INTERVIEW: ‘Suspiria’ Spoiler Filled Interview With Prosthetic Make-up Designer Mark Coulier

Interviewed by Fiona Underhill

For our latest Sunday Spotlight, Fiona sat down to interview Academy Award-winning prosthetic make-up designer, Mark Coulier, who has worked on films such as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel – for which Coulier won the Oscar for ‘Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling’ in 2015,  Ready Player One, the Harry Potter series, and upcoming films Stan & Ollie and Pinocchio!

Fiona chatted with Coulier about his recent work in the Suspiria remake and the use of practical effects for some of its standout scenes, so there are spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet!

You’ve been warned…


I have to start with what is a stand-out scene, from a make-up point of view and that’s the infamous scene with Olga in the mirrored dance studio, where she’s being contorted and twisted – how much of that was practical and how much was CGI? How did you achieve that scene?

So, I’d spoken with Luca (Guadagnino, director) about that scene quite early on in our conversations about the film and he wanted that to be a pretty brutal scene that establishes how dangerous the situation is and he wanted to, I think the word was ‘pulverize’ this woman and break her down so we talked about how to do that practically, we wanted most of it to be practical. I’d seen Deliverance, I mentioned this guy who gets washed down a river and his arm gets dislocated and it’s twisted round his shoulder and it looks pretty intense. We decided that would be a good place to start – to twist this woman’s arm around and break her jaw, what else could we do that would make her all twisted and contorted? He had this amazing dancer called Elena Fokina playing the part and she was able to do a lot of the stuff herself. So we started off with the arm and then we did the leg and the rib cage – we did a prosthetic chest piece for her and a jaw piece and we moved her teeth. It kind of built from there really and we tried to get her into this position at the end where she was completely broken down and twisted up. It was Luca who wanted her to look really destroyed.

So it sounds like it was heavily practical then?

It was all practical in the sense that it was prosthetic appliances, the visual effects side of it was that they removed her real arm and her real leg. I think they augmented the jaw being twisted into place. So I’d say it’s about 75% us and 25% visual effects.

I have to ask about the character of Dr Josef Klemperer (played by Tilda Swinton). I think the creation of that character, from the performance combined with the make-up is just absolutely phenomenal. I want to ask about how you built that character – I mean the detail on the face is just sensational – how did you achieve that?

Thank you. That was Luca calling up and I think he’d seen Grand Budapest Hotel and we’d done an age make-up on Tilda Swinton in that film and Luca wanted to see if it was possible, to see if we could turn Tilda Swinton into this old Jewish man. So we did a test make-up probably eighteen months before the film actually started, just to see if it was possible. The test make-up was totally different to the Josef Klemperer character that you see in the movie, but it gave Tilda and Luca an idea of what we could possibly do. It was an idea that Luca had that he wanted all the characters, the strong characters to be female. This idea of Tilda playing this part is linked to the idea of the three witches that are the core of the story – Mother Suspirium, Mother Tenebrarum, Mother Lacrymarum – and he wanted Tilda to play the three parts of Madame Markos, Madame Blanc and Klemperer. So that was it really, that was the start of it, so we did a test to see if we could possibly do it and we ended up re-sculpting it and re-making it and applying it to the finished character.

I heard a rumour that she even had a prosthetic penis, can I ask if that’s true?

That is true, yes. Well it was really more of a weighted thing that we put in there because she wanted to feel masculine, so she wanted to feel this weight between her legs. So I guess it’s a bit like Robert De Niro wearing silk underpants to play Al Capone. One of those little things that nobody else will see but it makes her feel more of the part.

I have to ask about the finale – how long did it take to shoot that sequence and what was the preparation, what were the decisions involved in that sequence? Again, how practical was it, how many buckets of blood did you use etc?

Yes, again, it was heavily practical. This is not a big budget, we had very little time for everything. We had nine weeks, we were supposed to have fourteen weeks, but we had nine weeks which is not a lot of time. We had full body suits – we did the character of Death, which is really intense and quite a  character to create. We had the character of Markos to do – the witch, which is also Tilda Swinton playing that character in full body make-up which is pretty intense. And we had all sorts of stuff – we had disembowelments, lots of crazy stuff that Luca wanted to create for that finale. And we sort of created a workshop out where we were shooting and I brought people over from the UK and we were just frantically building things and finishing things off while we were out there. As well as making stuff in the UK, we did a full body make-up on Chloe Moretz. We were supposed to do that for two days I think and we ended up doing that make-up for five or six days. So we were frantically building pieces and making pieces out in this abandoned hotel where we were shooting everything in Italy. And it was quite intense but it was quite practical, a lot of it was practical, a lot of visual effects augmentation of the self, the blood, the bodies being destroyed, pulling the intestines out. [spoilers] We had the dead Patricia, the dead Olga make-up, we had Markos – which was this big full bodysuit thing that we built for Tilda, who was also playing Madame Blanc in that scene. We had the make-up where she gets her head chopped off…or almost chopped off. So, again, it was about 75-25 practical – there was visual effects involvement. And when you read that stuff on the page and spoke to Luca about it, it was really hard to try and work out in your mind what Luca actually wanted, what was it going to look like, you know?

What was the detail like in the script, what were the descriptions like?

I think Luca just wanted it to be a descent into madness, which is at the core of the witches. This is all going to ramp up and the film builds slowly into this big crescendo at the end, with the Mother Suspirium character appearing in the movie and he wanted to give a sense of craziness and the evil that’s at the core of the movie, this sort of power of the witches and we were just trying to put that into visuals. It was quite hard to read it and understand what Luca wanted. When you see the movie, we’re like; “oh right OK – so this is what we were making! It was very interesting.”

I’m sure there’s surprises for you, even when you’ve worked on the film. When you see the finished product, you’re still surprised by it.

Yeah, more so than most films that I’ve ever worked on. There’s three movies I did last year, I did Stan & Ollie and Bohemian Rhapsody and I did Suspiria at the same time and I think the most surprising one out of all them is Suspiria. We make these sequences and we make the stuff, I remember Fernanda the hair and make-up designer, who did most of the ‘straight’ make-up looks said to me – she’d worked with Luca on a few movies – and she said “we just have to trust Luca, we have to trust our director.” It’s an interesting comment that she made – you’re making all this crazy stuff, how’s it going to look? She said; “We just have to trust Luca, he’s a visionary” he’s got this idea and when you see the movie, you understand. This crazy end sequence – the tension builds throughout the movie and then it all goes pretty wild at the end.

That’s the exact experience I had watching it, because I was skeptical going in, with it being a remake. But, as soon as it started, I thought, of course, it’s Luca, just trust in that vision and he absolutely has this precise vision and I think he totally followed it through with this piece.

Yeah, I felt the same way about it, actually. When you see the movie, we were busy out there making stuff, while he was busy filming all the stuff that didn’t have prosthetics in it, we didn’t see any of the dance stuff, the drama and the development of the witches’ characters. We weren’t privy to any of the filming of that, we were busy making stuff. So it’s always a surprise when you see the film at the end, I’d read the script and the story obviously and had all the conversations with Luca, so I had a pretty good idea of how it was going to develop, but it’s still quite surprising. And I really enjoyed it, I thought it was great. It’s a long movie, it’s slow, the tension builds, it’s really creepy and that end sequence. There’s a couple of sequences – the Olga dance sequence really grabbed me and I’ve seen it three times now and the audience is completely silent after that bit. Everyone is watching it thinking “my God, this is what the witches are all about – this is the evil at the core of the movie.” And you know then it builds quite slowly to that crescendo at the end, which really grabs you.


We ran out of time there (I had at least three more questions)! But I loved the movie and Luca created something truly unique with his team of master craftspeople, including Mark.

We’d like to thank Mark for taking the time to talk to us!

 

 

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INTERVIEW: Morgan Neville

Interviewed by Dave Curtis

Morgan Neville is a well-known documentary filmmaker,  he has made numerous films that focus on music and culture. His latest films include Won’t You Be My Neighbour which is about iconic children’s television host Fred Rogers and They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead which tells the story of Orson Welles and his last film The Other Side of the Wind. Whilst he was at the London Film Festival premiering not one, but two new documentaries we got to sit down with him and ask him a few questions about his love for Fred Rogers, Orson Welles and we get into the process of documentary filmmaking. 


Was this a passion project for you or did somebody come to you?

It was my project, I mean it was a passion project in that I loved Mister Rogers as a boy and then I didn’t think about him for decades but every time he came back in my life as an adult it surprised me somehow. So, it was something as an adult, these viral videos would go by as Fred Rogers in America and they always just struck me as a voice that is missing in the culture. And so, the real instinct to make the film was not a nostalgic instinct. I am not a big fan of nostalgia, it was actually ‘how do we get a voice like that into the cultural discussion today.’ So really for me it was a film about the same issues I come back to again and again in my movies which is “how do we find common ground as a culture,” “what happened to all the grown-ups in our culture.” So, I’ve made a couple of films that circle these same issues but it is something I care a lot about and in America, if there is any figure who transcends partisanship then it is Fred Rogers because he was dealing with kids that zero sense of partisanship.

I’ve never seen a program like it, I didn’t know who he was until I told my Canadian wife I was doing this interview and watching the movie and her face lit up and she gave me a crash course in all of it. It bought loads of memories back for her as well which was really exciting to watch.

Did she watch it when she young?

Oh yeah. She watched it with all her sisters when they were growing up.  She was surprised when I said he didn’t really come here. I think all we had was Gordon the Gopher with Phillip Schofield on a Saturday morning, but we never had anything like Mister Rogers It was very emotional watching it with her. Did you cry when you watched it for the first time?

Well I was making it but it was very emotional to make and even when we were watching the mix back for the sound I started crying.

I don’t think you can help it. Especially that last question (when you had to think of someone). Was that always going to be your endpoint?

 No, it wasn’t. He (Fred Rogers) had done that in speeches so I just thought from the first interview I’ll ask people. I didn’t know if it was going to make it in the film, but I just thought let me try it and then it became the ending.

It is a really strong ending. It packs a punch. I could imagine if you saw it in a cinema people would be sobbing everywhere. 

The first screening we had at Sundance, because I didn’t really expect that, you know.

 It’s done really well in the States…

It has been the biggest documentary in five years in America (laughs). So, it has been a smash in America.

I think it just shows that so many people still connect with Mister Rogers and his themes which is good.

