Today on the show we have Sundance-winning producer Jonathan Baker. His new film Sylvie’s Love is the talk of Sundance 2020. Sylvie’s Love is an upcoming American drama film, written and directed by Eugene Ashe. It stars Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Regé-Jean Page, Aja Naomi King, and Eva Longoria. It will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2020.
Jonathan is a wealth of information. In the episode, I pick his brain on what it was like winning the audience award at Sundance, how the indie film market place is changing, and much more. His last Sundance-winning film was Crown Heights which was later sold to Amazon Studios.
In 1980, police in Brooklyn, N.Y., wrongfully charge Trinidadian immigrant Colin Warner with murder. Convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, Colin spends 20 years in prison while his friend Carl King fights for the young man’s freedom.
He made his directorial debut with the stoner comedy Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime. Check out the trailer below.
In this absurdist satire, an awkward OCD physics genius and a hot ex-Catholic sorority girl wake up after blacking out Halloween night to discover they missed the evacuation of Earth. A mysterious agent pursues the feuding couple as they figure out how to work together to solve the recently entangled multi-verse and ultimately try to save humanity from AI.
Here’s a bit more info on today’s guest.
Jonathan Baker (JB) is an independent filmmaker, adjunct professor, and artistic coach. His company JB Productions, Inc. has many partnerships with artists JB develops and produces. He is a member of the Producer’s Guild of America.
JB worked at Sony Pictures Entertainment, first in television research, then at Screen Gems and TriStar Pictures as Marketing Manager. He marketed over forty major theatrical releases, of which ten films achieved #1 at the box-office status. He Co-Producer the documentaries Fang vs. Fiction (airing on AMC), The Real Exorcist (A & E), and Real Premonitions (A & E). Films of note include Closer (dir. Mike Nichols), Adaptation (dir. Spike Jonze), Big Fish (dir. Tim Burton), Boogeyman (#1 at the box office), Underworld (#1 at the box office), In The Cut (dir. Jane Campion), You Got Served (#1 at the box office), the Resident Evil franchise, and Exorcism of Emily Rose. While at TriStar, Lords of Dogtown (dir. Catherine Hardwicke), Oliver Twist (dir. Roman Polanski), Running with Scissors (dir. Ryan Murphy) and Silent Hill.
Johnathan’s new film The Banker starring Sam Jackson and Anthony Mackie comes out March 2020 on Apple TV+.
Two African American entrepreneurs in the 1950s hire a white man to pose as the head of their company while they posed as a janitor and a chauffeur and ran the business.
Enjoy my conversation with Jonathan Baker.
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- Jonathan Baker – IMDB
- Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime
- The Banker
- Crown Heights
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 2:48
I like to welcome the show, Jonathan Baker, man, thank you so much for being on the show, brother.
Jonathan Baker 4:43
Good to see you, man. Good to see you.
Alex Ferrari 4:45
Good to see you too, man.
Jonathan Baker 4:46
Thank you for having me. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 4:47
Ofcourse, man, of course. So before we get into the movie you directed and your new Sundance movie that you've produced. How did you get into the business?
Jonathan Baker 4:58
Okay, good. Yeah. I I was dyslexic growing up. And so I was bullied as a kid quite a bit. And my mother discovered I could. I had like a habit of tapping on tables and stuff and rhythm. And so I became a musician, as I was learning how to read, and they kind of sponsored every curiosity I had in the performing arts. And so I went from like, drum lessons to trombone lessons to piano lessons to singing lessons to ballet, jazz tap, you know, I was on musical theater like I was the Glee kid before there was Glee.
Alex Ferrari 5:34
So you were so so you were super cool. That's what you're saying.
Jonathan Baker 5:37
I was the super nerd. I was the guy that everybody hated all the theater the fucking the. the jocks wanted to beat me up. You know, they were threatening me.
Alex Ferrari 5:47
Were you in a lot were you placed in a locker? Sir?
Jonathan Baker 5:50
I Dude, I was threatened so many times. Oh, me, too. I but I luckily had a good friend on the football team who actually defended me and he was like, my buffer. Ben, God bless his soul. He passed away whatever they are me. But um, yeah, so I had some heroes along the way, whatever. And at the end of the day, my mother passed away when I was 20. And I stopped performing. And I got into the business side, and I just became, I thought, okay, I'm just going to learn how the money works in the financing works. And just stay active that way until I kind of get over this crazy loss I had. And that that that that was it. I, you know, started right after going to University of Michigan School of Music for musical theater. I graduated and went to New York and just got a job on Wall Street to support myself started spending money on shows that I thought would be interesting place to produce, then left Wall Street to go to the nederlanders. And that was my first big entertainment break. Working for Jimmy Nederlander so.
Alex Ferrari 6:53
So you basically you got into the stable business of the music industry. And then you went into the stable business of stage and Broadway. And then you said, No, no, no, I need something more stable. Let's get into this.
Jonathan Baker 7:05
Yeah. Yeah, my as my dad says to me, my brother's a surgeon. My dad's like, well, john, you're a risk taker.So I'm like, Yeah, thanks Dad. Dan Baker.
Alex Ferrari 7:19
Yes, exactly. Alright, so let's talk about Sylvia's love, which is now as of this recording, is in the Sundance 2020 lineup. It is competition, right. Is it in competition?
Jonathan Baker 7:32
Alex Ferrari 7:33
So it's in competition, which is a very small group. I mean, presently, what are we talking about? 20 films in competition. 30
Jonathan Baker 7:42
10 intermap, tenant dramatic competition.
Alex Ferrari 7:45
Yeah, it was tenant dramatic. So um, so you are like the one of the one of the one of the 1% that actually, yeah, the stats are really crazy. 15,014 15,000 Films 15,000.
Jonathan Baker 7:58
I look at this like, because I mean, I've been going to Sundance since 97. That was my first short film as an actor was in there. And it was an entirely different festival. Now. It's just I feel, I feel for the community of filmmakers who submit. It's such a tricky thing. And I just look at it and like, it's just it's a crazy, it's a crazy ride, you know, so, everybody, everybody who tries and submits should get a valor award. It's just, you know, you finished the movie. Everybody should get together and be in a stadium and have a rage at a party and be like, yes. But it's it's pretty amazing to be there. And actually, you know, kind of take the take the real right of it.
Alex Ferrari 8:36
So you know, it's funny that I heard Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez. I think even Linkletter all of them said that if they would submit slacker clerks or El Mariachi today, they would never get it. I know. It's a really, really different market. Yeah, it's really interesting. Yeah. So let's talk about Sylvia's love will tell us a little bit about the movie.
Jonathan Baker 8:59
Saudis Love is an amazing movie, and the fact that it's actually being made now. And it's, it's it's a very interesting sign of the times, in my opinion, as a producer, Nandi and I were attracted to the script, because it had so much jazz, and it was just a beautiful script that Eugene had written. And we we always look for things that are really sort of, not in the mainstream, that are really sort of side over to the side that nobody else is going to make this we should do it. And so the story is really what makes it relevant today because Tessa plays a young debutant African American girl growing up in Harlem and she wants she has a passion she wants to be a TV producer. So she's very she has She's like a modern girl and is sort of a bygone era and and with that she falls in love with sort of the wrong type of guy which Nandi and I really related to because we're both musical guys and It's he he plays a saxophone player. And so their relationship is really, really sort of this beautiful love story and test his character Sylvie really has to negotiate between her her ambition to be successful to be a woman, you know. And so she, she goes through this sort of process where she really makes some tough decisions in her dilemma between the love of her life clearly, and her career. And she has to reconcile those two things. And so she is a female breaking the glass ceiling story, which is what sort of made it was like, but this is a great story to make today. Because this is so fundamentally a part of the Zeitgeist, the culture, the you know, sort of the world that we live in. And yet it sort of operates because it's in the 19, late 50s, and early 60s, it's sort of beautiful in that it just, it's, it's just this time capsule, it's very classy, it's super romantic. And I think it really just plays it's whimsical, it's sweet, it's charming, it's heartfelt, it has certain moments that you really feel for these characters and what they're trying to do with their lives and how complicated sometimes it gets. And then ultimately, just kind of, you know, how it works itself out. So it's, it's pretty neat. It's been a, it's been a very special film, I've worked on a lot of different kinds of movies. And I tell you, I was talking to Eugene, last night Look, man, you know, this is a very special film, or I'm very proud of it. I think it's just, it's an honor to be a part of the team. And it's just great. It's great to see it sort of have a moment at Sundance, because it really doesn't feel like a Sundance movie. It feels very, you know, big comparatively to the kinds of things that Sundance tends to focus on. And that's, that's why I think it's getting sort of its own sort of buzz. You know,
Alex Ferrari 11:54
what, in your opinion, what are the films at Sundance focuses on, because that has changed dramatically over the years?
Jonathan Baker 12:01
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think I think when we did Crown Heights, like when I read that script tonight called Nanda said, this is the movie that we did make. I had been going as a buyer for Sony, I had gone as a filmmaker, I'd gone as a professor, and I've just I've seen it sort of move and shake and kind of zig and zag a lot. But, but Sundance really does something which I think is sort of unique and and to be revered, which is that it really focuses on an independent spirit. Like it focuses on truly unique filmmaking voices. And for that, it's sort of it can kind of go everywhere, but it has this counterculture to whatever you see as the mainstream box office. You know, Sundance is sort of leading the way in the independent space, so independent, that Sundance you know, so it's interesting to find, and to work on a movie that has what I you know, if I put on my old marketing studio brain, this is a, this is a bigger, you know, cross, if it is our house crossover, it's not even our house crossover, it feels like a more mainstream kind of studio movie. And I think the reason that it is there, and the reason that I think it got picked is because it tackles the more interesting sort of frame of what, what's happening with race and what's happening. And it doesn't, it doesn't, it doesn't go to the obvious. It's not about, you know, African Americans, sort of like being subjugated, like Crown Heights was, this is about classy, beautiful, intelligent African Americans living a beautiful life and figuring out how to make the best life for themselves right now, which is strangely independent. You know, to me, that's what makes it so Sundance he, it just doesn't look like a Sundance movie, because it's got this sort of a certain scope to it. But thematically, it's very Sundance. And so that's what I think is fascinating about the fact that it's there.
Alex Ferrari 14:01
Now, how did you attract such great talent? I mean, you have a great cast on this movie.
Jonathan Baker 14:06
Yeah, that's, that's interesting. I think that first and foremost, it's because it truly is a great script. It was it was a beautiful script. And then I think in terms of at least produce orally, as you know, it's just like, you climb up the ranks. And luckily for us, when when when Crown Heights got the audience Choice Award, there was this, okay, what do you guys gonna do next? And we looked around, we were like, you know, we had sort of a third and a fourth movie and focus, but but we weren't at that level. We needed to find something in sort of the middle range. And this movie, it was brought to us by an extraordinarily amazing woman, Gabrielle Glor, who, who's really connected, and UK Nash, who also has his own sort of legacy in the entertainment space, and then And then Nandi I think nominees, especially multi hyphenate and his ability to not only pick talent, identify the right kinds of people to go to carry bharden casting director exceptionally well respected and it just became sort of a could we go to first that can create the right old lineage for every other decision that focused on the Sylvie role, we had a couple of people in mind. And then it was, it became clear to us that there was something special happening with Tessa, not only because of her legacy at Sundance, but also because she was starting to kind of really get, you know, at a certain point where sort of her star power could hang a budget, like Sylvie and there was this, you know, I was a fan of her work in a couple of other things that were independent. But then with Westworld, and men in black, and I was at Sony, there was sort of a lot of, sort of, I don't know, there was a lot of synergy around her, we became friends with her because she she came out and started to sport Crown Heights in a certain way. And then, you know, there was this sort of, you know, I like to say there's this dating period where everyone kind of like, you know, investigates and everyone's sort of like talking to each other and try to are these people like and kind of go to war with, because that's what independent filmmaking is. And, and then in terms of what happened after that, Nandi was doing this beautiful play off Broadway and Tessa just showed up to see it. And I don't think that she really recognized. I mean, nobody really knows Nabis sort of talent. I mean, that's the hard part about moving from the NFL, to saying I want to be an actor, and I was just like, Look, dude, if you're gonna do this, we have to kind of do anything but ballers. So let's figure out this, this path over here. So it was really validating for I think her and other people to see Nandi on stage, being an actor, and really doing it the right way. Like, he's gonna go do an off Broadway play in at 99 seat theater in Union Square. I mean, this is an amazing thing. And that that really, I think, earned a lot of respect in the community. And for that, it was really, you know, after that, you know, test was like, I want to do this, and the team, everybody liked it. And we said, Look, here's what has to happen. Unfortunately, we have to kind of fit it in between these two, you know, megalithic sort of like spaces that I'm in the middle of. And so we kind of backed into that. Once we had, I think, Tessa and Nandi, then it became sort of a, sort of a, you know, kind of who's the perfect person or in my, in everybody's mind, and the team who's really, really the best person to play each role. And then it became just kind of reaching out to those people, one at a time. And, you know, there are a lot of characters in this movie, Nandi was inherently focused, while we were manufacturing the movie, I think he was the one really focused on casting most of the time and really making sure it was done meticulously, well, like he is, and it came into focus. One, one character at a time.
Alex Ferrari 18:04
It's great. Now, how do you how do you budget a story like this? That it is, you know, you know, hitting a smaller demo than, let's say, the Avengers? Yeah, in today's in today's world, which, yeah, it's harder, harder for the audience to find the films that filmmakers are making.
Jonathan Baker 18:21
Yeah, for me, you know, and one of the things that I kind of take my students through at Carnegie Mellon, where I teach, we, typically we use a lot of cops, where we're talking about other movies with the filmmaker, like, we spent a lot of time with Eugene, saying, what in this, what is the movie look like in your mind? You know, and what does the movie remind you of what other movies does it remind you of so we had some pretty interesting comps you know, like Carol and that kind of stuff, that kind of tapped tapped a certain sort of spot. And, and we were very committed to kind of really making it very authentic. So we, we just really invested in Eugene's vision for that. And that included shooting in on 16 millimeter, and, you know, really, just really putting a lot behind the locations. And the real look of the movie, it was extraordinarily mean. Everything that you see everything that we invested is on the screen. It's not in the actor salary. I'll tell you that much. And it was a labor of love.
Alex Ferrari 19:28
And it was shot on Super 16. Yeah, nice.
Jonathan Baker 19:32
Yeah, exactly. Quinn. The dp is such a wonderful guy. It I've never seen a movie graded so smoothly by harbor and Joe, but it was already in the dailies, like I've never seen a movie come out after being developed and look as good, as Sylvie did. And I was like, this is really something else.
Alex Ferrari 19:57
Like a dp who knows what they're doing. It's shocking. I mean, What are we going to what are we going to do in color? Not much, you know, it's really something. Yeah, we're always we're always so used to the raw like, flat look now that you like and you see some no lots no nothing. And now when you see like, that's what filmmaking wonderful. Oh, no, when I was like, What is this? What ever seen this for? I don't know. It's been years it's been I remember I've worked with DPS like that. You're just like, wow, you. You kind of know what you're doing. It's Yeah, it's refreshing. Oh, yeah.
Jonathan Baker 20:29
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. And he, he and his entire team, were actually just really lovely people. Like, you know, it was nice
Alex Ferrari 20:37
in and I wanted to touch on that real quick that filmmakers a lot of times don't realize how important the team that you're putting together is, because you are you are going to a war with these people. And if you've got, if you've got, I mean, look, we all have egos, that's fine. But we have to keep them in check. And we have to, you know, put the movie first and all that kind of stuff. But there's, if you pick the wrong people, man, it destroys. It just it just destroys the right. So at any moment, like a film like the film I did, the one that I shot at Sundance, I had a very small crew, if anybody, including the cast, any one of them would have decided to give me attitude. Yeah, it's tough. So can you talk a little bit about the importance of building that team? Yeah, I
Jonathan Baker 21:22
think that we work with the one of the most complicated art forms humankind has ever come up with, you know, and the the amount of collaboration that goes into a movie is absolutely. It's like, I don't, you know, it's, it's, it's pretty amazing. And I sometimes look at I tried it, I tried it, you know, because I, you know, like you do you get people who want to do this kind of stuff. And they're like, Look, I'm writing a script. I'm like, let me try to be clear. We are not building a tree fort. We are building a skyscraper. There is a lot of physics that goes into that building, you know, and it looks, it doesn't look like that. You know, but it looks
Alex Ferrari 22:07
easy. It looks easy. Yeah. Yeah. It's like
Jonathan Baker 22:10
trying to create some metaphors for people to really get it. I come from a military background, my I'm a military brat, my, my, my, every single male in my entire family went into the military, except my brother and I, and after I started making movies is like, Oh, this makes a lot of sense. This is like going to war I might, you know, like, I mean, thankfully, nobody really, hopefully usually dies. But the the idea of the the system that it takes to support the filmmakers is absolutely jaw dropping. So every single key, every single person on the set, their energy, their flow, their intelligence, their creativity, it's all quite important, all the way down to the PA is I mean,
Alex Ferrari 22:52
it's the synergy. It's a synergy. Amazing synergy. I
Jonathan Baker 22:55
mean, it's absolutely great to see people working together. And of course, you know, by the time you're done with 30, some odd days or whatever how many days you're shooting, everybody is such a family. It's just unbelievable.
Alex Ferrari 23:06
I always I always equate it to being a carnival worker, because like a party because we are all carnies, we go off to a location, we put up our tents, and put up a tent, you do a show, you're really it's you and your team against wherever you're at, basically. So you're kind of like you're relying on each other, then you put the tent, then you put the tents down, you pack up and you go to the next town. But when the show is over, it's like, Oh, it's such relationships made on set are so intense that 20 years later, you can run somebody and go, doo, doo doo. Where have you been? And then you sit down and you have some drinks you like remember that time where the the giraffe got in the backseat? How did that happen? Yeah,
Jonathan Baker 23:54
everybody's got this. The stories are what actually make this business go? Because like, everything else, like what? What are you talking about? Like, oh, but you remember when this? Oh, that was great.
Alex Ferrari 24:04
It was very painful at the time. But now it's, it's hilarious. Exactly. Now you had you had a lot of success with crown Crown Heights, which we're going to talk about later in the show. But what you saw you saw that movie at Sundance or around around the time of Sundance. So what is the experience like of selling a film at the festival? Because we've all heard the stories of like SATA Bergen, you know, going to that little cafe or that little pizza joint and everybody just like making a deal on a napkin and all that. Yes, yes.
Jonathan Baker 24:36
Yes, it is very interesting. Yes. How is it like that? Well, first, first of all, what I like about Sundance is you are well, when I started telling my my Carnegie administrators, look, you know, don't do this. Don't do a networking event in LA, nobody will come. Go to Sundance, you know, like, go to Sundance, everybody's walking around like you just run To tensor, like, it's amazing. And so the idea that you sit in a cafe with the buyers, and you're hanging out with them is really actually the real deal. And I think that's what makes it so fun is that, you know, first of all, everyone's everyone loves movies, everyone's a cinephile, everyone's got lots of interesting sort of, like, you know, credibility, but taste and sort of the vibration is really quite, quite interesting. So, but selling the movies, at Sundance, I think, ultimately, is exactly what you you've heard, it is very much a market, it's very exciting. It's, it's really nerve racking, you get you, obviously, you showcase your movie, and then you get to kind of wait to see what happens. And people, the buyers, you know, kind of reach out to your rep and or reach out to you personally. And then you connect people, and then you say, and then there's just this sort of like middle Manning, that starts to facilitate the people who are dating each other, you know, and that everybody gets together and they meet, and they kind of talk about sort of what the plan is, or how would it work? And, you know, what, what would you do to support the movie, and you kind of try to understand exactly what the next level of partnership is going to be with that distributor? And then, once there is this sort of like, Okay, this feels like, we've gotten to know each other, and we're feeling good about it. And there's this negotiation that goes on. And I think that's where it gets really, really interesting. There are obviously lawyers and agents that help you work through those kind of particulars. I think that's really also that what comes up for a lot of independent filmmakers is, do I need an agent? Do I need that, like, Listen, focus on what you want to focus on? focus on making a movie, there's so much to do when you're manufacturing a movie, I don't mind and I think I like having other people to share, you know, the kind of responsibilities with the so the agents, the lawyers, they bring such a particularly valuable level of expertise. They know all the buyers, they see the mark, they're studying the market while you're, you're studying filmmaking. And, and that's really, really neat. You know, I've even coming up to Sylvia I've had, I've had an old student who's now buying for Sony call me. She's been out out of Carnegie Mellon for 10 years. And she's like, I'm tracking your movie. And I'm like, this, I'm having like, an amazing life moment here. Like, it's so interesting. The network plays out. Yeah, shout out to shout out to Lakshmi, but I think ultimately, you get into this sort of very surreal kind of flow. And then there's this, okay, you know, a lot of times it looks like this, you've got a couple of people kind of going up against each other. And you kind of pick the one that makes the most sense for what you're after. What is what is your bottom line? as a filmmaker? Do you want to make the money back? Or do you care more about a theatrical release? Or do you care about more about the personable kind of relationship with the people inside the company? And do you trust those people? And, you know, if you've made a movie, it's really much, it's your baby, it's growing up, it's going to college, you know, where do you want that child to go? And where do you think it's going to have the best chance to survive? You know, it's, it's a very, it's a really profound choice. And it comes with a lot of nerves. And then at some point, you, you, you know, it's very, like very much like Shark Tank, you eventually make a deal. And then you go, look, we love you guys. Like, yeah, we're gonna do this euphoric, like, you know, kind of, you know, next level kind of celebration, and then you're off to the next, you know, kind of game, which is, as you know, the NFL, like, you're moving from what is a really interesting, very intense microcosm of cinema, you know, Sundance, to what is the world stage, and then it's anybody's guess what's going to happen because the market is brutal up there.
Alex Ferrari 28:56
Now, I want to talk to you a little bit about that market. Because, you know, from, from my experience, and from my point of view, I've been watching and studying Sundance, for over the last 1520 years, if not, since the 90s. And what was once this kind of, like, you know, the, you know, Miramax, you know, buying things left and right, and Fox, searchlight and all of those, you know, Paramount Vantage, and all these kind of these little micro indie labels. The money was flowing heavily back in the day of but but the, and Sundance was a much more significant voice and kind of like spotlight for films, where in today's world, there's such a just avalanche of content that Sundance still has a light on it without question, and it's much better to be in Sundance than and not to be in Sundance. Yeah, but the marketplace I've noticed that there hasn't been as many deals made at Sundance films coming out of Sundance aren't being bought at the same rate. I mean, there was a year or two that Netflix was buying everything that Amazon was buying everything in the last year. Not that much. So yeah. What's your feeling about the marketplace? how it's changing? And how do you think it's gonna move forward? Because I, you know, I wrote a whole book about I feel how the markets moving forward, but from the Sundance experience from a producer of your statutes point of view, what do you think the marketplace is doing now? And where do you think it's going? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now, back to the show.
Jonathan Baker 30:34
I think that market works, I think, I think it really comes down to and, you know, we've said this, you know, at the studio level, where we're like, we're watching the box office, you know, kind of recede, and then it kind of goes up again, and then like, you know, kind of, it's all moving around, like, it's dynamic, I think the main thing is, if you make a good movie, people will buy it, if you if you if you create good content, the world wants good content. So it comes down, I think, usually the taste and your ability to execute something at a certain quality. And that kind of has a big part in it. And then obviously, with the streaming wars and the the sort of the real kind of boon, I think it's a boon in terms of economic muscle showing up. There's a lot of new buyers, and they're, they're very quick, sweetie, I love you. There's a lot of I think there's a world of opportunity for filmmakers, and I get people approaching me all the time say, oh, what's going to happen? Like, it's amazing what's happening. This is incredible. What's happening? Why is everybody so pessimistic? I always tell people is like, Look, the thing that you want to keep keep your eye on is the population of the of the world is 7.5 billion people. And it's only going up, unfortunately. And the penetration of the internet to those 7.5 billion people is only 30%. We've got a long, long way to go. And if the boom in the you know, the the boom in the internet, it reminds me of sort of TV and the the history of, of film, and people were so threatened by it until they figured out how to partner with each other. So we're in this really, you know, history repeating itself, kind of, I think phase of things, it will settle itself out, everybody's got to negotiate the right equilibrium. This is ultimately happening between the unions and everybody. But I think it's really, it's a really exciting time to be a content creator. And I just look at it and say, Look, at least from where I'm sitting. What I mean, I read a great script last night by a female filmmaker, named nothing Arizona, and I really hope she gets her, her her capital, I'm going to try to help her get this movie made. It's it's a good script. And I was just like, Great. Okay, cool. Like, Alright, we're alive. This is it? Because it's hard to write a good script. Yeah. Oh, yes. You know, it's like, it's just Okay, great. It's like diamond in the rough, like, Oh, great, she found great. Let's go, let's go. And so it's just crap, you know, I think you just got to focus on, if you're going to go to a streaming video, make a great streaming video, if you're going to go make a video game, make a fucking great video game, if you're gonna go make a movie, and you're going to be a part of that lineage. Let's make a great movie. And let's, let's move that ball down the field. They, they're all their own unique content. And I just I go back to that again, and again, again, just try to be good at what what it is that you're trying to do, the market will find you. Now you working within the studio system, you must have seen a lot of directors and had interaction with a lot of directors coming in and out through these kind of genre films through Screen Gems.
Alex Ferrari 33:58
What was what was like if you know you without calling anybody's name out what was the like the biggest mistakes or the biggest common things that you saw that made directors either fail or just get in their own way or something along those lines? And then on the opposite side, what was like, I mean, you just kind of set it with love and Wiseman but like, what was the other or the opposite? Like, this is this is how you do it. Right? And this is how you take advantage of something. So on the both sides.
Jonathan Baker 34:28
That's an interesting question. saw a lot of different kinds of directors come through a lot of different kinds of experience levels. The the better directors who, who, who were really experienced and knew how to navigate the system, we're used to the political dynamic, okay. And in a studio system, it's really interesting because it is a bit more democratic than I think people realize there's a lot of there's a lot of groupthink that goes into it and it is It is, it is usually up to one person, like it does have a pecking order and there is like the big boss, and they will say yes or no. But a lot of people what I like to say they don't like to go it alone, you know? So there is this sort of like, Well, what do you think? What do you think, and then you use a lot of research, and then you try to, you tried to get the best sense of what the right thing to do is. And so the filmmakers that I think were the most successful, at least in my perspective, in my mind, were the ones who were, we're ready to have that much input, we were ready to kind of Listen, and, and sort of democratically go with the flow to the point where they realized that it isn't, you know, and a tour like environment, it's, it's, you're answering to what I call public money, it is a very different kind of artistic process, you have a release state, it's, it's a, it's a process of deliverables, like it's a system, and you have to move on down the field, whether you like it or not, you have to finish that movie and hand it over. And that's, that's sort of the rhythm of that. And in terms of, you know, if the filmmakers sort of fought that, or they created a bit of a stew, then what happens is the the energy of the studio, and the people, they don't want to support the filmmaker, they don't want to put forth the film, and it is personal that way. And so you start to see the not only the economic muscle move into a different place that could be reallocated. It almost starts to feel like the the people who really have the, the mechanism to do or to not do they, they may not be able to get may not be able to get on the phone anymore with you, it's just kind of like they're personally over, they don't want to kind of like take that attitude or something like
Alex Ferrari 36:50
that. It's very passive aggressive is very passive aggressive in that way.
Jonathan Baker 36:54
It can be it can be aggressive, aggressive, it can be directly or as a as a, you know, as a filmmaker has a bit too much hubris or a bit of an attitude, or they think they know. And they really don't have the perspective, that a lot of the, I mean, I don't want to be rah rah, the executives, because some of them are really, really troubling, too. But a lot of the time when you're a filmmaker, you have and I'm saying this from being a filmmaker, so I don't want to show I've been through this on my own my own personally, you think you know, and the value sometimes of the executive ranks and the studio ranks is that I have, I have friends who have worked on over 400 films. I mean, they're not credited on IMDB. These are people who have extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinarily valuable perspectives a lot of the time. And so it's, it's a balancing act. And I think that if you can go in with that level of respect, it tends to go a lot better for you.
Alex Ferrari 37:58
I mean, I've heard I've heard movies as studios doing this. I mean, it's legendary for some some big like, you know, Robert Altman, or I know kind of bro Kenneth Kenneth Bronner, where they literally they just literally just shut this, they just the movie goes to die, it gets released on a horrible weekend. And they get no, no PNA money, they don't market it, and they just literally go and kill it. And it happened, obviously to Orson Welles. And many of these big directors that happened, but I'd really never heard a firsthand, you know, account of it like, Well, you know, if they will, I mean, obviously, if it The movie is so big, if it's a $200 million movie, they can't do that. But on the older system, where movies were done for $20 million, or if they figured out we'll make our money, we're just not going to really push this guy.
Jonathan Baker 38:47
Yeah, it's, it's an interesting mix. Sometimes it's hard to actually know exactly what what's going on with those decisions, because you can't see through the economic or the deal. But what what I like to say, in terms of where the where the right equilibrium is, is, is you sort of like, you sort of want a studio to have skin in the game, so that they can't abandon the movie, right? The filmmaker, you want them to be invested because you want them to actually chase their their actual real investment. And then in terms of being able to get along, then there's actually the personal relationship which is executive to filmmaker or just person to person, like, how are people actually in or communicating with one another? How are they going with the sort of the schedule, the rhythm of it, and, and both of those things actually matter quite a bit. Quite interesting to see how they actually start to kind of seesaw with each other.
Alex Ferrari 39:43
The one thing that I you know, we've had many guests on the show, we talk a lot about many topics, but the one area that we really haven't touched upon, and I kind of talked about it every once in a while and it's it's kind of like an unspoken rule that is definitely not taught in film schools is the politics of not only In the studio system, the politics of a film set the politics of, of dealing with personalities dealing with egos. And if you're the director, which most people listening are either want to be directors or producers, or people in the position of power in these environment, these environments. That balancing act is as much of the equation is as the creative, because I've met creative directors, and I've met people who really are wonderful artists, or had no idea how to deal with personality, psychology, politics. And I was told by an agent, once he's like, what I'm looking for in a client, as a director, I need a filmmaker, I need a politician, and businessman. And those three aspects have to be that's if you look at all the big directors ever in history, three of them generally, combined. So do you have any tips for filmmakers on how to navigate the politics of a set and or the politics of the studio system?
Jonathan Baker 41:04
That's a great question. And that's a that's a very well framed setup. Because that couldn't be more true, is remarkable. It's remarkable, because in what we do, sometimes when I talk to my Carnegie Mellon students, I'm like, Listen, we're not we're not writing a song, you can't get up here and to sing a song You see, that's, that's, that's a,
Alex Ferrari 41:28
that's an artist, that's an art,
Jonathan Baker 41:30
that's a, that's a very specific kind of thing. There's no barrier of entry, there's no economic risk to singing a song to me, and I love that stuff, too. Like, trust me, it's great. But in terms of where we're going, we're going to a place where even to accomplish the smallest, you know, film, there's still an economic, you know, reality that we have to kind of understand. And so there's this business. Brain, I like to talk about it in terms of there's a hybrid, out here we are hybrids, we have to create a sense of the economics of scale, we have to create a sense of the creativity that balances that. So we talked about modeling, you know, what's the model, and how to how to kind of work within it. And each of those sort of bins have certain pressure points where the people who are going to be in there have certain demands on them. And it's often how they meaning how you navigate interpersonal relationships that matter the most. So I always say to people, you have to respect each other. And they're their ultimate, specify specific skill set that you bring to the table. This is because of this economic scale, it's the most collaborative thing that I've ever seen. It's so collaborative, that you have to look at everybody, as a teammate, as somebody who has more skill than you have, in a very specific thing that you frankly, don't want to know that much about. I'm not it, like I say, I can edit. But I can just, I can just get by, I don't want to be an editor, I want to be able to speak the grammar. But I very much need a fabulous dp and I very much need a fabulous executive, I very much need a fabulous producer and a fabulous line producer and amazing grip. I don't want to be a grip. I I'm cool. Just being over here. And and I'd like to tell a story. And I'm interested in exactly what everybody thinks of doing with that kernel. And that is sort of an organic, you know, thing that kind of grows out of that. So there's the sense of First and foremost, getting to the point where you're so humble, that you're the
Alex Ferrari 43:52
humblest. I mean, you're like the most humble ever.
Jonathan Baker 43:55
Yeah, I think you have to be and I think that I've certainly been worn down by life to the point where it's just like embarrassing. And I just, I, I I love what I get to do now I feel like I'm sort of a an inspirational story for people, which is why I really appreciate getting a chance to tell anybody about it. But I think past a certain point, anytime that my life has not gone, right, it's because I was either betraying who I was, who I personally was, or it was because I had some sort of hubris is I had some sort of attitude that I was better than somebody else or, or there's something about that. That kicked me in the head again, and and to this point now. It's just this sense of collaboration. And looking at people and picking the people that are going to be on the team with that sense of Can I trust that they have good taste, and that they are able to do that job better than than I could ever want to do and then let it let it ride from there.
