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!

Director Crash Course: Richard Linklater

Written by Corey Hughes

Back in 2016 I started a new series to my blog and twitter page titled ‘Director Season’, a monthly challenge whereby I attempt to watch the entire oeuvre of a chosen director.

With Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, and the Coen Brothers given the special treatment, I was able to discover hidden gems and watch a handful of movies that I REALLY should’ve watched by now.

Since then, ‘Director Season’ has been given a facelift. Now titled ‘Director Crash Course’, I’ve restarted the challenge, and with Paul Thomas Anderson tackled back in July, I spent August focusing on the wonderful work of Richard Linklater; a filmmaker I have a new-founded adoration for. The aim of this article is to round up my thoughts for each of the films I watched in August and to present my personal favourites from Linklater.

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SLACKER (1990)

Although IMDb credits It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988) as Linklater’s debut feature, for many, Slacker is where it all began. Linklater’s low-budget, beautifully mundane depiction of a group of bohemians in a single day in 90s Texas is an inspiring piece of indie filmmaking, proving that creativity is not dependant on budget or studio backing.

Not much happens in Slacker, characters come and go, storylines evaporate into nothingness; but that’s the whole point. Linklater simply observes the extraordinary actions of the ordinary civilian, from a UFO enthusiast to a JFK conspiracy theorist, in their everyday lives. As such, there is a palpable social realist eye to the events unfolding, particularly the guerrilla-esque, documentarian cinematography on display. Linklater seamlessly travels through the narrative with minimal cuts and transitions, the camera following the misfits as they travel through the warmly lit streets of Texas.

It’s not a film I would revisit anytime soon, nor has it particularly aged well, but it’s a film that I’m glad exists.


DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)

Dazed and Confused is a timeless coming-of-age tale shared amongst an ensemble of social misfits and high-school stoners.

The film is seeping with nostalgia, melancholy, and authenticity, with its impeccable dialogue helping to illustrate the final day of school before summer. The excitement, the unpredictability, and the anxiety of starting something new is expertly addressed in the film; emotions that are at the heart of every living person.

But above all, it has a true ‘feel-good’ vibe that makes for a fun, energetic cinematic experience. Linklater borrows from his feature debut Slacker; the ensemble of compelling characters, the storylines that seem meaningless, the blurring between real and cinematic timelines, and expands upon them to create what is a profoundly thought-provoking story. Such energy is channelled through the film’s killer, rock-filled soundtrack, one that I will find myself listening to for years to come.

I will remember Dazed and Confused for the rest of my days.


BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)

Well, where do I start?

Perhaps what I love most about the first entry in Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy is how character and place are intricately linked. People come and go but their experiences will always linger on. A couple’s laughter, their romantic embraces; they fade into memory. But for Jesse and Celine, Vienna will always be there. Their deep conversations about love, past relationships, the mannerisms that will inevitably become annoying; they all take place in a city that will always be theirs. But above all, their love for each other is real, one that blossoms by open dialogue and a genuine sense of connection between the two characters, and of course, Hawke and Delpy themselves.

Not many films have the same effect on me that Sunrise has. Many would argue that it takes multiple viewings of a film for it to be considered as a favourite, but after just one viewing, this is undoubtedly a favourite of mine. What a truly transcendent piece of cinema.


SUBURBIA (1996)

Although SubUrbia isn’t as ground-breaking nor as charming as Linklater’s previous ‘slackers in reality’ projects (particularly Dazed and Confused) there’s an undeniable sense of self-depreciating anger seeping through the cracks of Eric Bogosian’s story; anger pointing toward societal entrapment and the divide between fame and normality.

Linklater’s trademark ‘kitchen-sink’ direction, the grainy cinematography with long, dialogue-heavy takes, the focus on the characters and their personal quirks; is reliant on the performances, and thankfully, the ensemble cast is bursting with charisma. From Ribisi’s constant grumbles and Zahn’s drunken outbursts, SubUrbia is driven by these characters – and Linklater understands how to blend them together without feeling overly convoluted and incoherent.

SubUrbia is hard to pick out, but if you can get your hands on a copy, then I’d advise giving it a watch.


WAKING LIFE (2001)

By far Linklater’s most peculiar project, Waking Life tailors around the experiences of an unnamed main character who journeys through the dreamland via lucid dreaming. On his mind-bending journey, he encounters a roster of strange individuals whom question the values of life and the philosophical and existential ideologies that come with it: life and death, free will and determinism; notions that linger forever in the human mind.

Through Linklater’s mesmerising, rotoscoped animation, we become the dreamer; with his thoughts becoming ours. He merely exists in his dream world, listening to the rambles of those he encounters; the philosophical and the victimised, the rational and the irrational. He doesn’t challenge what he hears but just listens – his curiosity manifesting into a journey of existential self-discovery, as clichéd as that may be.

Waking Life, for some, will pass by with no sense of penetration. It will, like the dreamer, just exist; fading into nothingness. But for others, the film with change the way they perceive the world. For me, my experience falls dead centre between this threshold. I accept and appreciate its existence, and I also apply the many ideologies from the film to my own life; yet I fear I will never have the urge to watch it again. For a film that runs for just 99 minutes, it felt much longer; much heavier. A slight deviation of attention with result in a state of confusion, and sadly, I felt my attention slowly slipping away as the film progressed.


BEFORE SUNSET (2003)

Linklater’s second entry to the ‘Before’ trilogy is just as wonderful as the first, and I can’t express in words how much of a personal connection I felt to this sequel. The loss of romanticism in love, the feeling of what could have been, the fear of settling; these are all emotions that everybody in a long-term relationship consider at some stage of their lives.

Where Before Sunrise sets up this promise of romanticism, Sunset has the bravery to introduce the realism of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. They don’t meet 6 months after their mesmerising night in Vienna, instead they move on with their lives. Jesse has a wife and son; Celine works as a humanitarian in love with a war journalist. Yet when they meet once again 9 years later, their spark is reignited. Hawke and Delpy become Jesse and Celine, the pair morphing into their roles with a true sense of connection and raw authenticity.

Linklater somehow manages to find the perfect balance between hopefulness and realism; humour and melancholy. As the final scene fades to black, I found myself teary eyed. Was it with hope? Or was it with an unexplainable tint of sadness? Well, isn’t that what love is?

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A SCANNER DARKLY (2006)

Linklater’s second animated feature, A Scanner Darkly, is an expertly crafted adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel; a story of existential crisis and voyeuristic surveillance.

