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!

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.

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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!

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!

INTERVIEW: R.M. Moses

Interviewed by Jakob Lewis Barnes

We’re continuing our #SundaySpotlight this week with an interview with R.M. Moses, an award winning independent filmmaker from East London. Jakob talked to Moses about his films, inspiration, and his goals for the future!


JB: For any of our readers who aren’t aware of your work, would you like to introduce yourself?

My name is Remi Moses, professionally known as RM Moses and I’m a filmmaker from East London. In the past 4 years of being a filmmaker, I’ve created over 30 films and counting, I’ve won multiple awards around the world in film festivals and award ceremonies. I hate the spotlight and so you’ll rarely ever see me at events and things that require me to leave my bat cave, unless I have to wear a suit… Them I’m showing up in full effect.

JB: I’m always curious to know if there was a certain moment in a filmmaker’s life when the idea of chasing that dream was first sparked; do you recall such a moment for yourself?

I was making youtube videos before I was filmmaking and that was really where I gained the knowledge on how to film/edit. It got to a point where I was creating so much content, I became jaded and I didn’t know why. One day I realized I didn’t want to make youtube videos for a living, that wasn’t the career I wanted, so I quickly transitioned into filmmaking. I took courses and read books on how to write for screen before actually making a film. Then when I found out how to piece the puzzle together of writing, filming and editing, I just loved it.

JB: Are there any filmmakers who really inspire you, who you draw from when working on your own projects?

Not anyone in particular just because I love so many different kinds of movies, but if you were to ask me my top 5 films, you would definitely see 3 Chris Nolan movies in that list. His perfectionism and talent in his craft is something I aspire to, I love the depth and thought in his movies. I follow a lot of cinematographers on Instagram who give me sooooo much content for my private mood boards, so, if anything, I would say they give me the most inspiration.

JB: Of course, every filmmaker has their own identity and style, so tell me how you would describe your work?

I personally like to think my work is very dialogue driven, emotionally heavy but painted with a very subtle brush. I tend to write better for strong female leads, but just in general, I think my work is best reflected upon actors who can reach a certain level of emotion that promotes a realism to the scripts. CJ Beckford and Sarah Isabella are two actors I’ve worked with recently who have this quality. I can’t really articulate it, but they have sensibilities that make your scripts so full of complexities and wonders. I love that.

JB: As an independent filmmaker, there are plenty of obstacles along the way; what are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

I think funding has been the hardest part because sometimes that is the difference between average work and being able to accurately paint what you see in your head. You can still tell effective stories with no budget but as a perfectionist, you need the funding to create the perfect painting. Other than that, I haven’t had any obstacles because I mainly produce all my own content, so I don’t have to rely on other people.

JB: Your films have garnered a lot of praise, which must give you great hopes for the future. Where do you hope to be in five years time?

I’m going to be nominated for a BAFTA or OSCAR. Then hopefully, with my foot in the door, I can create all these ideas I have, with no obstacles. I just want to create as much as I can, and as much as I don’t like the spotlight, if I have to go and pick up and award just to give my work some credibility, so be it.

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JB: Speaking of praise, I saw Letitia Wright – of ‘Black Panther’ fame – gave you a shoutout recently. Congratulations, first of all. How important is it for these kind of stars to support those of us trying to break into the industry?

Letitia has been to a couple of my past film premieres and I love her to bits. When she gave me a shoutout, my phone was going crazy the whole week. I think its testament to her personality, being so kind and humble, but it happens a lot in the industry, just on a bigger scale. We always see interviews with big stars name dropping their well-known celebrity friends but I think it’s important to talk about the emerging talent coming through. We don’t usually get wind of filmmakers until they get Oscar nominated, which is crazy but that’s what I mean when these awards give creatives validation. The indie film community in London is pretty close-knit but there isn’t much going on in terms of support and development. The support from people in the industry, as mentors and teachers, is critical for our growth in this country.

JB: I also saw on Twitter, that you were considering writing a British gang movie; is this an avenue you will genuinely be pursuing? Because I would love to see that!

I’m creating a 3 minute short film called “MANDEM” which is for the RODE film competition. It’s more of a proof-of-concept than a film because it’s so short but I think it could go far. It comes out during the first week of August so watch out for that.

JB: What can we expect from you in the near future, what are you working on?

I have a short film called “Grounding” starring Sarah Isabella and Stefan Boateng which is about anxiety in a relationship and the fallout of poorly dealing with your mental health problems. It’s a 7-9 minute short and is incredibly beautiful, so raw and elegant. I have high hopes for this in the film festival circuit. Also I’m working on a web series at the end of the year which should be available online sometime early 2019.

JB: Do you watch many films yourself? What have you been enjoying lately?

I haven’t seen much recently because work has been intense but I’d like to think I’m an amateur cinephile. ‘Ready Player One’ made me cry recently after watching it for the second time. I had read the book so I knew what was to come but that was one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had. And of course, ‘Infinity War’, absolutely blew me away. Just recently I’ve been preaching about the new horror movie ‘Hereditary’. Such a brilliant film, the acting is some of the best I’ve seen in recent years. I really do urge people to see it, not because it’s a horror movie, but because the filmmaking is soooo good.