Alex Ferrari 44:58
I mean, I think and I've said this multiple times in the show. But I think it's it's important to cast your crew as it is to cast your actors critically. I mean, it's absolutely critical because if you get a dp who needs 10 hours to light a corner, that's going to be a problem. And that corner might look fantastic. But there has to be a balance within their art form and how they do it. And then also, as a director, you need to be able to, you know, collaborate, but also at the end of the day, it has to be everything has to be filtered through you as a director, right? And dealing with these personalities dealing with these Eagles dealing with their own personal like everyone's got their own personal crap that they're coming in, like they're, they had a fight with their wife, they know they're getting a divorce, their kids are doing something or you know that they can't do it. They got a ticket that they like, there's 1000 things that that I never thought about in the creative filmmaking process. It's always like the shot that Scorsese did in Goodfellas when he did an unkind steadycam. Like, that's fantastic.
Jonathan Baker 46:03
Right? You're bringing up something with it's really funny. I just finished producing this movie or we're in the middle of finishing called Sylvie right now, but that that title is gonna change the stars Tessa Thompson and my producing partner in nom de asamoah and Eva Longoria. And it's this beautiful jazz era. Movie. And it's, we're, we're about to lock picture right now. And Declan Quinn is the DP. And he's sort of an iconic, you know, just like, old school dude. And he, he first of all, we shot Super 16. And he was, I mean, this movie looks better than most movies that I've ever seen. uncoloured and it looks fabulous. We haven't even gotten to the idea. And, but at the same time, we were shooting this movie in, in LA for New York. And it was just a big, big production. And we were moving pretty slow. But Declan is the nicest guy in the world. He couldn't have been more sweet. And, you know, I'm the producer on set, just trying to get this thing to move. Like that clip, Brother, please. Are we are we gonna be okay, we're gonna be okay. It's gonna be fine. gonna be fine. You know. And he had this just beautiful demeanor about him and everybody. Everybody just responded to him is just loving, moving through, like, Did we make our days like, barely every day, he was fine. But it was the way that he was able to do I was just like, this guy's got a skill.
Alex Ferrari 47:37
Yeah, as opposed as as opposed to many DPS that I know you and I've worked with, like, Get out of my face. You producer. Let me be the artists, you have no idea what you're talking about. I know how to light. You don't tell me how to do my job. I'll see the difference.
Jonathan Baker 47:50
No, he was really it was actually pretty, pretty awesome. And I think this is one of the special movies that we did a pickup shoot, like, I think two to three weekends ago. And it was like a reunion. Everybody came back as like, hugs, like, Hey, good to see you like, Oh, we've missed you. Your hair's longer. You look like you got some sun, you're like great, you know? Great. It was it was really just like, All right. All right. And a lot of that has to do with my producing partner. Nami is like, the most, you know, gentle, spirited, nicest, classiest guy on planet Earth, the guy is just an angel. So every place is super loving on, on set. So you know, you can get these great, great collaborations together. And then you could also go and have like a Whoa, what, you know, this is pretty intense every year. But I think it's definitely from the top down.
Alex Ferrari 48:38
And you do appreciate the the ladder when you deal with with. Let me tell you, when you have the other one, you're like, oh, man, it's true that once you find groups of people that you really do have a good working with. You try to build that team up again. And
Jonathan Baker 48:56
yeah, he tries, which is why I think with with some of these, you know, iconic filmmakers, you know, there's
Alex Ferrari 49:03
plenty of people. They're never nice word Ron Howard those guys.
Jonathan Baker 49:07
Why, why? Why, you know, try to fix something that's not broken. You know,
Alex Ferrari 49:11
without question. Now you've gotten a chance to work on a Sundance winning film called Crown Heights. Is that correct? That's right. That's right. What was that? Was that the first time you were at Sundance?
Jonathan Baker 49:23
Oh, gosh. That's funny. No, no. I went when I was acting. Yep. And my first short film that ever acted and went to Sundance in 1997. And that's free.
Alex Ferrari 49:34
That's that's preset sexualize a videotape. So it wasn't even. It was it was Sundance, but it wasn't Sundance yet. Right. Or not. I'm sorry. 89. I'm sorry. 8989. I'm sorry. That's Yeah, yeah, it was. It was already Sundance.
Jonathan Baker 49:46
Yeah, it became something it was already pretty, pretty interesting. I had no idea what I was doing. It was it was makeup. I was a theater kid. And this was the first short that I kind of acted in and it was was quirky. And I when I when we got And I don't think I realized what sort of like it meant, you know. And so we I went kind of died and experienced it as a as a college kid. And, and then since then I've, because I teach at Carnegie Mellon, a feature film economics course, I told my my awesome administrators, Dan Martin and Dan green there, I said, Listen, you should, you should take the kit, you should take the students to cart to Sundance every year because it's such a great melting pot. So we've been taking the class there for, I don't know, eight years or so. So I've been in at Sundance either with Sony as a buyer. I've been there as a filmmaker. I've been there as a professor. And now when I came back, ironically enough, when Crown Heights was there and won the Audience Award, that was my 20th anniversary of the short film. So to me, it was like this crazy Cinderella moment where I mean, Crown Heights in and of itself was a Cinderella story at that festival. But, but, but that was pretty, pretty awesome. I felt like I just won the Super Bowl. It was pretty, pretty crazy.
Alex Ferrari 51:10
And that movie went on to be sold to Amazon, if I'm not mistaken. Right?
Jonathan Baker 51:14
Yeah. Amazon picked it up at Sundance. And, yeah, it you know, it hit theaters at the fall in the fall after Sundance. So
Alex Ferrari 51:24
it I I've worked on a project that wasn't that one Sunday, I won a few awards at Sundance, and it is a pretty, it's pretty insane. It's a pretty magical, it's pretty magical. But but but do you but do you agree? I don't mean to cut you off. But the whole Sundance mythology, and every filmmaker in the world wants to go to Sundance and be in Sundance and everybody wants to God for when Sundance or when an award at Sundance would be insane. But do you feel that there is this lottery ticket mentality when it comes to filmmakers where they just like they put all their eggs in the Sundance basket, or they're like, this is the this is the only way this is going to happen? And I always say I, I've donated to Robert Redford retirement fund quite often on my end, it's a donation. It's a donation. It's a Sundance donation. I do it every time I have a project. It's a Sunday, it's a Sunday as donation. Because it's a lottery. It's a lottery ticket, isn't it? Yeah. What
Jonathan Baker 52:24
is it now? It's like the submissions are up like above 10,000. At
Alex Ferrari 52:28
last 2018 it was 18,200 and 118. films, including shorts were accepted. Yeah,
Jonathan Baker 52:37
it's, it's a well, this is I yeah, it's it's sort of this weird thing. I look at it now. And it just has to do with I say to my head, say this to people like we're in a content flood, you know, it has to do with has to do with our iPhones and I'm picking up my iPhone here. It's like, it's a great time to be a filmmaker. But it's also a very challenging time to because there's just so much content out there. And so even this movie that I releasing in Halloween, which is called spacetime Manifest Destiny on space time, this is a little scrappy movie that is really meant for streaming. I mean, it is a virally, you know, kind of we did I just wrote it to try to, you know, for these stars, these up and coming kids,
Alex Ferrari 53:22
what's the movie about? What's the movie about clicks? So that's pretty much about
Jonathan Baker 53:26
Sure, sure, sure. The movie is about these two co ads, a physics nerd and a hot sorority girl who wake up after Halloween. This blackout party night and they realize that they've missed the evacuation of earth. And they have to figure out what happened and you know, chaos ensues and it's it's a stoner comedy, it's really silly and it's, it's, it's just all sorts of quantum mechanics fun, and it spoofs all sorts of bullshit. It's it's boost the matrix and Back to the Future. And it's got every single scene is like a little nugget for cinephiles like you and I so, you know, nobody can take this movie. Seriously. That's not the goal. You know, it's really just have a couple drinks or a smoke and let it ride on a Halloween, you know, night party or something like that. And if you know my sales agent, when we first started the show, if he goes, Oh, you've got a cult classic on your hands. This will be fine. I'm like, Okay, yeah, it's, it's really just really just all sorts of fun. But I wrote it with this viral mentality in mind to just try to, you know, just look at like, you can do give me a little bit of money. Okay, fine. This is what we're gonna do. And it's a it's a, it's, we work in a world where, you know, there's no middle ground anymore. You either have stars, and you can do what we liked it on. The banker were we just like, Listen, without Samuel Jackson, this movie does not work. You know, it's like, the only way this works is if we have that guy. And it was a casting strategy. To do that,
Alex Ferrari 55:00
but But with that said with the cats just want to I don't mean attractive I want to touch on the casting. You know, Sam Jackson is obviously one of the biggest stars in the world. He's very, very recognizable. And he does do the 200 300 $400 million movies. And he'll also do a lower budget independent film he's he just wants to work in it's the kind of actor he is. But the days of a movie star opening a movie are gone. But yet, there are gone. So you know, Sam Jackson's not going to open a movie by himself at $200 million in The Avengers, he will. But at a certain budget range, it makes perfect sense. And that's more for international than it is for domestic or how does that work? in your in your eyes? With?
