So given your inclusion of critically acclaimed guys like Green and Michael Gondry as well as blockbuster filmmakers such as Ratner and McG or those that might straddle the line like the Weitz Brothers and Doug Limandid you find any commonalities between these different types of filmmakers?
That’s part of the fun, isn’t it? To hear from this extraordinary array of filmmakers and see where they overlap and differ. Surprisingly, there really was a lot of commonality that I saw across the board. On the one hand, most filmmakers felt like it was the only profession for them. They believed that in hell or flood they had to make movies or fail miserably trying. I found that struggle and tenacity quite inspiring. It really seems like the best filmmakers, no matter where they started, have to make movies and have to tell their particular stories. It’s that passion that shines through on the big screen, I think it’s Neil La Bute or Todd Phillips.
Did everyone you approached say yes? Was there someone you really wanted to talk to who said no or was unavailable?
I would say most said yes, although it took some time to convince some. I’m really happy with the group I ended up with. I think they represent the current culture of filmmakers quite well.
However, I would be lying if I said that everyone I wanted would attend. A lot of people wanted to participate but couldn’t due to production schedules etc. Two that come to mind are Brian Singer and Sophie Coppola. I desperately wanted to chat with PT Anderson but it just wasn’t in the cards this time around. There’s still volume 2…
Do you believe that everyone you have spoken with will maintain similar levels of longevity? Looking to the future, do you think that in 10 or 20 years their work will be remembered as important or even representative of this period?
The short answer is who knows? It is literally impossible to predict. You only have to look to the past to see how unpredictable the future can be. I want to say the director of The Exorcist and The French connection most recently led The hunt! You never know. That being said, this group of filmmakers is off to a good start. I look at their offerings this year and continue to be excited. I think Paul Weitz American dreams and Richard Kellyit is Southern Tales could both be quite special.
How much did you modify the conversations? The back and forth reads very naturally. Did you deliberately decide to print verbatim everything that was said?
I’m glad you said they read very naturally because that was really the point. I’m all the more proud of that because there was actually a lot of editing I had to do in the conversations for space reasons. Some of the interviews in their raw form are over 30,000 words and each has been cut down to less than five thousand. Some difficult cuts had to be made.
My goal for the interviews was for the reader to feel like they were listening to an informal conversation between moviegoers. The last thing I wanted the book to read was an academic conversation between film school snobs.
Did any of these people say something that really surprised you?
Really, every filmmaker surprised me and that’s what made it interesting. A few things off the top of my head although it surprised me…there was Dylan Kiddthe honesty of his disappointment with his second film, PS and Karyn Kusamathe obvious misery of finishing his first film in the studio, Aeon stream. There have been revelations from directors who weren’t used to talking in detail about their careers like when Patty Jenkins revealed for the first time (I believe) that she almost died just before filming Freak. Italian workit is F. Gary Gray opened up to me quite frankly, telling me that he was still looking to direct actors even after his first films. I savored the discovery that David Gordon Green of all people loved a movie like Red Dawn in her youth. If you keep people talking long enough, they’ll open up to you.
We were surprised by the insecurities expressed by people like Jon Favreau, Gondry and others. Do you think this reflects the kind of perfectionist personality that is often drawn to the daunting task of making a movie?
I really think there is something to it. The best tend to never be satisfied with what they’ve done. I remember being surprised like you when Gondry expressed such insecurity. I spoke with him only a few months later Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind has been freed. Here’s a movie that many (including myself) consider to be nothing short of brilliant, and he still had his doubts. I found that humility quite endearing, and indeed most filmmakers had similar anxieties/insecurities. Maybe it’s youth, maybe it’s a neurosis common to all artists, or maybe it’s perfectionism. Probably a little of each.
You are obviously a great film buff: have you ever wanted to work as a filmmaker yourself? If so, why not you?
If people who can’t teach teach gymnastics, do people who can’t make movies write about people who make movies? Not completely true, but I believe there is something to this for many. In my case, I still dream of making my own films. And I’m not ashamed of it. Actually, I should go back to my script. My career has not followed a clear path so far. I produced a little TV, wrote a bunch and even acted here and there. I’m not quite 30 yet. So let go of me for a bit. There’s still time for the movies.
Do you have a preference for writing over television? Do you plan to work on more books?
I have no preference. I like bouncing. Everything remains interesting. I have ideas for other books. There’s this one about this wizard boy that I’m pretty high on. Stay tuned.
Your blog is called “Better than Fudge.” Come on…we’re talking fudge here. No offense, but how can your site or book be better than fudge?
I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to say that my book is better than fudge. I would say it’s about as good as fudge.
And by the way, I don’t really know why I called the site “Better Than Fudge” except that I’m horrible at naming things and I really like fudge. It really wasn’t worth explaining to people… “no this is not a gay porn site…”
Just as we like to ask each of our interviewees a bunch of the same standard questions, each of the filmmakers in your book is asked a series you call “The Director’s Take.” We thought we’d like you to answer most of the same questions you asked them, so…
Dear God no…
What is the first movie you saw?
bandits of time must have been soon enough so blame Terry Gilliam.
What’s your favorite line in a movie?
“I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, when he said, ‘I drank what? “”- true genius
Which film made you realize that cinema was an art?
As for seeing something in the theater and being blown away, I will always remember jfk knocks me out.
What’s your favorite movie snack?
Red vines. The best thing about movie theaters in Los Angeles.
Who is your favorite director of all time?
Coen Brothers, DePalma, Spielberg
Who is the most impressive filmmaker working today?
What quality do the best directors share?
Passion. Vision (as silly as that sounds).
Who is your favorite actor/actress of all time?
Pacino, De Niro, Michael Caine, Jeff Bridges, Gene Hackman…
Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Jodie Foster…
Who is your favorite actor/actress today?
There’s always something interesting happening today with Daniel Day-Lewis and Kate Winslet.
Who would you play in a film about your life?
Ricky Gervais or Warwick Davis
What is your best quality as a writer?
On rare occasions, I am moderately satisfied with what I have written. I can even make myself laugh from time to time.
What is your greatest weakness as a writer?
Inability to sit down and actually write.
Finish this sentence: I will never write anything about…
Never say never.
Even more things to know about Josh:
What’s the best thing you’ve ever bought/picked up on the street?
There’s this guy outside the Sunday flea market at IS 44 (my problem alma) selling sausages that could probably kill those with a weak constitution. If you’re up for the challenge, they’re awesome.
Which establishment in town sees your paycheck more than you do?
Probably Chelsea’s best buy (slightly overtaking Union Square Circuit City).
Solving personality problems: Would you consider your personality to be more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; Has “New York” become a part of you?
I was born and raised here and I like to think I have both hysteria and obsession. In other words, I am hysterical because of my obsessions and obsessed with my hysteria.
When you just need to get away, where is your favorite place in New York to be alone, savor the solitude and find your earthly bliss? (We promise not to disturb you.)
A dark movie theater with a refillable Diet Coke.
There are 8 million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to stick to one New York minute.
I basically cut my entire freshman year of high school here in the big city. My dad used to drive me to old Stuyvesant on 14th Street, and once out of sight, I spent my days walking around town, hanging out at movie theaters, reading in fast food joints and bookstores and even to go to baseball games. — all alone. This went on for most of the year and I was able to convince my parents that all of the absence notices and calls from my guidance counselor were clerical errors. Eventually it caught up with me, but by then my freshman year was basically wasted.
“The Spirit of the Modern Filmmaker” is on sale now. Josh’s thoughts on pop culture can be read daily on BetterThanFudge.com. Josh will discuss his new book at Kips Bay Borders at 32nd Street and 2nd Avenue on February 16 at 7 p.m., and will be joined by one of his interviewees, the filmmaker John Hamburg.
— Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei