desert island, it would be that one who want to learn go to film school be that one.

Alex Ferrari 1:31:38
Now I absolutely agree with you. And what it has been an honor and a privilege to talk. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It's really, really been great. Thank you for your time, and I truly appreciate it.

Steve Hodgins 1:31:52
All right, well, I really enjoyed it too. And best of luck with your with your show.

Alex Ferrari 1:31:58
I want to thank Edwards so much for coming on the show and dropping his knowledge bombs and sharing his experiences in the film business and hopefully sprinkling a little inspiration to keep the tribe going and following their dreams. Thank you again, so much, Edward. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at indie film hustle comm forward slash 447. And if you haven't already, please head over to filmmaking podcast.com and leave a good review for the show. It truly helps the show out a lot. Thank you again for listening guys. We've got some more amazing guests coming in the weeks and months ahead. I've been very, very busy. And we got some other stuff. I've been cooking up for you guys as well. So keep an eye out for that. Thank you again so much for listening, guys. As always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.


Please subscribe and leave a rating or review
by going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show?
Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors