What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
It’s almost too hard to quantify. I would love to say – the cinematography, the acting, the shot choices, the sound, the visual effects, the music… but I would put the writing and the story above all of those. Did I connect with the movie? A great film for me is one that I don’t want to end. It definitely happens and it is a magical feeling. I think of a movie like Once, which was so simple, but it just hit a special nerve.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Everyone in this business has a film they saw and said to themselves, ‘I can do that’. There were two for me - Brothers McMullen and Pi. Pi because it was so engrossing and so different – and yet cost so little (comparatively). Brothers McMullen was special for the same reasons, but also because I’m from almost the same background as Ed Burns. Irish Catholics from Long Island – and the movie was not only a world I know, but a world I lived in.
Over and above those, the two that had the most profound effect on the stories I want to tell and how I want to tell them would be Good Will Hunting and Star Wars. I want to make films that spawn worlds like Star Wars, and I can only hope to achieve that level of filmmaking (the first three, not the most recent three). It is epic filmmaking at its best. And Good Will Hunting was just a perfect movie in so many ways. It looked great, the score was amazing, the performances were all as good as can be – and the script was tight and refreshing and spellbinding. I didn’t want that movie to end. I remember seeing it for the first time in a theater while at Villanova and his red car races down the highway and I was thinking, ‘Please don’t end. Not yet.’
When you get angry at a movie, what sets you off? Are there common qualities in cinema today that you dislike? Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?
Over exposition. I am a fan of subtlety. I really like Black Swan (I’m an Aronofsky apologist), but there were moments I could have done without – such as describing to us (at the beginning) what the play – and thus the movie – was about. Don’t tell me what’s coming. Let me figure it out for myself. I think there is a lot of this in cinema today – playing to the lowest common denominator. I try to not do this in my writing. I know that at some point things need to be explained – but I guess I’m guilty of erring on the side of not explaining too much.
We are all here presumably partially because we LOVE cinema. How did your love for movies get sparked and what can we—as a community—do to help others discover a similar pleasure?
I watched a lot of movies growing up in the 80’s. A lot of John Hughes and Savage Steve Holland movies. They shaped who I was as much as any other factor. We were lucky enough to have HBO when I was growing up (it wasn’t as prevalent in homes as it is today) and if anyone from that decade remembers, they used to play movies over and over and over again. Movies like Better Off Dead, North Shore and – my favorite film of all time – Rad. These became part of my childhood, and eventually adulthood – quoted nonstop between my family and friends. I also have fond memories of watching a lot of old movies with my dad. For some reason he rarely watches new movies, but was always watching black and whites from back in the day. I didn’t really even know what I was watching at the time, but as I fell in love with movies in my late teens, early twenties – this appreciation definitely came pouring out and shaped what movies I gravitated towards.
Helping others? I guess by sharing the movies you love. I am constantly recommending movies to friends. If someone asks me what they should watch, even if I love a recent studio release – I will recommend a little known gem in the hopes that it sticks and they at least watch it at some point.