JB: What’s the best piece of advice you could offer to other aspiring filmmakers out there?

Learn to wear as many hats as you can. Don’t limit yourself to one specialty, learn how to edit, produce, direct, write, and increase your value to a future agency or studio. Make sure you learn as much as possible, don’t be naïve to think you can be in the industry without training. Read books, pay for courses, study your craft as much as you can because you can never learn too much. Educate yourself and go and create as much as you can. The theory is only 25% of it, filming/producing content is another 25% and the last 50% of becoming a filmmaker is making mistakes. Like any creative field, we only get better with practice. I’ve made over 30 films in the past 4 years and I feel comfortable and confident being able to specialise in any department because I’ve put myself through the process of making mistakes and learning how to get better next time. Sounds cheesy but it’s true.

JB: And finally, the most important question of the day, maybe ever – Pineapple on pizza? Right or wrong?

I’m sorry, but it’s so wrong. Anyone who eats that combo probably binges YouTube videos of people gaming and doesn’t value their life.

Strong words there! We’d like to thank Moses once again for taking the time to talk to Jakob and answer his questions.

 

Moses’ latest short film, Mandem, is now available to watch on YouTube!

 

 

 

“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)

INTERVIEW: Michael Matteo Rossi

Interviewed by Fiona Underhill

On Saturday 7th July, I battled my way through the LA heatwave to Mimi’s Cafe, near Griffith Park to meet writer, director and producer Michael Matteo Rossi. England had beaten Sweden that morning and there was a replay on the TV screen at the bar. Michael turned up wearing an England shirt, which was surprising and sweet. We had a nice chat over ice-cold waters:

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FU: Could you introduce yourself to our readers please?

MMR: My name is Michael Matteo Rossi, I am a writer, director and producer. I have been doing all three for 12 years. I started when I was 19 in college at San Diego State, I graduated from there in 2009 and came back to LA and have been living up here ever since. Professionally, I’ve been doing it for the last 5 or so years. I make somewhat consistent money, this is my exclusive job, this is all I do. To be honest, directing is number one, followed by writing, followed by producing. Producing, of course, is that necessary evil. It’s the business and numbers and all that, there isn’t as much creativity as opposed to directing and writing. But I do all three. I try to stay prolific, I try to make one film a year at least. And for the last couple of years, I’ve delved into mostly just doing feature films, so full-length films that go out and get distributed.

FU: What started your passion for film, as a child? Were you parents in the industry?

MMR: My parents actually aren’t in the industry. Nobody except for my younger brother, who’s a screenwriter is in the industry. So, I didn’t really have a leg-up with it. But my Dad did love cinema and he’d show me a lot of the classic films, he’d show the classic TV shows, like ‘The Twilight Zone’, he’d show the Hitchcock films, classic Film Noirs and that really influenced me. Because as a kid, I would watch them and I just knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved somehow.

Interestingly enough, I actually started in theatre. I did acting; I was in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Bugsy Malone’, ‘Annie’, I did some Shakespeare plays. So I did that up until I was about 15/16, when I took a creative writing class and that’s when it shifted. I knew I wanted to do writing and tell my own stories. And then in college, direct my own stories. So, I knew pretty early that that is what I wanted to do.

FU: Did you study film in college?

MMR: I did Television, Film and New Media with an emphasis on Critical Studies. But the first short that I made, when I was 19, it was a 4 minute short, it wasn’t a student film. This was a real film, it got into the Burbank Film Festival and I never looked back. I figured I wasn’t going to wait till after college to start making films, might as well cut out the middle man, you know? There you go.

FU: I want to ask you about your first experience working on a film set. What was that like?

MMR: Well that was on that first 4 minute short, I put out an advert on MySpace, of all things (which was really popular at the time). I found a great guy, Josh, who wanted to act in it but also helped me produce it. So we teamed up, we packaged people together, we shot it in one day. I think the whole thing took about 6 hours, it was very smooth. For a first experience, it was brilliant. But for me, it just opened up this whole new world to me. I really saw the process, from start to finish, I worked with my editor on it after and I just loved the process. I loved working with the actors. I mean it’s just like learning a language; you can learn it in class, but actually being there, being out in the field, being in another country, that’s when you learn the most. I learned more on that first project than I learned in some whole semester-long classes, so it was a great first experience for me. You have to get out there and do it. Absolutely.

FU: How did you get started in the industry?

MMR: I feel like everybody can go out there and try to do something, especially in the age we live in now, when even phones and other technologies are so much more accessible, so that’s the approach that I took to it. I reached out, so I tried to bring some other creative minds together and I just did it. No excuses.

FU: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

MMR: To be honest, it’s networking. It’s meeting people, it’s building relationships. That’s the thing. You could be the most talented person, you could have the greatest content, but if you don’t have the proper avenues to get it out there, it’s just going to sit on a piece of paper, it’s just gonna sit in your mind. So, working with people that share that same passion that you do – that’s the best advice that I’ve ever gotten that I still apply to my career now.

