The first set of questions relate to 'Getting Started'.
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?
I was studying abroad at Cambridge University in England… and there was all of this life outside of the bubble of the North East around me. It was the first time I realized that there was more out there in the world than just the world of finance, being a cop or teacher – which is what you do on Long Island. And at Villanova University everyone was pretty much clones of each other. I fit in socially, but I knew I just didn’t fit in for some reason. And I was bursting at the seams to do this – reading voraciously everything I can get my hands on film related. When I came back I dropped out of Villanova and started to pursue film.
Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
For me, the initial act of getting started was by far the hardest thing I had to do. In many ways I made this decision alone. I actually went back to Villanova the next semester – after three days I was completely miserable and wanted nothing to do with being there. It felt like the whole scene passed me by. So I walked to the bursar’s office and told them I would like to withdraw. I remember being white as a ghost and I must have been shaking – cause the woman behind the counter knew something was wrong. Me doing that and not telling my parents was the no turning back moment of my life. It was right then that I decided I was going to choose happiness over money. Over the fallout my decision would create. Keep in mind, I was a pretty high ranked finance/accounting student at one of the better north east schools in the country – which is a feeder for Wall Street. Fresh off studying economics at Cambridge. My parents weren’t too happy.
Once I made that decision, I jumped in pretty full force. It was pretty liberating. Going to school and actually caring about learning – not caring about what grade you got. It turned a light bulb on for me. I did really well from the start, all the way through USC’s Peter Stark Program. So it wasn’t a huge struggle. The struggle happened as I was producing Battle for Terra and then left Snoot Entertainment. Because you realize quickly – making money at this is very hard. It’s been a real grind. But I made a decision that day I left Villanova – I was going to choose this over money. So my choices have been dictated by that (much to my parent’s dismay). It makes my life much harder – but if I wanted to make money I would have worked on Wall Street. I’m not in this for that or meeting with stars, etc… There are stories I want to share and my goal is to share them exactly how I see them in my head.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film?
Make sure this is truly what you want. Because real filmmaking isn’t glamorous. Writing is a lonely art. Editing is a lonely practice. Being on set is laborious and the days are long and taxing. You’re not curing cancer, but it can be stressful. Ask yourself – are you doing this because you absolutely love film/tv/storytelling – or are you interested in meeting famous people or being famous yourself? If the answer is the latter – go get rich doing something else and then invest in movies. We need you too.
What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
That you can’t control everything. Once you understand that film is a collaborative medium and let go – you can focus on what you can control.
It happened at a screening of a short I directed. It was okay, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. And it was there that I thought – I need to stop hiring my friends.
You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?
This is way too broad of a question. As a filmmaker you have many members of your team, and thus many different avenues to them.
A few of my collaborators have come through school (USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program), or through functions at the school. A large majority of my collaborators have come through the internet. Seems weird to even type – but I found my artists on all my books online. And they are scattered around the globe. Mark Newbauer from Mike the Pike (The Skin Trade, White Space and the company financing my next 3 graphic novels) found my email online and just shot me an email. I met Ken Locsmandi and the team at Filmworks the following way – Dane Smith, a Producer on Battle for Terra, knew I was looking to direct something… he set me up with a DP for one of the short films he produced, Kev Robertson. Kev had just DP’s a feature directed by this guy Rufus. I met Rufus at Kev’s house randomly. He emailed me and I went to meet him and a partner of his on a project called Island of Diablo Madre. That partner was Ken. We met and started talking about fighting, etc… and kept in touch and then our relationship grew from there. Since then I just produced White Space which he directed. The production designer on that film is someone I hope to use on everything I ever do, Jessee Clarkson. He responded to an ad I posted on Mandy.com. It turned out he worked out for a company that shares space with Filmworks/FX called New Deal Studios – and they gave him the thumbs up.
You are here at the Universe’s Grand Temple Of Cinephilia. You are here because of your work and how you do it. What are personal attributes that make for a good filmmaker, and what do you do to foster them?
The first is perserverance. You are going to be told no a lot. You are going to be rejected a lot. People, lots of them, are going to pass on your scripts/work. You can let that get you down, or you can keep getting better. The best revenge is success.
The other two are somewhat conflicting – an iron will and open mindedness. You need to believe that what you are doing is right. Correction, you need to know that what you are doing is right (difference is – go in educated. Always be the smartest person in the room). Someone like James Cameron doesn’t break or bend. But with that, you need to accept that film is a collaborative medium. Here’s where it gets tricky – how does any of what I said make sense? The first part is surrounding yourself with people who are good at their job. Even on low budget films – they are out there. Don’t hire friends. Hire good people. Hire knowledgeable people. Hire people who are better than you at their position. You’re the producer/director – you should know how to talk about lighting, production design, wardrobe – you should know exactly what you want – but you need people to carry that out. And sometimes, often times if they are good – they will have great ideas in terms of adding or enhancing your original idea. I just had a talk with Jessee about production design for my next project – he pitched me something awesome that completely changed the way I saw the script, not even just that scene. He also pitched me something I didn’t buy because it didn’t fit with what I was trying to accomplish. I explained to him why and he accepted that. Which I guess makes for a number four – be able to express yourself. If you disagree with someone or something, explain why. If you’re an asshole, you better be the next coming of Orson Welles or you will have a shitty career.
When I wanted to devote my life to making movies, my first decision was NY or LA. How does where you live influence how and what you make, and how do you think NY currently effects your work and process?
Funny this is a question for Ted, because I have faced this decision my entire film career. Being from NY, my entire family is from NY so that is my home. It will always be my home. Obviously there is a lot more going on in LA in terms of movers and shakers – but you can definitely do this from NY. I have to be honest, I personally feel more creative in NY. In LA, everyone is in entertainment – all of your experiences are based around entertainment or people involved in entertainment. You aren’t experiencing unique/different people, doing different things. I draw from the real world and being in NY just opens that world up. Being outside of LA also keeps you a bit more grounded. No one is blowing your head up, and you’re surrounded by non-industry people. Industry people tend to think what they’re doing is the greatest and most important thing in the world. Let’s be real – we are doing movies/tv. We aren’t curing a disease or saving lives, etc… It’s a big universe and we are small specs in it.