BPS 347: Oscars®, Zombies, James Bond And Tom Hanks With Marc Forster

Marc Forster is a German-born filmmaker and screenwriter. He is best known for directing the films Monster’s Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004), Stay (2005), Stranger than Fiction (2006), The Kite Runner (2007), Quantum of Solace (2008), and World War Z (2013).

His breakthrough film was Monster’s Ball (2001), in which he directed Halle Berry in her Academy Award-winning performance; the film also starred Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger, and Peter Boyle. His next film, Finding Neverland (2004), was based on the life of author J.M. Barrie. The film was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Johnny Depp.

Forster also directed the twenty-second James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. In 2013 he directed the film adaptation of the novel World War Z, starring Brad Pitt.

His latest film is the remarkable A Man Called Otto.

Based on the # 1 New York Times bestseller “A Man Called Ove,” A Man Called Otto tells the story of Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), a grump who no longer sees purpose in his life following the loss of his wife. Otto is ready to end it all, but his plans are interrupted when a lively young family moves in next door, and he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol.

She challenges him to see life differently, leading to an unlikely friendship that turns his world around. A heartwarming and funny story about love, loss, and life, A Man Called Otto shows that family can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.

A Man Called Otto stars Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Cast Away), Mariana Treviño (Club the Cuervos), Rachel Keller (Fargo) and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven).

The screenplay is written by Academy Award® nominee David Magee (Best Adapted Screenplay, Life of Pi, 2012; Best Adapted Screenplay, Finding Neverland, 2004) based upon the best-selling novel “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, and the film A Man Called Ove by Hannes Holm.

The film is being produced by Fredrik Wikström Nicastro, Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks, and Gary Goetzman.

Enjoy my conversation with Marc Forster.

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Marc Forster 0:00
I feel once you connect with an actor to make them feel comfortable and understand the visions you have, that's the key thing.

Alex Ferrari 0:08
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Marc Forster. How you doing Marc?

Marc Forster 0:22
I'm good thank you and you Alex?

Alex Ferrari 0:24
I'm very good, my friend. So my first question we're going to jump right into it is, how did you get started in the business?

Marc Forster 0:31
You know, I grew up in Switzerland, in the mountains in Davos, and you know, surrounded by just nature and not much the parents in a TV. And I always had to play outside to entertain myself versus being entertained. And, and that's sort of inspired me to become a storyteller. The first time I saw a movie in a theater. So that's what I want to do.

Alex Ferrari 0:52
Now, how did you get involved with Monster's Ball because that was a such an impactful and crazy movie.

Marc Forster 1:00
You know, I made a movie called everything put together. And that premiered at Sundance. And the writers saw that movie and time producer, so they all saw it. And they said I would be right for it. And they were trying to get the movie made for like eight years. And the first first couldn't get made. And it was you know, originally Sean Penn directing was Robert De Niro, Sean Penn and Marlon Brando. And it was too expensive. And the first thing they asked me, look, we've been waiting to get this chance for all this time, we would make the movie with you. But can I make it for $3 million. And I made the Sundance movie for 50,000. I said $3 million. I couldn't do that. So that's how I started.

Alex Ferrari 1:40
So when you're when you were directing Haley and Billy Bob in that film, like, Did you just see what was going on with Haley's performance at that point, like, because she was amazing.

Marc Forster 1:51
You know, I didn't predict that she would win an Oscar at the time of shooting, but I definitely saw it when I saw performances, she was extremely powerful, extremely raw and vulnerable. And, and that's what we discussed, and we wanted to go for and that it felt real. And, you know, because how they, you know, is such a, you know, glamorous and beautiful human to really make it believable, the part I felt she worked extra hard.

Alex Ferrari 2:18
How did what advice do you have for directors who want to pull those kinds of raw and, you know, to those kinds of emotions out of an actor, what did you do to make her feel comfortable enough to be that vulnerable on screen.

Marc Forster 2:32
And, you know, ultimately, you you, you know, you discuss the part in depth in your vision and depths, and you communicate your vision. And I feel once you connect with an actor to make them feel comfortable and understand the visions you have, that's the key thing. I mean, for the most vulnerable scene between the intimate scene between Billy Bob and her, you know, there was a closed set, of course, and, and closed everything that they felt totally protected and safe.

Alex Ferrari 3:01
No, now you you made the jump from indie to slightly larger budgets, just slightly, from, from Monsters Ball to the James Bond, how did you handle psychologically the jump from 50,000 to 3 million to a couple 100 million?