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FU: That leads me neatly onto my next question which is to do with financing and funding. I think that’s something our readers will be mainly interested in. How do you get from a script or an idea, how do you get the money? I think that’s everyone’s main concern!

MMR: I think that’s the thing – to cut out the middle man and get right to the point. I will say this, and I don’t want to frustrate your readers, but there is no right way to find the money. There’s not ONE way. Of course, I know a lot of people use IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, yes that’s an option. I’ve never used that. Here’s the thing. Knowing even a couple of wealthy people that believe in the content and believe in your work, that want to put in a little bit – that’s it. And then you argue well how do I even get money for a short? You don’t get your money back there. That’s where maybe your Kickstarters can help a little bit. But knowing a couple of people, building a team, finding people, with short films, who will say OK we’ll do it for much less – that type of thing is very important. Meeting people who aren’t going to charge you an arm and a leg at first, that maybe just want to make films.

And then once you start getting into the features; there is money out there. There is more money than you may think. For me, the financing that I’ve gotten from investors, they were actually not film-related investors. These were people in real estate, or doctors, business people, restaurant-owners. It’s proving yourself, too. Especially with a feature film. Make shorts first. Have proof of content. Have content  under your belt before you’re ready to ask for something in the five figures, or even four figures. Because even wealthy people, they don’t want to just throw their money away. They want some sort of incentive, so they can think “OK – this could make money. It’s a speculative investment, but at the same time, I’ve seen your other work, I’ve can see who you have involved.” And it all goes back to networking. You never know who you’re going to meet. I’ve met people that have helped me, investment-wise, on Twitter. Seriously, social media. So success breeds success, that’s what I think.

FU: So what would be your top “nuggets” of advice?

MMR: Well first of all, I know I’ve already mentioned it, but networking. That’s number one.

And my other one would be; whether you’re a writer, whether you’re an actor – practice your craft in some way every day. Every day do something that is going to move you forward. If you’re an actor, maybe study a monologue, tape yourself doing it. If you’re a writer, write! If you’ve got writer’s block, start a new thing. Write on a napkin, write on a piece of paper, go old school! If you’re a director, film some stuff.

Compile a little short yourself, edit it yourself. Keep your mind sharp. Every day.

FU: Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? Can you tell us anything about your next project or your latest project?

MMR: So actually, starting July 30th, I’m going to be doing my feature film that’s called ‘Chase’. It’s a thriller-crime-action film. Little bit like ‘John Wick’ meets ‘Drive’. That’s going to be the biggest feature film that I’ve done, to date. It’s going to be an 18 day shoot, we’re shooting most of August. We actually have a couple of recognisable faces in it as well that you can look and see on IMDb. We’ve been in pre-production for three and a half months. We’re shooting all in LA. Actually, tomorrow we’re having a big cast and crew meeting where we’re going over some of the fight choreography and some of the gun prep stuff. Is it stressful sometimes? Yes. But I feel really good with the cast and the crew that I have. I’ve worked with a lot of the crew before and a couple of the same cast people before. I feel ready for it.

FU: And finally, for the most important question: Does pineapple belong on pizza?

MMR: No. No! I would not eat pineapple on pizza. I’m not that picky with some foods, although I hate cilantro (coriander). It tastes like soap to me.

 


 

I then asked Michael a few questions based on his short film ‘Always Remember’ 

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FU: I really liked the music. Was it an original composition or was it a found piece?

MMR: It was an original composition. It was original music from a composer that I actually went to High School with – Marty. We had worked together on something before. He did it from scratch. We’d send him the assembly cut with no music, I’d given him a couple of samples of what I was trying to look for, in terms of style. He’d come back to me with the score and I’d say ‘this works or let’s tweak this.’

FU: How did you find the young girl?

MMR: The young girl was recommended by the guy who plays the husband in it. He had worked with her on a feature where she played the daughter of Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek; ‘Septembers of Shiraz.’ So I met her and she was fantastic. She actually had a role in my last feature film ‘Sable’ as well. She was great to work with, very mature. She was 11, but she looked younger. She looked more like 7 or 8.

FU: And the filming location? How did you find that?

MMR: We filmed that at my next-door neighbour’s place. He’s actually my mentor, his name is Robert Mintz – he actually wrote some of the ‘Batman’ from the 60s. So he’s been in the business a while. He’s a great guy, so we filmed there. It was the perfect location obviously!

FU: I found the signing between the father and the daughter interesting. You didn’t use subtitles when they were signing, you went more for a lip-reading approach. I was wondering what your thought process was behind that?

MMR: I thought I didn’t need subtitles because it was kind of implied what they were saying. I think that you could see it in their facial expressions and their emotions, so we pretty much get what they’re saying. That’s what I was doing with that.


 

Thank you very much to Michael for taking the time to talk to us here at JUMPCUT and good luck with ‘Chase’!

You can keep up with Michael and his latest work over on Twitter