It is. It’s interesting because also a lot of people went to see the film who didn’t watch him as a kid but maybe were a  parent at the time. It’s been interesting, it has also played for liberal audiences and conservative audiences which is really rare.

He was a Republican, wasn’t he?

He was. Being a Republican meant something and there were different types of Republicans then,  particularly in Pennsylvania, there were a certain type what they call Rockefeller Republicans which is a Liberal Republican, which seems like an oxymoron now, so he was of a type that doesn’t really exist anymore. But really all of his ideas that you could consider to be liberal were based in theology. So, to him it’s not a big leap to go from won’t you be my neighbour to love thy neighbour.

Is that going to be the sequel?

[Laughs]

Was it emotional talking to the family? Were they all up for it when you purposed the documentary?

The sons had never done interviews before. They had always kept it at arm’s length.

You can tell that one looks like Fred and the one looks like his mother.

They had never done anything or talked about it and Joanne, she is amazing- his widow.  In the beginning, when I told her I wanted to make the film, I said I want to make a film not about the biography but about ideas. She said that sounds like a great idea because Fred had always said if anybody made a film out of his biography it would be the most boring film ever made. Which I don’t entirely agree with. The advice she gave me when she gave me permission to make the film was “don’t make him into a saint.”

I think you succeed with that. You made him very human.

Well, that was the thing, no ever treated him as human, they treated him as a cardboard character. I think that was frustrating for him.

Do you think that bothered him after a while?

I think when bad things happen and he had to talk, I don’t think that bothered him because I think he thought that’s when he was needed. I think the other thing is at one point he got more mail than anybody in America, and he responded to every letter he got. So, he would spend 15 hours a week doing letters.

Obviously all hand written that point.

Yeah, and for him, that was as important as the show. It was like if a child writes to me, you have to write them back and to them, that is a real relationship. Part of his thing was ‘my relationship with a child through the television is real to that child, to that child it is a real relationship’ and he also only ever talked to a single child through the lens, he was never saying ‘Hi kids, he was like, how are you today?’ So if you were a child, you thought he was talking to you. So it was a one on one relationship between you and him.

When did you start the process, are we talking years?

It was probably the very end of 2015 that I started thinking about it, and then really 2016 that we kind of put it together and started production in October 2016, just before the election.

That’s quite a quick turnaround for a documentary.

We premiered it at Sundance in 2018, so that was pretty fast.

How do you go about picking what goes in and out because there must be hours and hours of footage?

There is tons of stuff but I have been doing this long enough that I have refined my process and I feel a lot of times people who are doing archive documentary or documentaries, in general, cut a six-hour version of the film and then cut down it down to four hours, then three hours and I can’t stand doing that.

So, there are no director cuts out there or anything?

Well, there are scenes I cut out but I think the idea, in the beginning, is what is that we really want to say and what are scenes we want to talk about. I put together a list maybe 32 scenes and we cut those first and we had 100 minutes.

Was the animation always intended to go in, because that really works.

Yeah it was intended, just because I didn’t want to just talk about his childhood in an expository way ‘he did this and in this kind of house, he was born here at this time.’ I wanted his childhood to be told from his point of view in terms of how it related to the show and for it to be more in his imagination. So the only idea was to do animation and to come up with something that felt that animation I kind of based on 1940s children’s books and some Orson Welles actually, some magnificent “Ambersons” bit of lighting and things. I was really happy how it turned out.

So you grew up watching Mister Rogers, do I dare ask when that was?

I was born in ’67, the show went on in 68. So I was the first generation. Right from the beginning. Before Sesame Street, in America there was Mister Rogers, so that’s what I watched. So I love the show and I watched it every day. But I barely remember much of it because a lot of me watching that show pre-dates my memory. So it’s interesting revisiting him as an adult because you’re revisiting parts of yourself that you can’t even remember. So it accessing your earliest memories, which you don’t spend a lot of time doing in your modern life, and really trying to think about it. So, it’s all these things that are familiar that come back. You see an image and it reminds you of something.

I know you were very young, but did it teach you stuff that you have carried with you?

It must have done. And I’m sure it did with millions of people, but there is nowhere to gauge that impact which is one of those things about culture. We can’t say the culture is 10% more empathic because it watched Mister Rogers. But anecdotally, I heard story after story from people I’ve met talking about what the show meant to them. Even people who maybe didn’t have a father or had never seen an African American child on television before, or a handicapped child on television before.

That last scene of that clip when he jumps on stage, he didn’t even use the stairs.

Not even without waiting for him to get to the podium, he just jumps up there!

Why do you think this is a story worth telling?

I think its actually critical in that we live in a time where our culture has been built around divisiveness, you know people can get votes and eyeballs by pitting one group against another, stoking resentment. We live this cycle of resentment and it feels nobody is advocating for the opposite of it, reminding us that building societies takes hard work and is a fragile endeavour. So, I just feel like “who’s reminding us of the stakes here?” and what we have in common. So, for me, it was just trying to advocate for the opposite of what I see happening in our culture, in a loud way. 

Well I think it has connected, especially in America.

Well in America it has, so for me I couldn’t think of a message that I wanted to put out there more than this. It’s just my way of dealing with the past couple of years. It was a really therapeutic process to work on this film. It was hugely helpful.

When you were watching it all back did you have any favourite episodes?

Again, it was all dimly familiar and there are episodes that probably won’t mean anything to you like him visiting a crayon factory or these episodes that stuck in my mind but it was more the land of make-believe and the puppets and the trolley and all these things that were very familiar.

My wife loved the little town apparently, she wanted that town.

Oh the model, I remember being so fascinated by that. The model is there in the office and I took my picture with it.

So there are museums somewhere?

There are two museums. All in Pittsburgh. You can see a lot of the things there.

Do you think the film has merit in UK, because he wasn’t really known, but it is a global message?

I didn’t make the film thinking about it, but I’ve screened it for people including for a couple of British audiences and I’ve had a lot of Brits and people see it at festivals that had no idea who he was.

I’ve been telling people at the London Film Festival about it.

I’ve been surprised at how well it has worked for an audience for people that didn’t grow up with him. Because ultimately it is a humanist message. What he was talking about is basic human values and how to treat people and how to treat yourself.

 I can’t believe that there isn’t something on TV now which is similar.

That’s the thing, it’s like the idea he was talking about civil rights or war or hunger to two to six-year olds. Nobody has done that since.

The Bobby Kennedy footage for example.

Yeah that’s unbelievable talking about assassinations!

I’m going to have to ask about ‘They’ll love me when I’m dead’.  How did you get involved in that project?

Another passion project.

So you weren’t approached for it.

There was a book about 4 years ago called Orson Welles Last Movie by Josh Karp who became my producer on the film and when I read that book, I decided if I can ever get my hands on that Orson Welles footage, I would love to make a documentary about it because it was Welles making a film about himself essentially, shooting it for years and years.

When I was young all I knew of Orson Welles was the Transformers movie.

Exactly! So, I actually put a tiny bit of the Transformers movie into Mister Rogers movie with Orson’s voice. That was me doing an Easter egg for myself between the two films.

I love that. So I’ve guessed you have seen the new film (The Other Side Of The Wind).

Yeah I’m such a Welles fan.

Do you have a favourite film of his?

I mean it isn’t his best film, but the film I’ve always just loved was ‘Lady From Shanghai’.

I love the quote in your film when they are talking about ‘Citizen Kane’ being the greatest film ever but it isn’t even his best film.

Yeah exactly.

I guess it was a lot of fun making that.

That was great fun.

Were you making it as the same time as ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour’?

It overlapped, but we didn’t edit at the same time. Right when I picture locked Mister Rogers we started editing Orson. That was a big gear shift going to one from the other. Although the similarity, because I thought about that this week having both films here (LFF) is that they are both people who didn’t care what other people thought about what was popular and what was good. They each had their own internal guidance for what they thought was important and what is right and wrong. As an artist that is exactly the kind of heroic figure you want, somebody who marches to their own drummer.

One last question. What is next for you?

I am working on some TV shows. I have a couple of shows for Netflix that I am doing.

That seems to be a good partnership at the moment. They are nailing it at the moment, Roma is so good.

It is! What is great is that they just give you a lot of freedom. It’s less of a burden to do a TV show than it is to do a feature. To direct a feature doc just takes so much time.

Are you going to stick to documentaries, are you not tempted to do a full length feature film?

No I love docs, I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I’m trying to find the next subject to fall in love with and part of is that I haven’t had time. I came up with Mister Rogers and Orson Welles just because I was able to read books on vacation.

So really you need a holiday to read books etc.

Yes, because there are a lot of things I’m interested in. I go on holiday and take a pile of books and I usually come away with some ideas.


We’d like to thank Morgan Neville once again for taking the time to chat with Dave whilst premiering both his new documentaries in the UK at the London Film Festival. 

INTERVIEW: Micah Van Hove

INTERVIEWED BY JESSICA PEÑA

 

Micah Van Hove is a director, producer, and cinematographer with a very keen drive to make his mark in the industry. Even from his first feature film Menthol (with the producer of Boyz N The Hood), he’s carved out his own exploration into how films can be told. Micah’s latest directorial effort Shadow of a Gun refuses to shy away from any hard truths, bending interactions into cold, contemplative looks at ourselves, the way we react, and the ways we’re conditioned. His work is bold and forward-looking. Even in the film’s most despairing moments, there’s a meditation on empathy. We had the chance to ask him a few questions about his experience and creative vision.


Could you tell us a little bit about your background in film, your ventures into new ideas and opportunities, and really where this passion began for you?

I started making movies out of a desire to escape the 9-5 lifestyle that I fell into after high school. I got an opportunity to act in a short film by ex-Hollywood veteran producer Steve Nicolaides who was producing a short in my hometown of Ojai, California. Being a part of that team made me fall in love with the process, but I knew I wanted to be behind the camera. Steve gave me my first camera, a DVX100, and I just started shooting.

I quit my job and made my first short film that was based on a dream I had. I didn’t realize I could make movies until my friend Nate Kamiya blew my mind with a simple concept: setting a shoot date. Projecting my first finished short film on an abandoned train car surrounded by friends, I really fell in love with filmmaking that night in 2010.

I’ve always seen filmmaking as an opportunity to learn about life and push the boundaries of what people are comfortable with in the hope of triggering growth and empowering the human spirit. I didn’t go to film school (and even have been a long time writer for the site NoFilmSchool.com) but instead just started making my first feature length movie, Menthol, which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2014. That project was my film school.

 

In your film Shadow of a Gun, Jacob King’s character, Jason, has such a swift admiration for firearms, but not exactly in the same way as Tom. We see a friendship form and unravel. We see a toxic playing field for malicious intent and yet, in the same foreground we have the counterpart of responsible attitude. It’s surely a divisive topic, but one that’s truly relevant and poignant for the now. Did you feel an urgency to tell this story given the climate of events?

The only urgency I felt to tell this story was the fact that guns had entered my life in an elemental way. Suddenly I was surrounded by them. Suddenly I started to realize that even in Southern California, they were everywhere. I couldn’t avoid learning about them anymore.

 

What’s an aspect of your process, whether pre-production, writing, or filming, do you find to be the perfect challenge?

The perfect challenge for me is maintaining a balance between realism and expression. In my approach to movies, there’s a delicate balance between structural coherence, raw performance and the lyricism of images, and I’m always striving to connect these elements so the sum is greater than its parts.

 

Something that’s wildly intriguing about your film is its use of reality and the contrast that makes some more alarming. How did you come to cast Dominic Pino as one of the leads, and was there a specific version of his life you were pulling from?

Dominic Pino has been a best friend of mine since we were kids, but it was only once we started living together that I realized he was a gun owner. I walked into the garage one day and saw him cleaning his AR-15. I decided to sit with him and observe his process and I started to understand him in a new way. This character was born out of his very real and very coherent love for firearms.

 

Do you feel there’s a creative liberty unearthed in lived-in performances?

Yes, and that’s a great way to put it. The actors and I worked on the characters for around a year before we started shooting and so much came from where we were all at in our lives at the time. I go so far as to use the term non-actors because I feel most free working with non-trained professionals but simply with people who are willing to trust and open their lives to a camera.

 

Was there a philosophy of human nature at play when you were writing the script with your team? How did you find that comfortable medium of gun hobbyism and dire, overt obsession?

The dichotomy that the film explores was very close to the surface within myself and seemed to find an outlet through these two actors. I’ve never been interested in guns, but as I began to see them through Dominic’s eyes I started to ask myself some big questions — none with easy answers. The relationship that humans have to guns is complex, and especially the American relationship. I found it easy to empathize with both sides of that complexity: those who see them as a beautiful tool — even a creative outlet — and those who are attracted to the power they can give to the otherwise powerless.

 

The film’s polarizing subject is one that begs discussion, recognizing the different reactions people may have about firearms. How important was it for you to tell this story set in a friendship?

Shadow of a Gun for me was always about friendship more than gun ownership, it just happens that gun ownership is the catalyst that accelerates and intensifies their trajectory. I was especially interested in young men with problems of identity, not fully understanding where they fit in the world, and using external stimuli (guns, the internet, violent media) to help learn about themselves.

 

What kind of audiences are you engaging with? What kind of stories do you want to tell? Do you make it a point to create contemplation through art and how our realities can collide?

I’ve always seen cinema as a reflective medium and at its best, it can cause meaningful contemplation and growth. I want to tell stories that challenge our ideas of behavioral or moral norms and allow us to push past the near-useless dichotomy of right and wrong and embrace the ambiguity that life is made of.

 

You were one of ten fellows who attended Jim Cummings’ inaugural Short to Feature Lab. How was the whole experience for you? How has the support and that mentorship guided your process moving forward?

Jim Cummings’ Short to Feature lab was a beautiful week spent with other passionate and creative individuals from a very diverse set of backgrounds and tastes who all wanted to share and help each other. The value of being surrounded by good creative energy cannot be understated. Jim’s big heart and big energy paved the way for creative and pragmatic learning for everyone involved. Jim blew all of our minds with what he did with Thunder Road and he showed us everything he did to make it happen. It was demystifying, it was simply inspiring.

 

Your profession is your canvas. What’s been the most gratifying part about what you create and put out to the world? What keeps you going?

Cinema is more than just entertainment. Film is still a young medium, yet it’s becoming more and more ubiquitous, and I feel it is part of my mission in life to find new cinematic language.

 

From your experience, do you have any advice for other emerging filmmakers?

Do not ask permission from anybody to make your films, we don’t have to anymore. Do not get caught in the idea that your film will be perfect. Keep finding ways to continue to create and learn what you have to offer.

 

Let us know how we can keep up with you! What projects are you working on?

I am developing a feature film based in the cities and jungles of Peru, loosely based on a short film I made during a workshop with Werner Herzog in May.


Be sure to keep up with Micah Van Hove on Twitter and Instagram. Catch up with his portfolio and recent work with his production company Spirit Ape Films at www.umuima.com

You can watch the trailer for Shadow of a Gun below!

INTERVIEW: Jaron Albertin

Interviewed by Fiona Underhill

For our latest Sunday Spotlight interview, Fiona had the fantastic opportunity to chat with director Jaron Albertin, whose feature-film debut released earlier this week (9th November) in New York and Los Angeles after debuting it Zurich Film Festival last year.


FU: I want to ask you about the casting of Alessandro Nivola first of all, I notice that you saw him in the production of The Elephant Man in London (with Bradley Cooper and Patricia Clarkson), I also saw that production, what was it about that performance that led you to want to cast Alessandro?

JA: There wasn’t really anything in that performance at all, but we met afterwards and I did research, I watched everything I could find of his. My producer linked us up and she really rated him – he just got the character. I had never seen him in a role like this, so there was some hesitation there, but I just think he’s a wonderfully underrated actor [FU: I agree]. He was really into the idea of taking it on. What he had to say about it and his approach to it. I knew that, in a way, this film is so sparse, there’s not a lot of dialogue and the nuance that he had to get a hold of – I feel like he did a great job. He’s just a great guy too.

 

FU: What about Johnny Knoxville – I have to ask you how that came about?! I think it’s so interesting that he’s playing the voice of reason in the film and that’s not something you often connect with Johnny Knoxville.

JA: I thought he did a great job, actually. He’s from the South, he’s playing this foreman – working class, blue collar, I think he can pull it off – it’s kind of his world. He was the last person to come on board. We were having a tricky time with our financing, they needed somebody with a name. My producer knows him and knows that he’s been wanting to do more dramatic roles, so we put it in front of him. Initially, I was like (snorts incredulously) “Johnny Knoxville?! From Jackass?!” I was 14 when that came out and I was crashing balls over my head. But he was part of the reason why the movie got made, really. That was the primary reason, but then when we started to talk about it … he sucks you in, he has gravity.

 

 

FU: One of my favourite scenes in the film actually is when Ed (Knoxville) is talking to Joel (Nivola’s character) at the leaving party and he’s comforting Joel and kind of addressing themes of toxic masculinity, by saying “it’s OK to feel your feelings, it’s OK to give into them” and then the next second Ed is off getting a lapdance…

JA: It’s kind of rough, it’s off-the-cuff – it’s not an eloquent speech, but there’s something parallel to the end lines, about sleeping and waking, there’s something about him, in a backwards way, gets what Joel is feeling. It’s a direct line in to Joel and I think it works.

 

 

FU: And what about the kids – there is obviously an amazing performance from Eli Haley who plays one of the central roles – Will, but I also really, really liked his friend Carla (Phoebe Young) who talks to him about superheroes and says she wants to be the huntress. How did you go about casting but also working with the kids, with what are quite mature themes, I always wonder when you’re working with kids in a film that’s designed for adults, how do you not traumatise them, basically?

JA: I think you try to cast kids who inherently get it or understand it, it’s just an organic thing – the more they start to “act”, or they get a sense of what acting is, the more it starts to feel false. It’s got to be natural, as a kid, it’s the only way. You can’t look at a kid and see them as professional actors, I mean you can if they’re singing, dancing, jazz hands, Mickey Mouse Club. But when it comes to something like this, Eli I don’t think he’d ever read the script, I think it was day-to-day to him. His relationship with Alessandro – he was a little afraid of him and I think we just kept it as natural as we could. You don’t want too many takes, you try to get things quickly. But over the course of the film, new dynamics start to take hold and then people become your peers, then you feel like you’ve got to project something else onto these people, new relationships build and that directly manifests itself on screen, those natural relationships that you try to have. Particularly when the kids were together, with who is the alpha kid or whatever, you have to implement that feeling in a certain way because of the dynamic of the kids, which has nothing to do with the roles at all. It’s tricky – you never know what’s going to happen. Not a lot’s said. Eli doesn’t speak for the first 20 minutes of the film. 

 

FU: I think the first time Will speaks is when he has a paper bag on his head and that gives him the confidence to use his voice…

JA: Yeah and he doesn’t really move a lot either. He’s basically placid and sat or in a corner the entire time. There’s only two scenes where he’s walking. I was trying to cut out any part where he was walking or moving because it gave a different perspective on him, which is kind of strange to think about, that he’s just this mass, immobile.

 

FU: I really loved the cinematography, particularly the overhead shots, like the ones that were from the POV of a bird’s wing. I’m wondering how you achieved those shots and why you used them – what were you trying to say with them?

JA: I think I have a perspective on depressed realities alongside nature. Where you have the claustrophobia of the internal, you live without stepping back and looking at the bigger picture or the magic of what the natural world is. I grew up in a small potato-picking, hick town in Northern British Columbia, I went to school with First Nations kids and everyone would be drinking or huffing glue and living in this beautiful environment, but really repressed. But if you step back and look at the world, the reality of nature is so beautiful but we were sort of stuck. So Eli being trapped in his own body and the claustrophobia of that and then seeing this bird, it’s this idea of being able to project yourself onto nature, with the magic up and there and the freedom – it’s that contrast. Nature is unknown and random and scary but it gives us answers. We had a helicopter to shoot that, my producer has a relationship with one of the guys who does commercial shoots – a cowboy renegade helicopter pilot came up and I think we had an hour and a half, which in a way really lifted the film, kind of opened it up, we put the wing in afterwards.

 

FU: So you shot in upstate New York?

JA: Yes – two hours out of Albany, small town called Johnstown, an old gambling town, a beautiful old town, but there’s nothing there. They’ve got a great old town hall, but it’s all boarded up. It’s strange, you’re outside of New York, but you have communities that have nothing, they’ve sucked the industry out of everywhere and there’s no respect for anything. I mean, that’s a little depressing, but that was the case in Johnstown.

 

FU: I can think of 8 films that have come out in the last year dealing with rural poverty in America and I’m wondering if it’s subconsciously to do with trying to understand Trump voters or if that was far from your mind?

JA: It’s an interesting question, because to me: No. The rural poverty wasn’t something that was one of the themes for me at all. It’s more relatable for me, I wanted to shoot this film in the interior of BC in Canada and we just couldn’t do it because of practicalities. It’s where I grew up. And there, it doesn’t have the same social, political connotations. Things are rural, things are depressed, but it just is.

 

FU: I really liked the music, particularly in a scene where Joel stops his truck and goes off into a field to have a slash, there’s this haunting, almost choral music over it and I’m wondering what choices you made about the music and why?

JA: That song is by Julianna Barwick and I had that song in mind when we cut the scene, so that song was always in there. But I wanted at times, the music to be meditative, almost a contrast to what we are seeing. There’s a lot going on in that shot, the telephone poles warp and bend. He’s walking and  disappearing – something is compulsively driving him on. That’s a metaphor for a feeling of being isolated, not being able to communicate, to not be understood, to feel like you’re alone.

The music changed over time. I wanted something sparse, I wanted the music to be in situation for most of it, but there’s some abstract stuff. We find this kid called Clem Leek who lives in Chicago, he’s actually English, he’s brilliant. His piano music, it just connected, it just fit. The music is always tough, trying to limit it, trying to tell the story without it as much as you can without it and see how that works.

 

JC: Especially when you’re from a music video background?

JA: Yeah I moved to London in 2007 and made music videos there for 8 years, that was my background. Then I moved to New York about 5 years ago. But for this, it wasn’t easy – it’s not a film that actually demands music, in a way. So, for me, it was finding a certain type of music that matched and that took a while.


 

Weightless opened in New York and Los Angeles on Friday 9th November, and we’ll have a review up on our site in the very near future – but for now, take a look at the film’s trailer below!

CAMFF 2018: An Interview with Rudy Riverón Sánchez

Interview by Elena Morgan

Director Rudy Riverón Sánchez, a Leeds-based filmmaker, is currently on the festival circuit with his feature film debut Is That You?. We got the chance to talk to him as the film is having its UK premiere at the Cambridge Film Festival this week. Rudy, who was born in Cuba, filmed Is That You? in his home country back in 2016 and it recently won an award for ‘Best First Feature Film’ for the first psychological horror to be made in the country.


Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers…

I’m Rudy Riverón Sánchez, the writer and director of ‘Is That You?’, the first psychological horror film to be made in Cuba. I’m originally from Cuba but I’ve lived in the UK for more than 15 years.

You wrote and directed Is That You?, can you tell us what inspired this story?

I took part in a screenwriting workshop for which I had to write a 20 minute screenplay, a scary story for children. The workshop led me to rediscover my interest in the horror genre. I then started to develop an idea for a horror feature film, one aimed at an adult audience, what was to become ‘Is that you?’. I wanted to tell the story of a young girl in conflict with her family but I wanted to ensure that my film was going to be distinctive. I decided to set the story in Cuba and use elements of psychological horror, a subgenre of horror which had not been explored before in Cuba. Having decided to set the film in Cuba, I started to think back to my life in Cuba in order to build the characters. Lili and her family are focused on surviving. They are isolated and caught deep into their own struggles. Lili’s father controls his family and forces his values upon them. This is where the horror element plays the most significant role, real fear in Cuba, mirroring the Cuban way of life.

What was it like filming in Cuba? Did the death of Castro affect the films production at all?

Our producer Emma Berkofsky brought the cameras from the UK, 14 suitcases with two mini Arri Alexas, lenses, and accessories, because the cost of this kit is too high in Cuba. Thanks to Reymel, our line producer and main contact in Cuba, we had the full support of RTV Comercial, the production services company that we were working with in Cuba, and the Cuban government. This helped to make sure everything went smoothly. Everyone we dealt with were really kind and helpful and all the cast and crew worked really hard. The only surprise was that we had to wrap up warm for the night shoots because the temperature in the countryside dropped to 2 degrees some nights. When Castro died, initially we were told by the local authorities that we had to stop filming, which would have been a disaster for the film. But luckily, because we had the right paperwork, we only lost half a day of shooting and after that we were allowed to carry on. However, the country had nine days of mourning and pretty much came to a standstill and so, until those days passed, the production team and myself couldn’t feel completely confident that things would go according to plan.

What did you find the most enjoyable about writing and filming Is That You??

What I enjoyed most when I was writing was the feeling of power that comes with creating a new world, with new characters, and while that’s challenging it’s also really satisfying. Once I got to Cuba, I really enjoyed the rehearsals because that was the first time I saw the characters coming alive, after they had just been on the page and in my mind for so long. Once we started filming, I felt a great sense of satisfaction after finishing each scene because I knew I was achieving the realisation of my vision.

Lili is a distant yet intriguing character, was it difficult finding the right actress for the role?

It took some time to make the decision. Gabriela Ramos, the actress that plays Lili, was recommended to me by the film’s cinematographer, Raúl Pérez Ureta, as he’d previously worked with her on ‘Últimos días en La Habana’. I then mentioned her to our casting director Libia Batista who also thought Gabriela would be great for the role of Lili. When I met Gabriela, I thought maybe we can try because she looked like I had imagined Lili looking. I wasn’t sure at the very beginning if she could do it because she didn’t have the experience, and the character demands a lot. So we did a rehearsal. Our producer Emma was like, “Rudy, are you sure?” I felt a lot of pressure to get it right, because Lili is the protagonist and so critical for the success of the film. It was only during the second week of rehearsals, after focusing on certain scenes, that I felt sure that Gabriela and I together could achieve what the film needed.

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Congratulations on recently winning the Anna Mondelli Award for the ‘Best First Feature Film’ at the TOHorror Film Festival in Turin. Is That You? has been accepted into several film festivals across Europe, how do you get the most out of them?

Thank you.

At each festival, we’ve done as much as we can to promote the film and so that helps you to have a bigger turn out for the screening. I think doing Q&As is also a good thing to do, so that the audience don’t just get to see your film but they get to hear about the director’s inspiration and the experience of making the film. I also make the most of the opportunity to meet other filmmakers, to see their films, and build up my network.

Do you have advice for anyone who may be starting out in the film industry, or want to get into the business?

First of all, don’t give up, no matter what. Be thick skinned. Be patient. Keep working and learning. But at the same time be selective about the projects you get involved with and the people you work with. Learn how to quickly spot mediocrity. Be yourself and believe in yourself. 

Do you have any future projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m currently developing a psychological drama with the working title ‘Carlitos’. I’m looking forward to being able to return to focusing on this after this period of festivals. I’m also having conversations about a psychological thriller that would be a film adaptation of a novel.

We like to end our interviews with the all-important question – does pineapple belong on pizza?

No.

 

 

INTERVIEW: Jim Cummings Talks Indie Filmmaking, Thunder Road, And The Value Of Creative Ownership

INTERVIEWED BY JESSICA PEÑA

Remember this name: Jim Cummings.

He’s been on the road (Thunder Road, if you will) promoting the release of his feature length film, which took home the Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year. A total knockout of a film, it blends together comedic ingenuity with grounded tragedy, which results in a film you won’t stop thinking about for some time.

We were fortunate enough to chat with Jim and pick his brain a little about the state of the film industry, his creative process going from short to feature film and the way he used his time to create a haven of creativity and support for ten independent filmmakers.


So, you seem to be having quite the week with Thunder Road, premiering here in the US. So I wanted to ask, How have you been? Are you exhausted at all? Do you need some coffee?!

That’s very kind of you. I’m drinking coffee right now so I’m okay. I’m better now. It’s been- It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been pretty well. I flew from LA to Milan Film Festival, then to Montreal, then to Raleigh. And then over the last couple of days have been charging it up to the coast to different Alamo Drafthouse screenings and waving and saying hi to everybody. And that’s really cool. No, I’m not tired. I’m thrilled. It’s cool. I feel like it’s been so long since everybody’s been able to see it. And we’re finally getting to put it out there. So yeah, I’m happy as can be.

Yeah, I’ll bet you’re very grateful but tired. But it seems like you’re chasing this high and you’re just going along with it. So that’s great. And you’ve been on fire lately traveling around for press for your film right now. And I’m so thankful to squeeze in a chat with you. I wanted to start off a little light- what was the last movie you saw that wasn’t your own?

Whooo, that’s a great question.

How do you have the time?!

Yeah, I don’t know. I think that the last movie that I remember seeing at the cinema, that wasn’t mine… I see a bunch of movies at film festivals. So I saw this film, STYX, that was really good. That was at the Odesa Film Festival. It’s a German film. But the last movie that I paid for that I went to the cinema for was First Reformed. That was really good.

Oh, wow. Very dark.

It’s great. It was great. I loved it. Yeah, it was great.

You know, it sort of reminds me of your film right now, actually.

Little bit. Yeah. It has a harsh ending.

I watched Thunder Road actually back in May at the Nashville Film Festival. And I’m not kidding when I say that, the more I thought about it since then, the more I love it! You really made something so unique with this film.

You won a string of awards, both at the calibre of Sundance with the short and at SXSW earlier this year for your feature. And it begs a realization that filmmakers should be seizing their voice and their passion and make it into a film at any given day, really. I’m just so grateful to be talking to you today, because I love your ‘give no fucks’ attitude, ‘do it yourself,’ approach to filmmaking.

Through this whole ride with the feature, have you learned anything new about yourself or the way you work on ideas?

Yeah, sure. And and I hate to say it- like, when I say that stuff of you know, don’t wait to make movies with your friends, and turn yourself into a movie studio. It’s a nice sentiment but I still have to wake up and tell myself that everyday. There are very distracting encouragements from people who are telling us that they’ll give us money to make stuff and you know, more than nine times out of ten, it’s false. It just won’t happen or it falls through or something happens.

It’s very important to remember that at every level and just because we’ve had some moderate success over the last few years, it doesn’t mean that I’m in any better position than anybody else to continue to make stuff and make more movies. So, yeah, I think it’s crucial for everybody to continue to make stuff. But I think the thing that I’ve learned the most is that it’s possible and that if you do do this enterprise, if you do seize the means of production and just go and make things, you’ll be rewarded for it.

Like people, if you can make something that’s different and you can do it on a small budget with your friends from a Kickstarter campaign, and it’s any good at all, people will be happy that it’s not a superhero movie and support it.

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And with the Kickstarter campaign for the feature film, I think you were asking like $10,000. What was your reaction when you saw just how much that amount grew to be?

Yeah, shock really. Okay, so we knew that we would probably be able to raise more than 10,000. We were thinking it’d probably be like 15 or 16 or 17 and we asked for 10 because Kickstarter has a policy where if you don’t raise the full amount, you get none of it. And so we asked a little low, but we didn’t dream that we would get, you know, 38 or 36,000, or that we would be able to raise the 10 in the first like, seven hours, which is crazy. Um, and then also the other shocking thing that when we were asking for help and making the film, we met a lot of associate producers who came on board who were strangers to us or were, you know, Twitter followers of ours until they joined the production and now they are good friends and they came and helped out, and it was just a really wonderful experience of tapping the community, and they learned a lot. We learned a lot. Yeah, it was a really great kind of collaborative experience through a crowdfunding campaign. We’re very lucky.

That’s really great. Yeah, I’ll bet the perseverance really paid off there. And just the song itself, “Thunder Road” is just so riveting and how he’s telling us to just pack our shit, forget about the troubles, and just hit the gas, you know? Would you say you’re tied to your work in very personal ways? Because Thunder Road is in itself a very intimate character study.

Yeah. I sympathize with that call to arms of leaving your life if you’re unhappy or if you’re on the verge, just hop in the car and pack things up. I think that is a really beautifully American anthem. But no, I don’t have a whole lot to do with the guy, I think. I am a divorcé, but I don’t have children of my own. Both of my parents are still alive, luckily. And yeah, I have very loving sisters. Yeah, there’s not a whole lot– I mean, I do feel that pathetic sometimes and I’ll put my foot in my mouth often, so I think everybody has that. So yeah, he’s just a product of me trying to make people laugh and trying to make people cry.

Yeah, and you did it very excellently, by the way.

Thank you.

You’re welcome! And his relationship with his mother just seems so far gone from the things he needs to deal with on a daily basis, like being a good father upholding his job, and it just continues to destroy his psyche and he becomes irrational because of it, although he means well. So how did you build up his traits and who this character would become in the film?

Yeah, so I guess it started out with story where I was like writing different ideas for scenes and trying to build out the plot of what the story would be and having it be structured for maximum audience engagement and fulfillment. And so I wrote down, you know, like 50 or 60 scenes and then narrowed it down to, 30 or 35. And some of them were crappy, some of them were fun. But then yeah, it was just that. It was throwing this person into interesting experiences and creating a scene where we were able to see a different side to this guy or an interesting side of this person from the Thunder Road short film.

Often when I was writing the feature, I’d be thinking a lot about the short film, what made that valuable, what audiences took from that. It was just like, you’re watching this person having a public meltdown, which is very interesting. That’s like number one, and then it’s also this love story for the mom and then this scary depiction of a possible future with his daughter. And it’s all contained in this performance piece and sometimes it doesn’t use a whole lot of dialogue, or it’s all monologue. And so I was like, kind of using that as the visual language of the movie. And that was part of the construction of the screenplay as well.

Yeah, it’s really magnificent how it all plays out on screen. You can see he’s put on such an act to the world trying to create this tough layer. And I thought it was so interesting how he’s a cop and yet the world just continues to disarm him. And it was so sad to see, but also somewhat cathartic to his character. Even his phrase, “See me wrestling an alligator, help the alligator,” as a viewer, you see just how defeated he is the next time he says that. It just goes hand in hand with how this guy continues to feel emasculated, humiliated, and yet this is actually just his way of grieving his mother. And I wanted to ask how did you come to the structure of the feature when the short film has become the opening scene here?

Yeah, so for a long time I thought that should be the climax because that’s a really big scene in this guy’s life and then I didn’t really like the idea. I couldn’t really find a way to make that work. I didn’t know what his real life relationship would be with his mom, but I’m a huge fan of short stories. When we’re writing a short story, they always say, “show up late and leave early.” So, you jump in the middle of a conversation and it kind of forces the audience to find out what’s happening, and it’s kinda like a riddle that you have to parce out and try to understand what’s happening, and I find that to be a really interesting and fulfilling experience. I don’t know, it’s like a game you’re playing with the with the filmmaker.

And so yea, I thought that eventually would be a good idea, to just start the film with that instead of have it be the crescendo in the movie. And then I, you know, started writing scenes with it in the beginning of the movie and then introducing the character this way and then having to have his daughter like him again, and the struggle of that, and then it just came like that. The goal was to never back down and to continue to build up the tension and the aggression, and the interesting dilemma that this guy is in all the time. So although it is a challenge to do that, having seen the short film, we just had the world crumble around him. He gets fired, he loses custody. I realized that it was going to be far more interesting to watch this guy take all of his clothes off in a parking lot and get fired than at the funeral, possibly.

Yeah, I love the part in the opening scene where they’re trying to get that Hello Kitty boombox to work and he’s like, “Should we just call the manufacturer?”

Yeah. Yeah, that was one of my favorites, too.

Do you have a favorite scene in the film?

Yeah, I really like the scene of me getting fired. I think that’s like, just a really awesome moment. And we get to see different sides of this dude. But it was also very similar to the short film. And I like that. I like the fact that there are a lot of similarities in the cinematography, the pacing, and the comedy and drama of that. And I think it stays true to the short film while also being something new and different and big. So I’m proud of that. It’s kind of like the sequel of the short film and I’m happy with that.

I think my favorite scene in the movie is at the ballet at the end. That’s probably what I’m most proud of because it’s so big and small at the same time. It’s like using the story that we’ve built up for the last 85 minutes or 87 minutes and then in these last few moments, you get catharsis. You get to watch this guy have a very important moment in his life in private in a ballet, and he’s crying and he has nobody to talk to about it. But it’s a lovely little moment. That’s probably my favorite moment of the movie.

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Yeah. And how was it directing yourself with all the emotion you had to bring to the table? And was there ever a point in production where you thought you’d give up or did you just keep yourself steady on that high you’re chasing?

Oh, no. All the time. Yeah, I was always nervous that it wasn’t going to work. But we rehearsed it 1000 times. Like, at every moment of the day that I wasn’t doing something, I would go off at a Starbucks here, you know, into a parking lot and just act out some of the scenes and talk to myself and try and make it as good as possible. Um, but yeah, we shot it in 14 days in Austin. It was a very small budget. We were always nervous that something was going to go awry, and that’s the nature of independent filmmaking in America. So no, I was always nervous. And I’m not an actor. I’m not a trained actor at all. And so it kind of required me to rehearse a great deal. And in order to make sure that it was any good at all.

And at what point did you realize that you’re just gonna have to do this on your own as far as coming up with a budget with your team and the self distribution part of it?

Basically, whenever anybody who was supposed to be in charge of us or in charge of helping us out failed to do so. So like, you know, the production companies that had turned other very famous successful movies from short films into features were telling us no. So I was like, all right, well, there’s kind of nobody else to go to. Why don’t we just fucking– I guess we have to do it ourselves. And it was kind of better that way. We’d already done 10 short films independently and well, you know, this is gonna be nothing new. It’s just gonna be a longer duration.

How was the mindset changing from looking for the help that you thought you were gonna get to helping yourself and taking that ownership?

Yeah, ownership is something we talk about a lot. It’s not in the metaphorical sense, but in a literal sense of it. If you’re able to do it yourself, you own the thing. And really, the idea of getting greenlit in Hollywood is that they give you a little bit of money, and then they own the thing forever, and you don’t make anything off of it. And so although that sounds like the word “greenlight” is a really cool thing and success, it’s actually less successful since, you know, filmmaking has become more democratized. And so although our movie’s very small, we’re not spending a whole lot of money on marketing. We own the thing. And it’s our first movie. And it’s the first of many, and so I’m glad that we took charge. And we weren’t, you know, spectators of our futures.

We were able to say, okay, no we’ll put in a little bit more work, and maybe not even. The distribution of course is a lot more work. But you know we’ve had films, when I was a producer, we had films distributed and there’s still a lot of work, we still do a bunch of spreadsheets and do all these deliverables and pay a lot of money to get the DCP’s made and all that stuff. It’s no different from what we’re doing now. We just have to spend a couple more months doing other things too.

You mentioned before, I think, how you like to stand as you write and perform the script as you come up with it. So in your writing process, do you prefer to work in solitude? Or do you like to have those people around you to bounce ideas off of?

It depends on the script. So for the short films, for something like Parent Teacher or The Robbery, both of those were written and co written by my friend Dustin Hahn. And he is so much fun to work with because you just get to bullshit all the time and, like, come up with funny things to make each other laugh. And then that becomes the script. But then with this one, I wrote it for the first, few months, maybe the first month, kind of in private. And it was a very sad endeavor and I kind of wanted to do it that way. And I felt like I had to. I was crying a lot while writing and it was kind of a much more personal and private kind of experience in writing than many other things. But then I opened it up as soon as I had a first draft. I sent it to everybody and got good notes, and then it changed. We always say we’re building the plane while we’re flying it. So there were times where like, we’re actually on set and Dustin has a funny idea for a line, and we ended up using that instead of what was written on the page.

Are you like a meticulous planner or do you just prefer to go with the flow and let everything fall into place?

No, no, no. It’s gotta be planned out with long takes, specifically. It has to be like, everything has to be planned out because everything has to be in focus and if there’s anything that’s different or a stand out from the other takes, it’s not going to be in focus or it’s not going to work and everything has to be planned.

Yeah, and I actually just watched The Robbery the other night. I was like, how did I not go find this in his pile before?! It’s interesting. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Thank you. Yeah, so that poor girl, yeah. That’s funny.

She just wanted to save her pet.

Yeah, exactly.

So, juggling your personal life with work and passion, I can’t imagine it’s all that easy. How do you strike the right balance to ensure you’re keeping all the plates spinning?

Yeah, I might not be the best person to ask about that work/life balance. I’m not too good at it. And really, we have eight or nine projects going on all the time. So yeah, I struggle with it a lot, to be honest with you. I think really, work/life, I see them as both the same. I’m a filmmaker and I’m kind of the same person, you know, in the writing process as I am in the filming process. I’m just always trying to make something and get something going. So yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how I do it. I think it’s just project management. I have five producers who are really wonderful and keep us all on task and you know, keep me calm. It’s nice.

Well, that’s really good. And something I can’t shake since seeing Thunder Road and the press you’ve done for it is the need for more unique voices as your own and we here at JUMPCUT ONLINE, we’re super grateful for the opportunity to talk to you right now, because honestly, you’ve become a necessary voice in film today and your message and the things you champion just go on to validate every single filmmaker out there who just wants to turn their passion into a living and just ignore the industry standards. So I was kind of hoping you can expand on that.

Yeah, so I didn’t have anybody to do that, really. I heard Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass saying the kind of stuff like, ‘the cavalry isn’t coming,’ and, ‘you have to do it yourself.’ And I just saw that as this big endeavor. I didn’t know how to do anything. And so it scared me a great deal. And then I met a filmmaker named Trey Shults and he made a film called Krisha which is one of my favorites, and to see him making movies in his backyard with his family, you know, I’m sure John Cassavetes is doing the same thing, but it was so much more relatable to see him do it.

But he doesn’t have a Twitter account, really. And you know, he’s a very quiet person. He’s not a big braggart like I am. And so I feel like I was the only person who was really inspired by him and his story and his family, directly. And so, that’s what got me off the couch to make the Thunder Road short film, for sure. I was like, well shit, I get to be that now. And, you know, I get to pretend to be him and try to help people who were going through hell like we were, for years and years, trying to make projects, you know.

JC-ARTICLE-IMAGE.jpg

Yeah, and it seems like making a movie these days, really, when you think about it, it’s just as easy as grabbing your iPhone and just shooting the thing because Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh have clearly proved its capabilities, as of late. So going into what you’ve been working on lately, with the Short to Feature Lab, I was wondering if you can talk about its conception, how it all went down and if you’ve built some strong relationships with all 10 of your fellows as you guided them.

So yeah, the Short to Feature Lab was an invention of Benjamin Wiessner and mine’s. We  were talking about the toolbox that we have now of turning shorts into features. Our buddy, Danny Madden, turned his short Krista, which won SXSW, two awards at SXSW this year, into a feature a few months ago that Ben was the producer on and I’ve helped out on. Jocelyn DeBoer and Don Levy both shot the feature of Greener Grass, which was a short film at our production company as well, with the help of our producer Natalie Metzger for the Thunder Road feature. And, I don’t know. We just had the experience of doing that path of short-to-feature that we were like, well, why don’t we just start something to help people. We were so incensed that nobody would help us to turn our short film into a feature, despite the fact that we were good candidates for it.

Like, we know our short film is very, luckily, incredibly successful, and still, the channels of Hollywood were not there to help us out or catch us when we were falling. So it really just became this instrument of philanthropy for us of wanting to help people and we did it. We ran a Kickstarter campaign. We were able to raise almost $9,000 in total from donors and submissions, and we brought out these 10 filmmakers who have really cool short films.

Yeah, so we were able to meet these 10 filmmakers and bring them out to my parents’ house in Malibu and spend five days with them workshopping their features and just, like, giving them all of the tools that we learned how to do for free. We helped them with their Kickstarter campaigns or you know, just taught. There’s a lot of bullshit in the film industry and there’s a lot of strange old wives tales that get passed around. Like, one of our filmmakers said, “well, I need a million dollars to make my movie.” like that’s how much it’s gonna cost. Like, “everybody who I’ve spoken to said this is at least a million dollar movie.” But one of the arguments that the filmmaker made was, well this stuff happens. Movies get made. Like, people spend a million dollars on a movie, that happens, but it’s just, I’ve never seen it before.

And like, we’re doing fine. We’re making movies in the film industry. But there’s just these rumors that gets spread around that are very dangerous and can often make filmmakers spend years and years, and years not making movies, because they’re waiting for somebody to give them permission to or give them money to.

And it’s just a daydream that’s like, you know, verging on gambling addiction of wasting all this time and spending your whole life daydreaming that someone’s going to help you out and waiting for your boat to come in. And it’s just, it’s imaginary. And so really, reprogramming that kind of film school thinking was the first step and then walking them through Facebook ads, building your own audience, and all that stuff. It’s empowering the next generation of international filmmaking and I’m stoked about it.

Yeah, like going off what you said are the next generation of filmmakers, it sort of seems like the industry a lot of times is rigged against their best interest. So, it’s so refreshing to see how the Short to Feature Lab has been working, and you said it was five days that you took?

Yeah.

Were you able to fit in all the information and everything you wanted to teach them within that time frame?

Yeah, so the first evening were, you know, we were hoping to just have a meet and greet and then have the majority of the lectures and stuff the next day. But it very quickly turned into like, hey, you know, everybody had questions and so we were able to hang out by the fire that night, talk through stuff, and then have our full workshops the next day and then throughout the week. So the first three days of the five were mentorships and workshops where we had incredible filmmakers join up, like Derek Cianfrance, Rick Alverson and Sean Baker was actually really close to doing it, but couldn’t because he’s shooting a movie right now.

Frankie Shaw, Jocelyn DeBoer, Danny Madden. We have all these awesome filmmakers who took time out of their day to workshop these movies for these filmmakers that we paired them with, and it’s great. They are now on their way to making their movies. So that was the first three days. It was like, heavy workshops and hangout sessions. And then that afforded us two full days to just allow them to start working on whatever part of the project they’re on. So like some of them were writing scripts. Vishnu, who’s one of our fellows, spent the first like, day and a half workshopping, and then he spent the next three days writing the entire first act of his movie, which is really cool.

Same thing with Joey Izzo, he was workshopping his movie and writing out scenes and dialogue. It was a very, very cool collaborative process that we’re thrilled to do again and expand. We want to expand to other labs and do specific ones for sci-fi, or female stories, or LGBT stories, and basically anybody who needs help making their feature out of a short, we’re going to try and expand to.

Yeah, that’d be awesome if you guys expanded on that. And throughout the whole thing, the whole process of it, did you see a part of yourself in these filmmakers?

Yeah, sure. So like, I mean, they submit to me and I watch all of the films. So of course the movies are playing to my sensibilities, but they’re all original. Like, a lot of them are not the happy, sad kind of movies that I make. They just have really great craftsmanship. And that’s what I feel like most audiences respond to, is craftsmanship. So we picked movies that had a really great sensibility of cinematic storytelling. Um, but yeah, I was nervous showing up you know. It was Ben and me, and we’re like prepping and building the tents in the backyard and, you know, getting all the craft services and stuff. And we’re nervous that the filmmakers might not get along. But we picked the movies and all the movies were great. And so of course, they got along. They’re all now very good friends of ours, because they’re so cool, because their movies are cool.

That’s awesome!

Yeah, we’re lucky.

So what can we expect next from you and your team? How much can you tell us about your next project? I hear you’re working on a werewolf movie?

Yeah, I’m doing a werewolf movie right now with a major studio and then I am in development with a streaming platform to do a show about astronauts, which I’m really excited about.

That’s really cool stuff! I do want to stress how thankful we are for you as an emerging creative in general. Because seeing your strong success so far can actually go on to validate someone else out there who’s trying to lift their project off the ground, and as you say, anyone can do it, right?

So yeah, anybody can do it. Exactly right. Always keep that in mind.

Thanks so much for your time, Jim! Last question before I leave you, does pineapple belong on pizza?!

Absolutely not.


We really hope you enjoyed this interview with Jim Cummings! I encourage you to seek out his work and continue to support and talk about unique perspectives and what it really means to be fulfilled with your filmmaking and carving your own methods for success.

You can totally go ahead and pre-order Thunder Road on iTunes right now!

You can follow Jim on Twitter: @jimmycthatsme

You can check out all the amazing fellows and mentors Jim talked about on the Short to Feature Lab and be sure to check out Jim’s Vimeo page! There, you’ll find a couple of the shorts mentioned in the interview, as well as the glorious Thunder Road short, which inspired his feature length film.

INTERVIEW: Sean A Kaufman

Earlier this year we were given the exciting opportunity to review R&F Entertainment’s latest short film, Maturing Youth. The film will be premiering on October 21st at The Cutting Room International Short Film Festival, so we chatted with the film’s lead, Sean A Kaufman, to learn more about him and his time on the set of the film!


Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers…

Sure would! Hey everyone! Sean A. Kaufman here, but you can call me Seanzie – I play Roger in R&F Entertainment’s upcoming short film Maturing Youth. I’m a born and raised New Yorker (you get extra points if you’ve heard of Staten Island, and you win if you’ve ever been there!), a graduate of Dartmouth College and then The Maggie Flanigan Studio where I trained as an actor, and a lover of dogs of all breeds and sizes.

Maturing Youth is your first role in a short film – What was it like stepping onto the set on day one?

It was! And because of that, and this is probably going to sound so trite, but oh well, it was an experience I’ll always cherish very dearly. I drove out to location in Hempstead, Long Island in my 2005 Honda CR-V (more on that later, I promise), wheeled my suitcase up to the house full of excitement, and finally laid eyes on the halls I’d imagined walking for so long already. The first moments on a stage, once it’s fully designed, or a set when your eyes either confirm or deny your assumptions about what you’ve read are always full of wonder. Realness meets your daydreams and suddenly you can see the scenes in your mind with vivid clarity – and that’s what it was like for me as I toured the home we filmed in. I relished having so much detail to take in, from cartoonish kiddie magnets on the refrigerator to charming fruit-themed wall decorations, and a very reflective wall unit that I immediately (and unnecessarily) began to worry about, with respect to filming. The few hours leading up to filming were filled with an electric excitement for me, meeting all the crew members, going over safety and ground rules. I couldn’t wait to don my costume and makeup, get mic’d up, and start rolling. And yes, that was certainly make-up. I should hope I don’t normally look so druggy.

Did you have any previous acting experience before landing the role of Roger Maturing Youth?

Yes, I’ve been acting for years, in a sense, but this was a new sort of professional milestone for me. I started when I was a first year in high school, bitten by the theatre bug, doing two musicals each year, and in college I learned long-form improv comedy from my troupe The Dog Day Players. My senior year, I also did two plays, and they were really what launched me into life as actor. Soon after I graduated, I had an absolute blast doing summer stock theatre in New London, New Hampshire and that fall I did regional theatre in neighboring Vermont. The next year I spent my time back home auditioning as much possible and doing small plays. During this period I realized I’d need to start training seriously, which was how I ended up under the watchful eyes of Charlie Sandlan, Karen Chamberlain, and others at The Maggie Flanigan Studio for two years. Maturing Youth is not only my first film, it was also my first audition after graduating from that program.

