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Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor and New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you Jay Roach who you may know is the director of not one but two legendary comedic franchises Austin Powers and Meet the Parents.

The trickiest part for me was getting used to being sued like I got sued fifteen times I think or something personally. My name you are you’re now being sued for millions of dollars because you have invaded my privacy.

But his credits go far beyond.

Groovy baby.

And the Focker circle of trust his producing credits include Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno.

Great success.

His work on TV has leaned towards the political including the movie Recount based on the Bush-Gore election and Game Change the Sarah Palin John McCain satire. And that’s enough for you. He directed Bryan Cranston to an Oscar nomination in Trumbo. But as he informed our students. It took a long 10 years away from school before his career really took off.

You know it is a question and it’s the question I had. You know that took me 10 years to answer so no not to be discouraging. It still will work out but it might take a while. You know I did. I did so many different things to kind of weasel my way and including you know getting a job based on other people’s you know clips from other people’s movies. But one of the things that I find has been has not only worked for me but worked for many other people that have worked for me since since I came up. Was that the notion of getting work. Not in the typical way. Like becoming a P.A. or. A camera assistant or you know a producing assistant or something that’s on the set in the middle of the to me the very best gig can get out of film school is as a writing assistant. I got a gig from an old friend. Being a writing assistant for a guy named Pen Densham who produced Backdraft and a film which I wrote the story for called blown away and a few other things that they were they were kind of you know very much in the zone. And I was in the writing rooms just taking notes I’ve taught myself the type really fast. But beyond that I would help them organize the notes into manageable accessible information kind of documents and even sometimes took a shot and would organize the scenes in an outline order and try to present back to them here’s what I think you guys have in mind and eventually they said why are you kind of helping us write this why don’t you write a couple of these scenes. I wrote some stuff without credit and then one of them got really busy and got a gig doing a sci fi television show and he said why don’t you write the pilot. I have a story you write a pilot so I wrote a pilot it got picked up as a series. It did not turn out to be a good series and didn’t last very long. But again out of that I got to direct second unit and I got to direct scenes that the directors didn’t want to deal with but know it was my first shot at directing actors and I’ve hired since then a ton of writing assistants of my own.

Being an assistant might be considered just paying your dues. But to Mr. Roach it’s incredibly valuable to be to paraphrase Hamilton in the room where it happens .

Shawna Robertson who became Judd Apatow’s main producer did 40 year old virgin and a slew of his films. Larry Stuckey who has now become my writing partner Michael McCullers was our writing assistant on the first Austin Powers wrote the sequels for the second two just from being in those rooms where you are in touch with every decision that goes into getting the film created and made. And it’s an incredibly good way. You’re involved in casting you’re involved in the studio. You know all the politics you hear everything in that room on comedies the writing goes through the shoot it goes through post-production. So you’re kept involved through the shoot and you do get to end up on the set but you’re also the person up late at night. You know after everyone else has going to bed trying to make sense of the notes that came up in that rehearsal that day. You sit in rehearsals you actually get to see that the directors directing the actors because you’re improving in the rehearsals and turning that into script pages and as a writer producer I would only hire the smartest people young people who could if they were given a shot probably do better at writing. I always would always hire people I thought were smarter than us. So anyone who can get a hold of working writers and get that gig and I think that’s the best. The other big one is write scripts all the time shoot and write just every second. I didn’t have the opportunities you guys have of getting things seen a two minute comedy short can be seen by millions of people if it’s good now by just bumping it up on YouTube and try to avoid the kind of dead end jobs like PAing just I know so many people who went that production route and if you want to be a first AD or a line producer PAing is great if you want to write and produce just working as a writing assistant in the daytime and at night write your own movies and on the weekends shoot your movies with all your friends and that’s you. I can’t if you have any talent at all within a couple of years someone will figure out you have it and will give you a gig.

Along the way Mr. Roach was connected with SNL grad Mike Myers thanks to his literal rockstar wife Susanna Hoffs from the bangals. And from the union. Myers and Roach sprang our favorite 60s British spy.

Who is this Austin Powers.

The ultimate gentleman spy. Irresistible to women. Deadly to his enemies. A legend in his own time.

Allow myself to introduce. Myself.

We hold the world ransom for. One million dollars.

Do you really expect them to pay.

No Mr. Powers. I expect them to die.

I shall call him mini me.

Get in my belly.

You know I have one simple request and that is to have sharks with frickin laser beams attached to their heads.

Yeah baby yeah.

I had ten years to get ready for the leap because I graduated in 86 from USC film school graduate grad student and. I had done a few things I had written a little bit and I shot some second unit on some campy sci fi things and stuff. Mike Myers I knew him indirectly through our wives kind of knew each other. I had done some work on a very bizarre sort of psychological almost David Lynch style thriller was about Adolf Hitler and the psychology of evil. Mike saw that and said oh you should do Austin Powers. So that’s. And that’s true because he was he was a World War II history buff. We had things in common they just weren’t. You know James Bond derived comedies. It was a pretty big leap and he just kept saying to them I’m not going to do it unless this guy I think he is the guy and he is really the one who took the crazy leap then the studio went along with that risk. But Mike really staked everything so that’s how it happened.

The pitch for Austin Powers must have been tricky. It’s a riff on the James Bond formula but not a parody. It’s a comedy that would play many of its jokes as dry as a vodka martini. Shaken. Not stirred. Mr. Roach needed to convince the studio that his unusual vision for this comedy could work.

We had a lot of influences that was one of the thing to try to avoid just being a parody movie. We wanted it to seem like it was sort of derived from a lot of different influences the way I got the job because I didn’t really have a reel or anything to show but I cut together some clips from movies that I had been aware of that were sort of off center blow up you know which we ripped off heavily at the end with all the photographing but also a movie called the tenth victim with Marcelo Masrani and Ursula Andrus it was kind of a trippy pop art thriller or something. I mean I had to convince them that style could be funny and that it wouldn’t just be a parody because we didn’t want it to seem like I like those kind of films that are deliberately parody films that we hoped it would seem like as they say it was something else and you couldn’t quite trace all the DNA of it. So we used films like that and I showed those clips in a big meeting and said I don’t have anything to show to prove that I can do it but here’s some films I like. And they they they hired me based on liking the same films.

650 million dollars and two sequels later Austin Powers. Now seems like a no brainer. But when Mr. Roche and Mr. Myers were making the film success was anything but guaranteed. And if they listened to the test screenings we would never have had the shagadelic spy with danger as his middle name.

Says here name danger powers.

No no no no no danger’s my middle name.

It wasn’t that big of a hit. It never previewed Well we did some previews in this very room. People didn’t get it. At first it came out as a modest hit that summer and it could have just ended there. If Mike DeLuca had not been so brave I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the preview process but you do invite people to rooms like this. They come and watch the film fill out cards and do a focus group and you want to hit in a mainstream comedy at least in the 80s you know to get a sense that your film will be successful in the scoring process and we never got above 55. We started out at 48 and we worked our way up after three or four score previews and DeLuca said you know what. I know it’s not. Not everyone’s going to get this and we’ll just put extra money into marketing to kind of find the audience that will get it and we’ll take a shot. But most comedies there are many director careers that would have been stopped in their tracks after the first film. And it did become an acquired taste and people because it is weird. I mean it’s it’s kind of campy in a certain way. Camp isn’t that successful in America. Usually it’s know Mike’s looking right into the camera making mugging jokes and that’s not doesn’t usually work for American audiences so we didn’t expect it to work honestly we just made it because we love those films. And then the video took off in some weird way. And then Mike did this trailer for the second movie where he pretended to be sort of a Darth Vader kind of breathing because Star Wars was coming out that summer. And he did this long push in to the back of the chair on the spaceship and he turned around and it turned and he said Oh expecting someone else.

You were expecting someone else.

You know and he has the cat and it’s Dr. Evil and he says if you see one movie this summer see Star Wars but if you see two movies see Austin Powers.

If you see only one movie this summer see Star Wars. But if you see two movies see Austin Powers.

That’s right Mr Bigglesworth. We’re back.

And it exploded it was like a crazy phenomenon that one crazy teaser it wasn’t even a full trailer it was months before the movie came out. And that sort of fanned the video sales on the first one and then by the time the second came second one came out everybody was it was fun the midnight shows and the whole deal really a blast. But it was not predictable in any way. So once I was in that club I honestly was kind of naive about it. You know you take your first film for scale and you just. So I was so lucky to even get a break and Mike and I worked so closely together and it was like on the job training for me because he knew so much about comedy. He actually has a system in his mind you know having done SNL Second City and worked with Del Close and improv training. Lorne Michaels and SNL I mean he just hasn’t encyclopedic brain about comedy. He could give a master course you know that would blow your mind and why certain things are funny and why things that you think would be funny are not. You know and I learned while doing it. So then once you get in the club I started realizing wow this is actually a good club to be in. It was thrilling. It was really cool.

Austin Powers open numerous doors for Jay Roach eventually leading him to his next comedic trilogy. Meet The Parents. Despite the massive success and star power of Austin Powers one and two. Mr Roach admits that he did not feel any more confident when helming Meet The Parents.

In comedy confidence almost at least for me doesn’t exist. You are always insecure it’s why most people in comedy are pretty crazy and pretty neurotic because you. It just never feels funny enough. Unfortunately most of the films I’ve been involved with on the comedy side the scripts never come together entirely and you have to start shooting before you have the ending and so you’re kind of writing every night and. My mental health traced through my comedy films. They’re really deep dips every time especially in prep so and DeNiro scared the hell out of me and scared the hell out of you know Ben Stiller too which I saw in the dinner so this is going to work you know because he was intimidated then we did the sequel to Meet The Parents then it was Dustin Hoffman Barbra Streisand and we didn’t want to make a sequel unless we brought something new. But I felt like it was it was suicidal. They were known at the time as being kind of tricking people to harness. And they were sweet as pie. They were great you know. And most of the people once they get performing for each other one secret in comedy is just cast only funny people. The funniest especially in improv so that they always are playing with each other. And you can kind of just sort of set the table. A lot of comedy is around tables in those movies and just kind of get out of the way.

Confident or not. Mr Roach was able to finesse terrific comedic work from a trio of legendary performers who have been known to be well let’s just say at times difficult. Dustin Hoffman Barbra Streisand and the original Raging Bull Robert DeNiro.

You know Greg’s in medicine too.

Oh really. What field.

Nursing.

That’s good.

Not many men in your professional are there Greg.

No Jack. Not traditionally.

My father was never in the rare flower business. He was in the CIA for 34 years.

I’m a patient man that’s what 19 months in a Vietnamese prison camp will do to you.

I’m a sex therapist specializing in senior sexuality.

Look at this I married a teenager. At least you have the libido of a teenager.

I gave her a little matinee today.

Mom I’m truly not comfortable having this conversation with you. I’ve been telling you that since I was 11.

I will bring you down baby. I will bring you down to Chinatown.

You want to hear a story I milked a cat once.

I had no idea milk a cat.

Oh yeah you can milk anything with nipples.

I have nipples Greg. Could you milk me.

I did start to develop a kind of reputation for working with people who had been known as being tricky to work with but they often were so cool. And Bob was challenging for me only because I was projecting on to him the killer guy. He actually turned out to be an incredibly generous and cool guy. I always tried to keep Ben and him at each other’s throats if I could but it didn’t last long because Bob is really cool and he was even cooler on the second film because you had Streisand and Hoffman and all these people and they none of them wanted to disappoint each other so they were off often just performing for each other a lot of it’s situational and our situations turned out to be fun. And I actually got to ride on their coattails you know Ben has directed many times so to have a star who is capable of solving comedy problems with you. You know as almost like a fellow director in that moment is brilliant. It goes to what I was saying before. I don’t have any special you know charm. It’s more about I do so much homework to convince myself that it’s working because I’m so scared it’s not that if I can get over my own fear and terror and anxiety dreams that slowly eat away my organs then I can go on the set you know there’s nothing Burt Reynolds can do that’s scarier than what I’ve done to myself. But with all those guys they will push too hard. You know this isn’t good enough. Why. What’s going on. Why is that idiot standing over there in my eye line. And they’re right there. It’s not good enough until it’s good enough and none of those people are compromising easygoing people. They’re excellent and they demand excellence and if they know I’m just as scared about doing something less than excellent. I’m sort of invincible from an ego point of view I have no ego. So you try to hurt my ego. Good luck.

Mr. Roach’s approach to directing comedy requires both intricate planning and coverage while still letting the actors do their thing.

In film school you’re taught to kind of work it all out and Diagram it and I did that and there’s many jokes and Austin Powers that are very geometrical for example blocking his naked bits. Both his and Elizabeth’s. There’s geometry there that you know you could chart a NASA launch with as much time as we spent on lining things up. And some of the set pieces in the Austin films are so complex that they had to be pre blocked and previsualized you know I’d sit and just work it out and draw. I start with overhead diagrams just little circles with representing people moving around on various pieces of paper and then and then I start to storyboard it with a storyboard artist who I just act out what I see in the frame and how it will evolve. But I only do that in a super technical geometrical scenes for everything else. All the performance scenes you have to trust that when you get there. And if you’ve sold what matters in the scene and where the turning points are that the actors will tell you how to block it. You will say let’s just read it and then read it again. Now let’s start walking around and they are like iron filings around a magnet you know the right. Blocking emerges because there’s a forcefield in a way that is the right blocking and then it’s up to you to make sure the cameras in the right place. I only wish I could do more scenes where I didn’t cover so much. That’s one of the things I keep trying to work on in my evolution as director is I prefer long masters that evolve and. But in comedy if you don’t do oppositional angles you can’t cut out the crappy stuff in comedy you just don’t know what’s going to work and there’s such a high mortality rate if you don’t have the oppositional angles you can’t extract or expand the scenes so you’ll see in a lot of the cutting. I often set up an axis and stay on one side of it. The main thing is just trust the actors and don’t over puppeteer them.

Mr Roach appreciates what an actor brings to a project when he was pitching his political satire of the campaign he sold the film to studios on just the premise and the star power of Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell.

The campaign is an interesting story because we sold it on a pitch here at Warner Brothers and because it was myself Zach and will who’d come to me to ask me to do it all of us were in the room. Pitching a story and we only had about. Three paragraphs. And we told all the studios. We wanted. To make this film in about six months and we want you to greenlight it in the room or don’t take the pitch. So we got all of their it was very arrogant to do this but we got them all to each of the studios that were interested to put their not only their head of the studio and their creative executives but the head of marketing both domestic and international and head of publicity domestic international head of physical production. So we had like the quote unquote Green Light Committee that studios now have in the actual room listening to the pitch and we didn’t have the actors so Adam McKay Chris Henchy and myself had to sort of act out you know the parts and how they would go. And. We’re not good at that. So we had to we just had to have a hook you know and it was an example of where. OK it’s it’s two political candidates in the south kind of loser slacker incumbent who is just coasting along and an upstart played by Zach and they could picture that character we were talking about doing this slightly effeminate Southern conservative.

I am beholden to only one man and that is the greatest American that has ever lived. Jesus Christ.

And they’re just going to smear the crap out of each other in a relentless battle of negative campaigning until one of them dies. You know basically.

Marty Huggins can’t even take care of his own wife. So I did. That night Marty’s wife voted. Multiple times. I’m Cam Brady and I seductively app rove this message.

Zach and will two of the funniest guys on earth. What do you think. And that was the pitch but it was. It actually did. You could kind of picture what the movie became off of that pitch. It was a stupid way to from a directing standpoint to ever get into because you think Oh good we’ve got them hooked and we’re committed and we have a shoot date and a release date by three or four days later and then you go oh no we don’t have a script and we it was so excruciating again I swore I would never do that. But you know if you have a what I call a controlling idea of in your own mind of what is the hook and in Meet The Parents. You know I talk about it because that when we had a little more of a script but it was touch and go almost every day there was a threat to shut it down for different reasons budget reasons you know actor reasons. And for me it was so easy to say don’t know yeah but don’t forget it’s a guy who loves a girl so much and is sure he doesn’t he doesn’t deserve her. But he’s going to overcompensate and try so hard to get her that he’s just going to make it worse by sneaking and lying and becoming exactly the person no parent would want to have engaged to their daughter. And the person is going to come up against is a human lie detector a person who is a bulls**t detector meets a bulls**tter. How can you how can that not work. If it’s Ben Stiller and he’s you know the world’s most interesting bulls**tter and Robert DeNiro is an assassin a killer dressed in soft sweaters and a little cat and a waspy wife. That’s like that sounds funny. So that’s how you. If I if I know I can tell that story because as a director you become this sort of cult leader of the of the faith and whatever you’re doing if you can tell it with that much enthusiasm to not just the studio but to the to the DP who’s trying to convince you know to shoot it this way and you don’t want to shoot it that way and here’s why because this idea depends on this to work or the costume designer trying to sell you. You know you have to. You just have to keep organizing it. Back to that one controlling idea. And if the pitch is strong in the room when you first set it up you can keep pitching it to everybody who threatens that pitch or threatens that concept. All along the way until you know it sort of survives somehow. And. Turns into a movie.

One of Mr. Roach’s fondest collaborations was working with writer Douglas Adams. The remarkable mind behind the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The extraordinary story of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins very simply. It begins. With a man. An earth man to be precise. Who no more knows his destiny than a tea leaf knows the history of the East India Company.

The answer to the ultimate question. Of Life. The universe and everything. Is. 42.

Sadly Mr. Adams did not get to see the final product.

I didn’t direct hitchhikers but the most amazing thing about nearly directing and then ending up producing it was working with Douglas Adams because he saw Austin one and had been trying for years to come up with screenplays for hitchhikers and a guy named Michael Nesmith from the Monkees introduced us. And you know and it was an amazing and an unbelievably transcendent experience working with him he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. And just you know a brainiac and you were it was sort of like he’s very similar to John Cleese in my mind and how he looks at life and approaches life and I was such a Python fan anyway so I worked with him for quite a while and then he sort of struggled Disney didn’t get it and he died. He died you know having moved here ready to do it and it was very sad. And I just couldn’t face doing it without him. So I talked to two guys that I met. They came up with a really actually kind of a novel twist on it and invented a lot of new things on top of Douglas’s script. So it was that was that was actually a tricky one.

If there’s any modern talent that can match the genius of Douglas Adams it is Sacha Baron Cohen the man behind Borat and Bruno, Ali G and most recently who is America. Though finding the perfect vehicle for Mr. Cohen’s Kazakh creation turned out to be a very bumpy ride. Once they let Borat be Borat the resulting film shattered our funny bones.

My name Borat.

In Kazakhstan it is illegal for more than five woman to be in the same place. Except for in brothel or in grave.

I have come to make Pamela Anderson my wife.

Great success.

This is Natalia. She is my sister she is number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan.

Nice.

My name is Borat I come from Kazakhstan. We support your war of terror.

Great success.

It was hard to get a story and actually Trey Parker and Matt Stone worked with us for months on a more scripted version. But it was so scripted that it didn’t allow Sasha to do his live interaction with real people. So then we went back and started over with Sasha and all his writers. The trickiest part for me was getting used to being sued. I got sued fifteen times I think or something personally. My name you are you’re now being sued for millions of dollars because you have invaded my privacy. Yeah we did invade your privacy but we think we had a right to and. We won all the cases we weren’t at risk ourselves because they always indemnify you. He must be impossible to insure now based on how many times he’s been sued. Because even if you win the suits the legal expenses are high. He’d been doing it for ten years and if I come to you and I said I’m doing this movie with this this Kazakhi reporter don’t worry he’s a he’s just a representative of the youth of Kazakhstan and he’s come to America to figure it out you would say Oh OK that sounds good. So you would sign it and read probably the first three pages well on page 56 at the bottom it will say by signing this you agree that we can use your likeness even if the Kazakh journalist turns out not to be a Kazakh journalist. And even if the movie turns out not to be a documentary and even if it’s like it basically outlines everything he’s going to do and you agree to it without realizing that you are signing off to be in Borat the comedy movie lawyers now do seminars based on that contract. The crazy thing even people who didn’t sign it sued us people who had wandered like he was in New York City. He went after this one guy who was like a Wall Street executive or something. And the guy freaked out and like was chased down the road and Borat’s chasing him I want to kiss you. And that poor guy didn’t sign anything. Didn’t see the posters that say if you stand around in this area you could be filmed and still lost the lawsuit because the judge said what Sasha is doing is in the public good because it’s exposing racism homophobia anti-Semitism and the public good of the film overrides your individual right to privacy at that moment. I will say the one cool thing that I got to do in that movie I didn’t direct the film but I directed all of the publicity stunts after the movie when he was in the green thong on the beach in Cannes. When he went to the White House and we found out that the Prime Minister I guess of Kazakstan was coming to America well a couple weeks before he threatened to sue Sasha that was like thank you. That’s the best thing that could ever happen. So we went to the Kazakh embassy he’s in character found out the guy was coming over in D.C. and was being presented with this giant statue on the lawn of the embassy of Kazakhstan. So we thought oh great we’ll just show up too and see what happens and as they unveiled the statue it was the prime minister himself riding on a tiger carrying a hawk.

This week Washington is playing host to the president of Kazakstan a former Soviet republic.

Well the threat comes from Borat who may be Kazakhstan’s most famous representative even though he doesn’t really exist. And the guy who plays him isn’t really from there.

The unveiling today on the embassy lawn here of a Kazakh warrior riding a flying leopard provided just the right note of solemnity.

All the embassy they celebrated and they went to lunch well all the CNN NBC about two dozen media outlets were there on the risers facing where the podium was and they just were carrying it out. We ran it with a podium dropped it down and Sasha started giving a speech. My name is Borat I am here to present my movie film to President George Walker Bush.

I would like to make a comment. On the recent advertisements on television than in media. About my nation of Kazakhstan. Saying that women are treated equally and that the all religions are tolerated. These are disgusting fabrications. In fact main purpose of premier Nazerbayev’s visit to Washington is to promote this movie film. This screening will be followed by cocktail party at Hooters. On 825 7th streets. Thank you. I must now return to my embassy where I have talks with my government.

Well the embassy people called the cops who now had mostly gone to lunch following him and said There’s someone breaking into our embassy there’s someone trying to invade the embassy. So you see the cops in the background of the footage. Looking at the window saying where and he because here’s a politician giving a speech that’s supposed to be going on and they’re in the background trying to figure out who’s breaking into the embassy. He just kept going and going got publicized worldwide. Sacha Baron Cohen in front of the with the guy with the hawk in the background.

And if you like your comedy filthy, Borat has one scene so raunchy that you might never recover.

I’ve never seen an audience react to anything like the way they react to one scene in that movie which was the naked fight.

We got to go all over the world presenting this movie. I have never seen people laugh harder at anything and people were going ah oh my god. Took their clothes off and two people ran down to the screen and ran back high fiving the audience was like a tent revival people speaking in tongues or something and you could study that and figure out how to surf laughs. And you know it happens in previews in rooms like this where you sit and try and figure out OK got I’m laughing harder here how can we make them laugh harder here and keep going and surf that. For I think that goes on for you know two or three minutes that was scripted you know they had inappropriate positions they got into the only part that was unscripted was they run out into the hall chasing each other. And they go into the elevator. These ladies shriek and run out and then they’re still standing there and they’re there looking very guilty. The doors close and then the camera slowly pans over this guy just a civilian just trapped their. He was not he wasn’t he was not an actor and just was like what the hell is going on. The door opens they run out and then they run into a banquet style meeting room in a hotel filled with mortgage bankers who really were real mortgage bankers and they just run into the room and start fighting on stage naked.

We have a special guest here this evening. Ruth Bader is here.

In making two movies with Sasha he only broke character once in the middle of shooting after he can be in character for nine hours. But on the set if someone catches him out of character. We shut down that second because the gig’s up people know that day he broke character said don’t hurt Asamat don’t hurt him because the security guy was choking him. Was so pissed off that he was going. So that was real.

Just like Sacha Baron Cohen Jay Roach has to stay in character at all times when directing. His inner thoughts may be filled with fear uncertainty and despair. But he still needs to project that all is good. His advice if you have doubts with directing keep them to yourself.

I always get overwhelmed when I’m directing. There’s so many aspects to it and you’re in charge of everything. How do you deal with something like that. Do you actually share it with your actors or producer or do you just.

You don’t share it with anyone involved in the film. Because you have to actually be seen as being so calm and the grown up in the playground or you know or the insane asylum depending on what it is which is tough because you’re really most often if you I can on the set okay good let’s try it again. Yeah that’s good inside are cartoon characters running around hitting Bell pulling on alarms and trying to put out fires and getting the suicide machinery going you know because it just seems like you’re not going to survive it really feels like it’s going to kill you. Especially in prep for me once I’m shooting I actually do calm down a little bit but in prep it just doesn’t seem possible ever I mean it gets worse too because the expectations get higher you think it’s going to get easier in prep I’m usually a basket case. And I talked to my wife about it and she’s she’s pretty cool at keeping me calm. I’m trying to think of what’s the worst I’ve ever revealed. I mean when I got sick on Meet the Fockers was crazy because I was shooting a big scene with all the actors and at 3 o’clock I noticed my ankles are swelling up and by 8 o’clock I couldn’t move I couldn’t move all my joints were like you have the mumps in every joint. And I was the line producer took me to the hospital DeNiro knew these people at UCLA. So they were like shoving gunshot wound victims out of the way pregnant ladies out of the way. Get this guy in there you know they were dragging me right into it because they were they were afraid their movie was and it cost them half a million dollars to I was so stressed out. And so not sleeping. You know you can hide it but it’s going to get you. Comedy is so hard and it’s so much harder doing these HBO movies. You’d think the Sarah Palin movie would be scary. That was like that was so much fun. It was like Cause you know you’re not worrying every second is this funny enough because there’s nothing more painful than bombing you know and putting up some scene in a preview and thinking it’s going to be the ending finally got the ending. Oh thank god people are looking at it going I don’t know I don’t think it’s funny. What we just spent you know a week reshooting that ending you don’t like it cartoon characters running around again. So there’s nothing you can do except just prepare and know what you care about. Know what matters so much that all you can do is the best you can do and show up ready to fight for that and be persuasive and throw every ounce of your your energy and your charm and your you know your willingness to put yourself out and not be embarrassed and not have any ego and you have to have a tolerance for failure that is so high I always say in dailies on Meet The Parents everything we shot was terrible. It was terrible. It was like what is DeNiro doing why does he he would sometimes start mugging because the crew is laughing because he would he would think because they were laughing and I would be going what is going on and you know you get in the cutting room and you put in the one or point 0 5 percent that’s great. And it’s amazing with DeNiro. It’s amazing. You know it’s not just all that ninety nine point five percent that sucked. No one’s ever going to see that. So you were thinking about all that the whole time when you were you know trying to figure out which vein you would open first at the monitors that’s you don’t have to. It’s going to be OK if you just get that one point five percent of that day’s shoot. And you can make a great movie out of it. So you just have to be kind of stupidly optimistic and delusional. During the process and still fight for what you care about and that’s all you can do. You can’t you just have to trick yourself into thinking it’s going to be all right. And fight for what you what matters in the scene and you know sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve definitely had some. Stuff that didn’t work. That’s keeps me up but it works eventually.

Right now at some noisy dive bar. Someone is doing a terrible Austin Powers impression. We can’t blame Jay Roach for that but we can thank him for Goldmember. Gaylord Focker Julianne Moore’s Emmy winning work is Sarah Palin and the indelible side of Dalton Trumbo writing in a bathtub. We want to thank Mr Roach for sharing his story with us and thanks to all of you for listening. By the way if you got a little more time check out our previous episode with Bryan Cranston talking about his work on Jay Roach’s Trumbo.

With Trumbo. He was such a chain smoker. And he had. An affectation. You know and he went he went up and down. It was a fun thing.

This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter. To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See. You next time.

Release the sharks.

Dr. Evil. It’s about the sharks we tried to get some but it would have taken months to clear up the red tape.

You know. I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with fricking the laser beams attached to their heads. Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that cannot be done. Would you remind me what do I pay you people for. Honestly throw me a bone here. What do we have.

Sea bass.

Right.

They are mutated sea bass.

Are they ill tempered.

Absolutely.

Well that’s a start.

Hey guys just a heads up. Today’s episode references a song with explicit language. If you have young children around you might want to put on some headphones.

Hi and welcome to the backlot a discussion with the entertainment industry’s top talent. I’m Aeriel Segard.

And I’m Eric Conner and in this episode we’re going to take a look at the absolutely insane action film Hardcore Henry and the world of stunts.

Normally our fearless editor Kristian would slice in a bunch of clips but they don’t really see much in Hardcore Henry.

No, they don’t have time to talk because it’s basically like a first-person shooter game like Halo or Call of Duty expanded. So the entire movie is shot from the main character’s eyes.

They needed stuntmen to do the filming as they parkour from building to building.

Jump from the exploding bus or car into a moving motorcycle.

It took a lot of parkour guys stunt men even actors to pull off this effect.

That’s right. And two of them Sergey Valyaev and Andrei Dementiev joined us at NYFA to discuss the making of Hardcore Henry.

I’m in the movie business about ten years. We’re starting from parkour. Shot our videos and suddenly one of my friends a Russian director he invites me to the movie to do all the stunts and acting. Actually I’m not a professional actor. Ten years ago. I only be a stuntman. And after that you know step by step. Feature film TV series a something like that.

To help us with our discussion is NYFA alum actor stunt man Adam Gomez.

Why thank you all for having me.

Dude thanks for coming by to the wonderful studio here in always sunny Burbank.

Of course I love to discuss stunts and this is right up my alley. All action.

He even climbed a wall to get in here.

I did.

So Adam talk to us a bit how you got your way into this world of stunts and how you’re able to still be here and tell the tale.

Yeah so I found my way right after I got into the military. I literally fell into it. I got invited by a friend who was working as a magician’s assistant at Six Flags New Jersey on the train right there the Batman in the stunt show fell and broke his back. As soon as I got off the train I was rushed by my friend right from the train station to the back lot of Six Flags. I learned the show on Thursday Friday I was Batman in the stunt show. And I was like This is what I want to do the rest of my life. And that’s kind of what I’ve been doing ever since for the last 14 years. But yeah as a stunt man I totally love these guys. One thing that’s admirable about what they did they were stuntmen doing things trying to break in. They got video famous which is how a lot of people want to get into it. There is that avenue. So I think it’s incredible what they did as a stunt man. I’m totally envious and they actually did it for the most part safely.

And as crazy as the stunt work actually was in the film. The team realized that only having one man shoulder this alone couldn’t happen. They needed several people to play Henry.

When we start the work on this movie. We actually understand that one man can’t shoot such insane scenes. We have too many shooting days maybe one hundred and 15 days of shooting all these insane scenes.

So sometimes we mix the scene Sergey starts the scene and I’m finishing the scene because I am human we need to rest.

So you can see that five seconds shot by Andrei. And then next five seconds shot by me. And then next five seconds shot by stuntman who just burning. Yeah some special stunts made by professional stuntman because the producers just don’t want to risk ourselves.

Right so there wasn’t just one guy as Henry it was lots of guys and part of the challenge then too is how do you make all the performances seem like it comes from that sort of same place you know and the collaboration between them wasn’t just about working together on the stunts it was also kind of crafting this performance together too.

When you’re doubling you have to pay attention to how they move if they have a limp. So I mean in this I didn’t not once in Hardcore Henry could I tell that it was a different person which is just you know hats off to those guys because they’re obviously paying attention to that in however many different you know between these two and the stunt people are doing it. I couldn’t tell the difference.

No not once it looked like the same person the entire time.

Yeah. And you’ve got a trained eye for this too so like if you can’t tell most of the audience won’t be able to tell.

Normally when it comes to doubling work. That’s one of the biggest things you can point out in film . And you feel like you’re with him the entire time and it is the same guy.

And that’s something too right they have to find ways then to mesh all the stuff so that the audience isn’t aware of all that magic and chicanery going on behind the scenes. Speaking of the guys talked about the inherent dangers of doing these fight scenes when you have multiple Go Pros attached to your head and how you couldn’t really fake it you can’t hide it. They discussed what it was like for them filming it.

We used only GoPro on this movie .

It’s 60 days usually. But we have a problem that we all know how to shoot a movie with one camera two cameras.

But when you try to make it on Go Pro. Everything’s changed.

Yeah everything. Everything when you read the script you read. Okay I understand everything. Let’s go to the shooting and when we go to the set. Everything like directing drama. Actor thing everything is ruined because Go Pros have a special.

Distortion. You can’t change the lenses.

Nothing working the script just doesn’t work and we were like oh my god what do we need to do. We’re on the set and nothing is working because you to be more closer. If you’re about to one metre from the actor on Go Pros it looks like you’re three metres.

When you shoot close objects on Go Pro you need to make your punches real.

Because you see this.

You see everything you see. Just everything.

You punch like this. You see this is not a real punch for the scene when Sergey hits me in the role of slip Dimitri I think it’s four punches and I’m just going hit me man hit me harder because it’s better to take one good punch than four or ten just like. I have a little bit for some reason I think I deserve it. Maybe.

They must have had a lot of conversation because they couldn’t always go back and check the footage because it was on Go Pros at times they couldn’t. Other times it was just well let’s shoot it with two or three cameras because we don’t know if one breaks we’re not going to be able to see the footage. So that in and of itself is something they had working against them that they obviously had to really prep and plan for because nowadays most the time if I have actors fighting I can be on the monitor and I can say OK well that hit missed this one you know made it. But for them they were kind of an that’s what they talked about. They really ended up hitting each other because you don’t want to waste an entire thing and they actually had to do some reshoots because you could easily see the misses. And they talked about that they actually were hitting the stunt men and as most stunt men were they were saying hit me harder harder which when I heard that I wasn’t shocked. There’s no depth of field. I mean normally if I have two actors fighting that can’t fight. You got to go with a longer lens you can have them father apart but on a GoPro you don’t have the luxury of hiding behind depth of field. So they really were making contact. There’s I really hope she was a stunt woman on the escalator scene it’s towards the beginning. He’s sliding down. She took what we call a Thumper. We say when a stunt coordinator calls you up he says hey I got one for you. It’s not complicated but it’s a thumper. That means it’s not a lot of moving parts but you’re going to hit the ground repeatedly. But yeah she definitely took a thumper on that one.

So is it truly better to take one good punch than five mediocre ones.

As a stunt coordinator I have to say no because there’s ways to tell a film story without hurting your actor as a stunt man our natural response is I think for a good stunt man is always yes sir may have another. And that’s what we’re paid for that’s literally our job is to take that hit act like it didn’t hurt. And then when it cuts and the stunt coordinator comes up says you guys OK. Your number one response is absolutely let me do 10 more. So I mean these guys are what they’re saying is you know what a true stuntman would say and I could easily be there on that with the producers being like Yeah I don’t want to hear that. But they obviously knew what they needed to get the shot and make it look realistic.

And the filmmakers admitted that hardcore Henry was a Russian production which afforded them a certain amount of freedom.

We used all real things real knife real guns.

Real explosions.

Yeah safety isn’t first In Russia you can do whatever you want.

Almost.

Almost.

Yeah we’ve got a couple more laws here it sounds like. But then also within a film school setting. We don’t want students going out there and putting themselves at risk. Putting their cast at risk. I mean for yourself as a coordinator what do you find yourself having to put the sort of kibosh on that. You tell filmmakers no.

A lot of it is just basic physics and common sense. Where’s momentum going to carry them how far is it going to carry them. So no your dolly track can’t be there because they’re diving right there and I have to have my mat there whenever I’m dealing with students. The first conversation I have because they tend to be on lower budgets is there’s a lot of departments in the film industry that you can stretch a dollar with ingenuity it’s a lot of things production design wardrobe locations these are places where if you have time and ingenuity you can stretch a dollar. Stunts is not one of these. Because whether your budget is low you know $1000 or $20 million physics doesn’t change. Gravity doesn’t change. These are things we still as stunt coordinators have to be safe about. So I urge them if it’s possible learn to create conflict and drama without using action because it’s one of the easiest things in the world is put a gun to somebody’s head. And now I have conflict. And if you don’t have the money for stunt doubles and no rehearsal stunts is one department you get what you pay for. There’s no way around it. Either you’re paying a lot of time they see my budget. They’re like That’s ten times what our budget is and I’m like exactly. And honestly I think some of the biggest accidents happen on the easiest stunts because whenever I’m doing like a full fire burn or if I’m doing a 40 foot high fall we’re paying attention we’re all locked in on what we’re doing we’re double checking double checking. I was doing a film. We finished the stunt scene. It was a fight scene I took a guy down then there was another thing it was just two actors arguing and they weren’t supposed to touch each other but one of the actors in the argument poked the other actor in the chest and he broke his finger on the mic pack. So a lot of the times it’s not the big car wrecks that happen because that’s what everyone’s locked in. It’s oh quick we’re losing the sunset. Let’s just go and do this. You know that’s when people get hurt.

Speaking of this you know it might not be surprising when we’re talking about Hardcore Henry that there was more than their fair share of injuries.

We have injuries in one scene. One of the stunt men hit me a little bit harder and broke my tooth. Yeah. And. Also I have a problem with the spine. I have six spines not broken but.

It’s herniated it’s called herniated. And if you’re wearing the heavy helmet. You can see almost nothing. You just have [Russian].

Like a horse. With the blinders you only see the front of you.

You can’t see your legs. You can just look forward that’s all.

And also we have a for playback we have a Teradek on our head and the sound so it’s pretty heavy.

So we have all of the things on our helmets while filming Hardcore.

Have you been in that position as a stunt man. Where you actually are kind of in some kind of contraption that makes movement really complicated or difficult.

There’s times where I’ve had to wear like prosthetic mask and one time I had to do a twelve foot high fall over a balcony into a real wood table and the mask I had was a wolf mask but the problem with that is when you don’t have the peripheral. You have to that’s where rehearsal comes in because and timing you have to be able to work with the people knowing when you’re there.

It’s all about trust too.

When I fall I have to go I had to go over and get my head around with them. I mean especially when and sometimes they’re even on wires but they can’t see things. So not only are you doing a very dangerous stunt but you’re doing it with limited vision. That definitely was one of the challenges they faced in this you know 90 minute action packed film.

So I was curious any notable injury stories you care to share.

Yeah I have my one I think unfortunately if you’re in the business long enough you will have the one main injury. I fractured my L4 I was doing a stunt show in Paris. The Wire I was on snapped it was a fluke accident. I fell 45 feet landed like a sack of potatoes broke my back stood up in about three seconds put my cowboy hat on ran around finished the scene which is like 10 more minutes of fighting and kicking and then it ends with me getting my head slammed into a stage coach and I get dragged off by the horses. That was about a six month recovery.

And you finish the show after.

I did I have the video I landed. I don’t remember if it wasn’t for the video I would remember none of it. The adrenaline was going and I hit. I stood up I finished the show. I actually had to get the Cowboys back stage had to stop me from getting back on my horse because I was continuing with the show I’ve been doing for two years so my muscle memory was kicking in. And finally Chad who’s from New Mexico was like Gomez you should probably just sit this one out I think we got it. So that was you know my one main injury and that’s in Hardcore Henry they have a lot of wire work and wire work. Is it adds a level of safety but it’s not completely safe. If you’ll notice in one of my favorite scenes in Hardcore Henry is when they’re going up on the convoy on the motorcycle. It’s a great mix of real practical effects and CGI. I think it was a really good balance but you can see when he’s going from the trucks to the motorcycles those were on wires which adds a little bit of stability to the stunt. But it’s not guaranteed because the motorcycle can easily pop a tire go sideways. So you’ll see why and we’ll talk about wire work they do quite a bit in Hardcore Henry it is safer but by no means does that make that a safe thing to do. But I think they pulled that off really well. Like I said earlier something at some point is bound to go wrong and that’s just why we get to call ourselves Stunt men and women.

Thank you for that.

Well stunt women are actually the toughest because they don’t get to wear pads as much as the guys do.

When they have to do a stunt in a skirt.

Yeah exactly guys are always in tuxedos and jeans and leather jackets. And the women are running around in high heels and skirts and you know the shirts with no elbows. So there’s no elbow pads. So yeah the stunt women are actually the toughest out of the bunch.

Speaking of safety. I just I was thinking about Sergey and Andrei worked with this director before on a video called bad motherfucker. They had really no budget no safety harnesses and well essentially no rules.

The idea of this movie is raised from a music video for biting elbows. It’s a Russian indie rock band and the leading frontman of this band. It’s our director Ilya Naishuller he’s a musician and the director and talented guy bad motherfucker is actually the second video is the second part.

The first one is insane office escape and the song is called stampede stampede yeah when we start to shoot the bad motherfucker video we have no money we have no anything we just start shooting. And so when we come to the big movie.

Feature film. We have a budget.

We have wires so we have a budget for professional stuntmen.

And actually for bad motherfucker we have some little budget because this is the second part of the music video for a stampede. We don’t have any budget.

We have only free pizzas and free cheap suits from the star.

Yeah and I think the budget of. Bad Motherfucker is about two or three thousand dollars. Something like that. And we spend all this money only for explosion.

Yeah for the car explosion.

It does make me want to go out there and parkour.

It makes parkour look like the most fun way to spend an afternoon so Adam you ever have to do stuff that crazy and in a video.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get to do things that crazy it was good. I mean you have the basic things of just the ground pounding which I refer to anyway there’s some good Thumper’s in there. They do have a good use of sound effects because it’s when you combine those it makes the hits look a little harder than they are. But the good thing is they mixed it up so you have the hand-to-hand stuff and then you have the car work which is great. They’re really smart in knowing when to cut for instance when he kicks out the windshield. So they had to obviously cut there to prep that window and then have somebody behind him to drive it. So they made really good choices about how to get from one stunt to another.

So flawlessly it seemed even.

Yeah great. I mean there’s not only were the stunts amazing but again this was a team effort. You know the editor obviously editing and fight choreography have to go hand in hand because I’ve personally seen a lot of times where the fight looks amazing and then when it comes to editing it kind of is butchered and I’ve seen vice versa. This was great use of wire work. When he gets The Ascender up to the roof and then you see him fall he’s actually on a Descender so he’s not free falling but it seems like he’s free falling when he grabs the blue thing. So they put the again. They used the right stunt and the right camera movement to really really tie it all together. Yeah it seemed like they had a lot of fun doing this and they got to do it in a lot of fun places which is great. Having the time traveling device it allowed them to go to the mountains and fight in the snow and then go to you know the airplanes and be able to do some parkour on jets which we can’t really do here in the States but that’s the lesson you should take away from this is they say just strap on a GoPro and go for it you know. So it worked for them. Filmmaking is all about collaboration. If you talk about some of the best filmmakers they tend to work with the same type of crew over and over and with this I think is the right juxtoposition between these parkour guys who really love doing it and then this more musically inclined director. And they’re you know when they came together they gave birth to the music videos which ultimately became Hardcore Henry which is kind of one long action music video.

Right. You were talking before about how like kind of the small stunts sometimes are the ones that hurt you the most because you’re like in some ways the least prepared for it. But there’s a stunt in the film where a tank is coming at Henry. And again it’s his point of view. He’s on the ground crawling backwards as a tank comes at him and in some ways it doesn’t necessarily compare to the other stunts seem like. That big of a deal.

Yeah it didn’t look so terrifying to watch but you had to go back and watch it after you hear that he was so terrified of it. That it’s scary for him.

The tank is one of the scariest thing that’s happened in my life. It’s like my nightmare.

It was scary.

Because only safety that I have on this scene. It’s a rope on my back and three guys who. Take this rope and they’re stuntmen also. And I’m looking at these guys. The stunt guys and they all like OK. Let’s go so I’m lying waiting just pull you out. That’s all you see all the hands if you have some safety. You see this because you see all. In the shot.

And we don’t use.

We don’t use any safety. Just only for eyes the glass for eyes. That’s all.

You have a tank coming at you and the only thing between you and safety is a rope pulled by a couple of guys so we’re talking like what for you. What do you see as kind of the most dangerous things they did.

I mean the tank thing is definitely you’re hoping those guys are paying attention and busy chattering you hope you know they got enough sleep they you know didn’t go out drinking vodka all night. Because in that scene his life is literally in their hands. If the tank barely lands on you. That’s life threatening. But I think one of the things firework is always very dangerous. I’ve done some full body fire burns.

You have to have safety people right.

Lots of safety people lots of safety cues. But then again you’re paying attention. One of the hardest stunts I think there is and if you notice they have in Hardcore Henry. But it’s very minute is horse work. Because it’s one thing to fight with a human that speaks with your language it’s another thing to work on wire work that’s mechanical. But horses are twelve thirteen hundred pounds of muscle and their first instinct is to buck kick and run. And if you notice they do put a horse in there. But it’s very quickly he gets on it and he gets off it and they continue with all the other action.

Have you ever worked with a horse.

I have. I’ve done horse work and that’s really challenging because again horses are like humans they have different personalities they have good days bad days but you just never know because if they want to go this way or that way there’s no stopping them. You hope if you have the budget you get on a trained horse but it’s not always the case. Sometimes you just show up and hope. The scariest thing for me in stunts is when I’m coordinating and I’m behind the camera because I’m always worried about their safety. I’m double checking everything did I double check the ground did I tell them enough were my instructions clear but it’s also not only the stunts it’s the production life because like they said on this they were filming 115 days. And now I’m assuming this was exactly union to the going over twelve hour days. That is a long time to be exhausting yourself and that’s when complacency sets in is you’re three weeks into it. We’re all doing it we’re tired we’re on a six day shoot on location. We don’t sleep well in hotels. You add all that up and it’s very easy that you know that accidents happen at that point.

One thing that Sergey and Andrei discussed in the making of Hardcore Henry was that actually and this surprised the heck out of me that they improv’ed some of that work. Sometimes we improv in the shot. Ilya just saying. Do whatever you want. Hit this guy hit this guy. But. Look wherever you want to just. Feel your body. How. You’re moving into the scene. But we have a script this is a original story and when our character also riding on the horse it’s also original story in the script.

We have a original idea with the horse Henry should go on the Horse down to the ground in the bunker and ride on the horse and shooting to the mad dogs.

And the guy on the helicopter also chasing the gallery and shooting from a bazooka and we’re riding on the horse and it’s a lot of explosions but because we have a lot of days of shooting when we editing all this movie.

Almost three hours almost three hours of action. It’s too much for the movie. And Ilya just a cut scenes.

I think cut half of the movie. So somewhere is Hardcore 2.

Have you ever been in a situation where you show up on set. You think you’re going to do one thing. It wasn’t going to work out. And now you have to improv it .

That happens more often than not normally. Whenever I do get the chance to have a rehearsal I don’t the director was like OK exactly what’s going to happen. I’m like well we’ll basically block it out and 60 percent we’ll use it because when we get on set. Now the DP is like well I can’t shoot that way I have to shoot this way so you have to change the fight scene we have to be over here lighting. So it always kind of changing. You really want to stay away from improv-ing. I mean that might be one reason that they had to shoot for 115 days. Because as far as getting what you need safely and effectively you don’t want to be making up everything on the spot. That’s when accidents like they said Somebody got their tooth chipped in. Stunt men were hurt that’s when those things happened. So I highly suggest against improv-ing but it always happens to where something has to change and you just have to be willing to adapt. And if you have talented stuntmen it’s easy to go from a right punch to a left punch to a left kick to throw to this table instead of that wall. You know when have a good team it makes that transition smoother. But yeah I would stay try and stay away from improv-ing when it comes to the bigger stunts.

Before we wrap all of this up what kind of advice would you give to students if they wanted to put stunts in their scenes or any any safety tips last minute things that you want them to know about stunts.

The best thing they can do is contact a legitimate experienced stunt coordinator right away before they cast before they get locations before they pick wardrobe. The common mistakes they tend to make. Things like wardrobe they don’t think about oh if I want to have my actual actors fall into an alley. If I give them long sleeves and long pants they can put pads on and then they can really do it so the best thing can do is contact a coordinator and go through with what they can do and a coordinator will help them be like OK well you can cheat this or you can actually do this stunt and this is how you do it. But as a stunt man. There’s a part that like Hardcore Henry guys that is just go for it. But there is consequences to just going for it. And that includes legal fines but even jail time. So my advice is just be smart about it and contact a professional and then see how you can create your vision.

There’s a lot of really great behind the scenes videos about the making of Hardcore Henry. So you can enjoy the madness yourself of what these guys did to make Hardcore Henry happen.

We want to thank Andrei and Sergey for joining us and Adam Gomez for co-piloting this episode.

Thank you very much for having me it was a pleasure.

And thanks for putting life and limbs on the line repeatedly as a stunt man and for making sure filmmakers including our students are that much safer when when putting stunts in their movies.

Well thank you. I love my job and I love seeing the students create their vision safely.

Safely.

Safely.

Let’s call that the moral of the story. Thank you so much for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Ekatarina Terakhovich and myself.

Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and Eric Conner executive produced by Jean Sherlock Dan Mackler and Tova Laiter.

Special thanks to Robert Cosnahan Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. See you next time.

Hi and welcome to the backlot a discussion with the entertainment industries top talent. I’m Eric Conner senior instructor.

And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and coordinator here at the New York Film Academy.

And in this episode we explore the improvisatory world of Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood stars of the comedic high wire act. Whose Line Is It Anyway.

Every once in a while if one of us busts and starts giggling it’s like my favorite thing in the world and I’m usually the one that busts first.

Yeah I don’t find anyone I work with funny. That. Makes it a lot easier.

Now I’ve tried doing improv and let me tell you the thought of doing it in front of a full house. Night after night is terrifying. But as Mr. Sherwood explained they found improvisation to be simpler than working with even the shortest of scripts.

I’m terrible at auditioning for scripted stuff but that’s why I mostly liked going out on either hosting auditions or commercial auditions right because it was really about throwing in your own stuff. When I go out. I am the worst person to talk about auditioning as far as going reading a script memorizing lines and then going into fluorescent lit room and trying to pretend like I am in a bunker during a war. It’s so does not work for me. That’s why I’ve never been able to really do well at that. I sort of fell into improv. I was working in TV production. I went to school for acting but when I first got out here one of the jobs I fell into was TV production. And a guy I was working with said there’s this cool improv class you might want to check out. And I had never really done improv seen it but it was like someone handed me the instrument I was meant to play you know here. Here’s the oboe. You know you’ve been trying to play tuba your whole life right.

Both stars had been working for years but made their name on the improv based Whose Line Is It Anyway. First on the stage and then on the television show host in the United States by Drew Carey.

Welcome to Whose Line is it Anyway The Show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. That’s right the points are as worthless as the phrase campaign finance reform.

They just felt much more comfortable going in front of an audience without a net.

Speaking as the actor that I am which is I’m not a really great serious actor. As a Swiss Army knife I have fish Scaler and sledgehammer you know like those are my acting styles and like whenever whenever I’m cast in like a movie or a TV show I tend to be the slightly over the top. Like in Jane white as sick and twisted. I played like this perverse old street guy. So I didn’t have to tamp it down. They kind of hired me for being ridiculous and knowing I was going to go to 11 instead. I think that my skill set and the industry have sort of I would say pigeonholed me maybe I’ll break over into the other side and I’ll be doing legitimate dramatic roles like Tom Hanks someday. But you know the likeness of that happening at this point.

It’s also hard because and this will shock people that I tend to be more subtle when I’m auditioning for television and things like that. And they always I always get called in for the big characters and I don’t feel it’s not what I feel comfortable doing. I mean it’s hard to tell that from some of the stuff I’ve done on Whose Line. But I tend to go the other way and I always. My rule is I’ll only go as big as I feel comfortable doing and then when it gets beyond that then it’s not good for anyone. It’s not you know it doesn’t really service the character. I can’t get them what they want so we’re just wasting everybody’s time.