Marc Forster 3:17
I mean, that there were a couple of movies between Yes, there was. So so, you know, I had like, I think finance they like for four or five movies in between. So I did the budgets increasingly much bigger. And you know, the one Catona was the one before the Bond movie, but still, it was only like the $25 million range. And it's, it's like, same thing if you have like a, you know, a small sort of boutique shop, or a boutique, you know, custom made shoe to store and then suddenly become CEO of Macy's or something. And, and it's a different thing, you suddenly have so many more people so many more questions. You're shooting seven, seven countries, seven countries all over the world, you know, this $20 million budget and, and history of a franchise that one of the most or the most successful franchise in history, and you suddenly it's suddenly when you start reflecting our thinking, I hope I am not gonna, you know, this is not an awkward guy that that ship is not gonna sink because otherwise my career is over.

Alex Ferrari 4:25
Right, exactly. So what does that feel like being on the set for the first day of shooting Quantum of Solace, and you just sit there like, okay, there's a million people running around trying to get this thing going, how did that feel being on the set on a Bond film such a legendary franchise?

Marc Forster 4:41
You know, to begin with, we started on purpose, the movie very intimate, was not some of the big big action sequences and big sets, so that it felt very familiar to me. I knew the territory. I knew how to do those, those scenes and and from that we started growing, but you know it what feels Like before, you're always under the radar, nobody really cares. And then suddenly a Bond movie and suddenly you have the world press attention on you. And that that is actually the biggest pressure and that I didn't know. So you don't you don't study don't think about that, that suddenly, everyone, and everyone will write about you. And before that nobody will hear.

Alex Ferrari 5:23
How did you deal with that psychologically? And how did that affect if it affected at all your creativity, or your process?

Marc Forster 5:28
I mean, the the process of movie was a tricky one, because there was a writer strike going on, at that time in 2008. So we had a sort of unfinished script, and then the strike was October to February. So it was very tricky. It was often just me, Craig and me in the trade are trying to figure out what we're going to do next. So so that was the even more pressure, I think, if it would have been a completed script that everybody said, this is fantastic. Let's just go and shoot it, it definitely deflates some of the pressure. But if you have something that's not completed, and you're suddenly stuck in that position, and you have a release date, in place, only five weeks to cut the movie. It's, it's kind of intense.

Alex Ferrari 6:09
Now in I mean, obviously, you also worked on World War Z, which is another small, independent budget. How did you deal with the stress of heading up such big productions? I mean, as a director, there's just so many people in so many departments, and you still trying to be creative and still be intimate with your actors? How do you handle that stress?

Marc Forster 6:29
Um, you know, I'm like, it's interesting. I like it was the it's for the mob Israel sequence when the zombies came over the wall. Yeah. Remember that sequence? Of course. So when I drove in the morning, I had a driver drive me to set in multiway, shelter and alter, and we came to set and we pulled up. And he looked at 2000 extras and helicopters in the air and buses and vans going on Friday night, but a driver literally had an anxiety attack, just looking at it.

Alex Ferrari 7:01
Not helpful.

Marc Forster 7:03
And I was like, whoa, what, what are you doing today? So you just go out and you just have to focus and you can't, you have to plan out all the chatter. Yeah. And I think that's one of the key things for directing in general. You know, you have so many voices always in general, from the financier, studio, actors, producers, whatever they do, we stick to your vision, you when you hear chatter, it takes some some stuff you like, but ultimately, you have to stick to your vision. And I think it's part of the art in that to be able to stay calm and blend it out.

Alex Ferrari 7:35
Now, as directors, you know, there's always that day that you feel like the entire world's coming crashing down around you. I'm assuming you have that every day. But um, there's more than there's that one day on any production, that you don't know how you're gonna get through. So what was that day on any of your productions? And how did you overcome it?

Marc Forster 7:51
I think, you know, I would say when we're shooting in western China, the Katonah our line producer forgot two hours before digital it was still wishes to do film. And Atlantis forgot to order film. So so we sort and left you know, short ends. So basically, where we're shooting these scenes, there was a six minute dialogue scene and only have like two minutes of film. So I couldn't tell the actor you can only piecemeal this and she was doing as a piece of so the actors like actors are playing six minutes of roles and acting the harder but only two minutes of filming it. So at the end, I knew there was no film and then I peed I basically next time I'd just shoot the middle and then the end. But sometimes the actress didn't ascend Why do you do so many takes and the second we got it then it was so great. And and but they weren't aware that was super stressful is thinking of these great performances, but you don't have to go on film. And just telling them oh, you know, we don't have a film in the camera right now. Which is like out wasn't, wasn't the right thing to do.