Your character Roger is a care-free, weed smoking layabout. Are there any characters from film/TV that you used as inspiration for playing this role?

That he is, and yes, I had all sorts of inspiration. First and foremost, our writer/director Divoni Simon asked me to study The Big Lebowski for inspiration and character development. Fun and helpful as that was, I also turned to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) from Breaking Bad. I found him to be particularly useful, albeit much more… entrepreneurial than Roger. I made it a point not to copy anyone; anyway, I’m of the belief that try as one might, it’s almost impossible to copy others’ acting since any actions you execute must play through you and your acting instrument, making it your own. As flattering as it has been to hear myself or my Roger compared to a well-known actor in a well-known comedy, I still take pride in the uniqueness of the Roger I’ve created. He’s definitely a far cry from Sean as the actor, yet hopefully believable enough for the audience to buy him as a real person.

What did you find most enjoyable about filming Maturing Youth?

There are a few different kinds of things I enjoyed – and I don’t want to cop out and just say “everything!” When it came to filming the scenes, our Director of Photography, Zach [Mayor], was really collaborative with my cast mates and me. Most of our ideas worked well together, and he always found great ways to motivate camera movement and action. I learned a lot from working with him. I also really enjoyed working with the crew. In less than three days we shot a whole film, so we became close. I was well prepared for most of my filming and wasn’t too worried about losing focus, so I enjoyed chatting with everyone during our breaks, and hopefully making them feel appreciated (because if anyone works hard, it’s a film crew). Lastly, and this was something that only occurred to me once we had finished filming, but the effect that this story has on the audience from the themes floating to the surface in Maturing Youth make me so proud to have been part of it. One crew member privately revealed to me how watching the scenes unfold as we filmed had such a visceral effect on him due to the nature of his relationship with his own son. Learning that this was more than just a role for me to play and feel and stick on a resume made it take on an entirely new meaning and sense of accomplished art. Maturing Youth is a funky story with lots of hidden depth just waiting to be experienced. The same way Roger is surprised by his status as a father, I felt I had just been granted responsibility for delivering the message this wonderful story holds.

Do you feel like you learned a lot during this shoot?

Let’s put it this way: for the three days we filmed, there was rarely a moment I wasn’t learning something. There are some things that seem to make sense that I learned on a film shoot, like what a focus puller does, or why a certain kind of makeup is applied, or that Craft Services is your best friend, lord, and savior. But then there are straight up life lessons you learn. Remember when I told you I’d have more to say about my car? Once we finished and I was packing up my car, I decided to drive it up the street to make it more convenient to load up in front of the house. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk! I thought, wow this street must be bumpy, but no! Apparently I had run over a huge nail when I parked three mornings earlier, and sure enough that tire was flatter than a pizza (more on that later, too!). Thankfully, those friends I made on the crew came to my aid. Apollo Figueras and Ray Adamavage taught me how to change a flat! Thanks again, guys. You are gentlemen and scholars. And in case anyone is wondering why, after filming a whole movie about fatherhood, my father hadn’t already taught me that important skill, don’t worry – he did; it had just been so long since I needed to do it that I forgot. Whoopsies!

Do you have any advice for anyone else who may be just starting out in the film industry?

More broadly than just for film, for any actor, I’d drill the point that it’s so important to get good acting training. Learn what it is that we are doing here. Learn that it’s hard work and soul searching and dedication to an art form thousands of years old. Learn that it’s so, so, so much more than learning lines and looking the part. Learn that it means a lifetime of learning!

And please, be considerate. Be nice. Actors get treated pretty well all the time, so the least you can do to give back is be kind to those also working on a project, in whatever capacity it may be. They’re people with feelings, hopes, and dreams just like you.

Do you have any future projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?

Yes! As of the time of this interview, I’m in rehearsals for the world premiere of the play Suddenly, produced by Live Source Theatre Company, based on the 1954 Frank Sinatra film of the same title. We run Oct. 5-20, 2018 at HERE Arts Center in NYC. I’m also starring in a feature length independent horror film still in production, and have assistant directed fellow Maturing Youth cast mate Terrence Keene in the feature film he co-wrote, Joaquin and Luke. Lots to be excited about at the moment!

What’s your dream role?

When they re-boot The Office and need someone out there to contend with Michael, Dwight, Jim, and the rest – that guy! I know I need to show the British version some love, too, and I promise I will! I just love the American version so much I’d sell my soul to be a part of it.

We like to end our interviews with the most important question of all – does pineapple belong on pizza?

Ah, back to pizza! Well, I’m a NYC boy and have already mentioned one preference, FLATNESS, none of that Chicago deepdish nonsense. Sorry Chi-town, I’m sure I’ll love it when I get there and try it. But I have tried pineapple on a pizza (Italian friends, it’s ok – I never had it again, I swear!). It’s like most things you try in college: done while sleep-deprived, probably harmless, but mostly for the story. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either. When it comes to pizza, I’m somewhat of a purist, but you would be too if you were born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island. But I’ll tell you this: I love the idea of throwing pineapple on a pizza when it comes to acting. When you’re in rehearsal or filming and have an excess of time – try things! Make fun choices! Screw convention – you can discover something new and potentially unlock something great! If you’ve seen Maturing Youth already, the bag-diaper was my pineapple on a pizza! So I hope you enjoy!

Thanks Jumpcut Online for a great interview!


We’d like to thank Sean again for taking the time to chat with us and we’re excited for Maturing Youth‘s premiere at the end of the month! Keep your eyes peeled on our site and social feeds as we chat to more of the cast and crew of the film!

INTERVIEW: Divoni Simon

Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to be offered the chance to review a screener of a fantastic short film called Maturing YouthThe cast and crew are gearing up for the film’s premiere at the first annual Cutting Room International Short Film Festival next month and we were given the opportunity to interview the film’s director, Divoni Simon.


Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers…

Hello to all who reads this, my name is Divoni Simon. I’m a 21-year-old filmmaker who lives in Long Island, NY and “Maturing Youth” from R&F Entertainment is my official debut short film. I’ve been writing screenplays through my teenage years to now, starting from freshmen year of high school. So far, the road has been long and tough, but I’m glad everything is finally coming to fruition.

You both wrote and directed Maturing Youth, which marks your directorial debut – Can you tell us what inspired this story?

The main theme I wanted to nail was responsibility in the oak wood of thought. I was looking at my life from the outside-in and didn’t particularly favour the lack of structure my life was leading. Especially, in the responsibility department. Just the same as the lead character, I also had a fear of maturing and a self-proclaimed “Peter-Pan syndrome”. This wasn’t the first short nor feature I’ve written, but this is the only story where my inner-self was vulnerable to this extent and I wanted to create a film that was honest in all ways. And, the process of the film’s production was very cleansing for me.

How long did the shoot last for this short?

Two and half days. In the original draft, we were looking at 47-pages worth of content, but we omitted unnecessary bits throughout pre-production, during filming and also in editing. I’m very proud of the cast and crew on having the tenacity of pushing their limits when it came to this project.

Were there any unexpected challenges you faced during filming?

Everything was hectic, but the team was well prepared thanks to the producer [Chase Michael Pallante]. Thankfully, nothing catastrophic happened during those two and half days. Mostly the problems, before shooting were monetary expenses. Secondly, was finding a location to film inside of so the answer to that was to shoot the movie inside my own home. I went through about twenty jobs just to raise funding for this project. Then, on-set, you had your usual directorial stresses of keeping the boat afloat along with the producer.

What did you find most enjoyable about filming Maturing Youth?

Every single second from it. Even, back in pre-production when we were in the middle of auditions and rehearsals. I was delighted to work with the actors on improving every nook and cranny of their characters and using their suggestions to better craft their characters so that the experience could be more universal for all involved. As far as scene-wise, I personally enjoyed filming all the argument scenes between Roger, played by Sean A. Kaufman and Sadie, played by Kim Paris. They both had an energy that felt like you’re watching an intense match of hot-potato. 

Are there any directors in particular that inspire you and your work, both directing and screenwriting?

Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kuwaswa, The Coen Brothers, Spike Lee, John Singleton, Oscar Micheaux, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Alfred Hitchcock, too many too name. The list keeps growing honestly.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.” – Anonymous

Do you have any future projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?

My next short film will be about a chronic masturbator who discovers his mother’s pornography tape online.

What’s your dream project?

I’ve already written the script for it. It’s about the Black Panther Organization and the FBI’s COINTELPRO program set in Harlem, 1968.

We like to end our interviews with the most important question of all – does pineapple belong on pizza?

Just as much as Trump belongs in office.


We’d like to thank Divoni once again for taking the time to answer our questions, and we’re excited to reveal we’ll have more interviews from the cast and crew from Maturing Youth coming up very soon!

But for now, make sure to follow the film on Facebook and Instagram

INTERVIEW: Paul Feig Talks A Simple Favour, Freaks and Geeks, Ghostbusters & The Box Office

Interviewed by Dave Curtis

Paul Feig is in the midst of a PR promo tour which will take him all over the world. At the start of his career, Paul wrote Freaks and Geeks which is now considered a cult classic but initially was considered a flop and quickly cancelled. Now the man who directed the hugely successful comedies Bridesmaids, Spy and the much talked about Ghostbusters remake is about to embark on a new challenge. A Simple Favour starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, which is based on the hugely popular novel by Darcey Bell, is his latest endeavour. Not one to shy away from a conversation, Paul chats to us about his new film and what its like working with Anna and Blake. He also talks about his experience working on Ghostbusters and what he enjoys about filmmaking.

The following has been transcribed from a telephone interview between Dave and Paul.


Hello Paul, How are you?

I’m good, how are you?

I’m good. Thank you very much for talking to us.

My pleasure. Thank you for taking the time.

It must be a long day. It was your premiere last night wasn’t it?

Yes it was (laughter). I’m still feeling the effects. It was quite a celebration, but very very fun.

I could only imagine, with your sense of style I imagine it being very good.

(Laughter)

So Paul, ”A Simple Favour’- its a slight change in direction for you in that it is a thriller. Are you a fan of the genre?