I’m the other direction I’ll only go as subtle as I feel comfortable with it.

We’ve yet to see that.

I’ve just made a mess out of so many auditions because I think it’s a confidence thing as well. I’m so incredibly confident making people laugh and making things up. But then when I’m handed a script that has even just the least bit of dramatic content or I have to be sort of sincere. I just have a hard time doing it. And the editor inside my own brain goes You’re a funny bastard and right now you’re doing something that’s not in your wheelhouse. You know it’s like you’re a master at this but yet you’re trying to do some other art form really. I mean. I think I learned pretty quickly out here that that was my strength so I might as well really hold on to it so I actually am always in awe of people that are great at drama. And you know and being truly vulnerable that’s always something that sort of eluded me and I think it alludes a lot of comedic people because the comedy is your armor. You know you are sort of baring yourself while you’re making people laugh. But it’s you’re baring yourself in a way that’s completely different than the people that are acting like a Jake Gyllenhaal who’s like ripping himself open and going here I am.

Even when they try to store a bit ahead of time having a joke in the chamber so to speak only takes them so far when in the middle of an improv game.

The newscasters. I would always before the show come up with some really bad pun because I love puns and usually that was planned although every once in a while I would forget and then it’d be oh crap. I have to come up with and luckily I have a large storage of bad jokes so I would just sort of come out.

Welcome to the six o’clock news I’m burn nightly.

Olly Oxenfree.

Chester flatbottom.

Chester moistmuffin.

Chester Snapdragon McFisticuff.

Our top story today a national study shows that balding men make the best lovers.

We’ll be back soon to the wildlife movie Bertha the dyslexic ephalent.

We’ll be back to our nature documentary hood the circumcised cobra in just a second.

Our top story from the Middle East. Benjamin Netanyahu today changed his name to Benjamin Netan-yahoo.

But everything else all the other guys they never knew what their character was until Drew gave it to them or Clive in the English one. The reason this was such a great gig was because there was really no work involved. We would show up maybe two hours before we taped we’d sort of go through a camera rehearsal so we knew what games we were playing for the night. So Drew would say OK we’re going to do greatest hits. So we would sit. Everybody would sit their position as center. That was it. Then they say OK stop and then we go back and so we never improvised. If we did improvise if there was a new game we would use suggestions we’d gotten from previous shows. And then it was just eating and waiting for the show to start. And then when we do the show and then we were done.

And as far as for Wayne and I the musical prep we would have a music rehearsal where Laura and the band would play us all the different types of genres that if they did Rolling Stones they were gonna play sort of a knock off and they let us hear it. And the producers would just give us a random suggestion that had nothing to do with what was going on that night. But just so that we could hear the cadence and the measure so that we would hear them and go oh they’re going to do sort of a knock off of jumping jack flash if we get rolling stones that night right. So we would in that musical rehearsal we would hear that we’d hear what their take on an REM song was this and that and we would hear and try like 20 styles and then three of them would be thrown at us that night during the show.

The singing guys were really underrated and everybody everybody thought it was rigged and there were times where I thought they probably then I thought no way I just give him the title. So no but to come up with you get the title you have to come up with rhymes you have to make it sound good and it has to be funny all split second. And these guys were the best I’d ever ever seen.

The Romantic Italian ballad pile driver.

When you show a girl that you love. Take her head and climb high above hold her still and that is that . Show her you love her when you met. Just go uhh. It’s a pile driver of love.

Miss Marilyn Monroe. And of course her great hit gallstones are a girl’s worst friend.

Now you must understand from your head to your brain. Oh in my side I’ve got an awful pain. Oh I shoot it out my rear end because gallstones are a girl’s worst friend. Understand I won’t be alone. I’m trying to pass a stone. Gallstones are a girl’s worst friend. Worst friend. Worst friend. Did I do that.

For me it was always a surprise. What that title was for me that was one of my favorite games. First of all because I got to sit down which was good. And it was just Ryan and I sort of bantering and goofing around and then passing it on to those guys and watching them do something incredible.

Hey Colin.

Yes Ryan.

What comes to mind when I say the word sting.

The guy who sang for the police. Hey. When he retires will he changed his name to stung.

You know I laughed at first but would he.

I don’t know.

What comes to mind when I say kielbasa and accordions.

Broccoli. And enough gas to light a small country.

Colin you’ve got five more years till you hit 65. In Canadian.

That’s right.

Nothing better than the sound of metal.

Oh you’re talking heavy metal.

I’m just talkin metal. I could be heavy could be light could be aluminum could be lead is lead a metal. I don’t know wuwuwuwuwuwuwu.

You just rapped there did you know that.

I told you I’m a child of the streets. Sometimes I just wonder why I talk to you.

Because if you didn’t you wouldn’t be talking to anyone.

That’s right I’d still get better answers.

So for me. The bantering part was the part I was mostly concentrating on and it’s like. And then I could see Drew is sort of looking at his watch and it’s like oh yeah song. So then it would be just toss and sometimes they were good titles and sometimes you would say something go oh oh that with that sucked.

As the person that had to do the song I know they always fall into one of three categories. If they were in the groove the song title would be a joke in and of itself which is kind of what they were always aspiring to do. That if song of a plumber plunger suck this you know I mean whatever they were going for. Right. That was their dream title. One that was funny and in the point.

We used to listen to the 70s funk hit. Check under the hood.

One of my favorite Dixieland racing car songs is axle grease rag.

That big lambada hit two laps to go.

One of my 80s rock n roll favorites has to be my gown has no back.

That mambo hit. This is going to hurt a little.

Simply titled.

And then sometimes if they were just sort of blathering on then they would kind of do it Fletch style. Who could forget that wonderful title honey the toilets clogged and I don’t have anything but your earrings. Great thanks for truncating it down into a little thing.

It’s a doo-wop hit and its title is.

Oh the anticipation is incredible. I bet it’s going to be so hilarious.

Have I told you how much I love working with you.

Mr. Mochrie and Mr. Sherwood do their best to resist tailoring their material to where they’re performing.

Choosing instead to follow the idea that funny is funny everywhere.

If a reference of where I’m at pops into mind that feels germane to whatever we’re doing at that moment I’ll throw it out but I don’t. Walking with a satchel full of care my English jokes here are my Alabama jokes. I never do that. You know at most we’ll be doing something and like something stupid goes bad and then you’ll say Well you very rarely see that in Alabama and that gets a local joke out of them and it has nothing to do with Alabama. You know it’s like if you make a local reference just for the sake of making it to the local people they’re going to laugh but that joke would’ve also worked if you said it in Minnesota you know

We just had we had five shows in India.

Last summer.

Big yeah big Whose Line fans and bizarre. And we were a little worried about it. We thought you know they are one of the largest English speaking countries in the world just by the fact that there’s a billion people but we also thought well it’s a totally different culture will they get our stuff. The first suggestion we got fart so we thought were good.

We looked at each other like we’re home. No problem.

So we never change anything. We just did. You know we don’t do political we don’t do we just do goofy and I think goofy is universal.

We do goofy situational character occupation type things as opposed to oh let’s do Britney Spears blah blah blah Lindsay Lohan reference or George Bush slam. We don’t do any of that stuff.

It’s probably a good thing because they told us after which I think they should have told us before and they said you know oh by the way don’t say anything bad or funny about Gandhi or they’ll kill you. Well that would have been good before the show.

Just a little Xerox sheet right before.

Performers are taught to listen to their co-stars. Acting is.

Reacting. See I listen. And when you don’t have a script it’s crucial that your costars keep the scene from crashing.

And burning in improv. You need more than a co-star. You need a.

Dance partner who can finish your.

Sandwich. Thoughts.

That’s better.

I think you just need to sort of develop your improv skills like a martial art. You kind of use the other person’s energy against them so if they’re all over the place. You can use that to make yourself look good because you are the counterpoint to that. I think the auditioners will see that you’re adapting and that person may be all over the place and yelling and screaming and saying too much and then you just stand there and sort of the outside cool observer who just says one thing at the end of that like oh someone needs a Ritalin you know and you get a huge laugh and that guy was really trying. And the guys that are casting look at you and go okay that guy stayed in the moment stayed out of that guys way didn’t jump in and go. Me me me me me and then got a great laugh because he was listening and present.

I mean improv is such an ensemble art form you have to work together. And there is I hate to use the word competition because it has a negative connotation. It’s not even going for the bigger laugh or he gets a bigger laugh. It’s like being the best it’s going well I’ll set him up for this one he better get it because I know exactly where I would go if I was doing it. And you’re ultimately you want the scene to be the best scene it can be. And that means having to work together. But you know you do like to get your laugh on your lines. You do. When you come up with a great line you feel like. I’m always amazed that actually it worked out. And everybody when we were doing our scenes we all had our different functions in a scene. You know Greg would often be the kind of the smart assy as did you a time I was usually the woman or something.

The scene is Ryan arrives at his ski lodge a day early to discover his wife Colin in the arms of amorous ski instructor Wayne.

Ryan is Rhett Butler Colin is Scarlett O’Hara. You know that’s how it goes in the relationship.

Ryan is Noah and Collin is.

His wife.

Mrs. Noah yeah. Colin knows his role in every scene.

The beauty of improv is there would be you know you think oh I’ll do this and then I would think oh this is the character I’ve just come up with. It doesn’t seem to be working but I would have to stay with it because then it became my challenge was to make the audience like me as this character. So I would try to just stick with it and work within what. You know these guys were giving me what the scene was and it usually worked out.

I also think there’s a certain level of commitment your brain is also constantly going down a path with four or five forks and if you start to go out and that’s not where you instantly back up and go down something that might work as funny you know you’re constantly taking the pulse of the laughter of the audience and you’re not going to just completely barrel through ahead on something that you that you know is not working and you know as you get to become a good improviser I think you learn the tricks to instantly make a u turn or commented on yourself. Sort of the comedy equivalent. Well that didn’t work you know then that gets a laugh and then you go off in some other direction. I never feel competition at any of our live shows Vegas shows whatever. The only competition I felt on whose line was with myself. I had to be as good as I possibly could be or I might not get another season like that was the only competition I ever carried into the actual show was sing for your supper sing for your supper sing for your supper.

I think for me the only time I am nervous where the fear creeps in is like five minutes before the show when you know I’m backstage thinking OK I’ll we have all these people who want to see a show and we don’t have one. It really depends on what they give us. It depends on how on we are. And then once you’re out there it’s just giving yourself over and living in the moment and doing all the things you don’t do in life it’s you know you’re listening to your partner you’re taking their ideas and you’re building on them you’re accepting. It’s like a happy place. So there and there’s really no time for fear because you’re just constantly think you’re bombarded with so many things not only from yourself but from the person you’re working with and the audience that there’s no chance to enjoy the fear. I think fear creeps in. If you don’t do it for a while there are many great improvisers who I worked with the Second City the cast of SC TV who won’t improvise now because they’re.

You see them at the Gilda’s Club charity events in Toronto and they come up to us and they’re like oh I don’t know how you guys do this anymore. I could never do and I’m like you’re one of my idols from SC TV you know Joe Flaherty is looking at us like how do you guys do that. I’m like I do this with my eyebrow because of you Joe. You know it’s just like that.

It really is a muscle that gets flabby really quickly. If you don’t you don’t work it it dies.

To get complimented by SC TV’s Joe Flaherty.

Aka the dad from Freaks and Geeks.

I had a friend that used to smoke. You know what he’s doing now. He’s dead.

Is like being blessed by the pope of comedy.

And the more Mr. Mochrie and Sherwood performed the more their fanbase and their reputation grew.

Even if each show was a new adventure they only get better every time.

Every time you do something funny you sort of learn a new way and especially since we’re improvising we’re consciously pushing ourselves into the unknown of finding new ways and we like to challenge ourselves and we never improvise better than when we do something in our show like get a really hard suggestion or change a game up so that it’s we haven’t played it that way before when we step into the darkness. That’s when we come back after the show and feel like we didn’t get anywhere near any vibe that we did in a previous show and we were scared and when we improvised scared together. It opens up just that other extra notch of creativity as an improviser.

The last two months I think we’ve probably been as funny as we’ve ever been.

And this is the eight years of trial and error changing games getting better.

Every game we came up with ways of making every game so that we were off balance and not comfortable and we find that’s when we work best when we don’t feel when we don’t have a comfort zone. I don’t suggest that for everyone but really it works for us.

And that’s about that’s about changing a game so that it has a couple of different angles and it’s also about constantly changing the ask for s that you get from the audience because if you ask for something a certain way. After about 10 or 15 times you’ll start to get the same three things so we constantly shake it up so that we don’t never fall in that groove.

One unexpected reason they’re able to keep their improv performances so fresh is basically amnesia.

They admit that each show feels like the first time since they pretty much forget what they did last time.

Sort of the beauty and the curse of the show is once it’s done it’s done. It’s sort of gone. It’s only because you know I flip through the channels and I see a whose line and don’t remember anything and yet I’m doing it so I obviously was involved but it’s just. The only one I remember semi clearly is the Richard Simmons one.

Called living scenery. This is for Ryan Collin and Wayne. And Richard Simmons everybody Richard Simmons.

And that was only because of the audience reaction because it. Stopped the show.

Ryan and Colin are going to act out a scene and during the scene they have to use a number of props however since they don’t have any real props to work tonight.

I’ll be the props. I’ll be all the props for these men.

I don’t actually remember the improvising or what I did but I remember that moment of just seeing people jumping up and down in the audience. And going. This is cool but I don’t remember any of that scene.

I never remember anything that happened after a taping. I just remember whether I feel good and thought oh that was a good show. We got lots of laughs and then if I stumble across an episode of Whose Line. And I see that I’m on it and I start watching it. I don’t even have any recollection of what I said because I was in the moment during that thing. There were no scripted lines so I have no expectation of what I said at that moment because if I was put in that scene now again I would have different responses so I can’t memorize every little. Just like you can’t remember every conversation you’ve ever had in your life. That’s kind of the way it is with with doing improv because it’s stream of consciousness flowing out of your brain free thinking like you live every moment of your day. It wasn’t preplanned recorded and rehearsed repetitively beforehand. So I watch the show as much like a person who’s never seen it before. I find myself holding my breath and then relieved when I did something funny. Oh good it worked. Yeah. Good for him yeah. He made them laugh.

Mostly I mean most of the great memories are just from working on the show and it was a great group of people and for me it was bizarre to be part of that of the ABC machine because I’d never had that. And all of a sudden we were going to these big parties with people I’ve watched on television and people I’ve seen in movies who I really admired and they were coming up and talking to me. It was really surreal. We were in Pasadena and they have this thing called the upfronts where all the shows come together and there was a party that night. And I was with my wife and we’re walking down the stairs and all of a sudden surrounded by photographers who pushed my wife out of the way and Kim Delaney who was in NYPD Blue at that time was pushed with me. And all these pictures were being snapped. And I turned around I said well I guess we’re going out now and I’ve never seen such fear in a woman’s face before. It was like Oh wow. And it was it was just bizarre. There were moments like that all the time where we went to a Disney Adventure.

California Adventure when it first opened they had a couple days of sneak previews.

And you get there and they say OK you’re going down the red carpet your wrangler is goofy and goofy comes out for the whole night you’re with goofy who can’t talk to you when he’s in the thing. So he has to use sign language to tell you where to go and. You’re just standing there going. This is not a real life. This is. Insane. So yeah those are the memories I have walking the red carpet with Goofy.

This ever evolving comedic work sometimes results in the performers breaking character which they don’t mind at all.

In fact. They welcome it.

We live for those moments. We wait for those. I mean those are the best moments in the world. I mean I think part of the reason I wanted to. Do comedy was when I was a kid. I watched the Carol Burnett Show and Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would do sketches on this show and it was Tim Conway’s mission to make Harvey Korman bust up at least once a show and he said so he would just relentlessly pick at him with his little character till he started to laugh and then when he started to break he would just keep hitting at him and that is my favorite childhood memory of watching TV comedy. And so I lived for those I we don’t do it very often but every once in a while if one of us busts and starts giggling it’s like my favorite thing in the world and I’m usually the one that busts first.

Yeah I don’t find anyone I work with funny. So that makes it a lot easier. It’s also I mean you know we’re in sort of the same state as the audience. Everything is a surprise to us so there are some times where we. Break on whose line it was always like I’d been giving a medal of honor when I made someone on that show break up just because they’re all jaded and have seen everything. So there was always that moment. So when that happened that made my resolve even harder not to breakup and to see if I could make them look worse. Which you’re not really supposed to do.

It’s the killer instinct. No but make worse in that when someone’s laughing on stage it’s all gold for the camera like that is free. Awesome moments for the audience and everyone watching so.

And there were some times where I broke up Ryan that really had nothing to do with what I just said. There was one where I said Tapioca and he lost it. He just lost it.

Hey Colin what comes to mind when I say Ricky Ricardo and great cigars.

Oh tapioca.

Really. Why’s that.

Wasn’t that his big song. Tapioca. Tapioca.

No Colin I’m talking about. I’m talking about Cuba Colin.

Cuba. It’s a small island.

It is. Why don’t you tell the people about it

Afterwards. I said why did you laugh when I said Tapioca he said you sounded like Colonel Klink. So it was really I don’t know what my point was there but I tried. There are some times. There were a couple of times we did a scene called The Cat and that was because it was a mission impossible.

Gentlemen today’s mission is of the greatest importance.

And we’d gotten into a little trouble in the beginning and I find when that happens you’re a little on edge and you’re almost got the giggles anyway yeah it’s punchy. And then it started just to build from there.

We’re going to need some. Detergent.

Detergent. Detergent. The cat .

It’s taking too long. The cat. No that’s no good.

Fabric softener.

Well you can’t have static cling. The bernuse will stick to his thing. The cat.

It fell in the water again. Wait a minute the cat.

The cat’s wet now.

And luckily Ryan started breaking and that sort of calmed me down.

The sneckerfark of Imar will be here.

We’ve got to dry.

The cat.

The cat. Stop it with the cat.

So I used him as my I guess scapegoat I guess so yeah I find I just try to concentrate harder. Sometimes it works. You can get. You can certainly get away with it in comedy more than you can in drama. I’m just saying from personal experience when you’re laughing and Hamlet’s dead. It’s hard to come back from that.

To me. I don’t find anything terribly embarrassing because like one episode of Whose Line I went to sit back in my chair up in the back and they were really close to the back of the stage. And I fell off the back stage. I’m not but that got a huge laugh from the audience so that’s not embarrassing to me. That’s just another laugh. You know that as a comedic person that’s just like oh that one was free I didn’t have to work at that.

Doing that show doing the show embarrassment and shame were kind of left backstage and it’s not till after when you’re watching something and go wow. Well I used Richard Simmons as a jet ski to fellate me. That’s odd.

Our shame gland has pretty much atrophied. So like what is embarrassing to us when we’re willing to get up as adults on national television pretend to be monkeys and fling poo at each other. There’s not a whole lot that can happen. Even if we sneeze in an actual booger came like that kind of thing might be the most embarrassing. You know. But.

If it gets a laugh.

There’s very few things. I mean our life is about kind of making an embarrassing scenario into something funny.

Their work in improv attracted a number of legendary comics to guest star.

Including another one of their heroes and a master of improv himself. Robin Williams.

Let’s go on to a game called scenes from a hat. What Robin Williams is thinking right now.

I have a career. What the hell am I doing.

As great as Robin Williams was even he found keeping up with the performers a very tall order.

I didn’t actually perform in that show but we played with him a bunch times live down in Santa Monica on Herald nights at the upfront theatre and I got to play with him. And it’s the thrill and joy of working with him regardless of you know he again he’s coming into a team that’s all been playing together. You know so there’s a comfort level and to his credit what he did he was an improvising monologist. So he did years decades of working by himself. And you know free associating and all the voices and characters were just in his head. So you know it’s kind of like the world maybe the world’s greatest tennis player that doesn’t know how to play doubles you know. So it’s almost a completely different artform.

And he totally raised. I think everybody’s game he had so much energy that we went oh jeez we have to match this at least. So we were after I had never been so exhausted after a taping just because he gives a hundred and fifty percent. So you have to give at least that to sort of keep up so everyone had their A game on that night because of him because it was like we don’t want to be left behind. Also we want to make sure he has a good time and we get some good improv out of it. So he really did raise raise the bar for us.

The comedic duo might not get easily fazed onstage but offstage Mr. Mochrie and Mr. Sherwood are far from the extroverts they might appear to be.

So the guys behind.

Ah ah. At ease at ease.

Are actually shy. Now that’s surprising.

I think we’re both pretty shy in our real lives. And I think my my shyness sort of exponentially grew the more I had an outlet for the performing. I think when I was in school and a kid I was far more out going and extroverted trying to make people laugh all the time. And then as I grew up and sort of had you know a place to do it on stage then I became more shy.

I was always painfully shy and it wasn’t till. A friend of mine dared me to go out for the school play. And I got my first laugh and it was like. The play was the death and life of sneaky Fitch a musical Western. No nobody would ever remember. But it really wasn’t until the success of whose line that I basically had to just because we were having interviews and meeting so many people had to sort of figure out a way of getting over that. I mean this is my worst thing right now. It’s horrible.

He could be in front of five thousand seat house making it up and making laughs and he’s more comfortable than he is just in a intimate setting like this having to talk. I’m more uncomfortable at a dinner with people I don’t know. Like a four top at dinner than I am in front of 10,000 people.

He doesn’t use cutlery.

I’m more in my element when I am bungee jumping intellectually out of an airplane and trying to make people laugh.

We’re more in control on on stage you know we’re with people we want to be with and who we trust and we know it usually works out in the end and life doesn’t give that guarantee. When my wife watches whose line she calls that guy the other because it’s nothing like me. It’s you know in gatherings with friends of course you know I’m a little more open but I don’t have to be on and when I’m with people I don’t know I tend to be quiet which is why I disappoint so many people when they meet me.

I am the only person in the world that gets to see the two sides of Colin because your wife really does see that. I mean I get to see the lunatic because we’re on stage and the audience gets to see that they don’t get to see the shy.

The real me.

I mean he’s like. He’s like he’s like Chauncey Gardiner and being there. He’s like that shy.

Good reference. Thanks.

The introspective improv superstars reminded our students that one’s career and life is not just about the destination but about the journey.

What advice would you give yourselves now when you’re in acting school.

Oh that’s an excellent question.

And that’s a good that’s good. Any more good questions. I would tell myself not to stop living at the expense of. What I wanted to do. I I was going to say I loved theater school but yes I loved parts of it. There are parts that were hell and then there was a part where it was your life. Those were the only people you saw you were working like 12 hours a day putting up productions doing things. And I always have trouble with people who make acting their lifestyle rather than their job. It’s a great job and I love doing it. I love it because you have so many different experiences you can know one day you’re a pirate next day you’re snack fairy you can be anything. You also have to also keep in contact with the outside world and meet see real people because when you meet actors and actresses they don’t always react in real ways. I mean everything is like really dramatic or not dramatic. But I’ve always tried just to get outside and you know we don’t have an entourage when we go on tour. It’s us and some other guy and we get no respect. We have we we wanted to write a coffee table book called. You’re not the f**king Rolling Stones because that’s what someone said to us when we basically when we go somewhere all we want are microphones and two wooden stools. That’s it.

And if we’ve come straight from an airplane like just a deli platter with like slices of bread and ham and cheese you know not asking for Cristal. And.

So I don’t even know if I answered the question but.

Don’t make it only your life like.

Yeah don’t make always be open to everything because when you just focus on one thing you lose so many other things that can be important to the one thing you’re focusing on.

And I think my sort of advice would be attached to that is do this with a 100 percent committed but only do it as long as it’s truly enriching you and nourishing your life because no matter what it is whether you want to be the world’s best barista actor painter or whatever. If that pursuit is making you more miserable than it’s making you feel like you’re alive like if you can handle the defeats and the rejection and enjoy the journey no matter how many times you get knocked down. Awesome. And if while you’re waiting to become a movie star or a TV star you enrich yourself and are fulfilled by doing local theater or production or just your fulfilled by going out and hitting commercial auditions because at least you’re getting to perform or playing with an improv group or whatever as long as it’s nourishing you if your entire happiness is predicated on the day you get that job that big network TV series and you’re not going to really be happy till then. Then you’ve placed all of the happiness of your life on the destination and not on the journey. And it is such a rip off to your life and you’d be better off becoming an accountant like you really would. You’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of sticking the carrot in front of you and you’re just always chasing it. The odds of you getting it are so intensely against you that if you don’t literally enjoy the journey there you know make the journey of being an actor as exciting. Through all the failures you know a rough kayak ride enjoy the fact that are going to get knocked against the rocks dumped out of your boat and get back and you’re going to be freezing and you have to tent on the side and wait it out and all of that because that’s what being an actor is. It’s lots of failure and challenge and you have to not let that failure make you miserable because I just know I had known so many of my contemporaries that did not make it but are still pursuing it and it’s just like they are 50 year old guys still going on auditions to be like the action hero cop whatever their agent can get them in on and I’m like you’re only going to be doing commercials from now on. You may if you’re lucky get the the sidekick quirky guy on the network sitcom but they’re always going to try and cast someone who’s been doing that for years before they cast you. Jason Alexander is going to get the call and then when he says no this other guy is going to get it and Joel Murray’s going to get it and so on down the line before you even have a chance. So the hierarchy as you get up in age it’s always going to be a popularity contest.

What.

So I’m saying that when you’re young when you’re young the air of discovery is always alive and happens and the older you get the air of discovery and the window of that happening unless you get cast as a great character part in an independent film that blows up and then people start calling for you and then you have a renaissance in your career. So I’m just saying savor that journey. You know if you were in music you have to enjoy making the albums and touring and all that and the photo shoots as much as you love just singing in the shower. Otherwise you’re cheating yourself. You can look at anyone you can look at people that are super famous and rich that are miserable in any aspect of business. And they have cheated themselves and they’ve lost sight. And.

That’s why we’ve stayed at this level. The worst day you have as an actor will never be the worst day of your life. So remember that.

Pretty solid advice from two guys who can effortlessly craft entire scenes around the word fart.

We want to thank Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood for sharing how they excel as performers without a script. You might even be able to catch Colin and Brad’s live two-man show scared scriptless.

Try to say that five times fast and we want to thank all of you for listening. That’s Aeriel.

Segard and he’s Eric.

Conner and this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Chris Devane to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy.

This episode was written by Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden.

And me executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible.

To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen.

See you next time.

 

Eric: Hi. Welcome to the backlot. I’m Eric Conner and today we got a really special guest, the fabulous Craig Caton-Largent. Now, Craig started his career doing practical effects including puppetry. And if you’ve seen any movies you’ve seen at least one of his films he’s worked on everything from Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Ghostbusters, Predator. He’s done it all. He also switched over though he’s one of the guys who was able to go from animatronics and puppetry into more CG work and has recently worked on How to Train Your Dragon 2 amongst many other animated films. So after working on dozens and dozens of films, he came to New York Film Academy about four years ago as an instructor in our animation department and about two years ago he became department chair. And ever since the department’s only grown gotten stronger and better and we are a better school for having him here. So ladies and gentlemen. The fabulous Craig Caton-Largent.

Craig Caton Largent: Thanks for having me on your show. It’s a really cool.

Eric: No problem I’m glad you ventured down to Burbank studios to be with me today. So his career spans I mean it’s decade now. Right. You started in.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah 39 years ago. Yeah.

Eric: So you’re hitting 40 years.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah, I’m going coming up on 40 – this next April will be 40 years yeah.

Eric: So if we cut to 40 years ago the slightly younger version of yourself would he imagine you did all this.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh no way. No, not even. I would. It would be like in my dreams to like like have achieved what I got to. Yeah, I was just hoping to work on a couple movies and become like a regular makeup artist for a TV series or movies or something like that and never in my wildest dreams thought I would end up working on some of the most iconic creatures in the 80s and 90s.

Eric: So your first professional gig was what then. What project.

Craig Caton Largent: The very first. Well, the first one that people would recognize would be Metalstorm the destruction of Jared Synn in 3D. 

Eric: In 3D

Craig Caton Largent: yeah it was a Charlie Band a movie.

Eric: What work did you do on that.

Craig Caton Largent: There was a the main work that I did on it were there these sandworms that come out of the ground and have like this fight. And he blows them up with his laser. So that was one of the first puppets I ever built and also the first puppeteering gig that I got to do too. We built a big like it looked like a boxing ring and then we filled it with vermiculite and then we had holes in the bottom of it to stick our hands through and put the puppets up through the vermiculite.

Eric: So you’re working the puppets but you’re also basically building puppets right.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah that was I found out really early. If you were the guy that built the puppets you were usually the guy that puppeteered them. So it wasn’t the people who sculpted them and it wasn’t the people who were making the molds it was the guys who were doing the actual mechanics of the puppets because they kind of figured that if you were doing the mechanics that you already knew how to knew to move the puppet and how to puppeteer it since you were doing that that part as well.

Eric: So it’s almost like you would custom fit it to you.

Craig Caton Largent: Absolutely. For me, though it was. I always had this philosophy of what I wanted to call puppeteer friendly puppets. So I wanted to I wanted to build puppets that would actually do the job for you. So you all you had to do is put your hand or control the puppet and it would literally almost perform for you. So that part of its performance was actually in its design. And so that was important to me because early on I would make these puppets that were so hard to control and so hard to manage that. That by the time I was done puppeteering them on set I would my hands would be a wreck and I would just go. That was a horrible performance because I wasn’t able to control the puppet.

Eric: Kind of like trial and error too.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah there was there was a lot of that in the early days where you realized you’d gotten to set and you made a horrible mistake.

Eric: Do you have anyone in particular you remember?

Craig Caton Largent: Well, there was there was a puppet that I had built in four days. It was a very quick show. The name of this movie was Sorority Babes and the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama. We shot in a bowling alley down near San Diego at a nighttime and. And so I had two weeks and five thousand dollars to make a full on fully articulated speaking main character for a movie. And so I did that but it was like you know 24/7 like sculpting for four days in a row and mold making and running this foam and then I actually I built the puppet but they really didn’t have time to build the controls for it. So when I showed up it was one of those situations where you realized that maybe I should have rethought this.

Eric: What was it supposed to look like?

Craig Caton Largent: So it kind of kind of had a body like imagine a body very similar to gremlins but then the mouth I just replaced with like the muzzle from Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors.

— Feed me Seymore. —

Craig Caton Largent: The reason I did that because because Audrey II is an amazingly articulated plant. I mean the lip syncs and the stuff that they did were amazing.

— Look you’re a plant. An inanimate object. Does this look inanimate to you punk? If I can talk and I can move who’s to say I can’t do anything I want?! —

Craig Caton Largent: And also the secret behind that how they did that was most of the dialogue scenes with Audrey II were shot at 18 frames a second. And slow and so that way it gets speeded up and looks like she’s nailing all of the syllables and all that stuff just hitting all of them. And actually the Slimer ghost on Ghostbusters we did the same thing. A lot of the footage of the slimer ghost was shot at 18 frames a second. So that way when you see it in the film you just got that little more frenetic frantic feel to him because he’s just slightly speeded up. It was actually a really popular technique back in those days because we would we would change film speeds for for shooting miniatures and stuff in order to get the right scale for miniatures. And so it wasn’t for for the camera people who were doing it. It wasn’t that big of a leap for them because they were already used to it like oh we wanted to go this fast we’ll shoot at 18. And the Monster Makers are like sure let’s do that. So yeah.

Eric: Well even like fight scenes chase scenes I mean so much of that was manipulated by camera speed. Yeah you know so that it just makes everything look more dangerous than it is. What are some other ones that you could think of where you know you put all this time energy effort in and all sudden, here’s the moment?

Craig Caton Largent:  There was this one effect that we did on this movie called Fright Night. It was it was a hand transformation. So it was a it was we’re a human hand transforms into a werewolf paw and I decided to do it reverse and film it in reverse and so what we did is I had built this werewolf paw with all these like muscles and tendons and then covered all that with a gelatin covering of a human hand and then we melted it and it took like three months to to engineer this werewolf paw and it’s literally – the first time we shot it, it just didn’t work at all. It just failed. So three months later here I am doing another one. So it’s like the six month gag. Right. So six months later we we film it and it never worked as good as I wanted it to. But the second take is the one you see in the movie and it happens so fast it just kind of like – Blink hand. Oh OK.

Eric: And then you see the film and you’re like I worked on that for how many hours.

Craig Caton Largent: Hours and weeks and months.

Eric: And for yourself then do you and especially like when you work on something that’s cut out of the film does it bruise your ego? Or is just like, well I got paid I did my job?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah. Back in the early days like there was like it was like what we thought was a really great shot and they got cut out of the movie. We were kind of like oh well that’s their loss they missed it. But but nowadays like like I I just finished working on an animated feature where we did 31 shots. None of them are being used. And then they decided to go a different route. And but we got paid. And yes you just can’t. After so many years you just don’t worry about the babies getting thrown out with the bathwater.

Eric: It’s like if you treat these things too precious then you’re going to be constantly frustrated.

Craig Caton Largent: Right. Exactly. You need to be really judicious and almost inhuman at some point.

Eric: Right so it’s so I mean I think what’s hysterical is like kind of hearing about. I mean I guess we’ll call it the human factor. I remember 2010.

Craig Caton Largent:  There was that one. Yeah we can talk about that.

Eric: That’s a great story to share, so 2010 the sequel to 2001 if you remember in 2001 the starbaby I’ll just.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah. So there is in the end there’s a Starchild and we won’t go into the plotline about it. But again in 2010 the star child makes an appearance. And one of the common materials that we were building puppets at the time and still is as we were using foam latex but when you have you make these foam latex pieces from molds and wherever those mold pieces come together you have a seam. And it was almost impossible to get rid of this on the foam latex so we decided to skip using foam latex and move to using gelatin and it was really easy to get rid of the seam because all you needed was like a hot washcloth and it was dissolved. We took him to set and we filmed him and we decided to break for lunch and the still photographer asked if if he could take a couple of pictures and we said sure. And he asked if we could leave the light on it was these great big hot movie lights and so he did. He took his pictures and then he left for lunch and he forgot to turn off the light. What happened was these lights had caused the left side of the star child’s face to melt. So imagine a baby with a stroke you know with the whole left side of the face sagging down and you know something’s drastically wrong. So the photographer he was also the first one back and he sees this and he panics and he he spins around and he smashes face into a pole. And knocks himself unconscious and literally like a minute later we come walking into this and we see this dead guy on the ground and this stroked out Starchild and, what happened here?! But yeah I was I was a big whoopsie.

Eric: I mean other times you could think of were like I mean it’s a little bit different but like in Terminator 2 with the famed.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh the puppeteering thing.

Eric: Yeah Terminator 2 one of the most iconic moments in the whole film.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah. So there’s. We’re talking about donut head.

Eric:Yeah donut head.

Craig Caton Largent:  So so in Terminator 2 there’s this puppet we called him donut head and it’s the the T 1000. And Linda Hamilton shoots his face with a shotgun and and all of a sudden his right eye is nothing but this giant hole all the way through his head. And so I had I had made this puppet. It was basically a big hand puppet so my hand was up in his head controlling his head. And then we had another puppeteer who was controlling both his shoulders just to bring to get the shoulders to come to life. And then on top of that we also had the actor Robert Patrick. We were using his real left arm to cover up the puppets face so we would do this reveal. So we were all smashed together as close as could be and we do this reveal. But the gag was there is a rotating collision beacon light that needs to show up. Through the hole of this puppet behind him and trying to wrangle this puppet into this position while you’re fighting against two other puppeteers is almost impossible to get it into just the exact micrometer position. We succeeded on take four and in true James Cameron fashion he said that was perfect. Let’s do it again and we couldn’t do it again to save our lives in fact it got so bad that James Cameron was wondering if I even knew what I was doing. At points though he gets up and he’s like four inches away from my face literally it’s like we’re on an old soap opera or something and he’s screaming at me. “Do you know what you did wrong? Do you know what you blankity blank blank blank did wrong?” And I go.” Yeah I didn’t get the eye in the eye light and the collision beacon.” and he went from like raving monster to like totally calm guy just looked at me in the face and said, “okay well don’t do it again or I’ll kill you.” Well we didn’t did it again and we had to break for lunch. Next thing you know there’s James Cameron walking next to me and he’s saying hey you know I really gave it to you back there but don’t worry this is going to be like one of the signature shots in the movie and it’s going to be on the cover of Cinefex. And absolutely true to to James. It made the cover of Cinefex which totally made my day. James Cameron he’s true to his word.

Eric: Except for the part about killing you.

Craig Caton Largent: Well there is that we all had t shirts made saying that we know we’re going to heaven because we worked on a James Cameron movie.

Eric: Speaking of James Cameron who went from like these low budget like Roger Corman. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell Roger Corman is like the ultimate low budget producer. He’s produced 500 or so films.

Craig Caton Largent: At least yeah.

Eric: Maybe even more. But Roger Corman gave Cameron his start and Joe Dante I think Coppola might have worked with him at one point with Jonathan Demme I believe went through Corman Nicholson.

Craig Caton Largent: He taught people how to make movies on a shoestring budget and he can make a viable you know 90 minute movie for ninety thousand dollars and would make money off of it.

Eric: And it would be like sci-fi or horror so like genre that actually might cost a buck or two to get across the visuals.

Craig Caton Largent: And he also showed people how like like he holds the record of number of setups like in a single day. I think he has like 88 camera setups in a day or something like that. And I remember on Jurassic Park we got 44 one day and we were like yeah we were, we were really jazzed that we gotten like halfway to Corman the thing about Jurassic Park is we over planned everything on that movie. I mean like every single shot like we did storyboards we did a little stop motion animatics we did paper cut outs that we ran around with on set and did timing with. And we we did hand puppets and we we put it all together and then we had this amazing shot by shot blueprint to make the movie. But because it was so planned people don’t know this but we finished 15 days ahead of schedule and 20 million dollars under its budget.

Eric: Unbelievable. I think too what’s so interesting about Jurassic Park I mean besides everything is like that was the transformation that was sort of the moment even though we had computer technology before.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah it’s where we moved it’s were they proved the audience once in a while we could seamlessly blend between the two.

Eric: And I know for yourself this was also a transformative moment for your career too.

Craig Caton Largent: Absolutely yeah because that’s where I made the switch from doing the practical stuff over to the digital world.

Eric: Did you still find yourself kind of doing animatronics and puppetry or really did you kind of go all in on animation or was it somewhere in between?

Craig Caton Largent: It was it was an interesting blend for a while because I was still getting calls all the time to do puppets and animatronics. And so as much as I possibly could I would still take those jobs on because I still enjoyed doing them and still do. It got eventually got less and less because I was you know being known for digital stuff and getting more involved with that.

Eric: I mean seems like after Jurassic Park like the budgets went up like what did you take from the low budget world over to the high budget world? You know like what tricks or lessons or?

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah well you know like you know necessity being the mother of invention. So there were there were times like like I was I was working on a fairly you’re going to laugh because it was Star Trek 4 and I’m gonna say it was a low budget movie because.

Eric: The Voyage Home?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah the saving the whales.Yeah the one set in modern day San Francisco. In terms of of the what we did for creatures and stuff it was actually an incredibly low budget movie. Their thoughts were that its star trek. We have a guaranteed audience whether we have monsters or not they’re going to come see this movie. But there were there was a couple of these aliens and I had to make a couple of them and I wanted them to have the same paint jobs and I didn’t want to have to sit there and painstakingly try to duplicate each paint job. So I made these these vacuform shells that would fit over the heads and then I cut holes in them and use those as like friskets or templates for my airbrush. So all I had to do was like slap them up against the rubber mask and spray them with my spray paint and then pull them out an instant pattern. And I didn’t have to sit there for like four or five hours. You know like duplicating each one of them. Then one of the guys I was working with named Shannon Shea he went from there he went over to Stan Winston’s to work on this movie called Alien Nation. And they were forced with like you know you know Mandy Patinkin is going to go through like five of these appliances every week and we need to make those patterns consistent. So Shannon goes I have an idea from Craig we did this. And so they incorporated that idea into this much bigger movie and that was one of the reasons they were able to make the movie work.

Eric: So John Carpenter you worked with him on Big Trouble in Little China, And They Live right?

Craig Caton Largent:  And They Live yeah actually want to know what we did on they live as we had been working on this movie The Return of the Living Dead Part II and in the early days of the Living Dead Part 2 we sculpted a zombie monster appliance a day. So after that we had like over a hundred different zombie masks and stuff that we could choose from. And when they live came out they just went through the living dead collection and said we like that one and we like that one and.

Eric: For the alien faces?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah yeah. And they were modified a little bit and that was they were reuses it wasn’t really a hard show to do. And it’s one of those shows where you think back like, “What did I do on that show? I know I was on it.”

Eric: It seems like every movie I do from this time frame you’ve worked on. You’re one of those guys your IMDb page only tells like part of the story really.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah there’s there’s like I there’s not even half of the movies I worked on are on IMDb. You know there were like little movies where I I just like for like for instance there is a movie called Darkman.

Eric: Of course directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Liam Neeson.

Craig Caton Largent: And it’s just a tiny little deal but they needed a close up of a helicopter instrument panel when the helicopter goes haywire. And they couldn’t do it with a real helicopter you can’t just sit there now make the instruments go crazy. There you go. Cut check gate move on. So I made a miniature helicopter instrument panel for a Bell 206 and it’s only in like three or four seconds like, “oh look the guages are going crazy! OK cut.” You know and so you know you spend like three or four days making something like this. And it’s for three or four frames and then you forget about it and you move on. There was a while in the 80s where I was I was pretty good friends with a lot of the makeup artists who were doing television shows but they were so busy doing the actors and stuff like that that they didn’t have time to do the occasional cuts and bruises and scrapes and the type of stuff that would occur from time to time. And one of these shows was Airwolf and in one episode they just had this guy – they needed to put scrapes and cuts and bruises on his face and then they’re going to put them on the nose of the helicopter and shoot him. And then things moved on and then like maybe two years ago you know Airwolf was like what thirty five years ago. Right? The early 80s. Yeah. So there it is on television on TV Land and I’m watching this episode and I see this guy’s on the nose a helicopter and I see a close up and I’m looking at his face. “Hey you know that’s actually a pretty decent makeup on there. Oh dammit I did that!” and you suddenly realize, “oh that was one of mine.” And you like for some reason I didn’t see interview with a vampire. I worked with worked on Interview With A Vampire. I didn’t see the movie for six years after it came out. And I went I guess I should watch this movie. I went oh the stuff I did on actually worked OK.

Eric: The make up effects in that are pretty great actually and I mean because also that movie like you can’t get away with like you know.

Craig Caton Largent: And we we that was in the early days where we were abusing C.G. in movies like you know why do something that would cost us $15 practically when we can spend $150,000 to do it in CG land and we did a lot of that back in those days before we started coming to our senses.

Eric: I mean I always have this like fondness and respect for the low budget filmmakers because they find solutions. You know.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah you had to be really clever back in those days. One of the cool clever things that we did for the Interview With A Vampire is that there’s this big Southern mansion. It’s like this famous southern mansion with like these giant pillars in the front that has to burn down. Obviously we burned we couldn’t burn down the real one right. But what we did is all we did was we built we built a replica of this building and we painted all black. It was just the shapes. No details. And then we lined it up with a roto mask box we lined it up with the background plate that we shot of the building. So it superimposed the the building and then we lit that on fire. So even like if it’s fire from behind the pillars it ask it’s working as its own mask. So and it’s you know and all you have to do is marry the two pieces of film together and you have an instant fire scene and it looks great. And it did look great and we did everything. You know we’re all by the book. We had fire marshals there because when you do big burns like this you have to have the you know the fire engines and fire marshals there and we lit on fire. And then we could not put it out and it was maybe 15 feet away from the building which was completely covered in black duvetyne. So all of a sudden it went from being this cool effect to a really quick emergency. So yeah the the more fire engine showed up and they put it out and they were going to fine us like ten thousand dollars for this little episode but we pointed out that the whole thing had been approved by their fire marshal and given the stamp approval and like if it’s approved then it should have been good. So we got out of that.

Eric: So if you had lets say one creation you have in terms of like you have the most pride for you know and then also on the flip side.

Craig Caton Largent: The least.

Eric: Well at least like one where you’re like, “Ah. Why did they keep that?”

Craig Caton Largent: Might be the stuff.

–The stuff coming soon for you from New World Pictures.–

Eric: Is that one of the ones that you sort of shake your head at still. And if you don’t know the stuff is a horror movie that it’s like.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s like The Blob. It was like these people discover this stuff in a cave and they think it would be a good yogurt substitute just deal go go with us here yeah. What they don’t know that it’s actually this giant primordial parasite. And once you eat it it takes over your body and you become like a collective hive mind. There are some of the gags we did on that. Yeah because like we were trying to do like an exploding head like they did on Scanners, right? And we knew on Scanners that that when they built the head that like the gelatin that they made the head from was like less than a quarter of an inch thick because it turns out gelatin is really strong! And but we knew this but the director said he wanted like this giant meaty chunks of gelatin splattering about and. And. And so he convinced us wrongly he convinced us to make the gelatin about an inch and a half thick and we had hired one of the most prominent explosive pyro guys in the business his name was Joe Viskocil. He blew up the death star for star wars. That was his big fame. And he’s loading the explosives into this fake head and I’m going. Yeah. How much is that. I’ll never forget he says I’m using 16 times the amount of explosives I used on the death star.

Eric: To blow up this one one head.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah and we’re going cool it’s going to blow up good. And it didn’t. All it did is it got really big like a balloon head for a few frames and then it collapsed on itself. So we couldn’t use that take because they needed an explosion so we took that head and we scored it and then we took these giant two by fours scissors mechanism and we stuck like the short end of the scissors into the head to make it go apart. We broke the two by fours we could even get the gelatin head to come apart and so we abandon those effects for some other ones later.

Eric: The indestructable head. Yeah so on the on the flip side of let’s say the stuff is there one particular puppet effects shot that you just look at with with like pride like, “I can’t believe we pulled that off.”

Craig Caton Largent: There is there is one single shot that I’m most proud of all the shots that I did. It’s in the kitchen scene of Jurassic Park and the Raptors are chasing the kids into the freezer and then the Raptor goes into the freezer and there’s this really great shot of the raptor smashing against this back wall. This this cabinet filled with food and stuff like that. And you see this raptor smashing into this wall. He really looks like he’s just demolishing it that’s because I actually did. They wanted this great shot. And I just thought I found a way where I could just as the Raptors head started to make contact with the cabinet. I slammed my shoulder into the cabinet as hard as I could. I mean it’s it’s like apocalyptic it’s like you really feel like a 600 pound raptor just slammed into this wall.

Eric: Like the part where he slide like he loses his footing.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s just this quick shot you can’t see is the raptor hits it and he turns the head and they cut and it ‘s a really quick shot. But when we did the shot everyone went, “whaaaat?” And Spielberg’s like, “we got that in one.” And it just worked really really well and there’s a lot of really great iconic shots in that movie like the window porthole that I’m really proud of where I copied the movie Alien and stuff. That’s one of my favorite shots. But this particular shot. Every time I see it it just works because it did I smashed into that thing so good and so that’s like my favorite shot of all time I think now. When I was doing the Raptors on Jurassic Park I used Kermit the Frogs voice for the raptors the whole time so it was like so you can imagine the Raptor sitting there going into the kitchen. “All right everybody it’s the raptor and I’m getting ready to come into the kitchen grr alright I’m now in the kitchen” I just kind of like gravitated towards Kermit the Frog voice. It wasn’t like a conscious thing.

Eric: Well in some ways you’re doing the hand right.

Craig Caton Largent: So you’re like hey everybody and it kind of goes when you move your hand you just have to do Kermit with it. “Now everybody welcome to a really big show.” Imagine if I used Yoda’s voice, “my raptor I help you not. But okay. My favorite. I think my favorite movie of all time and the work that I’m really the most proud of might be tremors because Tremors was probably the last pre CG movie.

Eric: Yeah like pure puppetry.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah like we did every puppet trick in the book. We did reverse shots we did marionettes. We did cable controlled puppets. Everything you can imagine we did hand puppets. Everything under the sun was there.

Eric: The part when I don’t remember if it was Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward who punched one of the puppets was that you by chance?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah yeah yeah there’s. There’s. There’s one shot that I’m really proud of where we took one of these really expensive tentacle mechanisms we made and we buried him in the ground and then I forget the name of the person he’s driving the bulldozer right. And he’s coming down the road. And this thing’s sticking out of the ground and the teeth of the bulldozer look like it just mows this thing over right. Well it never even touched it. So I’m sitting there with the controls right at the last second. And it’s a great shot it works really well.

Eric: Yeah that’s what of like. I don’t know. We went over a whole bunch of films but that’s one that’s really especially if you like the genre. It does it so well.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah And when you start looking at the background story of the writers and everybody involved in the movie it just becomes that that even more enchanting and great for you because if you’ve seen tremors I’m going to ruin the ending for you.

Eric: Sorry guys.

Craig Caton Largent: In the end of the movie Kevin Bacon runs towards this cliff and he stops at the last minute and the worm keeps going over the cliff.

–Can you fly you sucker?!–

Craig Caton Largent: So where have we seen this gag before we’ve seen it in a dozen Roadrunner-Coyote movies? And the reason we see it there is the two writers are Tremors. Brent Maddock and Steve Wilson they used to be writers for Chuck Jones on the Roadrunner cartoons and that’s why you’ll see all the same gags like they do the fishing with dynamite gag. Wiley Coyote does that with a fishing pole with the roadrunner right and it gets stuck in the cactus and gets thrown back. So that was all that was you know there was all it was all.

Eric: I had no idea I had one question for you actually about. Because it’s like we’re talking so much about you know sort of animatronics and puppets. How did it prepare you then for your eventual shift in animation?

Craig Caton Largent: The thing that actually I need to even go back before puppets to do this. The thing that prepared me to do puppets was I actually went to school and I became an X-ray technologist. And so I had this great knowledge of how human anatomy worked. I knew exactly how Bones worked against each other because you know you’re taking x rays of them all the all the day long. And so I took that that working physiology knowledge with me into puppet making and all of a sudden when I start making like shoulder joints and you’re having a really hard time getting shoulders to act natural like human shoulders you start thinking hey what if I start making these little poly foam strips like the muscle strips of a shoulder and seeing if it works that way and sure enough it does it. So that carries over to that but then when we go over to into the C.G. world we’re trying to figure out how do we make these puppets move around? And for the longest period of time – so in CG world the puppets they have little skeleton joints and you reach and you grab like an arm bone and then you rotate it to move to animate the arm of this C.G. character. And it became really hard to do because you’re trying to reach in between the skin basically of the character and pick this bone. Sometimes you would get the skin and it’d be really frustrating. So we had this meeting one day and my supervisors said, “Hey Craig you’re from the puppet world. You know how do you control puppets like this? – Well we use cables or we could do like Kermit the Frog where we would use like a rod puppet to control the wrist.” And when I said that this Irish guy named Greg Maguire just belts out this “that’s brilliant!” And he runs off. Right. And about 15 minutes later Greg comes back with this C.G. arm and hand mechanism that has these three little cones under the wrist and each one of these cones is controlling a different aspect of the arm one one cone is controlling the translation and one cones controlling the rotation. The other cone is controlling the scale. Then right then and there this other really brilliant mind a guy named Mark Swain says, “wouldn’t it be better of all those controls were on one?” And Greg goes, “that’s brilliant!” And he runs off. They both run off and they come back 15 minutes later and then they have all the controls on one cone. And that’s how controls got made for the C.G. industry. If you look on any C.G. character now you’re going to see these little spline controls around the wrist and the heads and stuff and we invented that it all came from that meaning and that day of like how you know going back to what we were saying earlier you know necessity being the mother of invention how do we do this.