Jonathan Baker 55:47
Yeah, that's a great question. Well, when I started at the studio, we were at a 6040 split. So I worked in the domestic marketing environment. And so we had, we had sort of the greenlight final say, in a lot of movies, because we were the majority of the market. Now with it being more like 6040 it's it's much more of an international greenlight, And therein lies the migration into where we stand today. Then you then you add in the the the fact that DVDs have disappeared, and then streaming is not not making up nearly the difference. And so we have this really interesting, you know, kind of transition period that we're in, and somebody likes him. He he performs across the board. So it's a it's a carte blanche, you're getting your movie finance kind of thing. Other people don't necessarily have that punch, you know? So it's, it's a case by case experiment to kind of see where the the equilibrium is with, with the movie, the banker, we're good, like Apple picked it up. They're releasing it in December, they're putting it in a small theatrical like, we're, we're in good. It's awesome. That one, that's awesome, that that's actually great. And, and it's a very, very cool story. And Sam did it because of, you know, the story it said about, it's written and directed by a friend, George nolfi, who you might remember from, like oceans series and Adjustment Bureau. It's a true story about the first African American bankers who had posed as a chauffeur and a cleaning guy to, to kind of help a white front man that they had figured out to buy the banks. And so they would, they'd buy these banks, and they'd kind of That's awesome. It was It's a crazy caper his story, and it's, it just goes all the way to Congress. And that amazing, amazing film. So Matt, really well,
Alex Ferrari 57:47
So so with a movie like the banker, where you've got Sam Jackson, which basically is the driving force behind it, meaning audience wise, the audience that you're going to find for that, I mean, obviously, the niche audience is not going to be people interested in banking, you know, heist films. It's about people. Right? It's people who are interested in Sam Jackson, at this point,
Jonathan Baker 58:06
you better believe it? Yeah, exactly. So and getting that script, getting that script, finance was more of like, there were so many, so many different people who said, but it's a movie about banking, I said, it's a very smart script. And Georgia is an incredible writer. And it is a movie about banking. So the marketability is tough. So we had to kind of get over that and make it for the makeup or smart number, and get real cast, you know, to make it happen.
Alex Ferrari 58:29
So then, then your other movie that you just directed Manifest Destiny down space time, that yeah, it's the complete opposite where you, you're, you've actually developed the product, which is much more niche, which is a stoner comedy. And that is the that is the selling point of that film. Because there is no cast of any marketable cast murders. Correct. Do you think and and this is something I've been, you know, preaching from the top of the mountains for all filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, but this obviously can work with within a higher budget range as well, is that the future there is such a dilution of content. There's just an insane I mean, the TV alone, I'm still catching up on HBO shows from like, the early 2000s. I just finished the wire for the I mean, I mean, it's a great show. So there's so much great content. The only way that a film, any film, even without major marketing muscle or major star power, yeah, it's gonna be niche. So the more niche you get, that's what's going to cut through all the noise. Does that make sense?
Jonathan Baker 59:37
Yeah, that's exactly the that was my approach to spacetime. It was to try and I think your your, your, your, your universal, really, I think get this, which was, you know, I had some talented clients of mine that were just here. I'm an artistic coach and I tried to develop develop talent. And then I had a financial come in and said, I have this much money. Can you make a movie? I said, Okay, cool. I'm gonna back into this. This is how much you've given me, no problem. I have these two people that that are kind of oil and water to begin with, which is comedy gold to me. And let's figure out a subject that kind of feels current. And then let's throw in as many crazies zinger one liners that feel viral. And let's make a movie. And that was it. And it's really designed to be laugh out loud, funny, which I think for people who have seen it, they do think it's really funny. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It's not intended to make sense. In fact, it's making fun at this current science, which makes no logical sense.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:48
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Jonathan Baker 1:00:59
So that's that, sorry. It's also existential. So for people who don't really understand existential comedy, like Waiting for Godot. It's frustrating, you know, like they're like, is a roadtrip movie that goes nowhere,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:15
is a stoner roadtrip movie that goes no,
Jonathan Baker 1:01:17
yeah. Sorry, you're frustrated. That's the point. Our existence on planet earth with Trump is frustrating. That's kind
Alex Ferrari 1:01:26
of, but let me ask you this, though. So and this is where I find the smart producers and the and the artists, they sometimes don't meet. This movie, obviously. Sounds more experimental. It obviously it's obviously a little bit more experimental. It's absurd. It's really, you're really swinging for the fences on this. Meaning that you're like, we think we have an audience for it. We don't know why. Right. But the budget, I'm assuming, is a much smarter point, then the banker? You got it? Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's a fraction, a fraction. It's craft services. It's craft services, basically, the budget for craft services on the bank.
Jonathan Baker 1:02:08
It's not a joke. It's not a joke. I mean, this is a kind of you know exactly what you're saying it is. It's that scrappy. That's all it is. It's Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:17
but a lot of filmmakers will try to make Manifest Destiny down space time on a and they're going to go out for six years trying to raise $20 million, because that's their vision. And that's where we all fall, and then some and sometimes every once in a while someone gives the money. Right? We all see those movies like How did this get financed? What is this game? Why didn't they call me? Why didn't they give me the money? I would have done something with that cup. odd. Exactly. Exactly.
Jonathan Baker 1:02:50
Yeah, it's a very interesting thing to try to find the I say the word balance or equilibrium a lot, because it is that it's just sort of like, well, what are you going to do? I said, and I put my artistic hat on. And I said, Okay, I like to, I like creative challenges. I like to kind of make the most of the situation. And I do have, I do have something I'd like to say, and I can do it with this money I can do with this to me in this movie. Manifest Destiny now spacetime. It was really, really fun that this movie was really fun to do, because it was about quantum mechanics. And I didn't know anything about quantum mechanics during this movie. It's awesome. And that was so exciting. I am so grateful to have had an opportunity to make this movie because I learned so much. So and to that extent, like the movie is really just to be it's supposed to be a physics for Dummies. It's supposed to be for people like me who grew up and missed physics class. And it's it's supposed to be like, Hey, did you know there's something called entanglement? Like? What are you talking about? It's not just a love position six nano particles entangle. It's kind of an awesome thing. You know. So it's, it's, it's making fun of myself, frankly,
Alex Ferrari 1:04:10
that's awesome. That's it. But that's a great thing to be as an artist where you can go out and do that and create and do it, but you have to do it because it's such an expensive art form. You have to do it for a budget you have to do it for like, like you say, it's smart number, which I'm going to steal now. This I'm going to use that all the time. Now. You have to do it for a smart number. Because it's, it's, you know, like I did my movie, I went to Sundance and I shot a narrative you know, waiting for guffman meets Best of Show up our filmmakers at Sundance completely guerrilla. And we did it for three grand and and I did I shot the whole movie to narrative and but I can't do that for 20 million. I can't do that for a million. I can't I can't I can't take those kinds of risks.
Jonathan Baker 1:04:55
Exactly, exactly. But it was good. Yeah, risk. This is a good That risk is the big, big word. I feel. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:03
You mean? Like if someone would have given me 50 Grand 80 grand to do this? I'd be like, I don't know if this is that project. I mean, it's it. Yeah. This is perfectly designed for my audience. It's a perfect. Who's my audience for that people who are interested in Sundance filmmakers, my audience who knew who I am and what you know what I do? And that's and then maybe some people interested in the filmmaking process that that's Yeah, it's not a really lucrative monster. You know, it's not like a stoner comedy. There's a lot of people who want stoner comedies, but not a lot of people who want to watch this movie, but the $3,000 budget, right, I'll make 20 of those. Yes, yes,
Jonathan Baker 1:05:41
yes, yes, yes. No, you're absolutely right. And I think there's this you know, in terms of at least with you know, something with with my my stoner movie, there was something about it, that was such a particular balance of trying to get a get sort of a tone out. And at the same time, you are you are operating in this, like little tiny economic wiggle room where the concept was born out of the money, not the other way around. It was thought of
Alex Ferrari 1:06:18
as a shoot in the independent world. Yeah, yeah. And that. That was just, that was a fantastic challenge. It was just, it's crazy, you know, and the funny thing is that you have the experience of working with bigger budgets, you have the experience of working within the studio system. So you know, luxury. Yes, the luxurious Yes, their sushi, their sushi for lunch, and lobster tail, I got, yeah, I've, I've been on those sets. They're fantastic. But But I but I've also been, like, let's just grab that, that slice of pizza over there. And that's different for everybody. But it is, I find it at least as an artist, much more interesting to do a movie at such a ridiculously low budget, because I'm free to do whatever I want. And you're out there kind of on a tightrope without a net. And yeah, I as an artist, I love doing that. But I have to be responsible when you do that, again, 80 grand, not so much. three grand total, absolutely. Go take your risk.
Jonathan Baker 1:07:22
Yeah, totally. This, this is also an opportunity for me to return to performing because I play the agent in it. So I was going around the lens, and for that reason alone, like, I put my own money in it, you know, it's like, it's, it's like it's a it's a it's all in, you know, like, this is what you do, like, this is how we do this. And like, it's about the risk, and there's just, it's experimental, and it's fun. And that I'm not going to, you know, jump out of the office of when I was at Sony and jump into Sam Raimi, Spider Man, which was shooting at the studio stage across the street. Like, that's just not where I'm at, in my career. And I'm cool with that, you know, but, but it's pretty awesome to be able to walk around and see the scale, you know, to me, that's, that's kind of the most most fun about it. You know, it's just that that sense of the different resources that people people operate with?
Alex Ferrari 1:08:14
Yeah, okay. Yeah. You know, it's like I was talking to, there was an a director, friend of mine who was talking to was happened to be on set shadowing James Cameron. And on on the on the avatar set when the avatar was on. And he was there sitting there, and he's just talking him and then he started asking him like, indie questions, like questions like, like perspectives from an independent filmmaker. Sure. And James Cameron had no idea what he she couldn't grasp. Because he lives in his world. He lives in James Cameron's world, which is fine. We need we need a James Cameron out there. We need a Spielberg, we need to know and these guys who have these massive paint brushes and massive canvases because that's what we go the roads for. I say the same thing. It's exactly right. These are massive paint brushes and massive canvases and we want it that's why we go to cinema. You want that? That's good. But it was fascinating to me. Like if I like when I was on the streets of Sundance, and I was meeting producers in Brazil buddies of mine on set while I was shooting the movie, in the middle of the craziness of Sundance and they're like what do you do and I'm like I'm shooting a movie and you could see their face. Just go Yeah, yeah, you are you're doing you're like what Miguel? We're shooting right now in the confusion is so wonderful to see their faces. But it's fascinating. perspectives me like Peter Jackson on epsilon The Lord of the Rings. Oh man, can you I mean, this scope of these these guys. It's an army. It's an army. And also in a lot of people don't understand the pressure that is on the shoulders of these. These guys. Yeah, yeah $200 million on your shoulders. Yeah, you've got to be if that's a special kind of, you know, you don't have to just be an artist.
Jonathan Baker 1:10:09
I talked to my, my, my business partner nominee about this yesterday because we were talking about he's, he's an NFL star. And he's, he's moving over to acting, and he was he, he was one of the stars of Crown Heights. And we were producers on that film together. And then we've been producing content. And then we'll pick a couple pick a movie that he's going to star in very carefully. And we picked this next movie Sylvia's, the one with Tessa Thompson, I said, this is the perfect movie for him to star and because I like to, you know, when it comes to building star talent, you have to do it very particular, because people don't really understand the pressure that's on the star, they don't really understand what it's like for that person's face, to be plastered across the entire globe. And the level of our artistic integrity that it takes to build, you know, a star that can really open a movie or just that level of success, where the audience responds to the fact that they, they go to the movies, because they know that person makes good content. They go, there's, they're, they're loyal to that star, like Sandra Bullock I worked out in premonition and she's called Hughes evergreen, we call our evergreen, she'll, she'll open a movie, and the box office will sustain way beyond the norm, because Sandra Bullock just has the sense of, you know, this loyal following, you know, to create that level of value in the consumers mind to be of that much service to them, to be of service to the, to the, to the audience that you work for them. And to allow that to really be developed in a in a in a in a way that comes up from my partner and I because he has such a specific, classy taste. And this next movie is really quite classy. And then the next movie that we're planning to produce after that is is very special and will be more risky for him in terms of what he can do with his acting chops. But that sense of being able to just take baby steps and just grow organically the next from this, you know, this rung to the ladder to that rung, not that rung, don't go up there, you know, just just very, very mindful of the learning curve. And just the level of responsibility that you're taking on both economically artistically, those things are really interesting to me, you know, especially at my age, I just find it to be fascinating.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:41
I I've always found it very interesting to study Tom Cruise's career because he is just, he's one of those actors who exactly what you said to be of service to the audience. He, he does his own stunts, he does what he, regardless if you like them don't like them, but with all the stuff that he goes through, of course, as an artist, as an actor, as a businessman within the film industry, man he delivers man, those Mission Impossible movies like he's literally hanging from that airplane,
Jonathan Baker 1:13:11
like I just watched. I know I missed the last one. And I just watched it two weekends ago, and I was just like,
Alex Ferrari 1:13:18
if I need to lievable I just forget just like, it's just I can't I can't even I just can't even and the guys want 105 now How old is he like he's been drinking formaldehyde for years, you know, he bathes in in baby's blood. That's that's basically what I heard. I've heard that through the grapevine. That's how he states. Him and J. Lo, they have the same doctor. something going on there. Now, so I want to ask you, I'm gonna ask you a few questions that I asked all of my my guests. But one last question I want to ask you. Before we get to the final questions is, do you think that filmmakers moving forward, especially independent filmmakers, but even at filmmakers who aren't as independent? I mean, you do independent films like like space time, but you also do larger budget projects with larger stars as well? Right? Do you believe that filmmakers really need to start treating or start approaching filmmaking in an entrepreneurial spirit? and more of like a, like a, I coined the term film shoprunner. So it's kind of like, which is like looking at it, like how can I how can we recoup our money? How can we maybe generate other revenue streams from these films? How can we build our businesses, how build our portfolios, all that kind of stuff, even on even at the $5,000 movie level? Dude, if you did, if you did 20 movies at $5,000 a piece of each of those make $20,000 that's a business and people right so what's what's your point? What's
Jonathan Baker 1:14:52
what do you think? I, we live in a world where that's that's, that is front and center. Now. I mean, with the YouTube generation The influencers, the content creators, people like Gary Vee, I mean, these people are extraordinary. I'm very intrigued and fascinated by by, by that manifesting down space time isn't going to ever make its money back in terms of what was getting a streaming. But I've got these crazy, you know, t shirts and cups, where if people actually like it, they just go to the mall, and they can buy a T shirt that says, I'm not having sex with you again, fucker. You know, it's like, that's just funny, like sticky stuff. So there is this. There is this full service mentality that I think is filmmakers we have to have today. And it's just part of the way. And interestingly enough, historically, film is an entrepreneurial business. It always was. It's called
Alex Ferrari 1:15:49
Disney. It's called Disney. I mean, seriously.
Jonathan Baker 1:15:51
Yeah. It's just historically, it's a group of entrepreneurs that that left New York to form Hollywood, and ever, you know, it wasn't until vertical integration in the 60s that public money came in and everything kind of like kind of wackadoo. But look where we are now. I think fundamentally, it's still a great it's an exciting time to be a filmmaker, we have to continue to be entrepreneurial. You know, you brought up sex lies and videotapes, these are extraordinarily smart movies that are very, very creative and mitten in a mixing media like that one did, and finding just new ways to create really interesting stories. And I think it continues to go back to this a lot of people will say, like, well, it's so competitive, and it's competitive, because we still have to sharpen our pencils. Like, we need to be good storytellers. That's what we're that's what people are just looking for good stories. They're looking for good stories that are $300 million. Right? And they're looking for good stories that are like $8,000. Like, it's storytelling.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:50
Yeah. And I was I talked to a friend of mine at he works at Disney animation. And he was telling me, I'm like, how much how much did they make? He told us like he was telling me how much the animated movies were making they how they broke it down. Like they did the whole we made this much from this this like from merchandising from lesson that I think goes when it came to frozen. frozen meat a billion in box office. Yeah, but how much? How much do you think they made on the dresses? That's it? Just a little dresses that my daughter's bought? And every other little girl but how much do you think they made off just the dresses? Oh, it has to be a lot a billion dollars on the
Jonathan Baker 1:17:29
test and say Disney Disney makes 20 billion a year at least and doesn't it's like, the ratio is amazing. It's a toy company.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:39
You know? Oh, no, they're merchants. I mean, they are crazy. It's like George Lucas says the money is in the lunchbox, guys. I mean, it's, but they're entrepreneurs. This these an entrepreneurial I mean, they they're not about just making a movie. And then just selling that movie as a product. It's about 1000s of other ancillary. That's, that's why they're winning. Yeah. And boy, are they whether you like it or not, they're definitely winning. That's right. That's right. Am I real quick, you made a movie for Netflix as well. Right? But with Brie Larson.
Jonathan Baker 1:18:09
Oh, well, the Brie Larson movie was basmati blues. That's, that's, that's probably on its way into that. That distribution model now. It's, it's a musical with Donald seven, Sutherland and Tyne Daly and got that in Mumbai. That was quite quite a quite an amazing adventure.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:27
And you shut up and you produce that one as well. I co produced that. Yeah. Okay. And what was it like working with Netflix? I just love asking the producers who work with Netflix, I hear wonderful stories.
Jonathan Baker 1:18:38
Well, I have that that movie was made independently. And then it went into distribution through shout factory. And it's been, you know, handed over into, you know, the streaming environment. I haven't personally worked directly with Netflix, although I have some friends, some dear friends who are working at Netflix now. And I'm, you know, you know, it's just, it's an amazing. I mean, the evolution of that Comm. Company is is unbelievable.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:05
They changed the game, they changed the entire industry. Yeah, yeah. Whether you like it or not, they changed the
Jonathan Baker 1:19:12
way it's like, Yeah, what do you like it or not? Like, this is what's happening, you have to figure out what it means for everybody else, you know,
Alex Ferrari 1:19:18
What do you think? Where do you think this is all gonna go? I mean, I mean, cuz I feel that the what we're going through now with the industry, the film industry is what music business went through five years ago.
Jonathan Baker 1:19:28
Yeah, that's exactly where my mind went to. And I've been thinking about that even coming up, you know, for manifestation now, spacetime. That was written at a time when Trump was not president. And that's the joke. It's actually it's sort of like a doomsday scenario about Trump if if Trump had one, this is what was going to happen. Sure, sure. And, and even just in the last five years, looking at sort of how that process has evolved. Today, it's it is the As you know, dilution of the flood itself, the value itself and how we monetize things. It's changed drastically. So I don't know, in terms of the what we might say is the correction in the marketplace, I think that it puts a lot of pressure on us storytellers to be even better at what we're what we're doing. It puts a lot of pressure on us to be defined a certain unique voice, and, and try to, you know, cultivate our own sort of our own fan base and develop ourselves in sort of our own way. And, you know, there's this amazing expanding global universe. And I think that's what gives me hope. A lot of people get very Doomsday about moviemaking. I said, Why, said that, the expansion of the internet, we're only at 30 30% penetration to the 7 billion people out there, you know, this is a, this isn't an upward economic picture, it really just depends on you know, where you're focusing your own integrity, and where you're focusing your own skills. And, and not limiting yourself, I think, more importantly, than anything, so, you know, like, for me, I've got projects that, you know, I'm working on with clients or collaborators that are really really inexpensive things, because who's to judge? It's not about the budget, you know, to me, you know, it's sort of like there was there used to be the sort of like, well, you're working on Spider Man, it's like, so you're working on Spider Man, I know what that's like, you know, that's, that's 5000 people all running around, and who's really in charge? You know, it's not this. So it's, it's sort of where, where you can find your own sort of peace of mind inside the, the the opportunities is more important than ever.
Alex Ferrari 1:21:51
And like in the film, and like in the music industry, you know, artists now, the money is not in publishing, it's not in radio plays. It's in concerts, touring, or t shirts. And then now they're even doing like autograph and photo ops, they're selling for VIP tickets, and they're just, right. It's the it's the new world. It's the new Rayleigh we live in. And I think filmmakers need to think that way moving forward.
Jonathan Baker 1:22:16
Yeah. It's a very, very complete entrepreneurial spirit. Without question.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:24
Yeah. So I'll ask you, if I ask you a few questions, ask all of my guests. What advice would what advice? Would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Jonathan Baker 1:22:32
Uhh filmmaker, I would say, focus on your writing skills. I think that, you know, it's interesting to me how important that skill is, and continues to be. And it's one of the fundamentals. And I often meet meet filmmakers and various types of, you know, crew and all that kind of stuff, who, who want to be writer directors or want to want to want to direct something. And I often just say, well, directors usually come in in a lot of different directions. But, but, but usually, there's like this writer, director, that becomes the real kind of voice that we're like, wow, how they get there. They wrote they wrote, they wrote that script. You know, there's something about that, that, I don't think that's going to change. So, focus on writing skills.
Alex Ferrari 1:23:23
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Jonathan Baker 1:23:30
Oh, wow, that's really interesting. The lesson, I'm learning lessons every day. We all right, yeah. I think the lesson for me, it has to do with just usually with money, how to how to work with the amount of money that you have to, to do what it is that you're ultimately trying to do. And that comes down to being okay, working in baby steps. It's, it's so often that people like well, I want to do that. I said, Good. That's a big dream. How does that how does that start? It starts with you putting one foot in front of the other, and discipline. I come from a military family background. And I think discipline is one of the more fundamental things because it's in your control to have. Everybody can have discipline, you can have discipline right now. It's really just letting yourself kind of get into a mechanism and taking one step in front of the other like, like the banker jover tell who the lead producer. He's been developing and working on that film. I think it's for 20 years. That project has been in development since he was at Paramount. And that was for both of us. 1520 years ago, he picked that thing up. So these are these stories. These stories take a long time, you know, to come to life. And that's good. That's okay. You know Just take your time Be patient. And for me, I think that's been one of the harder ones to really come to peace with, you know, patients.
Alex Ferrari 1:25:09
What is the biggest fear you had to overcome when making your first? Your first film as a director?
Jonathan Baker 1:25:15
Yeah, that's judgment. You know, that sense of people we're going to not they're not going to like this. For me when i when i when i started directing because I'm such a musical theater nerd. Like musical theater, people get my sense of humor, Mel Brooks people do like I'm a weird, weird director, no questions, getting a sense of just that, that Zay zany, like, you know, tone that that is a place where you're just I go in knowing that a vast majority of the market is not going to like me. And that's, that's just that like, but those people who get at laugh and we share a smile, we share a wink, you know, so I'm pretty cool. I feel better about that now, and certainly with Manifest Destiny down spacetime. That's a departure into absurdist theater. It's absurd,
Alex Ferrari 1:26:07
Jonathan Baker 1:26:09
Yeah, it's nuts and so people who are like series might not go see Waiting for Godot and then then call me like, this is frustrating. This is this is like, you know, it's supposed to be challenging. And that's, that's okay. You know, so that's, that's an interesting question.
Alex Ferrari 1:26:25
Now, what are the what are your three favorite fears of excuses? Three fairy fears, three favorite films of all time.
Jonathan Baker 1:26:32
The producers great movie, Dr. Strangelove. And I would say you know, had to say about the original Star Wars like of course some something I mean, I just I'm such a john Williams fan. I miss I miss melodic musical themes in cinema today like if you're a composer out there melody melody Give me something give me something to like bring my spirits to. So yeah, that's those are those are those
Alex Ferrari 1:27:05
Now where can people find more more about what work you're doing and your films?
Jonathan Baker 1:27:11
Yeah, okay, so you are more than welcome to check out what I'm up to jbprodinc.com or Instagram JB studio LA is where I do a lot of my like coaching and that kind of thing. And then for Manifest Destiny down spacetime, you can find me on social media. spacetime is really the one to kind of search for but Manifest Destiny down is manifestdestinydown.com is the website and you can you can IMDb me whenever you want.
Alex Ferrari 1:27:43
Very cool. And you are Jonathan number five Johnson. Baker. Number five.
Jonathan Baker 1:27:47
Yeah, there are a lot of Jonathan Baker's out there. Number five. Everybody, I got to meet them all. I don't want to have like a john Baker club. Like, hey, let's all get together. Like let's all hang out. I think some of us actually look alike
Alex Ferrari 1:28:04
It's scary. It's it's quite scary, sir. Jonathan is it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show. Thank you so much for coming on, man.
Jonathan Baker 1:28:11
Thanks. Yeah, this has been great. Thank you so much for your time.
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