Oh yeah. They are probably my favourite thing to watch, I’ve always loved them. Technically I don’t watch a lot of comedy. Its the bit I work in so I really enjoy the heightened tension and just the kind of drama and everything about thrillers. I also really love the old Hitchcock thrillers which were really fun and I kind of think that kind of thing is missing from the thrillers today. I still love them, but I really like the fun old ones.

Yeah a good thriller is quite hard to come across nowadays.

Well you know Hitchcock wasn’t afraid to inject humour into the characters and add quirkiness into them in a way that would make them fun. It can still be a real thriller and still let people have a good time.

Is that what attracted you to the project, were you approached by the studio or were you actively searching for something different?

I really wanted to find a thriller. You look at all my movies, they are all comedies really. You know there is a wedding movie, a buddy cop comedy, a spy movie. So a thriller was something I always wanted to do, but it’s one of the those genres I didn’t really know how to write. I feel like I would have to write it from scratch. So it was one of those things when you say hopefully a project will come in, that does and the script got sent to us. My company, we have a deal with Fox and at the time Fox 2000 had bought the book and had Jessica Sharzer write a version of it. They sent it to us because basically we had a producing deal with them. They were like ‘We have this movie and we don’t know what it is because its a thriller but its also really crazy and its kind of funny but we don’t really know’. So they were like ‘Maybe you can figure it out’. I read it and I just loved it so much and I said this is the thriller I’ve been looking for. This is one I know I can make. I can make it funny and fun and its mainly because A) it has so many twists and turns which I loved and B) because of the character that Anna Kendrick plays because I thought I can just get comedy out of that character. First of all its exactly the kind of character that’s in all my movies. Which is the awkward person, undervalued and sort of underestimated who really hasn’t found their place in the world yet. By going through whatever situation the movie throws at them to become a better person because of it and so that was my in. Just a fact that there was this nerdy mum who none of the other parents like. Its very earnest, sweet and that’s what I loved about it. I always want to make my movies good natured, you know even if they are dark. I don’t like things that are ugly and have a very negative statement about the human race in general. If you look at my movies they aren’t mean spirited.

Did you know of the book beforehand or was it the script that caught your attention?

Yeah it was the script. I read that first and then I read the book after that, but it was really the script which I thought was really fun. What Jessica Sharzer did which was so amazing, was that she really took the best moments from the book and then kind of mixed them around in a way that made it much better for the screen.

She is a wonderful screenwriter. I watched ‘Nerve’ the other day and I thought that was a good film. A bit of a hidden gem.

Oh yeah, and what a great person. A great partner to have, somebody who is so wonderful and so open to trying anything.

The trailer states that this is from your darker side. Should we be worried from now on, is this going to be something that is going to carry on?

(laughter) Honestly every project is new for me and I just want to tell great stories and so all the films that get sent to me, that I respond to or what idea I have that I want to write. But my next movie is going to be more of a romcom, kind of very fun, emotional movie. But I would love to work in the thriller genre again. I want to work in every genre that I can. Howard Hawks is my favourite director and the fact he worked affectingly in so many different genres has always been a inspiration to me and I think that’s the way to go.

You come across as a fun guy and a fun director. Was it fun making ‘A Simple Favour’ because it must of been fun making ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘Spy’, but was this as enjoyable?

Oh yeah really fun. Sometimes even more fun than doing straighter comedy because you are getting so much out of the script than you already have because its so tightly plotted that you don’t have a lot of room to really to play around in that way. What you get to do is relish all these extreme emotions and these quirky extreme characters and so there is something incredibly fun about that. It helps when you have actors that are game and Anna and Blake were just so game to play and have fun with it and then I’m able to do my favourite thing which is to surround them with great supporting characters who are funny and quirky and just be so additive to the proceedings.

Talking about Blake and Anna, just from the trailer they look like they share wonderful chemistry. Was it like that from day one or had they met before or had you had rehearsals?

No not really. They only really met at a few times at social events over the years, showbiz events. They didn’t really know each other at all and you know when you are hiring movie star you can’t really go ‘Hey come in and audition with [this] person and see if you have chemistry’. You hire them and hope it works. But they hit it off from day one. I mean the chemistry was there and the dynamic of those characters was just kind of played in to their natural dynamic and also how they got to know each other and all of that. The way Blake’s character drops into Stephanie’s life and you know it was like when you cast somebody in a movie and you are like ‘and here is your partner out of nowhere’.

Yeah I’ve watched a couple of interviews with them recently and they just seem to get on really well, so it’s really nice to watch a film when two leads are so good together and actually have a friendship.

Yeah its really, really nice. But I’ve found in my career that all the actors I’ve worked with tend to just get along because they are just really professional and they are team players. You know the best movie stars are team players and not out for themselves. They know they are only as good as the people they are working with. That’s what is so nice, they know and realise they need each other.

You seem to attract many fantastic actresses like Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Rose Byrne, Sandra Bullock, Leslie Jones and now Anna and Blake, what do you think attracts them to your projects in particular?

Well I think I have projects that have really good roles for women and the thing that I hate is people saying its strong female leads. No its not that, its just that they are good three dimensional roles and they can be strong and weak and vulnerable and they’re smart and they mess up. It allows whoever is going to play the role to just have a fully developed fun character and show off their comedic chops or just show off what a good actor they are. So you realise how bad things have been for actresses for so long. There weren’t enough roles that they could really sink their teeth into.

I totally agree with you. I think you have been spearheading the revival of good quality female comedies, starting with Bridesmaids, Girls Trip, Rough Night and most recently The Spy Who Dumped Me, which I felt was heavenly influenced by you. Kate McKinnon is just brilliant in that.

She is just so great. Thanks. The good thing now is that studios are letting people make movies about women and god forbid letting women behind the camera to direct them too. Its slowly course correcting and I mean its such a major course correction that they have to do. They’ve behind for a long time but at least its starting [to change].

Did you feel least pressure working on A Simple Favour compared to your other films?

You always feel pressure because of how much the movie costs. If it doesn’t do well there is still a mark against you because you may have made a bad decision or you are just creatively off. So I always definitely feel the pressure regardless, but it was nice not having to carry the pressure of an enormous budget because that help wins some fights and arguments you have with the studio. If you want something and they don’t want it you’re like ‘hey do you know much money I’m not making to do this, you know how much I’m sacrificing to do this!’ So yeah it really allows me to experiment a little more and do the things I wanted to do. That said the studio was so supportive of us because the movie ended up going to Lionsgate. It was going to be Fox 2000 and they at the last minute got nervous about it and decided not to do it. Lionsgate swept in and kept us on schedule and I will be eternally grateful. I’m really, really grateful to them for that.

Talking about the box office, is that something you look at. Do you worry about it or do you finish the film, finish post then go on holiday and try not to think about it. Because it seems some directors don’t seem to care, but do you worry about it?

All I worry about is the box office, its drives everything I do, every decision I make, every sleepless night. I’ve got different perspective of this than a lot of other people which is that I was in movie jail once. I started really good and fell apart really badly and then I was allowed to make movies again. That was a hard lesson like “unless you make me some money”, unless you get return of their investment you don’t get to do it again. So I’m sadly obsessed with it, but it does mean that I’m trying to make movies that I know are going to entertain the biggest amount of people. Well that’s what I’m shooting for. I’m not trying to shoot a little niche film I want, no matter how much my movies cost because I want everybody to see them, because I’m proud of them and want them to entertain.

Well I think you are doing a good job because all your projects make a good profit. For example Bridesmaids made a ridiculous amount of money from a moderate budget. So I don’t think you have to worry. (laughter)

Well thanks, the old saying is true, you’re only as good as your last picture. You never lose sight of that. You never rest on your laurels. Then they go and start giving you life time achievement awards and don’t let you work anymore.

(laughter) Well you don’t want one of those yet. Talking about your last picture Ghostbusters, which I really enjoyed, did the response from so called fanboys put you off for a while or did you brush it off?

Oh yeah it definitely bummed me out, it was a real assault which I wasn’t prepared for. Now I realise I made so many mistakes and how I dealt with all of that, because I just didn’t expect it. It really broad sided me because all my interactions on the internet before that were just absolutely lovely and just supportive. There was whole little group of people that liked what I did. So when I announced that project I just expected everyone was just going to be really happy (he laughs) and then there was daily stuff of awful awfulness. At the same time there were so many nice people. You just tend to focus and notice the bad stuff. It definitely threw me and definitely put me off but it didn’t stop my desire in doing stuff. It just made me think about ‘Ok what am I going to do next and what’s the next thing I want to say and what road do I want to go down to entertain people?’ Do I want to make another giant movie right away or do I want to make something? I don’t want to say smaller because that sounds less commercial, just something that’s not on the same scale, but hopefully something that is as entertaining or even more so.

You have a gift in casting male actors who are naturally funny but aren’t really known for their comedy chops like Jon Hamm, Jason Statham and Chris Hemsworth. Do you take credit for that? I truly believe if there was no Ghostbusters there would be no Thor: Ragnarok because Chris Hemsworth really shows his funny bones in it.

I mean I’ll own part of it, he is a funny guy. When I really got inspired, well it was a double thing that happened because we have the same agents so when it came to Ghostbusters my agent said ‘hey Chris Hemsworth said if you want him to do anything in your movie, he really wants to do a movie that his kids could enjoy’ so I was like ‘wow that would be awesome like to have Thor being their receptionist.’ Then I saw he hosted Saturday Night Live and I just thought he was really funny. What I look for, I don’t know if I look for people who are funny, I look to see if they have a sense of humour about themselves.

I’ve got to mention Freaks and Geeks, I think people would be disappointed if I didn’t. Your CV for TV is very impressive. You directed some episodes of The Office (US), Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development, and Freaks and Geeks. Do you still get offered to do more TV?

I love TV. TV is in such an amazing place right now. I wish TV would have been in this place when we did Freaks and Geeks, we might still be on the air. We were such a fish out the water at the time, just an hour long dramedy. It just wasn’t what people were looking for at that moment. But I love TV and what’s great about TV now is the fact that it is embracing the realization of story telling and so these series are big long movies. So I love that, but I never love anything more than the challenge of trying to tell a complete story in two hours. It’s the hardest thing to do but the most satisfying thing to do.


We’d like to say a huge thank you to Paul for taking the time to chat with Dave!

A Simple Favour is out now in the US and releases in UK cinemas 20th September!