Eric: So now you’ve been working with New York Film Academy like four years.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah about four years now.

Eric: And were you was the first teaching you did like here or did you teach before like has this been.

Craig Caton Largent: I had done a little bit of teaching other places but not formal teaching like I did here and my very first class was teaching digital environments. I did my whole lesson plan. And I looked at the clock and only 20 minutes had gone by and I still had like two hours left for the class like I covered all my material and I’m just looking at my students are looking at me like I’m a crazy man.

Eric: Dense material that you’re covering too I’m sure.

Craig Caton Largent: And I was going like a mile a minute you know two hours and 45 minutes of materials in under 20 minutes. So I just look up and they’re like deers in the headlights like, “what?!”

Eric: What did we just witness??

Craig Caton Largent: So yeah that was where I had to slow things down a bit.

Eric: So now that you’ve been the department chair for almost two years and you’ve taught here for a few years like what’s the shape of the program now at the school in terms of what students are taught what the expectations are when they finish the program.

Craig Caton Largent: Well we retooled pretty much the whole whole program. There were there were some things that I felt were were old fashioned and we didn’t really need to do just kind of getting things little more modernized and stuff. But the great thing was that the team that I got that my instructors and stuff I couldn’t get better instructors they were absolutely fantastic so. So I walked in to like this this wonderful team that that I was learning from them which was great but we’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of growth in our first year. Yeah we’ve we’ve grown over 242 percent. I also think that as we’ve gone along these last four years also that the instructors have become a lot better as well we’ve all matured and figured out better ways to teach this stuff. And that is easily reflected when you look at the quality of our students work now compared to the stuff that you were seeing like four years ago. It’s it’s like night and day with what they’re doing.

Eric: So a student comes here what are some of the specific skills that they’re going to pick up. And also what might be something they’ll learn that might be surprising to them that they’ll learn.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah actually one of the things that constantly surprises my new students is that we don’t actually start out in digital we actually start out in traditional. So we start out with our traditional drawing class with a really great traditional artist and we also start out with a traditional sculpting class where you sculpt stuff in clay. And what this does is it helps give the student it grounds them in the physical world in terms of like in for instance like sculpting it allows them they actually get a real 3D spatial sense in the world before doing it digitally and then in as far as drawing it helps hone their drawing skills and their color. Stuff like that.

Eric: Gives them a real world base.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah yeah. And I think that’s really the best way to go because a lot of this stuff is going to start out with a pencil sketch anyway before it goes into the CG world. That and one of the things that I was actually thinking of getting rid of but it turned out was one of the most popular subjects ever. We teach a class in stop motion in a traditional stop motion animation and I thought that it was kind of a dead field. I was completely wrong. Very much alive and popular and so I decided to keep that class and I’m actually trying to build on it and make it an even more robust and more professional like class that offers even more. So the stop motion stayed and that was because every open house the perspective students would come over and they’d say and I would say yeah we do stop motion they’d go, “you teach stop motion?!” And all of a sudden their eyes light up and you’re like yeah we’re not getting rid of that class maybe we’ll add another one.

Eric: Do they then get into coding like what’s the next steps?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah actually that’s another interesting thing. Before I became chair a lot of the students were complaining about how hard the coding class was and that was right about the time that I took over that class and was teaching it myself. And then they actually got rid of it. And so the first thing I did when I became chair was I I actually re-instituted that program because you’ll not see a single job out there for CG people where it says you know Python coding skills a plus. Yeah.

Eric: But then also too the craft shifts like technology shifts. So I mean with that in mind like in terms of teaching then how do you teach for a medium that more than any of the other crafts arts that we teach here at the school feels like it’s probably the one that shifts it fastest.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s constantly evolving and there are every day we’re there are new tools out there and stuff like that and so basically I go home and I just I just start looking at I look at tutorials online and constantly seeing what’s the newest greatest thing out there and if we should try to leverage off of that because I know practically everybody in the business a lot of it. It’s calling them up and saying hey you what are you how’s your pipeline different than it was a couple of years ago. And what are you doing differently now. And they’re more than happy to talk about it because they actually want us to train people that can do their jobs. And you know and not just be.

Eric: They don’t have to reteach them.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah there’s there’s there’s a huge amount of reteaching that has to happen anyway because of the proprietary software that they use in these big big places. But that being said if our if our students come in with the knowledge base that they have it makes it much easier.

Eric: So it’s like you keep your ear to the train track.

Craig Caton Largent: You have to. Yeah you really have to. Yeah because even the stuff that was cutting edge four years ago when we started yeah that’s old now like a couple of years ago I can’t remember Hollow Man came out right. So there is a movie Hollow Man and and then around the same time there was a Spider-man movie where Thomas Haden Church becomes Sandman. They spend millions and millions of dollars on these sand simulations right back in those days.

Eric: And it looked gorgeous.

Craig Caton Largent: And it’s really gorgeous right. My students do that as a tutorial. That’s how far things have gone. So from from like five or six years ago or eight years ago whenever that was like the cutting edge thing yeah. It’s now a tutorial for students. We teach like a really rounded set of stuff for both for animation and for visual effects depending on whatever part of the world that you want to head to for your career. I feel that the students that are leaving our school are actually better trained than I am because I have like for instance we have one of the greatest nuke instructors nuke is a program that we use for compositing and we have an amazing instructor here. He’s one of the world’s best and when they’re finished with his class they know more than I do about this. So we’re actually putting out people better trained than we are. And that’s that’s really great.

Eric: In some ways that’s the hope too.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s really neat. Yeah. And it’s been really rewarding on a on a personal level just to to have like these students of yours that graduate from your program and then all of a sudden next thing you know you’re hearing they’re they’re working on Alien Covenant and they’re working on Justice League and the new Harry Potter movie and the new the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie which all of those movies I mentioned have students that came from our program working on those. So for like the last maybe the last year and a half, just about every major movie that’s come out has had work that some of our students have been on and that’s tremendously rewarding. It’s like it’s like seeing yourself kind of live on through them. And that that that’s really cool.

Eric: That’s what you hope they come out of here and they work and they I always say you know at our open houses the goal is not to be a great art student, the goal is to be a trained professional. The goal is to get a job. You know. I think we covered it all. So thank you so much. Beyond being a great teacher a great animator great effects guy you’re also just a great dude. And it’s been so much fun getting to know you over the last few years.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah I it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. Coming here to teach for one reason it is because I’ve been able to take all of the disciplines I’ve learned over the years and put them all together. And then the other thing is just working with other tremendously talented people and hanging around people with you know people like yourself. That was fun as usual.

Eric: Well thank you to Craig Caton-Largent for joining us here and thanks to all you guys for listening.

This episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. To learn more about our programs, check us out at nyfa.edu. If you’d like to see some of our Q&As with the entertainment industries biggest names, check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you may listen. See you next time.

Eric: Hi and welcome to the backlot.

A discussion with the entertainment industry’s top talent.

Aeriel: I’m Aeriel Segard

Eric: and I’m Eric Conner and this episode we are taking a look at CW’s Riverdale with two of the show’s stars.

Aeriel: Yes that’s right. Casey Cott who plays Betty’s BFF Kevin and the frontwoman of Josie and The Pussycats Ashleigh Murray.

— For our characters we get a little more time off than some other ones. Which is sometimes nice but most of the time we’re like put us in the show. – I don’t know why you guys are laughing.–

Eric: Riverdale is an adaptation of the legendary so square it’s hip comic book, Archie.

Aeriel: Actually it was popular but I don’t think it was ever considered hip.

Eric: But the show is the farthest thing from Square it owes so much more of its brooding expressionistic style to shows like Pretty Little Liars than it does the original comic book.

–Our story is about a town and the people who live in the town. You wanted fire? Sorry Cheryl bombshell my specialty’s ice. – Didn’t we have a deal? no, Geraldine we have a secret. you’re a little more dangerous than you look aren’t you? You have no idea. Riverdale wasn’t the same town as before. It was a town of shadows and secrets now. —

Aeriel: To pull off this blend of mystery melodrama romance and murder. Riverdale needed a cast who was not only talented but trained.

Ashleigh Murray: I actually went to a school that is in a similar vein of the Film Academy. I went to a private conservatory. It’s called The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. It was a two year conservatory and it was Meisner based.

Casey Cott: Hey!

Ashleigh Murray: Hey. Meisner Sanford

Casey Cott: yeah Meisner

Ashleigh Murray: You got to do it from here. Let it do you right? Nightmares this is my favorite. I think for me personally conservatory environments are really great for artists because if you know how to spell you know how to work a calculator you know like you get through all of your GE courses that you do in school and they may be your favorite. But sometimes focusing on just what you want is the best way to go because you can just let your right brain take over you know? Oh, the thing that I remember most from school: don’t be late. Don’t be late. And if you’re late Apologize acknowledge it immediately and let it go. Don’t don’t make excuses. Nobody cares about where you’re coming from. Nobody cares why you’re late. Nobody cares if you learned your lines or not you just better suck it up pretend like you know that s**t if you don’t live in that moment and call it but that – that’s the number one thing that I remember and it’s you know I’m working on it.

Casey Cott: She’s never late.

Ashleigh Murray: I am almost never late. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been late in the last three or four years. That’s how you know that this is what you need to be doing because you’ll never be late to an audition or a job.

Casey Cott: On a different note. I became an actor in high school and I really wanted to pursue that in college. I went to Boston University for a bit and great school great school wasn’t for me. Sorry wasn’t for me so I left and I went to Carnegie Mellon University and I – my my senior year my second semester of college we did a showcase in New York and the Warner Brothers – our show’s a Warner Brothers Show and casting directors came to that and the next day audition for Kevin and then that night I got it. One one – your life can change in two hours. Because I mean literally auditioned was on a flight in the morning. The thing that I’ll say that I carry with this show is that you’re in a unique spot right now to adjust the way you think about art and the way you think about acting and to put your bias aside and whenever you go see a movie or TV show or a play you can think about it unbiased. Don’t think if it’s good or not. Think about what it is and how you can adjust what you do to fit into the style that that thing is, for instance, Riverdale is not Shakespeare or Guillermo del Toro or it’s a super specific style of of of art and it’s good and it’s different. But allow yourself to whatever you do constantly. Go see it unbiased. You can be like I friggin hate this but you can also be like wow that person really dove into that style. I try to keep that with me whenever I see whatever I see or whatever I do.

Aeriel: When it came time to audition for the roles that launched their careers the actors needed to make choices about how to deliver a line or how to wear a backpack. Or even using a set of cat ears.

Ashleigh Murray: I had lunch with a cousin of mine who I’d never met before it was the first time I’d ever met him. He’s also an actor and I found out I had the audition for for Riverdale and I was telling him about it and he said, “The one thing that I do that allows me to book so much.” – He’s very he’s very good. I can’t -anyway, and the thing that he told me to do was most actors who are going to come into an audition, they might make a choice and then a smaller percentage of them will have made one choice. You need to make more than one. You need to make several choices so each time you come to a moment in a script where you feel that something has shifted that the intention has changed or you know the conversation that you’re having you’re not getting what you want so you have to find another way to get it in those moments make a choice. It can be physical. It can be vocal. You know it can be internal whatever that is whatever that works for you. And what’s funny when I made it to the studio and network auditions to test I had to sing Whitney Houston and I had like made an abridged version of “How Will I Know.” And I didn’t know all the words. And I forgot it. Midway through the audition like I was singing and I stopped. And everybody was like Is she gonna. And then I found it again and I kept going. And in order for me to not have that moment my agents and my team they were like, “oh my god please don’t do that again.” So when I had to test for the studio or excuse me for the network I decided I don’t I don’t really feel comfortable you know this note is really high. I don’t know how I’m going to sell it. I don’t want them to see that I’m uncomfortable. So I decided to dance. I just turned the song into an entire performance. I took what I do in my real life when Whitney comes on – god bless – and like I when I’m out with my girlfriends I’ll get up on a table and I’ll dance for anybody who’s watching. I don’t even know them I don’t care I’m just in that moment. So I took that part of myself and a physical choice and was able to execute that moment and booked it. So that’s that’s the way that I work. I hope that that makes sense and translates well enough. It’s more important about making more than one choice. It honestly will set you apart from everyone because most people are going to make one and most of those people are going to make the same one.

Casey Cott: In terms of for me auditioning. I think I got lucky on this one because they were in a time crunch. I’m not kidding. But in terms of what I think about acting in general –

Ashleigh Murray:  he got cast the day before –

Casey Cott: – like within 24 hours of us shooting we started shooting the next day. But to answer your question I learned. Do you guys do like a text analysis kind of thing. Yeah. So that to me is is the number one thing. Because the writers hopefully give you enough about your character that you don’t have to do as much work as you think you know everything that’s said about your character. All those things are specifically written by the writer obviously. And then on top of that I like and some of these things come later but with TV they don’t you know the second I put a costume on I’m like. All right. This is what this person wears. The second I get a prop I’m like Kevin has this this backpack that it’s this little like weird backpack. And whenever I put that on for some reason that’s my thing I clutch it. I’m like, “This is Kevin!” But I want to take everything outside of here. That’s given to me because if I go into here it’s not going to work for me. I like to take props costume text and from there – exactly what Ashleigh said. Make as many choices and I like to make it as active as possible which is a very buzzy actor word but it’s true if you’re actively trying to get something from that person you’re going to come across as much more engaging than if you’re just you know. And you can use your body to do that and you can put those actions on a page. And that’s what I do. Granted not with Kevin I don’t really I’m not going to lie and say like I still write down my actions. I just clutch the bag and I’m good but I like I like props costumes and what people have said about your character in the text and then try to make the most active choice after knowing those four things.

Ashleigh Murray: You know it’s funny you say that about costumes because I was never that person. I was like I’ve never been that actor where it’s like oh I’ve got the clothes on like and because this role honestly is the only one where I’ve felt connected to the characters through a costume piece. And it was the cat ears and I actually wore cat ears to my audition. I had a tank top that I bought from H&M like five years prior that just had a giant cat face on it and I had these little $1.99 like cat ears that my roommate let me borrow from her cheap, cheap Halloween costume and it gave me this like extra level of sass and it also allowed me and informed other physicality because once I put those cat ears on and I was getting all in Archie’s business I was like, “you don’t understand.”

— The Pussycats are building a brand. Creating a signature look  -OK – we’re telling a story it’s just my glossed lips Justin Gingerlake. Not. Gonna. Happen.

Ashleigh Murray: It just came out of nowhere. And I was like Oh that’s a moment. And so it’s. There are certain things that will bring you to those moments.

Eric: Once they got the roles the reality and the stress of having these roles on this massive TV show began to sink in.

Casey Cott: The biggest thing I had done was. Was a play for 65 people in Pittsburgh and our crew’s probably 85 people so you you – I walk in the first scene of the entire show we shot was me and Veronica and Betty walking down the hallway the first time we meet Veronica.

— So what’s the social scene like here any nightclubs?

A strip club called the ho zone. And a tragic gay bar called innuendo Friday night’s football games and then tailgate parties at the mall Mart parking lot Saturday night is movie night regardless of who’s playing at the Bijou. And you better get there early because we don’t have reserve seating in Riverdale and Sunday nights. Thank God for HBO.

Veronica Lodge, Kevin Keller Veronica’s new here Kevin is gay, thank God. Let’s be best friends. —

Casey Cott: And I walk into this school and I see all of this crew and I’m like what are these people doing why are they all here. And I see the Warner Brothers executive producers and I see the CW producers and there’s a moment where you’re like why did they choose. I should not be here. I don’t deserve this. I’m not good enough for this. And then you instead of going there you go. All right. Like let’s just get in the driver’s seat. Let’s do it. And if you take that approach and if you take all the passion you have if you take all the training you’ve done and you just think it’s a simple scene and the cool part about TV is that you shoot scenes like that are like this big. So you have like at most like six lights right. You’re like I’m going to get through these six lines and I remember the first three takes – after the third take this door like flew open down the hallway and this Warner Brothers producer leaned out and like gave me the thumbs up. And I was like, “I’m not getting fired today.” But it’s it’s freaky but you get it and you have good you’re going to have good people with you that show you how to do it. Lily my first day. One time I felt her kind of like this on my shoulder and I was like I’m trying to say my line. But she was moving me over to my mark. And it was Camille’s first day on set too. You know you just get it. You get it. It’s the same, it’s all the same! It’s different but it’s so similar. You just you just do it that.

Ashleigh Murray:  That’s yes that’s exactly what it is. And you know if you if you know what everybody’s job is you know if you’re used to pretending like you’re on an active set and in class at school it honestly won’t be any different. If anything you’ll just be you know kind of overcome by all the really cool things about it rather than, “oh my god I can’t do this.” You know, that that fear will turn into excitement once you get comfortable when you realize everybody is here for the same thing y’all all are here to make the same show work. So you know you’re there for a reason. So you know just embrace that –

Casey Cott: – and then you learn and then you’re like Ah like that camera’s here this camera’s here. They’re on that lens They’re on that lens. If I go like this far this way I’m going to be out. And then you start to learn that craft and a whole new style of acting. It’s super cool. It is.

Aerial: Being a series regular on a popular TV show is like every actor’s dream. You don’t need to audition every day and you know when and where your next paycheck is coming from.

Eric: But it’s a lot of work. A lot of hours and the job itself doesn’t stop just because your scenes are wrapped.

Casey Cott: This was my first time ever on a set so I didn’t know what was happening. But basically, we work Monday through Friday and then actually this year we got pretty backed up so the past eight – like eight/nine weeks. We had a Saturday. So we were working Monday through Saturday which is crazy but Monday mornings you start super super early so a call time will be like 5 am 5:00a.m.

Ashleigh Murray: It will be like 5:11. Yeah no yeah 5:04.

Casey Cott: So you get there at 5:04 and they do your hair and makeup and then it just depends on how many scenes are in it can be anywhere from a normal day shooting wise. For us is about 14 hours. Yeah. Now I would be exaggerating if I said That’s everyday because there are certain days where I’m in the first scene or Ashleigh’s in the first scene and we’re done and it’s a you know it’s a six hour day.

Ashleigh Murray: Deuces. Just leave the sun’s still up I can go grocery shopping. It’s great.

Casey Cott: Yeah. And then there’s you know on top of that there’s there’s days we have a lot.

We do a lot of press for our show. So we have what we call EPK which you know like MTV is here today so you’re going to go do an interview. We do a lot of that. So it’s you have to love it. But for our characters we get a little more time off than some other ones. We do. Which is sometimes nice. But most of the time we’re like put us in the show.

Ashleigh Murray: I don’t know why you guys are laughing. He’s right. And you know what the other thing about being on set which you’ll have to get used to is oftentimes sometimes the schedule is you’re at the top of the day and then you’re at the bottom of the day. So you have five six scenes in between when you work. So I would suggest getting a hobby that isn’t this. You know bring some knitting needles bring your laptop. It’s like a 10 hour break. You know it’s like you just like whatever you can’t do because you’re on set. I would try to find a way to do it there because sometimes you’re just you know you’re getting paid to wait essentially and then you know make friends with the people at crafty. Crafty’s great. Cause they’ll makes you smoothies they’ll make you anything like she made like a Chia seed cup that was vegan and gluten free and like wasn’t too sweet. Like I’m super picky

Casey Cott: I’m like do you make buffalo wings? And do you like ranch?

Aeriel: Just like how the actors have to keep up with their healthy or sometimes unhealthy diets. They also continue refining their training and their craft even after getting on Riverdale, Miss Murray and Mr. Cott never stop learning.

Ashleigh Murray:  I have a few coaches that I go between. You know I’ve found people that I know I work very well with. And funnily enough they don’t all have the same like technique. But they give me certain things that I need. So I know whatever the audition is. Oh I can reach out to Ted Sluberski because you know he knows the game. He watches everything all the time and oftentimes he has the script but they’re not sending out. And you know then if I know that you know Anthony Abeson is really great with doing like cold reads or working with dummy scripts for bigger projects that are unnamed. So I definitely have people that. I reach out to when I know and then like my Meisner teacher’s husband still works at the college that I went to so I just hit him up and I’m trying to take some classes just while I’m here just to keep you know the machine oiled. You know sometimes I find that I lose touch with my instrument and it’s always good to revisit that however is best for you. That’s what I do.

Casey Cott: You know yes and no I’ve had some auditions recently and I did an indie movie real quick after we wrapped which was which was a big learning experience. And it was great. I worked with some really cool people but you know when you go from such a big budgeted show to a low budgeted indie it’s a whole new thing. But I loved the indie world. But yeah I’ve been auditioning. It’s fun. I’ve never had a coach in New York because I have never really lived lived here I’m only here for three or four months a year and since my brother is an actor. I often times just shoot him a text and be like, “hey man can you check this out?” But I – Can you give me those the numbers of those people?

Ashleigh Murray: Yes!

Casey Cott: I think having a coach is great and specifically with theatre auditions to me when you get to that point that callback point when you’re like this might happen because those auditions are so much more thorough and they’re so much longer and a lot more dialogue and you can really take an entire room and set it up the way you want. That’s when I seek help to make sure I’m not doing too much or whatever.

Aeriel: In the episode a night to remember the Riverdale gang put on a production of Carrie the musical.

— Every day I just pray every move I make is right where I go. Who I know will I be alone on Saturday night.

The world according to Chris is better to strike than get struck. Better to screw than get screwed you’d probably think it’s bizarre. And that’s the way things are.

You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna be a night we’ll never forget. You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna be a night we’ll never forget.

You can never win. There’s no doubt that life just doesn’t begin until you’re in.

Welcome to Carrie the musical.–

Ashleigh Murray: You know, putting on a musical as you guys know is not easy. You know it takes a lot of time rehearsal. All that stuff costumes everything. Now imagine trying to shove all of that with a camera crew with like giant cranes and stuff in eight days like we have eight days to shoot our episodes.

And we’re also because we were behind we were shooting other episodes at the same time while we’re trying to get this one done. So we were doing dance rehearsals in like two hour chunks by ourselves it was just like us and the background dancers and our choreographer and then that whole chair scene where we’re night we’ll never. That was the first time the day we shot that was the first time we were all together doing the choreo as a unit and you see it’s a unit dance. So it was kind of hard to do that when nobody else was there and then you just add in everything else like you saw how it was. It was really intense. So many elements.

Eric: When you watch the episode and we recommend you do it’s great. It feels like Carrie The Musical was always meant to be part of Riverdale the mood the style. It’s like they’re tonal cousins all they had to do was sing.

Casey Cott: It’s a cool musical. It’s a culty musical and it’s trippy and. It’s. Flashy. And yet it’s super dark which is literally Riverdale. So those two blend together make a perfect combo. And I hope that hope that paid off.

Ashleigh Murray: I didn’t know the musical. I still don’t know the musical. I know the few lines that we sang like I learned Madelaine and our duet in the studio as I was singing it.

And I also sang it out of context. We hadn’t really like Roberto and the writers hadn’t really solidified what type of story we were going to tell through doing Carrie The Musical. So when we were going in and recording the songs I didn’t even know what the scene was between Ma- between Cheryl and Josie. I didn’t realize that it was going to be what it was. So I just made the choice to sing it like well it’s Josie she’s playing like you know a 40 something you know gym teacher she’s probably going to sound a little bit more mature so let’s throw some of that 40-year-old on there it came out great. And it’s funny because I also got to listen to like everybody everybody has such wonderful voices on the show. Can you imagine like it’s just crazy.

Casey Cott: Also don’t worry, that’s autotune. They’re great they’re great but like. It’s autotune. It’s autotuned.

Ashleigh Murray: I am not nor have I ever been autotuned on the show. It’s the scariest thing. Like legit. In the last episode, like in the in the finale, and the scene in the season finale I have to sing this song and I broke down again like we’ve been making this show for two years and I was in the in the studio and I was just like crying like it’s very it’s still very uncomfortable for me to hear my voice through speakers. I can’t explain it to you. It’s just like a weird audio dysmorphia thing like I just

Casey Cott: and if you get a note wrong, they’re like we’re going to play this back for you so you know the note you got wrong and you’re like dude seriously just tell me just feed me the note.

Eric: So Riverdale does an adaptation of a musical which is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel on a TV show that’s an adaptation of Archie Comics. You got all that. Now it is a far cry from the original source material.

— Archie’s here. Betty’s here. Veronica too. —

Eric: Back in the day Betty Jughead and Veronica’s adventures had like no sex and even less murder

Aeriel: And that might be why both actors have very different points of view about even reading the original comic books.

Casey Cott: I get this question every time someone asks me questions about the show. And at first I was like ah yeah like yeah but no I’ve never read them I. I didn’t know what it was. I’ve never read one. I auditioned for Archie and the first time I read this pilot, all these random people had red hair and I was like, “What is this like so weird like demonic hair town where like anyone with red hair as is some sort of it’s some sort of cult?”

Ashleigh Murray: Are they all natural redheads? I –

Casey Cott: Well, it said like Archie: red hair; Cheryl Blossom: red hair; Natalie or Penelope: red hair. And I was like “this is really weird.” I didn’t have to to go red. I didn’t get Archie but I eventually learned that they weren’t in a cult. They were just it was just strange to me I was like “What does this weird thing-?” But long story short, no, no, no.

Ashleigh Murray: Yes, I did. She’s a nerd. I am a nerd. Archie nerd. I am a comic book nerd. I love comic books. I love cartoons. It’s the best Scooby Doo. All right that’s my jam a pup named Scooby Doo friggin Dragonball Z. I’m like a big I love any of that animated stuff so I was a big Archie Comics fan growing up.

Aeriel: The comics may have been around for years but when it comes to learning TV scripts the name of the game is speed. The actors were asked how far in advance they got their lines well Miss Murray’s reaction told the entire tale.

Peter Stone (moderator): When do you get the script like how far in advance how much time do you have?

Ashleigh Murray laughs —

Casey Cott:  You get them when you get them. No you know what. It’s tough. You know. They have a tough job.

Ashleigh Murray: So it is it’s At the beginning of the season you’re like oh my gosh this is great. I mean you see what we’re dealing with there is so much story there’s so much plot and stuff and sometimes things change sometimes people are sick or you know somebody gets hurt or whatever the case is so you know adjustments have to be made but sometimes like you get the script as we’re shooting the episode or you know like I think the soonest that we’ve probably gotten one was what like three days.

Casey Cott: You know in the beginning of the season they I remember this year we had the first three before we started shooting and that was awesome. Yeah but as time goes along and they’re so busy and they’re they’re also shooting with us sometimes and it kind of compiles so towards the end you get them each episodes eight days you probably get them the day before day one of the episodes

Ashleigh Murray: Yeah. So really –

Peter Stone (moderator): Do they let you improvise at all or is it like a very strict?

Casey Cott: No, we are word perfect.

Peter Stone (moderator): I was hoping you would say that.

Casey Cott: We’re a word perfect show. Yeah, learn how to do that because they’ll get you. We have we have scripts supervisors whose sole job is to make sure that we are. I mean every once in a while. They’ll come up to me and go it’s it’s not, “Did you go to the beach?” It’s, “Did you guys go to the beach?” And I’m like, “OK yeah.” And I will continue to say, “did you go to the beach?” Like no matter what. But we are a word we are. We are a word perfect show. Yeah, it’s I’ve never said that line. By the way, it’s really good to There’s no beaches in Riverdale. Really. Not yet. No, it’s really good to like. Riverdale takes Miami. Season 15 season 14.

Ashleigh Murray: Oh my God. I’ll be like 50. No, I think it’s really important to have like whatever is your way of learning a script memorizing words whether it’s visual audio whatever is great. It’s a very good tool to have. I would also say that it’s very good to be able to improvise if you know your character well enough and the circumstances and where they’re living – if for some reason you may not know you know the words or whatever it is if you’re so grounded in that moment and who they are whatever comes out of your mouth is going to be right. So just you know let that marinate.

Casey Cott: And when you shoot network TV it’s one thing but if you’re developing a new play. Yeah. Or you’re shooting an indie movie. They’re going to be like you do your thing you know. But on network TV usually it’s pretty pretty word perfect.

Ashleigh Murray: Get your lines right yeah.

Eric: After 40 plus episodes the actors know their characters better than pretty much anyone including at times their various directors.

Casey Cott: We have a new director every episode and some we have some repeats but there comes a point when always with gratitude the director and the notes they give there comes a point when you’re like – totally hearing what they say and adjusting to what they say and hearing what they say. And there’s always a gracious way of doing that and the wrong way of doing that which I’m sure you’ve all seen someone do the wrong way. But there’s a way of being like, “oh on episode four like this happened and I’m thinking about this.” And they’re like “oh yeah I didn’t think about that. But in that way yes.” But in certain ways you’re always learning. I mean you don’t know what’s happening in Chapter 36.

Ashleigh Murray: Yeah right it’s that’s kind of what my sentiment was is that you know our the environment of Riverdale so ever changing that you know I wake up one day and like you know Josie and Veronica. Like you know besties and then all of a sudden you know she’s snatching people’s groups then like it’s like you never you wake up and you’re friends and you’re not.

Casey Cott: She’s a group snatcher.

Ashleigh Murray: She is. She’s a little group snatcher. But Casey is right because we do have different directors all the time which I didn’t know is customary in like network or in television that it’s very rare that a television show has the same director for every episode. So oftentimes you do have to be very comfortable with your character to be able to direct whomever that is new to the set to let them know hey this doesn’t actually work. Like I wouldn’t be sitting next to you know Casey or Kevin because such and such happened and you know most times they’re like oh yeah got it. Sure. We’ll move you over here.

Aeriel: Mr. Cott and Ms. Murray have exceedingly busy TV schedules. And despite that they still find time to go on audition during hiatus which both admit would be very difficult without representation.

Casey Cott: I’m going, to be honest, I’ve never had an audition in this city personally without an agent. And that’s just because I was very fortunate to get one a long time ago when I was in college. So I can’t speak to that. I have most of my friends don’t have agents. But I’ll let you take that one.

Ashleigh Murray: I – you know I’m trying to remember I don’t think I did. To be honest with you it’s different here on the East Coast on the West Coast. They don’t agents don’t freelance. You’re either signed or you’re not. And I think it may be the same with managers there I’m not sure but here in New York it is a bit of a privilege to be able to freelance with an agency so they can see if you actually are willing to do this and can show up to auditions on time and know your material and things like that. On time on time it’s so important. It’s so important. But having an agent is going to open up an agent and a manager is going to open up so much more opportunity for you because they’re the ones who get the breakdowns. They’re the ones who have casting directors reaching out to them being like, “Hey can you send 0 I’m looking for this type of person for this role.” So it’s it’s very hard if not all impossible to do that on your own without any representation.

Casey Cott: It’s hard you know I have friends of book Broadway from no agents though. There’s a there’s –

Ashleigh Murray: Well I don’t know nothing about no theater I’m just saying like commercials and TV.

Casey Cott: There’s so many avenues you know just if you don’t have an agent Just put yourself the more you put yourself out there the more possibilities are to find one. You know agents aren’t going to come knocking on your door.

Ashleigh Murray: They’re not. And you know because you’re in New York. I’m a New York fan all the way OK. I feel like if you want to go to L.A. do it and if it’s your jam do it. I am hardcore about the East Coast mostly because I feel like there’s so much more opportunity to get proper training here and here like I’m sure you all curse all the time. New York is not about the bulls**t. You can’t bulls**t a bulls**tter. You know what I mean you can get by pretending to be pretty and all this other stuff in L.A. and you might book a few things because you cute to look at but if you show up saying you know somebody you don’t. This world is very small and you will get up on that wall real quick and they’ll be like yeah she sent me glitter in her like press pack. I’m not messing with her no more.

You know

Casey Cott: Is that like a term what “she sent glitter?”

Ashleigh Murray: Oh yeah. There have been people don’t inundate casting directors with mailers aren’t really a thing anymore. If you’re a mailer – anything like – if you’re going to send a mailer it’s it’s only if you’re in something but don’t put glitter in it don’t like, don’t be weird because they will not they will not mess with you anymore but being why are you laughing I’m serious. Being in New York I feel like you have a better opportunity of of meeting the right people who are going to help curate who you are as opposed to what they think you should be. I just feel like if you can make it here you can make it in New York. You can make it in Georgia. You can make it you know wherever else the work is. I think this is a really great place to start. And knowing that, don’t ever pay anybody to represent you.  And if somebody comes to you and it’s like oh we should like, “change your hair and like get rid of the bangs and just the blonde!” Don’t. Don’t do it. You know you know who you are. Be authentic to who you are. Unless you feel like whatever. Like different haircut or hair color or whatever the case is is just going to elevate. Your essence do that. But you know just kind of I could be here all night you know what I’m trying to say.

Eric: Through all the hard work the actors remind themselves that they are lucky

Aeriel: and try not to lose sight of why they chose this career in the first place.

Casey Cott: We’ve been shooting for about two years so we’ve done two seasons but we’ve only been shooting for two years. But there’s a lot that goes into it. What we do are doing right what we’re doing right now. There’s a lot of contract stuff there’s a lot of business stuff there’s a lot of social stuff a lot of press stuff and then some shooting stuff

Ashleigh Murray: and then there’s free stuff

Casey Cott: and then there’s free stuff. And and it becomes stagnant Yeah. Like simple yeah like are there days many days on set where I’m like I don’t want to be here. I do not want to be doing this. Of course. Are there days where Chris Pratt feels that on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 set. Yeah. What I will say is I think of that feeling to me right now and I’m biased because this is all I’ve done I think TV is the hardest when it comes that because you are contractually obligated to do this thing for many many many years and it’s a daunting task and you it’s exactly what you want to do you want to do movies you want to do all the things that I just said I wanted to do and that’s that right. So let’s say my contract right now is X amount of years. You have X amount of break, you have X amount of time while you’re doing what you’re doing to set yourself up to do all the things you want to do. But it’s it’s a business and it’s important to remember that and it’s important keep yourself inspired when you are doing a show like we’re doing because you can get very uninspired very quickly and we all feel that. But luckily too we have such a great young cast and adult cast too. Because we call ourselves the kids and adults even though like I’m 25 and

Ashleigh Murray: I’m not.

Casey Cott: So we all whenever I’m down I’m like, “yo I am feeling rough right now. This sucks”. And they’re like “yeah.” Like well. Like, let’s talk about it let’s figure out together let’s make this story good. This is our job. Let’s get passionate. Why do you like acting. Or I’ll call the people in my life that are not on the show. “Why do you -why are you doing this? Why don’t you go be on Wall Street or something? Do you want to do that? No, alright. Are you blessed to have a job? Yeah. So let’s figure this out and power through it.” You know it’s the same with that intimidation factor. It’s like instead of moping dig deep. And figure out why we like to act. And be thankful for the opportunity to do it.

Aeriel: We’re thankful to Casey Cott and Ashleigh Murray for having such a candid conversation with our students and thankful to all of you for listening.

Eric: I’m Eric Conner

Aeriel: and I’m Aeriel Segard. And this episode was written by Eric Conner hi based on a Q&A moderated by Peter Allen Stone. This episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden

Eric: Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself Executive produced by Jean Sherlock, Dan Mackler, and Tova Laiter with a special thanks to the staff and the crew at our New York City campus for making this all possible.

Aeriel: To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or you know wherever you listen.

Aeriel and Eric: See you next time!

 

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy, and in this episode, we bring you one of Hollywood’s greatest and most proficient casting directors, Jane Jenkins.

— When an actor comes in and has really thought about. Who is this character? Where do they fit in the script? And you bring a life into the room. I go thank you very much and I cancel 10 appointments.–

Jane Jenkins: Her credits over four decades. Makes you wonder is there a movie she didn’t cast with her partner Janet Hirshenson The Princess Bride. Jurassic Park. Ferris Bueller. A Beautiful Mind. When Harry Met Sally. Harry Potter. Plus another 50 or so movies for John Hughes Ron Howard and Rob Reiner.

–You’re a Wizard Harry.

Inconceivable.

You can’t handle the truth.

Houston we have a problem.

Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice.

Bueller. Bueller.

Welcome to Jurassic Park.

Keep the change you filthy animal.–

Eric: But none of this would have happened if her career went as initially planned in front of the camera.

Jane Jenkins: I was not a successful actress. And I loved being in the business. I worked as an assistant to a number of people and one of the – two of the people that I worked for were John Peters and Barbra Streisand when they were making a movie called A Star Is Born, a remake of the original. And I sort of watched the whole casting process and then I went to work for a man named Frank Pierson. Frank Pierson was a terrific writer who wrote a movie called Cool Hand Luke. He – a lot of fabulous fabulous movies- and he wrote Dog Day Afternoon. He was a really fabulous Academy Award-winning writer and he wrote and directed, A Star Is Born. And after we finished shooting the film he asked me if I would come and work for him on a film called King of the Gypsies. And so I did a lot of research for him and then I watched them casting it and I kept saying no these people are wrong they’re not gypsies because I knew a great deal about more than I ever needed to know about gypsies. And literally a lightbulb went off in my head and I went, “casting! What a great job that could be could really incorporate my acting and my production and all of that.” And then all I needed to do was find a job because I didn’t know how to actually, cast anything. There are rules and regulations and an actor by the name of Ralph Waite who was on a very successful TV show called The Waltons. Way back when before all of you were born it was an old boyfriend of mine and I asked him if he could help me get a job at Lorimar the country. The company that produced the Waltons and he said, “you know, I’m going to do a movie and you can cast it for me.” And I went, “I don’t know how to actually.” He said, “go to the screen actors guild and get the rulebook.” And I did. And I read it. And I figured out how to hire people. And I was just it was the perfect culmination for me of my love of acting and my love of the movies and literally the minute I said casting one door after another opened and early on in my career I hooked up with a wonderful woman named Jennifer Shull and she had worked for Francis Coppola and then we all went over to Zoetrope and worked for Francis for a couple of years until the studio fell apart but because we had been Frances’s casting people Rob Reiner called and said I need a casting director. And so I cast Rob’s very first movie after Spinal Tap, a film called The Sure Thing. And we just finished a film that he hasn’t started shooting yet but we just finished a film called Shock and Awe. And it’s the 18th movie that I’ve done with Rob Reiner. So I mean and I’ve worked and the same the same is true for Ron Howard. You know Ron called the studio and said I need a casting director and Fred Roos who was Francis Coppola’s producer. Said oh just hire Jane and Janet. And so he did. And I’ve done I don’t know 16/17 movies for Ron as well. And it’s just been truly the right – I was in the right place at the right time.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins credits acting background for giving her the skills needed to be a successful casting director.

Jane Jenkins: I come to everything that I do from an actors point of view. I read a script from an actors point of view because that’s my training I went to the High School of Performing Arts, I studied acting after performing arts with people like Bill Hickey and Uta Hagen at a HP studios. So I read the script and interpret it and then I sit down with the director and talk about what it is. You know all of the fine – It’s very easy to come up with a whole list of names – What are the financial ramification? How much money do we have for the film? How much money do we have for all of these people? And I think because I understood it from an acting point of view it made it easier for me to make the leap into the production part of it. And I think it was just a very – you know casting is not a job that you go to school for it’s not like becoming a costume designer or an editor it’s a very intuitive job and I think I just had a natural sense of how to do it and what the parts required, who is going to bring it to life.

Eric: An old expression about acting is that there are no small parts only small actors. A lesson that Ms. Jenkins continues to live by when looking for the perfect actor, be it a lead role or the pizza boy.

Jane Jenkins: I think that not being really prepared not thinking that just because it’s a couple of lines anybody can do this. But every human being has some unique characteristics and I’m looking for what kind of interesting life you’re bringing into the room with you that’s going to add to this movie. It’s sort of like you know, weaving a tapestry in a way. And even though there are small parts I’m looking for that little gold thread that you go oh what was that. That’s. So for me. There really are no small parts. They’re all important. Years ago Janet and I both cast I don’t know about 14 movies for John Hughes who paid us really one of the greatest compliments saying that he loves working with us because even the pizza guy brings something to the whole movie. And that’s what I’m looking for.

Eric: Today’s pizza boy could wind up being tomorrow’s star or in the case of Mystic Pizza the blink and you miss it roll of a boyfriend’s brother could be the next Matt Damon.

Jane Jenkins: When I go back and look at actors that were in movies that I did early on who have become successful actors. You know when – when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won their academy award some reporter called me up because the very first – if you look at Matt Damon’s IMDb – the first movie that he’s in is a movie called Mystic Pizza. And this reporter called me up and said, “Did you have a sense when you hired him for Mystic Pizza that he had this in him?” And I went, “Is this like a joke question?” I said, “No, of course not what I knew was he was the best 16-year-old kid who lived in Boston who looked like the guy who was playing Julia Roberts’ boyfriend.” And he was his younger brother you know because Ben Affleck came in and auditioned for the same part. But Ben didn’t fit into the family. So it’s not that I had you know any ESP that he was going to turn into anything. He was was he was the perfect kid who looked like he fit into this you know, family. And when you go back and you look at all of these people who have gone on to successful careers it’s incredibly satisfying from the casting but I’m looking for somebody who brings an authenticity and preparation and hopefully fits into the family that I’m casting.

Eric: Matt Damon went on from Mystic Pizza to an Oscar-winning career as did another then little-known actress named Julia Roberts. Yet Ms. Jenkins will not take credit for discovering her.

Jane Jenkins: You know that somebody else would argue that somebody else gave her her SAG card. So I did not give her SAG. She had done a couple of small things. Has anybody here ever seen or heard of Mystic Pizza? Probably not a whole handful of people. It’s an interesting film because when you look at it now it’s a very different Julia Roberts than the Julia Roberts that you see now. She was also I think 18 or 19 years old. You know there was a time, back in the 80s when all these movies were being made that they were all made on very small budgets. I think Princess Bride was maybe 10 million dollars. Mystic Pizza was certainly nowhere near that. It was probably six or seven million dollars and we had the ability to find because they were all so many of them were teenage actors. We had the ability to find new young actors. Now, even when you’re doing a teen movie they want you to find that person who has some television presence and maybe a couple of the other people can be new people. But it’s much more difficult now because the movies are more expensive and the competition to get them produced and out on a screen is much more difficult.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins also helped launch the career of another beloved movie star Meg Ryan. But in her case, it took several years and quite a few tries before locking down the right part.

Jane Jenkins:  I first met Meg Ryan when she was 18 years old and I was casting Rob’s first film called The Sure Thing. The Sure Thing was John Cusack’s first big breakout movie and that was about a young college bunch of kids. Meg Ryan was hysterically funny, absolutely adorable, really talented, really terrific. I brought her back in for Rob. He said “She’s terrific. Not the right girl. But she is terrific.” And we did not hire her. And then two years later we’re doing The Princess Bride and Meg comes in and she reads for The Princess Bride. And Rob says to me, “God, if Bill Goldman wrote that Buttercup should be the most adorable girl in the world, I would hire her right now but I need the most beautiful girl in the world. Keep looking.” And Meg was not ugly by any means. And then two years after that we were doing this movie called When Harry Met Sally and Meg Ryan was the second girl that came in to audition and Rob said, “It’s her part. Cancel everybody else.” So in that six or seven year period Meg auditioned for a bajillion things. There were two jobs that we gave her in movies that were not enormously successful movies nor did they catapult her career but the point is that she was absolutely fabulous the very first time I met her when she was 18 years old and that’s why I remembered her and kept bringing her in, and bringing her in and whether I cast her in something like When Harry Met Sally that catapulted her career or somebody else did, it was clear to me that at some point this girl – the opportunity and this actress were going to meet up  – ’cause that’s what it takes it takes the opportunity and the right actress for that explosion to happen.

–Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today.

You’re The Dread Pirate Roberts admit it! – With Pride.

Bow to the Queen of slime, the Queen of filth, the Queen of putrescence.

The Cliffs of Insanity.

Bye bye boys. Have fun storming the castle.

Hello my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Inconceivable. – You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Eric: Thirty years after its initial release The Princess Bride still resonates with audiences of every age largely due to its wonderful collection of performers including a very young Robin Wright.

Jane Jenkins: We made it in 1987, and Robin was 19 years old when she came into my office and we hired her. She was so beautiful. Well that was that was the thing! You know we needed  -William Goldman wrote that Buttercup was the most beautiful girl in the world. So I needed to find not just a beautiful actress but an actress who incorporated all of that fairytale stuff. And one of the things that we discovered when we were casting was a lot of very pretty young models came in and then I started seeing some European girls and suddenly it just sounded better even though their acting wasn’t all that great, but not having an American accent sort of brought the fairy tale thing to life because America wasn’t discovered yet in the time of fairy tales. It’s just hard to – and we started just asking actors to do this with any kind of an accent make up an accent. Any kind of an accent, you know, an English accent or French accent. And when I met Robin I said, “Can you do some kind of accent?” And she said, “My stepfather is British I do a pretty good British accent.” I said, “Great! Do that.” And she read the lines and Buttercup came to life. She was the last girl that we saw after seeing almost 200 girls. She walked in, she said the lines, I went, “oh my god! Yeah.”

Eric: I could gush about The Princess Bride’s cast all day. Cary Elwes, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk. But I’ll reserve my fanboying for the casting of the famed eighth wonder of the world, Andre the Giant.

— So what happens now? We face each other as god intended. – Sportsman-like.

Fezzik are there rocks ahead. If there are we’ll all be dead. No more rhymes now I mean it. Anybody want a peanut.

Why are you wearing a mask? Were you burned by acid or something like that?

Hello lady.

The dread pirate Roberts is here for your soul.–

Tova Laiter: Andre the Giant, you had to go to some giant land to cast him?

Jane Jenkins: You know that was the hardest part. Needless to say when I first sat down with Rob. And Bill Goldman and I said, “so this giant guy how how how big a giant? Like how what are we talking about?” And Bill Goldman said, “You know like Andre the Giant.” I didn’t, I didn’t have a clue as to who Andre the Giant was and Bill Goldman says Andre the Giant like I should like what- do I follow wrestling? But he was in a, pardon the pun, but he was an enormous wrestler at the time. So he still has a presence and there are posters and everything. And so I came back to my office and my partner’s husband Janet ran the company for us and I said, “who’s Andre the giant?” He said, “he’s like the biggest wrestler out there.” I said, “well how would I know this?” So we tracked him down through the World Wide Wrestling Federation – say that three times fast. And when I said that we were interested in him acting in the film and I gave them the dates they said, “oh no no no he’s going to be wrestling in Japan for millions of dollars and we’re not canceling that. So then I started meeting giants. Now that’s a movie in itself because you meet all these enormously large people but you know most people who are giants. It’s a disease and they’re not necessarily graceful and they’re not necessarily healthy and they’re not necessarily the strongest people. They’re just very large. And so I met an array of very interesting people and we sort of didn’t know what we were going to do. I mean we went to London I met this Scottish guy who was like the strongest man in the world who could pull you know tractor trailers with his teeth, and it was crazy. And at the very last minute we were in a casting session in London and I got a phone call from my office in L.A. saying that Andre’s dates in Japan were canceled. And if Rob wanted to meet him he’s flying from Brussels which is where he lived to Paris and then going someplace else and maybe Rob could meet him at the Paris airport. And Rob we dropped everything we said excuse me to the actor who was auditioning Rob and Andy Scheinman got in a taxi cab went to Heathrow got on a plane flew to Paris met Andre and Rob had tape recorded all of Andre’s dialogue and he met him in the in the lounge and he said you have the job. Learn it exactly like that. So all of those Hello lady. This is all Rob Reiner’s interpretation as translated by Andre the Giant. And it was truly a miracle that at the last minute because. Giants are hard to come by. It was an amazing thing that he was available at the last minute.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins’ relationship with director Rob Reiner has spanned from 1985’s the sure thing to 2018’s shock and awe. Likewise she has continually worked with Ron Howard and Chris Columbus on dozens of projects including Apollo 13 The Da Vinci Code and Home Alone.

Jane Jenkins:  I was in a very very very very very I can’t stress it enough fortunate position in that I hooked up with two young guys who were not famous filmmakers. When I first worked with them Rob between Rob Reiner and Ron Howard and my partner Janet did a young Chris Columbus’s early movies so that we worked with these guys when they were starting out on their first films. We clicked. We did a good job. They hired us again and again and again. And I was very fortunate and because I had that sort of to count on that you know nothing is guaranteed but pretty much they were going to do a movie every year year and a half. It gave us the ability to say no to pictures that we found. You know we were two women running a company and there were scripts that I went I’m sorry this is just degrading and I’m not going to do it. Somebody else did it. But you know I think that and I think that’s true as actors you know there are scripts that involve you know sexual activity and rape and the victim and the if it’s something that you feel that you can’t do in good conscience just say thank you very much but it’s not for me. Nobody’s going to you know not ever see you again. You can’t do things that you have to live with this stuff for the rest of your life. And so I feel that I’m very very fortunate in that I worked with some really good guys on some really terrific movies. It was just I just got lucky.

Eric: Jane Jenkins bases her casting on two key components the screenplay and the director’s vision. Though sometimes that means she needs to push back against the director’s wishes in order to help them realize their own vision. Such was the case with Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.

Jane Jenkins:  There have been times when I thought the director was making a mistake. And you know I said Are you sure that this is what you want to do. But ultimately my job. Is to fulfill a director’s point of view. Not my point of view. I can sort of wrestle a director to the ground a little bit to say come on You know when we were casting the movie. Ghost you know the movie Ghost literally when I read the script I said oh they must have hired Whoopi Goldberg already. I don’t know who anybody else says. But this part seems to have been written with Whoopi Goldberg in mind. And so Janet and I you know because the casting director kind of has to audition for the job as well you go in you have a meeting about blah blah blah blah blah. And I said So did you write this with Whoopi and Jerry said No we thought about Whoopi Goldberg but I’d like to see who else is out there and I went. Why. That’s like the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And. I literally saw something like 230 people. You name a black actress from Tina Turner to Nell Carter to Alfre Woodard. I mean hundreds of actors came in to read for the part that Whoopi ultimately played and after every single person Jerry would say no it’s not them. I would say so. What about Whoopi Goldberg. I mean I think she was like Born to play this part. And at some point early on in the whole proceeding Whoopi came in to meet with Jerry and she said I would love a shot at this part. Jerry said well we know she’s there but you keep looking. And I kept looking and I’d bring in actors and eventually what happened was when Patrick got hired they turned to Patrick and they say what do you think about Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick says she’d be great. And. He even though he said she’d be great. They got on a plane and they went to North Carolina the two of them Patrick and Jerry and Patrick and Whoopi did the scene in the first class lounge at the at the airport. And then Patrick and Jerry came back on the next flight and Jerry said well she was great. I don’t know what I was thinking she’s perfect but it took me months. I was very thin though I lost a lot of weight on that movie. But I mean sometimes you can persist with a director and at some point if Jerry said finally no no no no no Whoopi Goldberg I’d have to come up with another actress. But fortunately he caved and she won an Academy Award. You know there’s just no way of knowing.

Eric: Ultimately the script led Jerry Zucker and Jane Jenkins to find the perfect actor. In fact, her first stop in casting is what the screenplay says about a character though sometimes going against that description is needed to find the best performer.

Jane Jenkins: It depends on the script you know in LBJ, all of the people are all of the real people. This movie that I just finished with. Rob is also based on real people it’s a film called Shock and Awe and it’s about the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and a group of real reporters who wrote for a news organization called Knight-Ridder who kept writing articles about how there were no WMDs. And stop this stop this. Stop this. And they were largely ignored. The only minority and ethnic casting are of a couple of fictitious parts that the writer wrote into the script. So from a casting point of view it’s usually what’s on the page what the writer has created. Unless there’s an opportunity for me to say just because the doctor was written as a 50 year old white guy. What about if the doctor were a 40 year old black woman or whatever you know so the casting director can take that liberty and suggest but ultimately it’s the writer who has created this. And you know the whole thing about Oscars so white it isn’t actors in the academy works like this. Every branch does its own nomination. So the actors nominate other actors the costume designers nominate costume designers the editors nominate editors. There is not an Oscar for casting yet. So we don’t get to nominate anybody but we do get to nominate the films. And when each branch has culled it down to their five top choices for actors editing music whatever the the the department is then the entire membership votes on all of it. So it was the actors. You know everybody was hysterical at the academy but the Academy doesn’t nominate the actors the Academy votes on the actors but it is the actor branch that nominates the actors. And there’s I have no control over who they nominate. You know I thought that they were people every year I go through this. You know the same thing about people that I would nominate and people who get nominated and the two don’t always mesh. But I think that we live in a diverse world and I think it’s a great thing that people are opening up their eyes to the world that we live in. Part of the problem I think has always been that the majority of scripts are written by white men and so women are not always included in positions of authority as doctors as lawyers as whatever ethnic minorities are not always included and that’s not the world that we live in. So I think that all of this hubbub has been very fruitful in casting a wider shadow across the spectrum that is the United States of America and the world that we live in. So I think it’s all it’s ultimately a really good thing.

Eric: Ms Jenkins made a point of giving our students some great frontline advice for their own careers. The days of a star being discovered at the pool or bar or a soda shop are long gone. Even soda shops are long gone. Nowadays agents are looking at YouTube videos and reels so you better make sure yours looks professional.

Jane Jenkins: It’s important because it’s very hard to get an agent without a reel. But it’s also very hard to get a real good a real reel. I don’t want to see. I’d rather see little snippets of stuff that you’ve done professionally or a student film so that it’s not just avideo camera shooting your monologue in sort of dead space. I think that you know we all live in this era of everybody’s got a video camera with them at all times. And in terms of their phone you have to learn how to be a bit of a filmmaker and if you’re going to do a video because you don’t have professional footage then you really have to learn how to light yourself or have somebody light you and do this in a way that I can see you in a movie not just a blank background shot from a distance. I want to see a close up I want to see the intimacy that film offers and what kind what you’re bringing to it. So a reel is very important. But there are ways to accomplish putting a reel together when you haven’t gotten a whole body of work that you have professional quality stuff on it. I mean you’re in a film school all you should all be making films of each other. I want to see some variety of parts that you can play and keep it simple and honest. I just want to see good work. That’s all I want to see. Doesn’t have to be 15 different scenes. I want to see a couple of things that are simple and honest and real I want to see that there is a real actor showing me what they can do. You know I always tell actors go to documentaries watch documentaries watch newsreel footage watch how real people really behave. You know there have been all these horrible fires and you watch people with some you know crazy reporters saying and how do you feel that you’ve just lost your house. Actors go oh my god. Well, people don’t act like that. People are in such a state of shock. They just stand there say I just I. I’ve lost everything. There’s nothing there’s nothing and the honesty and the simplicity of how the depth of how they feel they don’t have to be hysterical. I know that they must be hysterical inside but the shock of what they’ve just lost you know on NPR the other day I was listening to a woman. She had horses and somebody rescued the horse and the vet called her and said the horse is not injured but he’s not going to recover. And she had to give the vet permission to put the horse down. I mean just listening to her explain was heartbreaking. I mean you could hear it in her voice because there was no acting she was talking from her heart. And that’s all that acting is if you make it honest and simple and real. It’s so much more effective than histrionics even when people are playing over-the-top parts. It has to come from a real place otherwise it’s all just bulls**t. You know and that’s never effective.

When you get a chance to, audition. Don’t go when they’re desperate for work.

Here’s the most important thing that you need to know about an audition an audition is not about getting a job. An audition is about. Presenting yourself. To the people that you hope will hire you in the future. If you can get the final result you know just like in acting. You don’t you can’t he can’t act the final result. You have to be in the moment. You have to be in the moment when you come in for an audition and that’ll take away all those nerves that make you hyperventilate so that you can’t think and you can’t speak just be there. Just come in and let somebody know who you are. What do you have to offer. You’re either going to be right for the part in which case you’ll get a call back that you may not get the job. Well you’re not going to be right for the part in which case I make a little note going very interesting and I keep it in the back of my mind for the next time I’m working on something and I go Oh remember that kid that came in and blah blah. I mean casting directors keep all these ridiculous notes. And you remember we remember the people who really made a deep impression on us not because they got the job just because they were terrific and that’s all you have to worry about when you come in come in prepared and come in and be who you are don’t come in trying to be something that you’re not.

Eric: For filmmakers, Ms. Jenkins stressed that they need to look for actors who can elevate the story and their directing. Just like Robin Wright did for Rob Reiner all those years ago.

Jane Jenkins: You’re looking for somebody as a filmmaker you are looking for the best possible actor that you can find that embodies the character that is in the script that you’ve either written or you’re filming or you’re directing or whatever you’re doing with it and you have to go through that same process. I mean I meet a whole bunch of actors I meet 40 50 60 people who are not really perfect and then I meet five. That I go Wow. Any one of these people could be sensational. And then fortunately it’s up to the director to pick the one. So I do the same thing. I mean literally when we did the Princess Bride I met at least 200 very pretty young actresses. And then Robin and a number of them were pretty good. And then Robin Wright walked into my office and brought this whole. I mean it was just like oh my god oh my god. Oh my God. So that’s. You’re looking for the person that really encapsulates what you want that is going to spark your creativity and bring the whole movie together. And you may have to see a lot of people to find the one that brings with them what you need. And as a director and as a filmmaker what you can help them achieve because the quality that they have some essence of who they are is right for the project. There’s not an easy way. I see dozens and dozens and dozens of actors before I select the couple that I bring back to the director. And that’s up you know you can also. Cast a little further afield outside. I would imagine that if you put an ad in backstage as a student filmmaker there are always young actors looking to get a reel together. So I don’t know that you have to be limited to just you know. So if you need a 50 year old principal of a school you may not find it among your student body. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you put an ad in backstage if you couldn’t. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that here but you might be able to find somebody more appropriate than from the student body.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins also made a point that for an actor branding yourself is only necessary when you don’t bring talent or training to the table.

Jane Jenkins: You’ve become an actor so that you can become different personas. What is the brand. Are you planning on selling perfume or. I don’t even understand this question makes me crazy. I think that you have to be the best you that you can be. When I meet. Young actors or any actor who know who they are so that they have the ability to be 15 other people. That’s what I’m looking for. You know when you watch Meryl Streep she always brings some portion of Meryl Streep to the party with her. But she has the ability to be 150 other people and plays them all. So what is her brand. Talent is her brand. I think that’s the only brand that you need. I don’t understand this concept. Maybe you know if you’re involved in reality television or. I it’s really beyond my comprehension this whole conversation about branding. I think your brand is your talent and what you. Your ability to interpret the script that you’ve been given and bring something interesting into the room.

Eric: Well Jane Jenkins most definitely brings talent into the room in more ways than one and has done so for almost 200 movies so far to learn more about Jane Jenkins adventures in the screen trade read her book. A star is found co-written with her casting partner Janet Hirshenson. We want to thank Ms. Jenkins for speaking with our students and thanks to all of you for listening.

This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

You’re still here. It’s over. Go home. Go.

–This 6 year old child with this. blank pale emotionless face and. The blackest eyes. The devils eyes. I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply.

Evil. You see what we’re talking about here is an organism that imitates other life forms and it imitates them perfectly. You people sit tight hold the fort and keep the home fires burning and if we’re not back by dawn call the president You see I take these glasses off.

She looks like a regular person doesn’t she. Put them back on. Formaldehyde face.

The president is dead you got that somebody’s had him for dinner.

Nothing scared off. Killed him. You can’t kill the boogie man.

We’re not getting out of here alive. But neither is that thing.

Death has come to your own little town. Sheriff.

You can either ignore it or you can help me to stop it.–

Eric: Hello and welcome to the Backlot. I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. This episode we bring you the man who gave us Michael Meyers Snake Plissken and an invisible Chevy Chase.

–Writer, director, composer, John Carpenter.

Eric: John Carpenter’s work covers a number of genres from the Sci-Fi romance of starman to the fantastical Big Trouble in Little China but he’s mostly considered a master of modern horror even if that was not his original plan.

John Carpenter: Well you have to understand that horror found me I didn’t find it. I got typecast into this. I got in this business to make Westerns Westerns died Westerns went away and horror found me with Halloween. What happens in Hollywood you get typecast. Oh he made that but let’s off him this it’s the same thing. They want you to do the same thing again and again and make money at it. But I made a career out of it. I’ve got to become John Carpenter. What’s wrong with that. I’m happy about it. My influences were science fiction and horror movies and westerns musicals everything. When I was growing up back in the 50s I loved movies and then I went to film school I got to watch the work of the American classic directors Orson Welles Howard Hawks John Ford and then world directors.

That’s where I really deepened my love for cinema

Eric: Mr Carpenter’s influences can be seen throughout his work including his 1976 thriller assault on Precinct 13 a spiritual homage to Howard Hawks as Rio Bravo.

–We’re out of time out of ammunition just like wells we’re out of luck and never had too much faith in anyone coming to my rescue. Maybe you’ve been associating with the wrong people I’ve been with policemen for five years. That’s enough to grow hair on a rock.

You’re going to get out of town like your boy here with you going can tell Burdett you got Wheeler you can tell him anybody else he sends he better pay him more cause they’re going to earn it.

You want that gun pick it up.

I wish you would.

Eric: Howard Hawks the thing from another world provided even more inspiration for Mr. Carpenter. He remade the film itself in 1982 but even before that. Shades of Hawk’s unstoppable boogie man can be found in Mr. Carpenter’s most famous film. Mr. Carpenter created the slasher genre with one film and teenagers have never been safe since.

–No reason no conscience no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death of good or evil right or wrong.

We had no clue we were just a bunch of kids.–

John Carpenter: Making a movie you know and make it an exploitation horror film back in those days. Indies were not arthouse films. They were really exploitation films action or horror or science fiction. They were little movies that a company could bicycle around the country from one city to another and they could actually make some money on it. No we had no idea nobody did. We were just having a good time making movies we were young had hair it was great.

Eric: Once his budgets became bigger so did his stress.

John Carpenter: The minute you move out of a small project that you control everything gets compounded if you write it and you direct it and maybe you produce it you hit up your friends and your family for the budget and you get something because you want to make a Hollywood movie or you want to make a feature film.

The minute that you start dealing with Hollywood or I say the movie business is the minute you start learning what its all about because people are putting up money to make money. So the pressure on you is to deliver some bucks for it. And I went to USC film school way back when they didn’t teach us how to deal with stress. They just assumed that you kind of bring that along with you. And nowadays when you guys get your first feature unless its a big hit. I worry for you because they don’t give you any time to mature as a filmmaker. Its one time and out its really ruthless these days. Every decision you make gets questioned unless you kind of maneuver your way through that and try to gouge out a space for yourself or make them afraid of you where they are afraid to ask you to do anything they’re afraid to come down on you. And that’s real hard to do it’s very tricky. Everybody faces this. And when you get into a cast member who wants to control your movie tell you what to do. Two weeks into a shoot because you can’t fire him because you’ve shot all of his friends and you’re —-.

— TBig Big time but it’s all fine. Don’t worry about a thing.

Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be right now that maybe one or two of us by spring it could be all of us.

This thing doesn’t want to show itself it wants to hide inside an imitation you see when a man bleeds it’s just tissue. And blood from one of you things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive. It’ll fight if it has to. But it’s vulnerable out in the open. If takes us over then it has no more enemies nobody left to kill it.

And then it’s won. —

Eric:30 years one reboot and even a videogame later the thing has withstood the test of time and is now viewed as a modern horror classic but it didn’t start out that way.

John Carpenter: The thing was not a commercial nor critical success when it was released it was released the summer of 82 when this same studio released E.T. and everybody wanted it up cry. They didn’t want a downbeat end of the world type deal. I think the fans turned on the film pretty severely because they thought I raped a classic the original Christian Nyby Howard Hawks picture. Anyway I didn’t recover from the disaster of that movie for quite a while. The movie’s can last. They can last beyond their initial box office release now you guys may not be aware of how many classic American films came out were bombs. Nobody liked them. And then they grew. You know. Citizen Kane wasn’t a great hit. Vertigo was condemned and was a failure. Upon its release it’s a wonderful life. That movie they show on Christmas and it tanked. Nobody wanted to see it. It was only later that it was shown on television and home video that it became popular.

So it’s really it’s really odd what happens.

Eric: The things use of practical effects continues to impress even in the modern age of green screens and CGI.

John Carpenter: In the case of the thing the creature was very ill defined in the screenplay and everybody is thinking nobody knew what to do with it. And there is an old fashioned idea I guess it goes back to Val Lewton that if you’re going to make a movie about a monster you never want to really see it. You want to keep it in the dark because it’s more effective that way.

At least that’s the thinking in kind of rich liberal middle brow Hollywood. And I made the mistake of trying something different which is to bring this thing out into the light and show it and show it going through its gyrations in front of you because of this story see the story’s about this creature this alien who can imitate anything and has throughout his travels or her travels in the universe. So when it starts imitating to survive it’s going to start looking like the other creatures that it’s imitated. And also he has no respect for the human form or body. So it’s going to rip apart. Which I thought was in the 1980s there was a big huge body culture going on in America at least maybe the world. There’s a lot of the Jane Fonda workout. Everybody got concerned about how they looked their bodies and how thin they were. It was huge. And I thought well this is a great time to be just kind of take that go —- you.

Let me let me disturb you on a basic level here about the way you look and about your body because really nobody gives a —-.

That was the thought Rob Bottin was my special effects coordinator and creator and he said it could look like anything. So let’s make stuff that looks amazing. So I had a whole raft of designers just designing art and it went from everything there was one scene it looks like a flower. Another thing of course this guy’s head comes off which is my favorite scene in the film. But we did it and the audiences went and hated it. And years later everybody is going ooh and aah but that’s the way it goes.

Eric: Though the tools have changed the process of making movies remains almost dogmatically the same.

John Carpenter: You know that’s one thing I wish had changed about the movie business that has never changed. It is a grind to make a film to make a big film. It’s a real grind in terms of technology of movie making that constantly changes and it’s a tool. You guys got to look at it like a tool.

It’s something that can further your vision of whatever you’re doing whether it’s a match shot or whether you’re imagining some creature that’s impossible. Or whether you’re imagining some world that you want to explore. The technology at your disposal now is unlike anything that’s ever been before it’s great you guys are lucky you’re also lucky that you can buy or rent or get a hold of inexpensive equipment and you could do it on digital and make your own damn movie. So we didn’t have that when I was young. And you guys can watch movies and you can watch old films you can watch them on DVD or you can watch them on whatever you can watch them on your telephone your iPhone. So you guys are really lucky and I’m envious of where you are and the time you’ve come along. But they’ve never improved they’ve never streamlined the motion picture technique. They still do it on a board. They still figure out the shooting days on a board whether it’s a virtual board or actually they make one with strips and an eighth of a page and half a page you shoot three and a half pages in a day. Can I get that done in the afternoon. They make you get up you know and show up at 7:00 in the morning when no one’s ready to do creative —- at 7:00 in the morning. I haven’t even had coffee at it. So it’s always the same. Then in television and some low budget films.

They start the workweek on Monday 7:00 in the morning and then during the week they move the call time back. So on Friday you’re shooting nights. They do that because they can cheat you because you don’t have the time on the weekend to catch up on your rest to start again Monday. It’s a grind. No one has fixed that no one has made it better. And I don’t understand why the Directors Guild try to show the studios that if you work three or four days a week you can get more done because the crew wouldn’t be so tired.

We’ve actually had deaths of people driving home after working 17 18 hour days they get into a car accident.

And they didn’t want to hear about because they’re geared to punish the filmmaker. No they’re not. But I’m saying that because. It’s awful. I don’t know maybe you guys love to get up in the morning. I never did. I was always so anyway. That would be if one of you could design a system of shooting a movie that wasn’t this same old factory setup that we’ve had since the beginning of studios and make it work and make it easier on people you’d make millions of dollars. OK. And if you could figure out how to light a scene quicker. This is what I hoped would digital came in. I hope that we wouldn’t have to spend all the time we do on film lighting a scene. Why can’t these cameraman come up with some simple techniques. Why do they have to have top light and backlight and sidelight.

What is all that —-.

That’s the other thing that really has it changed some of the lighting schemes. There was a big change in the 70s when they did overhead lighting on the Godfather movies. They just use tarps and shoot the bedsheets and stuff like that make it all come from overhead with shadows and faces. And nowadays you can work the contrast or the color or the exposure on the computer. So it’s a lot simpler that way and you can kind of get the effect of that.

But the basics of cinematography haven’t changed. One of John Carpenter’s most recognizable tools is his use of music. It only takes a few notes to know. You’re watching a John Carpenter film. He scored almost all his own movies with one notable exception.

The nature of music what it does for films is enhance the scene.

And for the thing the music was done by Ennio Morricone he’s a rather famous composer the spaghetti Westerns with Clint Eastwood and once upon a time in the West were scored by him he’s an incredible artist and composer. And we had a chance to work with him on this and he was just brilliant his job is to narrate and characterize and provide a sensuality to the film through music that’s his whole job. And anytime I do the music myself all I do is accentuate the scenes and make them work. Try to cover up the —- ups that I do as a director through music.

Eric: Directors will often talk lovingly or not so lovingly about their stars. Mr. Carpenter raved about one cast member in the thing who was both remarkably instinctual and dangerously volatile.

John Carpenter: The main dog in this was a wolf and they’re smarter. But they’re a little dangerous on the set. He would come in and we’d have minimal crew we’d have the operator focus puller myself and the dolly grip and the actors and for about 15 or 20 minutes he would wander around us and get used to our smell they said Don’t pet him don’t touch him don’t necessarily look at him. Just sit here don’t talk loud. Let him be with you a little bit and he did something in one shot I’ve never seen an animal do his job as actor was to come down a hallway look in a room on the left. Look in a room on the right. Look back in a room on the left stand there and then go in. And we put a camera right in front of it. We’re tracking with him down the hallway. And his job also is not to look at the camera.

And by God this dog is seven or eight times just like that. It was jaw dropped. Now he’s not with us anymore. Jeb is his name. He was a great great dog and a great actor. We didn’t use him in every shot we use stand in dogs but the trainer brought a unique performing animal to the movie. And had I not had that dog. The movie wouldn’t be as good. He was unbelievable. So yeah animals can be really tough. Horses don’t stop where you want them to they take a —- in the middle of the scene. You know if you watch westerns you see all sorts of things go on that you took for granted we were watching them but you see actors kind of they’re out of control. I watch a scene in the original True Grit nowadays where somebody is about to fire a shot and you see John Wayne reach up and grab the horse he’s on before the shots fired so he knows the horse is going to bolt. So he’s just thinking ahead just trying to control it for the shot kids. Boy there’s some great kid actors. They just come and do it. So you don’t have to really worry too much. Then there’s some that are troubled. It all depends man. But generally speaking you know you just don’t know with kids and animals. You get the right ones and you’re all set.

Eric: His praise for frequent leading man Kurt Russell was equally as effusive.

John Carpenter: He’s a great great performer and great actor. He’s you know he thinks he is old now. He doesn’t want to do any more action movies. He believes some strange things sometimes. I don’t know if you know about Kurt Russell. He is to the right of Attila the Hun I mean he is extreme right and I’m extreme left. But it’s love of cinema and love of the craft of movies that keeps us together. So it just shows you what the important things are in life. If you love something the movie making process in our case then you can get along. You never know. That’s one thing you say in this business. Never say never about anything. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. But no he’s been a friend for many years many years. Kurt’s a great guy. And he can imitate. Like the thing he could do an imitation of anybody. Any actor. He does an imitation of me. It’s unbelievable. He’s a born mimic. That’s one of the reasons he’s such a great actor is he mimics people it’s really astonishing.

Eric: Though he’s known for slicing and dicing his cast onscreen. Mr. Carpenter always shows his actors the utmost respect.

John Carpenter: I want to see several things at once I want to see first and foremost what do they look like you know in person. Is there a bad angle. And secondly the personality. Are they open are they guarded about being directed or authority figures. What do you think of the screenplay and the material. How much do they want to change. You’re trying to assess all these different things real quickly. But directors are all different in how they deal with casting Clint Eastwood for instance casts off of tapes that are submitted to him. He doesn’t read anybody. He gets a list a bunch of actors put their performances on tape and he pops it in the machine. That one not that one that one. That’s how he casts. So it’s different for everyone depends on what you’re comfortable with. I want to sit down with somebody and see if we can have a connection because that’s what acting directing is all about my job as a director is to be there to help you give the performance whatever you need as an actor. Is what my job is to provide if you need a bad father I can be mean all the time. If you need a good father I can be that a psychiatrist. It all depends on the person. That’s the whole secret of all of it is to everybody get comfortable. Get comfortable with the guy who’s directing you as an actor and the director getting comfortable that you have the ability to do it even if it means running afoul of the screenwriters.

From personal experience the two experiences that I’ve had with screenwriters. One was on big trouble little china and one was on this movie I made called Memoirs of an invisible man was my Chevy Chase movie. And both times my choice of leading lady the writer and writers were not very happy with it and they wanted to rewrite the scenes. And in the case of big trouble will China. Kim Cattrall came to me and said Please get this guy away from me because it makes me feel like —- he’s tearing me down. He doesn’t like me. He doesn’t think I can play this part. And everybody thought of Kim Cattrall at that time as sort of the girl from Porky’s who could do an orgasm. They didn’t take her seriously. She just a terrific comedienne just terrific. So I had to throwing him off the set and he was a friend of mine and then the same thing with Daryl Hannah. She comes to play this part and the writers start writing her like like some stupid girl and she says What are they doing. I signed on to do this and I just had to get rid of them. The writers want to be on the set. The writers guild wants the same contract that writers have in plays where you can’t change a word. And that’s what they’ve always wanted. And they hate directors hate directors and they hate people changing their words. And I don’t blame them I’m a writer I didn’t like it either but that’s the way it is. You know actors will come in and say no I’m going to change that.

They say whatever they want to.

So it’s a mixed thing. You know that famous story cautionary tale about a movie called I can’t remember the name of it altered states a movie I particularly like Paddy Chayefsky was the writer of that was on the set and just gave them hell because it wasn’t the way he wanted it and ended up taking his name off and changing it. And you get that sometimes it’s not pleasant. Well after we started working. If we get the actors say anything close to what you write you’re happy.

Eric: Almost all of Mr. Carpenter’s biggest films have been rebooted or remade or given a whole bunch of sequels which is not the least bit surprising to him.

John Carpenter: First of all remakes in general are popular now because of the amount of money a company has to spend advertising to get people in the theaters. And one way to cut through the clutter of advertising that’s out there is to come with a title in recent memory that they’ve heard of. So for instance all the horror remakes. The thinking is maybe you saw it with your brother when you were young on home video or you’ve seen it on television. We’re going to update it. So it has a built in awareness which is the number that they’re trying to reach to get the audience the customer out there aware that your movie is in the theaters. It’s called show business. It’s not called show art unless you’re very lucky or very successful like Jim Cameron can write his own movies and have final cut and get them in theaters. Unlike the rest of us peons. You have to compete with other films that are out there and one way of driving through to the audiences that your movie is going to be playing is to do a remake because the title is familiar. The title has awareness. I mean look at the number of movies that open every weekend and people it’s all a blur to them. Maybe I want to see the Adam Sandler movie but I don’t care about this other one. So are you trying to penetrate this advertising fog. And that’s one way of doing it but there are still really fine really creative movies being made now don’t subscribe to that idea. It’s all bull—-. There’s no even remakes.

They’ll just do a new take on something completely different. And that tends to be why they remake horror horror has been with cinema since the very beginning. It grew up part and parcel with cinema and it will always be with us it’s one of the most popular genres of all time and it’s an all purpose genre because it keeps changing every culture every few years it morphs it changes into something else it brings the sensibilities of the age in which it’s made. That’s what’s so fabulous. If you look at Frankenstein or Dracula or the Bride of Frankenstein the Karloff films. They are very much of the thirties and the depression their depression era movies they’re speaking to those audiences but if you look at modern horror films or speaking to you guys and they bring the sensibility that you’ve become used to seeing and you demand seeing in film

Eric: these remakes have enabled Mr. Carpenter to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams.

John Carpenter: My absolute favorite part of this business is that when somebody wants to remake one of my films what I do is if I’ve written it or originated the idea I extend my hand like this and they put a check right there. And I don’t have to do anything. My entire life I’ve been trying to figure out how to make money at doing nothing.

Eric: As a student raised on classic cinema John Carpenter is now the one influencing others. Escape from New York. The thing Halloween and his other films continue to resonate with audiences and inspire filmmakers even decades after they first hit the big screen. John Carpenter has truly earned the title master of horror. This episode was written by me. Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden produced by David Andrew Nelson Kristian Hayden and and myself executive produced by Jean Sherlock. Dan Mackler and Tova Laiter associate produced by Vinny Sisson big special thanks goes out to Sajja Johnson Chris Devane and the staff and crew who made this possible. This is a production of New York film Academy’s media content department and always magical Los Angeles. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes.