It’s also a story of manipulation, coming in the form of Dick’s compelling, detailed characters; a catalogue of individualised creations that all have their own motives, whether it’s Robert Downey Jr’s sociopathic James Barris or Winona Ryder’s manipulative Donna Hawthorne; they all bring something unique to the table. This, of course, is a true testament to the performances on display and the preciseness of the post-rendered animation – with Linklater placing an onus on physical expression through the eye-catching cartoonish feel.

There are moments where the film becomes heavy with foreshadowing and subtle detail, but that only adds to the change of direction in the film’s final moments; a denouement that will undoubtedly encourage multiple viewings. I can’t wait to watch it again.


BERNIE (2011)

Linklater’s mockumentary about a former funeral director who shot his lover dead in Texas is much lighter and far more comedic than the actuality of the event itself, and the ethical implications of such a contradiction is enough to warrant discussion.

The film itself is utterly bonkers. Jack Black is tremendously cast as Bernie Tiede, the beloved funeral director who ‘fooled’ an entire community with his charm and generosity, whose malevolent actions are, as the tag line suggests, ‘so unbelievable that it must be true’. Funnily enough, however, I never once thought that these characters were based upon real people. The moment archived photographs of the real Bernie are shown on screen during the film’s closing credits, I found myself in a state of shock. “How on hell could this actually happen?”, I found myself asking.

Such disbelief is heightened through Linklater’s questionable decision to make Bernie as a comedy, albeit a black comedy. The humour is dry and relies solely on the ignorance of the characters themselves, which raises the issue of whether Linklater is sympathising or mocking them. I feel that for the average viewer, the ones from the outside looking in, this is a charmingly raucous story; but for those involved in the event, will find that the story criminally undermines the severity of Bernie’s actions.

I, however, found myself chuckling along. Perhaps I shouldn’t have; but when you have Jack Black at the forefront of such a project, you’d have to be dead inside to not find it amusing.


BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)

Linklater’s beautiful ode to love in all its truest forms comes to an end with Before Midnight; a nostalgic, melancholic, and most important of all, real depiction of human relationships.

Where Sunrise was brimming with hope and romanticism for Jesse and Celine, their relationship matured and blossomed 9 years on in Sunset. Now, in Midnight, the harsh realities of mature romance come to the fore. Now roaming the sweeping landscapes of Greece with twins almost two decades since their first meeting on that train bound to Vienna, Jesse and Celine’s relationship is tested like never before. The prevalence of parenthood is accompanied with conflict and compromise, flirtation and feud; the palpable friction between the pair slowly slipping through the cracks.

Said conflict culminates in an emotional implosion set in a hotel room during the film’s final moments that can only be described as perhaps the realest argument ever depicted in cinema. Hawke and Delpy bounce off one another in a way that most couples do, with little triggers resulting in overly catastrophic outbursts and the most minuscule of facial gestures emitting the wrong message. It’s hard to watch, as if you’re a child watching on as your parents yell and fight.

I can’t put into words how much I love this trilogy. Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight act as the vicious cycle of love itself; the promising romance, the blossoming relationship, and the inevitable darkness of growing old together. If this isn’t the end, then I can’t wait to see the next chapter of Jesse and Celine’s journey. Even if it does mean watching them ramble on about the meaning of life in the lounge of a nursing home.


BOYHOOD (2014)

There’s not much more to say about Boyhood that hasn’t already been said. Filmed over a 12-year span depicting the Bildungsroman story of a boy and his journey through adolescence; this is a coming-of-age tale like none other.

The use of cinematic time in Linklater’s films has become somewhat of a recurring motif in his works, but in Boyhood, it’s taken to another level. The film simply observes the actions of Ellar Coltrane’s Mason, and thus forces the viewer to watch on as he progresses through life; hurdling over the barriers that rapidly approach. The issue of family dysfunction is profoundly prevalent throughout the film’s entirety, with Mason and his older sister being raised by a compassionate single mother who struggles to juggle abusive partners and achieving her own aspirations.

Ethan Hawke’s Mason Sr. provides a momentary rest-bite from the struggles his kids face at home; taking them bowling and buying them gifts. At first he seems like the conventional immature and incompetent teenage father, but like Mason Jr., he goes on a journey on his own; working backwards, as it’s referenced in the movie. In truth, Mason Jr. isn’t the only character that has his own story, it’s very much a family piece. The family unit, albeit tested at times, stay firm as one; moving together through life together as time relentlessly passes by.

It’s a miracle that this film exists. For Linklater and his cast to dedicate 12-years of their lives to this project is a cinematic achievement that exceeds all expectations; a monumental achievement that requires a meticulous amount of patience, precision, and preparation. How anybody can have nothing but admiration for this project is beyond my understanding.


EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (2016)

Everybody Wants Some!! has been labelled as the ‘spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused’, and it’s not difficult to see where the similarities lie. Like his 1993 classic, Everybody Wants Some!! is brimming with charm and charisma; helped by Linklater’s eye for realist dialogue and the incredibly delightful cast on display.

Linklater has a distinct ability to create a sense of genuine, off-the-cuff chemistry between his cast members, and with this, it’s no different. It’s so impressive that with an ensemble cast of mostly unknown actors, Linklater’s catalogue of characters all feel distinctively different from one another; each of the members providing something new and original to the table. The humour between them all is unprecedentedly hilarious throughout the film’s entirety, with special mention to Glen Powell’s Finn and Austin Amelio’s Nez; who remain at the forefront of the laughs every time they’re on screen.

Without the charm and charisma from his ensemble, Linklater’s film would undeniably fall apart, but there’s not a second of this film that doesn’t make you ‘feel good’, heightened, I think, by the equally as delightful 80s aesthetic that is captured here.
If you want a feel good coming-of-age story helmed by a master of the genre, Everybody Wants Some!! is the film for you. I loved every second of it.


LAST FLAG FLYING (2017)

Linklater’s latest film, a story of ex-veterans who rediscover their friendship after the tragic death of Doc’s (Steve Carell) son, is by no means the strongest project on his ever-impressive resumè, but it’s a provocative, heavy-hitting piece of work.

The rekindled camaraderie between the long-lost veterans result in a heartfelt and inspiring trio of performances. At times, Fishburne and Cranston act as an angel and a devil on Carrell’s shoulders, both providing contradicting advice. Cranston is terrific as the heavy-headed Sal, the ‘devil’ in this instance; and Fishburne is equally as compelling as Mueller, a calm and collected vet-turned-priest whose optimism finds itself battling against Sal’s growing cynicism.

Last Flag Flying undoubtedly sheds light on the hypocrisy and corruption of the ‘heroic American soldier’ philosophy of Western culture; American sons being killed for what they believe in labelled as heroes, Eastern sons being labelled as terrorists for the same fate. It’s a controversial issue, but Linklater handles it with a true sense of objectivity; showing both sides of the debate from Cranston’s Sal and Carell’s Doc.


And that concludes my Linklater journey! Below you will find the list of films that I was unable to see this month, and my top 5 Linklater films.

Unseen films:
It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988)
The Newton Boys (1998)
Tape (2001)
Bad News Bears (2005)
Fast Food Nation (2006)
• Me and Orson Welles (2008)

My top 5 Linklater films:
1. Before Sunrise (1995)
2. Before Sunset (2004)
3. Before Midnight (2013)
4. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
5. Boyhood (2014)

That was way too difficult…

Eric Heisserer: The Life Of A Screenwriter

Interviewed by Jakob Lewis Barnes & Nick Deal

We’re ecstatic to share our interview with academy-award nominated screenwriter Eric Heisserer as he talks about the life of a screenwriter and his experience working in the film industry. Heisserer’s well deserved Oscar nomination was for his screenplay for Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 hit Arrival, for which he was also an Executive Producer. Heisserer is also known for his writing for Lights OutThe Thing (2010), and Final Destination 5, and is attached to some exciting future projects, including Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot and Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, which stars Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, and John Malkovich.


 

Hi Eric, would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?

I’m a screenwriter, producer, and director. I’ve been in the business for about eighteen years, most of that time I lived in LA, but I got my break while I was in Houston. 

Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a screenwriter? Is writing something you’ve always enjoyed or was it an interest that developed later in life?

I’ve been writing creatively since high school. In my early twenties, I really wanted to be a pro writer for tabletop gaming. I even had some published work for the Cyberpunk 2020 game, back in the day. But I’m an autodidact, and I’m a bit stubborn, so I like to learn things on my own and I often can’t tell the difference between a challenge and a warning. So when I submitted a proposal for a scenario for a game publisher and was sent a polite rejection letter with the comment, “This is too linear for a game story, this is a movie,” I decided to make it a movie. That first feature screenplay took me several months to write, and at the end of the day it was terrible, but by then I knew I wanted to plunge into screenwriting and make it a career if I could.

I wrote screenplays in different forms. Pilots, spec TV episodes, features… I’d write just to keep my daily page count. My ninth screenplay garnered some attention from a studio and they optioned it. But I wanted another victory before moving to LA for good, so I kept writing. Script number eleven found a home with some independent financiers, and so I drove west on I-10 that summer and got a tiny apartment in LA. It was a long uphill slog for six years after that before I landed a studio assignment that would actually make it to screen.

What is it about storytelling that you love? If you even love it at all, feel free to tell us why you hate it if you want.

I love the potential storytelling has for reproducing specific emotions. I may have a personal experience that left me heartbroken, or nostalgic, or enraged or full of hope. To be able to repackage that feeling and have it connect with others is a feat I think separates ‘reporting the events of a character’ and actual storytelling.

Every writer is looking for that “big break” moment to get into the industry. What would you say was your breakthrough moment? And is there any particular method or route that you see as the go-to for aspiring writers?

My breakthrough moment was realizing I was always the one to get the work in this business. I had thought having an agent or manager meant I had “made it” and they would find work for me, promote my material, etc. But while they will take those swings, the real job offers never come from that. They happen when I make a move on my own — to write on spec, or to get a meeting with someone, or work up a pitch for a project in limbo at a studio somewhere, or even to get the rights to a novel and pursue it.

Would it be fair to assume that your Oscar nomination for the adapted screenplay of ‘Arrival’ is the highlight of your screenwriting career to date (feel free to tell us otherwise)? Can you tell us a little about how that felt to find out you were nominated?

Awards recognition isn’t really a metric I consider. It was fun meeting the other writers that year on the awards circuit, and getting dressed up for the various shows, but the achievement I hold close to my heart is that I’ve written 70 scripts to date, and I continue to learn something new about the craft with every project.

You adapted ‘Arrival’ from the novella ‘Story of Your Life’. How did you approach the adaptation process from turning such a short story into a feature length screenplay? How much creative license do you get when adapting a story like this?

I’d been obsessed with that story for years. I carried around a dog-eared copy of Ted Chiang’s collection in my car. Took me a long time to find producers crazy enough to take a swing at that adaptation with me. We pitched it around town, and for the pitch (as with the final film) I had to take a lot of liberties in order to make it into a filmic story, but Ted was understanding and insightful throughout the process. Which was a relief because we didn’t sell the pitch, and so I wrote that screenplay on spec, and then we nearly didn’t sell that spec either, until independent companies got involved. The whole thing was a 7-8-year process.

You also did a similar job with ‘Lights Out’, adapting a YouTube short into a feature length script. Would you say you prefer adapting stories, or creating original screenplays? And why?

I’m just as excited by either, it’s just easier in this market to get adaptations made, I think because studios are so scared of taking risks on original films. I have written as many original scripts as I have adaptations, but most of my original work has never made the distance.

When looking at your filmography and upcoming projects, ‘Arrival’ was a bit of a detour from your usual horror habits. Is there a reason you gravitate towards horror projects more often than others? Would you say screenwriters are susceptible to being tied to a particular genre, just as actors and directors can be?

Oof, yeah. So I’ve written proportionally very few horror screenplays, if I look at the spectrum of genre and dramatic work in my files. It just happens to be the kind of genre that gets made more easily than most, I think in part because horror isn’t cast dependent, meaning you don’t need a big star to get the film made, and if you’re clever you can do it on a smaller budget. Believe me, I’ve been out there swinging for action, science fiction, thriller, drama, and adventure projects for years. I hope some of those eventually make it to screen — a fun action/adventure I just wrote is one of my favorite scripts to date. But they’re also more complicated.

Screenwriting seems to be a self-confessed unglamorous job. What does the average weekly (monthly/yearly) routine look like for a Hollywood screenwriter?

If you’re a TV writer, you at least get two things that the feature writer doesn’t: a social experience, and a concrete structure. You’re in a room with other writers, with the showrunner (or you are the showrunner) and you engage with that group as you make your show. The writer’s room gives you a schedule, and that overlaps with a production schedule, and you have deadlines to meet as enforced by the network or streamer. The feature writer has to have a ton of self-discipline. No one else is around to make sure they’re getting pages done. And it can be an isolating life, too. That’s the unglamorous part.

With various projects on the go, what do you find the best approach to managing your time between each script? 

Know what needs to get done first, and knock that out. If you’re juggling several projects — and everyone will eventually have to, to have any sort of success — train your brain to shift gears as smoothly as possible. Maybe that means having a lunch break between two different projects, or devoting full days to each, or whatever. I have been using a brain hack recently of writing on something until it starts to feel like work, then I shift to whatever I consider is “play time” away from the thing I’m supposed to be doing. Eventually my muse realizes I’m simply working on something else, and I can bounce back to the first project again.

Narrowing down on your process of writing, how do you go from blank page to first draft? Are you a meticulous planner or more of an instinctive, go-with-the-flow writer? Do you lock yourself away or surround yourself with other creatives?

Outlines save my life. I have to have one before I go to script. I also collect a bunch of flotsam and jetsam on a project — specific details, visuals, dialogue, even location or costuming ideas — and that can bolster an otherwise dry outline. Eventually I reach a sort of “critical mass” of information that lets me know I can bang out a rough first draft. It will be terrible, but it gives me a foundation.

I think it’s fair to say that most writers hit a wall at some point along the road. What is your worst case of “writer’s block” and how did you overcome this?

Ha! A ton of things. The self-critic voice used to lock me up for weeks. I then began inventing little exercises and tricks for myself to bypass that voice. I collected those exercises in a little e-book I put on Amazon a few years back, called “150 Screenwriting Challenges,” in case anyone’s curious. It’s just a series of “try this and see if it shakes anything loose” writing challenges.

What does the future hold for Eric Heisserer – can you tell us anything about any of your upcoming projects? 

I’m currently working on multiple projects and yet I can’t talk about any of them, how sad is that? I also have no idea if any of them will see the light of day. But I love them all.

Do you have any passion projects or a kind of writing bucket list that you’d like to take on one day? Perhaps certain characters, worlds or topics you’d like to put your own spin on?

I would love to adapt the characters I made for the limited series Secret Weapons, the comic book I wrote for Valiant Comics. I adore those characters and I miss writing them.

What would be the best advice you could offer to aspiring screenwriters hoping to make it to Hollywood?

The obvious advice that people love to dismiss: Write. Write a ton. A sale isn’t the finish line, it’s the first day at work. So work those muscles. The more, and the faster, you can write, the better you’ll do. You’ll outlast so many others.

And now the most important question of them all – pineapple on a pizza, yay or nay?

I haven’t had pineapple on pizza in years. My tastebuds have been shifting recently, so maybe I should try it again and see! The worst thing we can do for our palate is never change our minds about food.


Once again we’d like to say a huge thank you to Eric for taking the time to talk to us, and you can keep up with Eric over on Twitter!

EXCLUSIVE: First Look At Michael Matteo Rossi’s Crime-Thriller ‘Chase’

We’re excited to share with you an exclusive first look at Michael Matteo Rossi’s latest feature film Chase in the gallery below!

Last month Fiona had the exciting opportunity to sit and speak to Michael Matteo Rossi, a writer, director and producer from L.A who chatted with her about how he started in the film industry, his previous films, and he also mentioned he would be starting production on his latest feature film, Chase, a few days following the interview.

Chase, which is directed, written and co-produced by Michael, follows a hitman who must prove his loyalty to his mentor and best friend, whilst his girlfriend wants him to leave the business behind him.

The film features a fantastically talented and internationally diverse cast which includes Devanny PinnRichard Riehle, Simeon Panda, Jessica Morris, Aries Spears and Oghenekaro Itene.  Damien Puckler, best known for his role in the fantasy TV series Grimm, will be playing the titular role and, if the first pictures are anything to go by, you do NOT want to mess with him! 

Word of the film has been trending in Nigeria and Africa as it will mark Nigerian actress Oghenekaro Itene’s Hollywood debut following her success on Nigerian TV Drama Tinsel. London’s own Simeon Panda,  a fitness entrepreneur who is featured on Forbes as one of the worlds top ten influencers for fitness. will make his feature-film debut in Chase, and we’re excited to see his character Caleb in action! 

Speaking about his latest film to JUMCPUT, Michael said:

“Chase is set entirely in Los Angeles, and being an LA native myself, it was essential for me to portray it as a culturally and diversely rich city that it is. I wanted to interweave the characters from all walks of life and tell an engaging story full of action and thrills”

We think you’ll agree that these first look photos give off a strong dark crime/horror vibe, which is unmistakably Michael’s intention as he likens the film’s overall style to that of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.

We’re definitely going to be keeping a close eye on Chase, and you can keep up to date with Michael over on his Twitter and Facebook page!

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“We treat virtuosity like it’s mundane, we expect it” – Blindspotting’s Rafael Casal on Oakland, theatre, language, masculinity and more…

Interviewed by Fiona Underhill 

For the first six months of 2018, the most exciting and contemporary filmed art being produced seemed to be from the music industry. The music videos and films that accompanied Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, Childish Gambino’s This is America and The Carters’ Apesh*t and Family Feud all feel as if they have something to say about the state of America right now, with their commentary on the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, among many other themes. Now that July has arrived, we have two films that have been released (just in the US so far), both set in the same city, that have this same fresh voice and risk-taking approach – Sorry to Bother You (written and directed by Boots Riley) and Blindspotting (directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada and written by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs). It is perhaps no coincidence that the filmmakers behind both of these movies have come from a music (specifically hip-hop) background themselves. The writers of both films are from Oakland (where the films are also set), a city with a rich cultural and huge artistic seam running through it, a history of protest and activism (the Black Panther Party originated there), but now changing rapidly and potentially beyond all recognition.


 

I was lucky enough to speak to the co-writer and star of BlindspottingRAFAEL CASAL – and I asked him about the points he was trying to make about Oakland in the film.

I think what we were hoping to do was show a side of the Bay Area that’s the less popularised side. The way we want to showcase Oakland is very much in the film, I would do no justice describing it now. I think it took us the 94 minutes to even give a fraction, so I want to encourage everyone to go see it. I think stories that are often told about areas that are getting a new influx of a population that’s not originally from there is mostly about real estate and about new businesses and then periodically any controversy that salts the new reputation of the place. That’s how you get these BBQ Becky memes about a white woman calling the police on people who have been barbecuing there for twenty years. Then you get another article about how expensive San Francisco is compared to the rest of the country – those are the big narratives.

The people from there have such a different love and appreciation for the subtle nuance of a place where they’ve existed for their entire lives; food, community, culture. The relationship between elders and children, the way that the school system has worked, the way that the street culture has worked, the way that the music and slang and the virtuosic nature of the people. It’s so unbelievably vibrant, that the biggest challenge that came for us was figuring out how to capture it on film. More importantly, those elements are so infrequently broadcast that we really wanted to ‘time capsule’ them for a moment, because they’re disappearing due to an influx of people that aren’t aware of those things and moving in somewhat on top of them. For us, it was important to capture that place on film before it disappears.

 

I also spoke with the production designer of Blindspotting, Tom Hammock and asked him about the location-scouting process and the choice to showcase so many different sides of the city. The two main characters, Miles (Casal) and Collin (Diggs) play removal men, which means that the diverse neighbourhoods are seen as they drive through them in their mover’s truck. Miles and Collin go to a party at a hipster’s house which was a real location – a modern building in a row of Victorian houses. Like so much of the film and the wider conversation about gentrification, this story is not as simple as it seems. Hammock told me that the original house had burned down (not been knocked down) and a local architect was employed to create the new design. Their job as movers also means that you see historic houses being emptied and pulled down, robbing them of their contents and erasing the city’s culture. Hammock explained that these wooden houses had been built by ship’s carpenters, meaning that many featured port-holes. He also told me that the apartment that was used for Miles and Ashley was an Air B&B which is ironic, given the film’s focus on gentrification and Miles’ feelings about it, in particular. I mentioned this to Casal:

We came about that apartment because the people who lived there were moving out and it was being Air B&B’d so that it could be either rented or sold to a new resident, who I would imagine would also experience a hike in rent. It’s amazing how many moments in filming that the subject matter met us face-to-face and reminded us why the film was so important to make. And that was one of a thousand moments, like, wow – we couldn’t even write that. There is a movie [that could be made] about the movie being made and about a town that is being taken over by different industries and subsequently a population of people. There are so many clashes that are worth writing about, that evolved this experience and that was one of the first ones.

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Casal has a background in theatre and Diggs was in the original cast of a little-known Broadway musical called Hamilton. Director Estrada brought the same virtuosity, ambition and problem-solving as he had to shooting music videos with Diggs and when filming Casal’s students’ theatrical performance in New York. He brought in split-screens, tracking shots and shot the climatic scene with two cameras in a 9-minute single-take. The dream sequences are shot like music videos, complete with flashing colours, choreography, dollying cameras and employing theatre tech to time everything perfectly. The influence of the filmmakers’ background is clear in the theatrical style and also the heightened language in the film. I asked Casal about the influence of theatre on the film.

Yeah – Daveed and I both have backgrounds in theatre. The stage is where we built our careers, separately and together. My time on the stage started out as a writer/performer in the performance poetry scene in the Bay Area. So very much, I would describe that as a gateway drug. It’s an art-form that has all of the attributes and skill sets that you need to eventually work in long-form, especially in heightened language in long-form. It is a performative monologue essentially, it is communicating the personal to the universal. We are using heightened language to condense information and you do have to connect with an audience in real time, right? That transition into long-form theatre was very easy and obvious for me, so when I got into my late teens, Daveed and I wrote a few plays together. Then I went onto teach Creative Writing and Theatre at UW Madison, while Daveed was pursuing music and teaching middle school after-school programmes back in the Bay Area. And then we ran a theatre programme at the Public Theater [in New York] called #BARS which is a theatre and verse programme, under the mentorship of Oskar Eustis, building a theatre programme very much based on that curriculum that I was developing at UW Madison.

So much about our approach to the stage and to story-telling is about the inter-personal relationships between characters, the dynamic and the momentum of a dynamic that takes place when you just let a scene happen and experience the power of actors fully immersed in the moment. And Carlos, our director also comes from a theatre background, even though his forte is in cinema, so much of our philosophies were aligned and the script was so-written to cater to the kind of performances that work both on stage and on film. So in the filming of it, we would just do these long, sprawling takes and let Daveed and I just sort of off-the-leash and play for the moment as much as possible. I think we were all the better for it. I think in terms of approaching our next project, I’ll probably continue to go back to the same conventions because I think that the dynamic that you get from theatre while also being verse performers [is that the] the camera is just allowed to roll to try to pick up the full duration of a scene, you get so much more subtlety and so much more inherent chemistry than all this start-and-stop.

 

As well as theatre, Casal started out using spoken-word and verse in performance poetry and hip-hop. He was featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, toured college campuses with his spoken-word performances and has a large presence on YouTube. This also feeds into the film, along with the use of the Bay Area slang that Casal and Diggs have grown up with. This innovative use of a unique style of dialogue is one of the most refreshing aspects of the film, so of course I had to ask Casal about it. It was producer Jess Calder who discovered Casal on the internet and approached him about writing a film using verse (she particularly traces the film back to one of Casal’s poems – Monster, a piece about growing numb to his friends dying violent deaths at a young age).

They had found my YouTube popular poetry videos and music videos where heightened language was being used to tell stories directly at the camera. So that was the prompt, that producer Jess [Calder] saw the potential to write a film where heightened language is the way in which the characters communicate in some of the most tense or important moments. So it’s always been a part of the DNA of the idea; even that final scene with Daveed – I wrote the bulk of that nine years ago and it just stayed in the script and we always just thought me and Daveed would re-write it to accommodate the film, but so much of the film is reverse-engineered from that climatic moment, so we just kept the bulk of it there. I think Daveed added two or three lines a few days before we shot, to fit it into his mouth the way that he wanted it to, but it’s been essentially the same the entire time.

So I think what was most exciting for me was this was the challenge of verse that both independently and collectively, Daveed and I have always thought about and wanted to crack the rhythm of how to introduce heightened language into film in the way that we’ve been exposed to it. The Bay Area is so ingrained in the idea of the beauty of language to articulate yourself, that your individuality is very much expressed through the way in which you speak and the words you use. We treat virtuosity like it’s mundane, we expect it. So, it felt essential that it be a spine of the piece. The element about Miles that we loved so much is that Miles is a salesman. The way in which Miles sells himself and uses language is also the tool that he is teaching Collin to wield in order to vocalise and articulate what he needs to let out of his soul, in order to survive and get his sanity back. In the whole film, Collin is trying to express himself through improvisational verse, but the “make it sound pretty”, the salesmanship, the selling of an idea is the gift that Miles is unknowingly giving Collin through the duration of their friendship and most importantly, the duration of these last four days.

 

As well as confronting race, the film also shows different aspects of masculinity. In a separate interview (on BUILD series – it’s amazing and on YouTube, watch it!), Casal talks about

“men who do not have a well-tuned capacity for intimate conversation, men’s most acceptable modes are anger and humour and everything in between is a stumbling walk through trying to articulate yourself. These two men are very much a part of toxic masculinity to a degree, they have a survivalist mentality, claiming their space, whether through violence or through humour.”

I asked Casal about the theme of toxic masculinity, particularly in relation to how the character of Miles is trying to raise his son. He was understandably protective of the character he’d created.

I think we steered heavily away from the idea of trying to impose themes into the story. I think we were trying to represent the characters honestly and ask ourselves what we felt like they would do or how they would act or how they would raise their kids based on the people we based those characters on. Miles is a minority among minorities, that has been his reality the entirety of his life and the way in which he has had to defend his position and his space has probably been more violent than Collin, not because he is pursuing violence but because he’s getting picked on and messed with, he’s been questioned and been getting his credibility challenged, he’s had his space encroached upon more than anyone else around him, he sticks out like a sore thumb, and the idea of a white dude in a black and brown neighbourhood is really questionable. So he has been fighting physically and had to fight physically so much more than Collin. So his way of surviving as a male in violent neighbourhoods, in dangerous spaces, his way of imparting some wisdom on his son is to make sure that his son is tough enough to handle the neighbourhood that they live in. And I don’t know that that is inherently problematic, I think what that leads to is potentially very problematic.

I’m more critical of systemic poverty and the violence that that encourages because of the way that we starve and shrink the physical space of poor people than I am of critical of Miles and how he survives within that problematic system. I just want to make that point. It’s really easy to demonise Miles’ reaction to a fucked-up situation but the problem is the situation and Miles’ reaction to it is also problematic, but it is secondary to the circumstance. That family is trying to raise a son within a problematic, dangerous  and violent circumstance and Miles as a father (and we’ve alluded to the fact that he had no father of his own) is trying to teach his son to survive the best way that he knows how and God bless him for it, even if you have a problem with it. He’s trying to be a positive role-model with his son.

[Miles’ girlfriend] Ashley (played by Jasmine Cephas Jones) is in a different mind-state, she suddenly has a black son and that son is becoming an age when he’s not someone that she’s holding onto physically at all times, that is out in the world increasingly more independently. So the fear of the police is something that is weighing on her heavily in the film and the two of them (who we always sort of imagined as high school sweethearts) have a new negotiation to have. We always imagined that Ashley – she knows who she’s with, she knows that he’s someone who defends space very aggressively and I’m sure to a certain degree, she likes that – it’s partly what she was attracted to. But now that violence can have a slightly different consequence, that can take a potentially larger toll if it gets out of hand. So the gun threat is really a rallying point in which the two of them have to talk about the fear that Ashley has about the safety of her son and that the way in which Miles is approaching parenting, while noble and while loving, is scary to her, which turns out to be such a beautiful conversation between an interracial couple from the same place. So often we tend to see interracial couples where they live in completely different realities and one is always educating the other on the harshness of the world and that’s not what this conversation is. It’s about two people who really understand the complexities of their reality and are in those trenches together. But their relationship to violence and the fear of violence is different and they have to negotiate that in raising a brown son.

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The film had a long (almost 10 year) gestation period and had to be updated along the way. Depressingly, they cut protests to police violence from the film because they noticed that there were less protests as police shot more black people (it was becoming more commonplace and therefore being met with more apathy and silence). Ultimately, there came a ‘now or never moment’ where Daveed Diggs had a tiny window in his schedule and they seized their chance. I asked Casal about the sense of urgency created from shooting in 22 days.

Yeah the urgency of filming in 22 days was because they were the only 22 days that Daveed had open in his schedule. I had to essentially do the physical writing of it on my own, so I moved to LA and rewrote the script and Daveed participated in that via phone and big-picture conversations between he and I in the middle of the night. You know we’d gain this momentum and excitement and there was a opportunity in our window to shoot it and we were racing against the Sundance deadline. Really, to make an independent film, so many variables have to line up – the right people, the right place, the right time, the right funding, the right enthusiasm, the right script for the right moment because we don’t have this massive budget and machine behind us. So I think when it came around again, when I very fortuitously sent a drunk text to our producers after the Oscars last year and said “I wish we had made that movie” and they responded “so make it” – that snowballed in a way that I felt needed to be capitalised on. Everybody was a little hesitant, Diggs was very hesitant, Carlos didn’t even know about the script the day before and the producers were excited but unsure if we could pull it off in that window. But I am often known in my artistic circle as the instigator, as the rallier, as the one who tells everyone “we can definitely do it, if we all get on board.” I feel like we willed it into existence with love and enthusiasm and excitement around bringing this story to the communities that we feel like really need it and really that’s to say: the whole country. We feel like the country is in a place where conversations like these, the conversations that this film seem to be provoking when people are walking out are exactly the kinds of conversations that I’m excited to have. Every question that you ask, I’m excited to answer and that doesn’t always happen with the art that we make. So with every question, every conversation, I’m just more and more excited that we did it.


 

It was a pleasure and a privilege to discuss this stunning film with Mr Casal and I cannot wait to disect it with more people. Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting have genuinely made me excited about cinema again – as a vital and urgent art-form confronting contemporary themes and provoking conversation. They are both a snapshot of a city in flux and people who are struggling to cope with new realities. They both do so with artistry which pushes boundaries, take risks, are innovative and unique. How exciting and how lucky we are that we get to experience these films NOW. I urge you to check them out as soon as you are able to.

Blindspotting is on limited release from July 20th and wide release from July 27th.

I also urge you to subscribe Rafael Casal’s YouTube channel

(Some of Mr Casal’s comments may have been edited for clarity)

SDCC: Dive Into Atlantis In The First Trailer For James Wan’s ‘Aquaman’

Following the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry, the reluctant ruler of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, is caught in a battle between surface dwellers that threaten his oceans and his own people, who are ready to lash out and invade the surface.

Directed by: James Wan

Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Randall Park

Release Date: December 13th, 2018

Blindspotting

Year: 2018
Directed by: Carlos López Estrada
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones

Written by Fiona Underhill

It’s 2018 and the Bay Area city of Oakland, California is certainly having a “moment” in film. Earlier this year, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther set several scenes there to showcase the black neighbourhood that Killmonger came from. We now have Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (starting to open wider across the US and hopefully getting European distribution in place), set in Oakland and particularly highlighting the art scene which Tessa Thompson’s character is involved in. And opening to a limited release today in the US (20th July) and wider on 27th July, we have Blindspotting. Blindspotting is ostensibly a buddy comedy about two childhood friends; Miles (Rafael Casal) and Collin (Daveed Diggs). Collin is on the last three days of his probation and must stay out of trouble to ensure he does not get sent back to prison. Miles is unpredictable and risk-taking and his recklessness could lead his friend down a dangerous path.

The trailers focus on the lively, funny aspects of the film and there certainly is plenty of humour packed into the fast-paced dialogue (my favourite joke was a Fantastic Four reference, bizarrely). However, Blindspotting is way quieter and more thoughtful than it appears at first and is one of the most complex and complicated films I’ve seen this year. Like the city itself, these characters have many sides to them and nothing is ‘black or white.’ Miles is a white working-class man who has grown up in a predominantly black neighbourhood. In order to survive, he has adopted a persona that includes tattoos and a gold grill on his teeth and he also uses violence, drugs and guns as coping tactics. Collin is also struggling with his identity as a felon in a city where the police can shoot black men and get away with it. Collin witnesses such a shooting near the start of the film and this is the catalyst for much of what is to follow.

One of the major themes of the film is the changing city of Oakland which is going through an identity crisis of its own with the influx of new people (mostly white and wealthy). Miles spends much of the film raging against hipsters, who have brought $10 green juice to his corner store and vegan burgers to the Kwik Way (the local fast-food place). It feels even more urgent that we have STBY and Blindspotting to capture the city now, before the old city is gone all together. All of the characters have conflicting reactions to the gentrification of the city. Collin’s Mama Liz’s apartment is adorned with Black Panther pamphlets and art depicting Angela Davis but she says she won’t move out of the neighbourhood “just when it’s got good food.” Collin’s ex-girlfriend Val is trying to improve herself with a psychology degree and it is from her use of slang to remember psychology terms that the title of the film comes, referring to our implicit bias and the fact it takes work to see another perspective.

The artistic side of the city comes through in Blindspotting in several different ways. One is that it has a theatrical and musical feel, which makes sense given both Casal and Diggs’ backgrounds. There are dream sequences which feel like music videos, which is an extension of the collaboration between director Carlos Lopez Estrada and Diggs’ hip-hop group clipping. As well as using heightened colours and effects, writers Diggs and Casal crank up the language, building on Casal’s background in verse, spoken-word and performance poetry. There are times when the characters seamlessly transition into speaking in verse and times when it is highlighted, such as when Miles uses it as part of his salesman patter. This all builds to an astonishing climatic scene, which will definitely have you looking up Daveed Diggs’ rap videos, if you were not familiar with them before.

I am incredibly excited that not one, but two films (and possibly with the release of Spike Lee’s Blackklansman, we will have a third) have come along that are dealing with such contemporary themes, that acknowledge that something is rotten in the states of America. Blindspotting takes on gentrification, Black Lives Matter, masculinity and much more through being an incredibly funny comedy through a heightened, theatrical style which uses language in a unique way; whilst also being a poignant drama on themes of identity, perception and society with multi-faceted characters in a complex city. It is so, so much more than the trailers would have you believe. I urge you to seek this film out and let it encourage discussions and questions that you may not have considered before.

Fiona’s Rating: 

5

 

Check out my interview with co-writer and star Rafael Casal coming up as part of our Sunday Spotlight series.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Year: 2018
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Simon Pegg, Michelle Monaghan

Written by Dave Curtis

I like to imagine it is fun being in meetings when coming up with ideas for the next ‘Mission Impossible’ film. Tom Cruise sits quietly in the corner staring out the window. The director and writer, Christopher McQuarrie, paces around behind him.

CM: Right Tom, with ‘MI:5’ we hung you off the side of plane?
TC: That was fun, I love planes!
CM: We tried to drown you already didn’t we?
TC: That was easy, I can hold my breath for ages.
CM: How are you with heights, maybe we have you hanging off a tall building?
TC: Seriously, Did you not watch Ghost Protocol? I was on top of the highest building in the world!
[Chris scratches his head….]
CM: So what I’m hearing is that you want to go higher.
[Chris joints down higher on a pad on paper. ]
[Tom spins around on his chair and jumps on it.]
TC: Not only do I want to go higher, I want it be fucking crazy. How about you throw me out of a  plane this time?
CM: Like on green screen or something. I don’t think the producers would like us to drop you from the sky?
TC: Tom Cruise doesn’t fake action… he is action!
CM: Have you ever skydived before?
TC: Please. How hard can it be, I’ll just learn how to –
CM: OK!
[Chris writes down skydive.]
TC: I’m also learning to fly a helicopter at the mo so maybe we can do something with that?
CM: Sure…
[He writes down helicopter.]
CM: Anything else?
TC: I really like Paris.
[Chris writes Paris down.]
CM: Well this already sounds great TC we’ve done it again!

[Chris and Tom high five.]
** End scene.**

‘Mission Impossible – Fallout’ is insane…

The franchise so far has come be to known for its big set pieces and the chance to watch Tom Cruise run, jump, shoot, drive, climb and nearly kill himself in increasingly dangerous situations. As IMF’s best spy, Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise is still trying to save the world the only way he knows how. He pretty much makes it up and hopes for the best. It seems he is a very lucky man.

The returning director and writer Christopher McQuarrie (the first director to return to the franchise) brings back all the familiar faces – Simon Pegg, Ving Rhymes and Alec Baldwin (No Jeremy Renner, he was busy on another small film). This is also a direct of sorts sequel to ‘Rogue Nation’ (‘Mission: Impossible 5’) so Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious Ilsa Faust and Sean Harris as the villain Solomon Lane return.

As ever the IMF team are on race against time and somewhere a clock is ticking. Hunt and team are trying to locate the remaining members of the ‘Syndicate’, who now call themselves the ‘Apostles’. He isn’t sleeping well, thoughts of Solomon Lane fill his dreams. Maybe his past is catching up with him. Lane wants Ethan to see the world he protected for so long be destroyed and lose what he loves the most.  This isn’t the Ethan Hunt of old, he is a man on the edge who seems to carry more weight on his shoulders. He is at breaking point. Lane himself, the movies MacGuffin (like the rabbit foot in ‘MI:3’), is a villain of few words and seems to be pulling strings even when behind bars. Sean Harris brings his normal intensity to role. He is even given some action scenes, but he does still feels a bit under-cooked and not as interesting as the film wants to you to believe.

The IMF crew also have Henry Cavill’s CIA agent August Walker (great name) joining them for company. Walker is a black ops assassin who is assigned to get the job done by any means necessary, whether Hunt likes it or not. Their mission, if they chose to accept it, is to retrieve some black market plutonium and stop Solomon Lanes master plan. What Cavill lacks in personality he makes up in sheer physical presence. The fight scenes feel brutal and Walker’s more heavy handed approach to Hunts more delicate touch makes for bone breaking and more believable fights. The stand out fight is the bathroom scene, it’s up there with ‘True Lies’. Cavill looks like he is enjoying playing a more questionable character and his moustache is there and accounted for, no CGI needed there.