Alex Ferrari 8:56
Now on your new film, a man called Otto which by the way I saw and absolutely loved this such a beautiful film. And Tom Hanks is this newcomer Tom Hanks is fantastic. By the way,

Marc Forster 9:07
A real discovery.

Alex Ferrari 9:09
A real discovery without question. How did you get involved with this project? And also like, it seems like you're going back to your roots a little bit. It's a very intimate film, very small in scope comparatively to the other big things you've done over the over your career.

Marc Forster 9:24
Yeah, you know, I wrote the book, and I was so touched and moved. And I laughed, and I cried, and then I saw that was a Swedish version of the film, which I saw was good, too. So this movie, we have to become a very conversion out of this because it's so you know, it's so funny, but it's also so touching and dark. And it's like both but ultimately, it's a life affirming film. And what I loved about it brings the neighborhood back together. I think we are also divided these days. And I think that still at the end this is you know this I always feel like it's one country where we all need to work together. And even though we have different point of views, and there are so many different characters on that street, which is so sweet, and I like the new neighbor, the Mexican family that moves in across the street, who she comes over and tries to use English food. And I think food is one of those great things that we can literally all share, which, which definitely wants was someone's heart, but she's so persistent, that neighbor that her name is Mariana Trevino, marriage plays Mosel that autos character, who Tom Hanks plays, just that ultimately can't keep us opens up. He can't, he can't take it anymore.

Alex Ferrari 10:40
Do you? Do you still get nervous when you're directing people like Tom Hanks, like, on the first day on set? You're like, Tom Hanks is here.

Marc Forster 10:49
I mean, no key is I love that. And I think he's one of the greatest stars ever. He's definitely, you know, greatest town that we work with. I mean, it's so extraordinary. You know, after 40 years, he still loves what he does, and, and is a big movie star. And he comes in the morning and he sits on set and he never leaves. He's like, in like a meditation. And, you know, usually stars of that caliber, you take to take that out to trainer, he never he stays there all day long as a crew, he just sits there with the crew, and then you realize, change, life doesn't leave. And it's just this concentration and this sort of just being there. It's pretty, pretty special.

Alex Ferrari 11:29
How do you approach the different? How do you approach different acting styles? And you're directing? Because, you know, Tom Hanks is very different than a Halle Berry. That is different than a Brad Pitt? Like how do you adjust multiple characters in the same scene?

Marc Forster 11:43
Yeah, it's basically you, you have to, like find a way to get to connect and see what what the actor needs or not, and how open they are, and how willing you know, some of you know how, how willing they are to collaborate. And I was pretty lucky throughout my career that I always worked with actors who were very open. And we had, I never had, like, you know, the sort of nightmare situation, and that they were very focused and prepared and, and on time, so I never dealt with, with with the, with the Divas of the show business, which I'm, I'm very, very blessed. But at the same time, you just see what what they need, and really try to feel them out. Because sometimes it's better to say nothing than too much said, because sometimes the actor needs that space, and they find it and you as a director, maybe just have to say maybe we can just try a different prop, you know, try this or that it's less than giving you a demo direction is let's try something a different direction. So so that's, you know, how it how it really from person to person difference?

Alex Ferrari 12:47
And how did you balance the darkness of the story with the humor, because you did it so masterfully because you? I mean, you definitely touch upon very, very dark themes in this in this movie, but yet you're laughing and crying and dealing with those things. It's a very fine balancing act you did.

Marc Forster 13:05
Yeah, it's it's a lot of it is in editing because you know, we obviously shot a little bit more here and there. But it's it's finding this balance also, between the flashbacks and present day that you go, you don't stay too much in the flashbacks to come back that emotion. So stay connected with Tom and in the present day. And also in the, in the flashbacks. Ultimately, they just give enough information that creates sort of a mystery and enough for you to wanting to keep watching. And it's juxtaposing sometimes the dark was the humor strangely direct, you know, when places the hinge breaks, and he's on the floor, and he lands right next to the paper wisdom was the you know, yes to $5. And then he says, Let me get that takes you right back into the human.