Other new additions to the franchise such as Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow and Angela Bassett’s head of  CIA, Erica Sloan, slot in nicely. Kirby’s underworld broker shines. She is not in it much but she steals every scene. Bassett’s head edge manner also brings Erica Sloan to life, this is not a woman to cross. She’s badass to the bone. What was once a man’s franchise brimmed to the rim of testosterone, ‘Fallout’ is so refreshing. Rebecca Ferguson’s MI6 agent Ilsa Faust once again nearly steals the film from everyone. She is still a match for Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. Gone are the lingering shots of her legs. This time it’s all about her and the mission.

To be honest the ‘Mission Impossible’ films have never really been about plots and characters. It’s all about the big set pieces, the unbelievable stunt work and Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise. The plot does just about make sense, but the film really comes alive when Tom Cruise is doing some kind of death defying stunt. There are car and bike chases through the tight streets of Paris, the halo skydive (which Cruise trained a year for), crazy rooftops chases (that’s where he broke his ankle) and a helicopter pursuit which needs to be seen to be believed. Why does he do all this? It’s because he loves to entertain. He knows the audience want to see him in these situations. I also think he enjoys it. It seems Christopher McQuarrie and him enjoy pushing each other and seeing how far they can take it.

Not only is ‘Fallout’ fun to watch, it is also technically brilliant. From the score to the cinematography and the stunt work, it’s amazing to think about the hours of hard work the crew have had to put in to make a movie like this. They are the real MVP’s. I salute them.

‘Mission Impossible – Fallout’ is hugely entertaining. It is a proper popcorn flick which only has a few minor flaws. To think this franchise has been going for 22 years and it still feels this fresh and new is a testament to the director and star. I can’t imagine what they have in store for Mission Impossible 7.  Surely only outer space beckons now.

Dave’s Rating:

4

Reel Women: July UK Releases

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WRITTEN BY ELENA MORGAN

Welcome back to Reel Women, a monthly feature where we highlight the films being released in the UK that are written and/or directed by women. We are now official in the second half of the year (what?! how?!) and there’s still a lot of films made by women to see over the next six months. In July there’s dramas, comedies and more documentaries than you can shake a stick at in the latter half of the month!


6th July

Mary Shelley
Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Written by Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour

The story of the love affair between Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) and how Mary came to write Frankenstein.

With Wadjda, Haifaa Al-Mansour was the first woman from Saudi Arabia to direct a feature film in Saudi Arabia. Wadjda was nominated for a BAFTA and was widely praised. This is Emma Jensen’s first produced feature screenplay.

The More You Ignore Me
Directed by Keith English
Written by Jo Brand

Teenage Alice (Ella Hunt) lives with her hippy-like dad (Mark Addy) and her mum (Sheridan Smith) who suffers from mental health issues. When her mum is admitted to a local psychiatric hospital, Alice is left with her love f The Smiths as she tries to navigate teenage life without her mum.

Jo Brand is a British comedian, writer and actress. She’s previously written episodes of the TV shows ‘Damned’ and ‘Getting On’ amongst others. This is Brand’s first feature film screenplay, and she adapted it from her own novel of the same name.

In Darkness
Directed by Anthony Byrne
Written by Anthony Byrne and Natalie Dormer

When a bind musician (Natalie Dormer) hears a murder committed in the apartment above her own, she takes a dark path into London’s criminal underworld to find out the truth.

Natalie Dormer is an actress best known for her roles in ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ films. ‘In Darkness’ is her first screenplay and the first film she’s produced.

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13th July

Pin Cushion
Directed by Deborah Haywood
Written by Deborah Haywood

Super close mother and daughter, Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and Iona (Lily Newmark) are looking forward to a life in a new town but things aren’t as easy as they thought and they both retreat into fantasies of their own making.

Deborah Haywood has previously written and directed five short films. Pin Cushion is a feature film debut and it was nominated for the Douglas Hickox Award at the British Independent Film Awards last year.

Summer 1993
Directed by Carla Simón
Written by Carla Simón

After her mother dies, six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) is sent to the countryside to live with her uncle’s family but she finds it difficult to settle into her new life.

Carla Simón has previously written and directed a couple of short films. Summer 1993 is her first feature film.

The Butterfly Tree
Directed by Priscilla Cameron
Written by Priscilla Cameron

Ex-burlesque queen Evelyn (Melissa George) enchants both single dad Al and his teenage son Fin (Ed Oxenbould) with her thirst for life. But tensions rise between the father and son when they realise they are both competing for the affections of the same woman.

Priscilla Cameron has written and directed three short films and The Butterfly Tree was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in at the 2017 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards.

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20th July

Generation Wealth
Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Written by Lauren Greenfield

A documentary investigating the pathologies that has created the riches society the world has ever seen.

Lauren Greenfield is a director, writer and producer who was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her documentary Thin.

Madame
Directed by Amanda Sthers
Written by Amanda Sthers

When she realises their dinner party is for thirteen guests, Anne (Toni Collette) panics because it’s bad luck and enlists her maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) to pretend to be one of her rich guests. But sparks fly between Maria and art broker David (Michael Smiley) and this unexpected romance leads to Anne chasing the pair around Paris as she plots to ruin their happiness.

Madame is the second film Amanda Sthers has directed after previously writing films for TV.

One or Two Questions
Directed by Kristina Konrad
Written by Kristina Konrad

A documentary about Uruguay’s 1989 amnesty referendum, a vote to determine whether members of the police and military accused of crimes during the country’s 12 years of junta rule could be prosecuted after they were granted impunity three years before.

Kristina Konrad is a documentary filmmaker who has directed four feature-length documentaries and produced over a dozen films.

Extinction
Directed by Salomé Lamas
Written by Salomé Lamas

An essay film on the fluidity of national identity in times of conflict.

Salomé Lamas is a Portuguese writer and director of short films and feature-length documentaries.

The Receptionist
Directed by Jenny Lu
Written by Jenny Lu and Yi-Wen Yeh

Based on a real illegal massage parlour in London, The Receptionist follows the lives of the employees and clients as seen through the graduate who’s employed as the receptionist.

This is Jenny Lu’s first feature film and is Yi-Wen Yeh’s first screenplay. Lu and Yeh have previously worked together on the short film The Man Who Walked on the Moon.

27th July

The Bleeding Edge
Directed by Kirby Dick
Written by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering

A Netflix documentary on the unforeseen consequences of rushing through advanced technological devices to be used in the medical field.

Amy Ziering has worked with Kirby Dick on four documentary films, and their film The Invisible War as nominated for an Oscar in 2013.

That’s twelve films made by women being released in the UK in July including one on Netflix. We would love to hear your thoughts on any of these films if you get the chance to see them, though you’ll have to be quick as a lot of these films have a very limited release.