Alex Ferrari 13:51
Right. It's just like, like, what is he's just did that. And he's like, no, like, it's a good, good. So the deal I gotta keep so beautiful. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions, ask all my guests Marc, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Marc Forster 14:08
I mean, ultimately, I think that, you know, today, you know, you can make your film on your phone. Basically, what it really comes down to is a great story. And I think also, when you find your story, the more personal connection you have with that, the better. It's either, you know, if you don't have the funds, I would recommend to do a short and then have the feature script ready. So you shoot the short and then say, look, there's my short and this feature is going to be and that's how you know how to raise money and, and figure it out and get actors and people that would love the short that's that's take our bet on this guy, or to make a feature for if you can raise the money. But no matter what it all comes down to the script, that the script is really strong and be free. I think it's important to keep it to other people to read the script to have them have a look, get feedback and just keep working. on that, but I think the stronger the script is better. And another thing is, once you make a movie, and you have a movie that works, let's say at Sundance or any of the festivals and someone buys it, that you have a second script ready, because you don't want to too much time say, Oh, I have nothing, I have to write another script or find something for next year or two, to get that going. But at that time, we live in such a fast society that that might have been too late. So I think to have a second project ready is important as well.

Alex Ferrari 15:29
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Marc Forster 15:37
I think, you know, patience is definitely something you always have to learn, like, even sitting in traffic and staying home. You know, it's like impatience with these people was, you know, as your kids was everything it's like, just to be patient. I think it's really a hard one.

Alex Ferrari 15:56
Um, what did you learn from one of your greatest failures?

Marc Forster 16:01
Yeah, you know, they always say Silicon Valley is built on failures. And seeing failures are truly key for an artist for anyone, because you learn from them. For instance, after Finding Neverland, I made a film called stay. That wasn't Ryan, Ryan Gosling only walks great task where you McGregor great cars. And, and it the critics didn't love it, the artisan love it as part of a little bit of a following throughout the years. But when ultimately, when I made that movie, I think, why doesn't this print that movie work? And then I and out of that movie came straight from fiction, which also is sort of absurd and comedic. But then we worked and I was able to make that sort of absurdness that movie emotional. And it wasn't able to do that in state, even though visually is cool and compelling. But it ultimately didn't connect with people emotionally. And, and strain. Friction that so.

Alex Ferrari 17:05
So then, in the hardest question of all three of your favorite films of all time?

Marc Forster 17:10
Three of my favorite films. Well, I mean, it's a tricky one. You know, like, I love a lot of the dead directors. You know, I love I think in my Birdman, Swedish director, I would say like wild strawberries of his own, we really enjoy it. I, you know, I mean, there's three. There's a tough one,

Alex Ferrari 17:33
Three today. I know it changes tomorrow. So it will be on your tombstone. Don't worry.

Marc Forster 17:38
That, you know, I like you know, I always loved the Marx Brothers duck soup.

Alex Ferrari 17:46
It's so good. It's still, it still holds today.

Marc Forster 17:50
Yes. And I think Howard harps bringing a baby. It's one of my favorites. Because I just love how fast that dialogue goes, and how she performs that. And that's also one of my favorite films.

Alex Ferrari 18:04
And where can people watch A Man Called Otto.

Marc Forster 18:08
Hopefully, they all will watch it in the theaters. Because it's a movie that really, you should experience in a theater. And it's one of those movies, you know, people seem to come and come out for it. And it's something you want to expense together. You laugh and you cry. And you don't want that alone alone at home for TV. So right now, it's still theaters for next couple of weeks. So please go and support it.

Alex Ferrari 18:29
And very last question. I'd love to hear your opinion on this. Yeah, as a filmmaker, we grew up as filmmakers, we grew up loving movies at the theater. But that seems to be it becoming more and more of an endangered species unless there's certain kinds of films. What do you what are your What are your hopes for the future, my friend because it's tougher and tougher to get people at the theater nowadays.

Marc Forster 18:51
You know, Man Called Otto was the kind of movie Hollywood used to make. Yeah. And they don't make very much anymore. And I ran into a few people answered, really, they said, we have hope again, because the main hook auto seems like people came out to see it. And we didn't think those kinds of movies would stop in a theater. And I'm so glad they came and supported the movie. And I hope you know that people keep coming out for movies like that, because that will keep those movies alive because the financier is obviously in the studio's will not pay for a movie when no one shows up. And they very quickly have the algorithms you know that so many people don't. The decisions today are not being made anymore by the gods by like the old studio heads or people it's mostly made by algorithms and marketing. So can I market a movie with who is more can we sell it? They run these numbers and that's that's how it gets done mostly.

Alex Ferrari 19:45
Marc it's a pleasure talking to you my friend. Please keep up the fight the good fight, my friend, keep making the films you're making. I really appreciate it.

Marc Forster 19:52
Thank you so much, Alex. Have a good day! Take care!

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