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you the director of The Orphanage, A Monster Calls, and most recently a little film called Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, J.A. Bayona.

J. A. Bayona: I mean for me everything comes from my childhood. The first memory in my life is a shot from Superman. So that tells you a lot about me. I don’t have a memory where I was deciding I want to be a filmmaker. I want to be a director it was always there.

Eric: Before directing. T-Rexes and raptors Mr. Bayona helmed the gut-wrenching drama The Impossible. It’s based on one family’s story of survival during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. After screening the film for our students Mr. Bayona focused much of his conversation on this remarkable and powerful film. So you might want to familiarize yourself with it before listening.

— Do you know the most scary bit for me? – When the water hit.

If another wave catches us down here we will die.

The scariest part, when I came up and I was all on my own.

I won’t stop looking until I find them I’ll look in all the hospitals and I’ll look in all the shelters I will find them. I promise you that. —

Eric: Mr. Bayona’s story is fascinating tracing how he went from film school student to eventually helming a billion dollar grossing film. Though he admits he actually learned a lot more as a teacher.

J. A. Bayona: I’ve been a student in film school for four years and then I was six years more teaching. I learned much more teaching then as a student, as a student I spent too much time on the bar. You learn a lot of things on the bar. I mean but the truth is that I really learned a lot in teaching probably because it’s kind of like you need to be thinking all the time about why are you doing what you are. What are you doing? And as a director I never – I always follow my instinct when choosing the script in working the script and working with the actors. For me, it’s all about instinct. This is how you really find your voice and there’s a lot of, also of intellectualization after that. But the first thing is instinct. What was the question.

Eric:  Mr. Bayona’s instinct and talent helped quickly launch his career as a music video and commercial director. Meanwhile, he continued his film education the same way a lot of us do by watching DVD and their extras.

J. A. Bayona: When I finished school I immediately started to work in commercial and music videos and it was me with all these people in the bar, working doing music videos. And the truth is that we had a great school in there because we do everything ourselves. So I learned a lot of visual effects in working in commercials and music videos. So when I got to the moment of doing this film I was very involved in the preparation and also I used to watch a lot of extras on DVD so you can more or less have a sense of how does it work. Watching that I think it’s very useful to know how it works the Photoshop you know because when you work in post-production everything is made on layers also. So at the end it’s a question of having this knowledge of how could a shot be composed in layers. And also I really like the fact of using as much real as possible. The way James Cameron always says he does so I think one good trick is to use all the time different techniques. Don’t rely only in CGI or in miniatures. So there is a moment where the eyes gets confused and the audience doesn’t know what they’re watching. And I think that’s very interesting.

Eric: In 2007 J.A. Bayona directed chilling Spanish language horror film The Orphanage produced by the legendary Guillermo Del Toro. It’s terrifying and you should watch it. You know if you’re not too scared. The Orphanage went on to become one of Spain’s biggest blockbusters which meant Mr Bayona that his pick of the litter from more horror films but he didn’t want to be pigeonholed.

J. A. Bayona: After I finish The Orphanage I was offered all the. Horror remakes and sequels you could imagine. But you need to find something exciting and sometimes and not sometimes but very often, you need to find something different. I mean this is why even though I I I feel that Impossible is very close to the orphanage it doesn’t have nothing to do at the same time. So so you need to find something new something challenging. I would love to do another horror movie for example but I’m kind of sometimes – you don’t find enough excitement in doing another horror movie so you really need to, I don’t know, I mean I don’t like to think about genre, for example, what genre would you like to work? You go to your agent tells you, what genre would you like to do? I don’t know. I mean I don’t think about genre I mean for me a film is about the story and especially what lies beyond the story and what lies behind the story. It’s always you you need to find yourself in there. I mean I’m kind of like Polanski. He – you can notice that he is a film lover because if you take a look at his filmography he can do a pirate movie a horror movie drama from the Holocaust, I mean he can do everything. I mean he could do a comedy. I mean he loves movies and he likes to tell the stories from from his point of view and this is what I’m looking for.

Eric: The success of The Orphanage eventually enabled Mr. Bayona to direct his 2012 follow up feature The Impossible.

J. A. Bayona: I was very lucky the fact that The Orphanage was a huge success in Spain it was the biggest Spanish film ever. In Spanish. So so that helped me in having the trust of the producers in in doing this film. I remember. I was working on a film with also, with Sergio. It didn’t I mean I don’t know why but at the end we we it was a director doing that after work been working on a script for nine months. So the day after the story appeared by coincidence and producer heard the story in a radio show and she came to me and she tried to explain, “tries” because she couldn’t get to the end she was too emotional and I found myself exactly the same. So I realized that there was something very brutal and primal and that talks about something that goes beyond the fact of the tsunami or the context of the tsunami. And I wanted to explore what was that because it definitely was making this story something that goes beyond the context to make it something more universal and I wanted to figure it out what was that and then we had the script ready. We were working on the script for maybe. Yeah, nine months six-nine months. And we went to the actors and they loved it. They loved the script they loved The Orphanage so everything happened very easily surprisingly.

Eric: Even a movie like The Impossible with its built-in real life drama needs stars to get off the ground. Fortunately, Mr. Bayona was able to cast the talented Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.

J. A. Bayona: I always was a huge fan of Naomi and Ewan and it’s a question of instinct and I could see them doing these characters probably because I see them not as Hollywood actors because they’ve been doing lots of different stuff with European movies independent movies. So I felt them very close to me. And I think that Naomi is very good in portraying dark sides of life. She’s very good at getting close to a tragic sense of storytelling. And I think Ewan’s is a guy who is very easy to get a sense of empathy and intimacy with with him. So I felt them right. The main challenge was to work in a different language. I mean I talk English now better than before but it’s not my first language. So so that was definitely the main challenge. And I mean right now even doing Q&As you want to talk about life and death and you find yourself having some problems in going into specifics, so can you imagine how I felt in the set with the actors sometimes? But the truth is that we had a very good relationship. We trust a lot to each other from the very beginning I wanted to have a long time of rehearsals and we created a strong bond there and it went really well in fact because Ewan had to shoot another movie. He was shooting Salmon Fishing in Yemen. So he came I was surprised. I thought people in Hollywood they do more rehearsal than what they do really. I mean to to talk to the agents about having a time for rehearsals. I was surprised about that because it seems that they didn’t rehearse that much. I mean I’m talking about my experience so I really maybe I’m saying that and I don’t know but probably every director is different. I know that Naomi has been working with directors where she did a lot of rehearsals but I was surprised how tough it was to find time to do rehearsals. But the truth is that with Naomi we spent three weeks – with Naomi and Tom doing rehearsals with Ewan we had the chance of working some days before the shooting of the Salmon Fishing. After finishing the Salmon Fishing he came join us and we were doing rehearsal for an extra week so we had a good preparation.

Eric: The Impossible is not your average disaster film. The film focuses not only on the tsunami’s deadly destruction but the humans who banded together to survive. So this story needed to rely on more than special effects alone.

J. A. Bayona: First of all you need to choose the best actor possible and also the one who fits in the characters. So the cast is a very important part in creating the character in creating the performance in this film. I remember there was a lot of work in the set to get to this level of exhaustion. So I remember there was a moment that I didn’t cut between takes. Especially because you need to waste so much time between takes. You realize that you’re not helping the actors that they they are loosing the moment. So even though we’re shooting on film I was all the time shooting take after take with no pauses in the middle. So I remember instead of saying cut, going back to first position all the time. It’s a very interesting story because as a filmmaker I realized that you never had a thought of what are they doing. I mean because these characters they didn’t have time to stop and think about that. So there is no moment in the story where they stop and think about what is happening except for the moment where you can see this old lady in the mountains with the kid, Geraldine Chaplin. She really has some thoughts about life and death in that moment.

— You like looking at stars don’t you. Some of those stars have been burned out for a long long time.

How can you tell which one’s are dead and which ones are not?

Oh you can’t. It’s impossible. It’s a beautiful mystery isn’t it? —

J. A. Bayona: But the rest of the film it’s not. There’s not a pause. It’s all about getting a sense of urgency but we talk a lot with the actors about the moments about what was the meaning every specific situation. For example, I’ll tell you that I had these emails very long email from Maria the real Maria telling me about the connection that she had with this old Thai man who rescues her. And even in that moment there were no lines. There were no dialogues it was just about this man dragging her in the muck. So I got to the set that day thinking all the time how can I do that? I mean I – I don’t have space in there. I mean I don’t have dialogues. I was thinking all day about that and right before lunch I decided to shoot that shot of Naomi’s eyes and I came to her and I, of course, she read the four pages of the email and I found a moment, ten minutes before we stop shooting that day to prepare the shot so we put the camera on her and I really like to work with music on the set all the time because it helps not just the actors but the whole crew to get into the mood. So I remember I put the camera on her eyes and it was a long piece of music around seven minutes. So we were shooting her eyes for seven minutes with this music that goes higher and higher and higher. And there was a moment that Naomi’s eyes were going to explode from her camera. She knew what she was doing, she knew the meaning of that scene because she read that four-page email. So putting them together the shot of the old Thai man and Naomi’s eyes everything was there.

Eric: Before he became our newest web-slinger and joined the Avengers. Tom Holland came to international acclaim playing Naomi Watt’s 13-year-old son. To be honest I am still baffled how he did not get an Oscar nomination for this film. Mr. Bayona explained how the future Spider-Man showed a maturity well beyond his years.

J. A. Bayona: I would never consider Tom Holland as a child actor. Because he even though he was 13 when we were shooting the film. He was already working in West London playing Billy Elliot for three years. So he was the central piece of a stage play with 100 actors more so. So he had a strong sense of responsibility. So I treat him exactly the same than Naomi or Ewan for me it was like working with an adult. And he’s an extraordinary actor extraordinary. So I never treat him as a kid. And talking about working with kids, I think you need to find a balance between create a sense of responsibility in them because they’re working so going to a set is going to school. So I treat them like the teacher. I mean they need to behave, they need to understand they have their responsibilities but at the same time you need to make them enjoy all the time because they’re kids so if they get bored. It’s a problem. So I mean they could lose focus on the scene or so. So it’s a balance of make them enjoy at the same time being responsible. Also there was a huge commitment from the actors I mean from the rehearsals we set the tone of the film and it was clear that we had a responsibility in telling the story of not just this family but all the people who was there. So we felt that not just me but the crew and the actors. We shot exactly in the same places where this story happened in the same pool, in the same hospital in the same hotel. I mean and we were living everyday with the Thai crew, dealing with them, knowing stories from survivors who were extras in the set or people who we were talking everyday. When you finished shooting you go to a restaurant and the owner has a story about the tsunami and you want to know that they want to tell you. And so there is a moment that you’re very surrounded by reality and that gives you a strong sense of responsibility.

Eric: Considering this film was based on the all too real events surrounding the tsunami Mr. Bayona felt that much more pressure to ensure the movie was accurate. During production, he collaborated closely with Maria Belón the brave woman whose family was the inspiration for the impossible.

J. A. Bayona: From the moment I knew I needed I was going to do a film about the tsunami of course. You. Tried to get in contact with as much people as possible. So we met some people in Europe and then we went to Thailand we met some people in there. There’s a lot of stories on the Internet also. And of course we work very close with the family especially with Maria she worked with Sergio very close in the script. And at the end I mean I was telling about the authority of doing the film I mean you need to feel the Authority I found the authority not in things related to the tragedy but in related in human nature. I mean I felt how emotional it was for me how these people found their dignity in those moments and how important was the legacy between the mother and the kid. If you think about The Orphanage it’s also a story about a mother and a kid in extreme context. I mean so this is where I found the authority. This is why I say that the film goes beyond the context of the tragedy to talk in a more universal way but the truth is that at the end you’re doing a portrait of what it was to be there. So we met a lot of people and wanted to create a big picture of what was the experience of being a foreigner in there. And also we wanted to tell a story from all the points of view but we wanted to be very attached to the point of view of the family because it’s the kind of – I like to work the stories from the point of view of one character in this movie was five characters but it’s for me it’s like one character. But these people had to be in contact with the rest of the people I remember the first conversation we had with Maria. It was obvious that this has to be the story of this family but also many many people who was there. Also the Thai people from the very beginning I never wanted to separate Thai people from foreign people. This is not a film about nationalities. This is why we didn’t say where the family is coming from. They are coming from the outside and when they went back home they feel that the world has changed they don’t feel secure anymore but we don’t talk about nationalities so so I never wanted to portray the Thai people as only as victims and one of the things I got in talking to survivors and talking to people who lost people there is that no matter if they lose people or not no matter if they survive all the people were talking about the Thai people with wonderful words. So I want them to portray also especially from the point of view of the gratitude of the people who was there because this was a movie made from the point of view of someone from the outside who goes there. So all these arguments all these things you find in talking to the people who was there talking to the family especially. Talking to a lot of Thai people, volunteers. Yeah that’s it.

Eric: He also found inspiration in documentary and home video footage of the events though not always in the ways he expected.

J. A. Bayona: I remember watching a documentary called tsunami caught on camera and in fact there were a couple of moments in that documentary that we share on this script. I mean we had these moments in the script so I was surprised when I. When I saw the documentary. And it’s all based on real footage and I was surprised to see those moments in real footage in that documentary. There was a moment in the documentary where you can see kids opening their Christmas presents and if you have the face of a kid really opening a present and you can catch that moment. I mean the sense of empathy with just one shot is immediate.

— It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas morning.–

J. A. Bayona: So we prepared that scene like a it was real footage. So we did it for real. We didn’t tell the kids that the presents were there. So they were surprised they found the presents and you can see the faces of the kids and you create a sense of intimacy and empathy.

Eric: Mr. Bayona gives much of the credit for the film to its writer Sergio Sanchez who also collaborated with him on The Orphanage.

J. A. Bayona: Sergio is a brilliant screenwriter I mean you can you can feel reading his lines. I mean it’s not just the description of what is happening it’s he’s also a filmmaker he has shot a couple of short films and some from for Jovito. So he really is able to capture emotion when he’s writing. And that’s very helpful not just. For me but also of course for the actors. The truth is that he was a very very emotional story from the very beginning. As I told you the first time. I was telling the story to my friends there were moments that had to stop because I was overwhelmed by emotion. And I wanted to figure out where that was coming from. It’s a disaster movie. I mean you can call it a disaster movie. It’s a film that talks about survival in an unconventional way. It’s not just about if you live or you die. There’s a lot of suffering also in survival. I mean there’s a reality of emotion. I like the fact that that you tell the story from the point of view of a foreign family. So it talks not just about a survival story it talks about this kind of like a coming of age story not just for Lucas, the character played by Tom Holland, but but for the whole family because it tells about the ending of a world of a world of innocence for world of materialistic things that they don’t use they don’t have a use anymore. I mean I like the fact at the end how you can see this guy from insurance company appears this guy who looks like a guy from another planet, wearing a suit.

— You have nothing to worry about now.–

J. A. Bayona: This guy represents the real world for them but the world is not the same anymore for them. And I thought that that was very interesting. And of course I am a foreigner in Thailand so it was the most honest way to approach to the tragedy also. And I liked the fact that the heroism in the story in the characters doesn’t rely in what they do for survive I mean the heroism relies in what they do for the other ones. There is a moment in the story where the mother who was a doctor she knew that she was bleeding to death but even though that she wanted to go and help this little boy that was asking for help.

— Wait. Did you hear that. There’s nothing we can do wait we are almost there we have to get to safety. No we have to help that boy. —

J. A. Bayona: So she was choosing in that moment what might be the last act in her life. I mean if you talk about life in story that is a moment you realise that you can not control life but you can control your own decisions. And what this woman was doing was choosing her last act. And she chose a lesson of what was the right thing to do. So the heroism relies not in what they do for survival but what they do for keep their dignity as human beings. And I thought that was very emotional.

Eric: On a technical scale, this movie had its work cut out for it. It needed to convince us that we were seeing the same tsunami that we all witnessed on TV back in 2004. You throw in working with young actors filming on water and a multilingual crew, it’s no wonder this movie was called The Impossible.

J. A. Bayona: Everything looks like impossible when we started to work on this in fact the title was kind of like a joke at the beginning. We were saying we are going to do the impossible because everything. I mean we were dealing with kids very young kids we were dealing with water. In a shooting in another country in another language with Hollywood stars. I mean everything felt like challenging. The logistics were very difficult. I mean to go everyday to the set and to have all the people in there it was an epic shooting. I mean there was thousands of extras. There was 100 people that fly to Thailand from the crew and there was a next. There was 100 people more from the Thai crew. So everything was kind of difficult. So I don’t know probably the difficult thing was to put all the pieces together especially as a director to balance the emotions in the story. I mean first of all to be close to the people who was there, trying to be respectful and then to balance. I mean it was a very emotional shooting just be there every moment. We don’t have a limit and then we measure all these emotions in the editing room. The truth is that it was very challenging because the emotions doesn’t work in a conventional way in a situation like that. I mean you can see in that scene when Ewan McGregor in the bus station you can see how the guy goes from zero to 100. That’s the way emotions work.

— Maria and Lucas are not here the ocean came and swept everyone away. —

J. A. Bayona: You can see the moment when the kids come together and it’s pure joy. I remember talking to Lucas and he was telling me to cry was a privilege. We didn’t have time to cry and we cried when we had a moment of release. So for him, he was telling me the moment I met my brothers it was the happiest moment in my life. It’s very simple. There’s no more explanation. And the whole idea of the film was to create an emotional journey in the audience, to put them into a theater and to send them back home with no explanation because this is what these people lived. These people they went to Thailand. They were expecting to have a happy holidays. What they what they had was a horrible experience and then at the end someone put them into a empty plane and send them back home with no explanation. So I wanted to create the same feeling in the audience to to live the moments of anguish the moments of fear, the moments of relief, of happiness, of joy. Of course not at the same level but try to make an emotional journey in the audience and then send them back home with no explanation so that so you leave the audience a chance of having their own interpretation on the story.

Eric:  J.A. Bayona’s done some truly magical work taming raptors in Jurassic World bringing a talking tree to life in A Monster Calls and capturing the real-life horrors of a tsunami. But his initial inspiration as a storyteller like most of ours came from his own life.

J. A. Bayona: I think my childhood I mean it’s your own personality. I mean you need to follow that and then you start to meet people you go to film school you have a lot of references. I mean you like Speilberg movies for example but there is a moment that that is only useful to put your personality. And it’s a question of instinct it’s not, it’s not a plan. Prepare. I mean it’s just follow your instinct follow what moves you. What makes you laugh. Truffaut used to say that movies are a mix of what you would like to live when you had lived and what would you be scared of living. I mean for me everything comes from my childhood. The first memory in my life is a shot from Superman so that tells you a lot about me. I mean it’s I don’t have a memory where I was deciding I want to be a filmmaker I want to be a director. I don’t have that memory. It was always there. But there is a moment that that you. Use that. All the references all your knowledge that you had in school. To just follow your instinct and this is where you find your voice. This is very important. I remember when I was a teacher at film school the first thing I used to say to students was listen to everybody and don’t listen to anybody. I mean it’s like just follow your instinct just try to get as much information as possible. And then follow your instinct. This is for me what storytelling is about when you want to. Tell a story from your point of view.

Eric: We want to thank J.A. Bayona for making the impossible possible and sharing his film and his experiences with our students. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&A’s. Check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner; edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible to learn more about our programs. Check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy, and in this episode, we’re taking a look at film editing.

— There is a freedom to be able to cut to coverage. I mean there’s a freedom to be able to say I can cut to the other side. I can cheat a line over somebody’s back.

I would work on his scenes and he would work on my scenes. It’s kind of a different way of editing.

The interesting thing about Claudia and I is that one of us is the ying and one is the yang. I mean we are opposites. —

Eric: While the work of directors cinematographers and writers might contain cinema’s most visible style. Editors have a very different goal for their work: to be invisible. Most audience members are so drawn into storytelling that we don’t even realize how much work goes into cutting to make accurate pop, shape performances, and create emotion. But show even the least trained eye a bad cut, they’ll notice. For our look at the invisible but crucial art of editing. We’re exploring two different Q&As Douglas Crise the OOscar-nominated editor of Babel spring breakers and Birdman and the editing team of Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver who worked together on Creed, Fruitvale Station, and most recently, Black Panther.

— I’ve been fighting. My whole life every punch I’ve ever thrown has been on my own. Nobody showed me how to do this.

You are Apollo Creed’s son.

I’m afraid of taking on the name and losing.

You’re scared to death that you don’t matter and you know what you’re right you don’t.

You’re Birdman you are a god —

Eric: All three editors initially honed their craft in film school. In Douglas Crise’s case, he needed this education to figure out his true calling in the entertainment industry.

Douglas Crise: I would say you know when I went to film school I didn’t know I was going to end up in editing and I initially thought I wanted to do photography or something else like that. But when I got out here and started interning I ended up in a cutting room and I found that that’s where I belong. And I was doing film. Editors that I – you know, I admire – I don’t know a lot about film history of great editors – I mean you could certainly say people like Walter Murch. Who directed Sound of Music? Bob Wise, he was the director, you know he edited Citizen Kane. He started out as an editor. So you know I would say Jerry Greenberg who cut French Connection. You know Michael Khan’s a great editor. I think Dylan Tichenor is one of the better editors around. I think I’ve worked with one of the greatest editors that exist right now, Stephen Mirrione. And I think Stephen is probably the biggest influence on me, completely because he’s the one who pushed me to start cutting and even from our very first film together. He would say, “can you cut this scene for me?” And, “can you do this scene”? You know? And working on Traffic, he would give me a lot of scenes to cut. “Say, can you cut? Can you do it or you want to cut this or you want to do this?” And the more we worked together like even on 21 Grams he would basically say, “Can you get the last half of the movie edited?” Because he would be so busy polishing the part he’s working on you. He’d say, “can you just get that together?” I sometimes struggle through an assembly because in some respect I don’t want to change it after I’ve done it. So I struggle through the assembly to get it the way I want it to begin with but I find recutting actually easy to some extent because it’s like, you know, then you play with it.

Eric: Meanwhile Claudia and Michael’s time in film school introduced them to the work of fellow student Ryan Coogler the man who’d eventually direct the Black Panther to his billion dollar reign.

Michael P. Shawver: You know I was like most film students you think directing is it like you want to be a director you want to be that Scorsese you want to be that Speilberg. And so I went and I took a directing class and there’s this guy making these two three minute short films. That were just incredible that make me feel something that would change my mind about things and you know I’m the guy that’ll sit in the back I’ll take everything in from there. But there’s something that just compelled me and my gut said you need to talk to this guy. And I just went up to him I said, “Hey man like I don’t know how but I need to work with you. You’re making all this stuff that I want to make.” And he’s like, “alright.” He’s like, “for sure man!” And that’s how I met Ryan Coogler. You know that that kicked off you know everything and Ryan had basically already you couldn’t choose before but he was like, “Iwant Claudia.” I don’t know if he ever told you this but he was like, “I want Claudia Claudia Claudia.” And I kind of came in and he had already kinda decided on this other guy but I threw my name in. And he liked the work that I was doing. But I think the thing that really sort of got me that job which got me this career and kicked it off was was he was shooting this short. The next morning the day before Thanksgiving everybody was going home and he was like, didn’t really know what to do for production design he was like, “Hey man do you know how to production design” I was like, “yeah yeah.” Again fake it till you make it. So, like that was like 10:00 at night I woke up at 4 am like, “oh my god I don’t know what I’m doing,” but that day I was a production designer, set dresser, first AC gaffer, just – I got lunch, like every every little thing and what I learned was you know, find opportunity and you know, meet the people and follow your gut. But then once you get the opportunity just work your ass off you know, give give give what you have and be a good person.

Eric: Michael and Claudia soon learned that their different approaches, as well as their backgrounds, made them ideal editing partners in crime.

Michael P. Shawver: The interesting thing about about Claudia and I is that we are one of us is the Ying one of us is the yang like we are opposites. Like I’m kind of a like intense dude from the northeast and she’s a super laid back former professional surfer from Brazil. So you know we kind of attack things a little bit differently and kinda what she was saying on Fruitvale. We came on after they had already shot so the whole movie was already shot and we kinda got to divvy up what it was and she edits very organically and with feeling and I’m I’m a little more of like why is this cut like this why is this like this so kinda when we both have our take. They’re different enough that they work and we get we get in our creative discussions and heated heated debates about this frame or that frame or this shot that shot. This is what it says about the character and whatever and Ryan jokes he says when she and I actually agree on something that he knows to use it in the movie. But yeah a big thing of it too is the passion. We still have that because Ryan is such a great human being and a great filmmaker and makes such compelling stuff. It’s our first opportunity to say ok we’re the editors of this this is going to be ours we have ownership over it. And I think that’s something you never want to want to lose you know. I mean even if I’m doing a project I’m not super super thrilled about or in love with you find a reason to love it. You find a reason to love these characters to care about this because if you’re working such long hours and we never you know if Claudia is going I want to cut the scene like I’m feeling it like she wakes up she comes in like ready to beat somebody up I’m like whoa take the scene and do your thing you know so so we kind of let each other be who we are you know in the editing room and I think that diversity can create some amazing things.

Eric: So much of editing hinges on the ability to collaborate both with others in post-production and most importantly with the director each of whom has their own approach to working with their editors. While cutting Spring Breakers Douglas Crise found that Harmony Corinne gave him a lot of freedom possibly too much.

Douglas Crise: You know I would almost say maybe Harmony’s a little too relaxed because you know you want that director who will push you. I don’t like a guy who hovers all the time. You know the brilliant thing about harmony is he inspires you to do stuff without hovering. He inspires you to try things and do things. But I work with like Nick Jarecki on arbitrage and he’ll certainly give you your own time but then you have the hours that he’s with you that you’re trying this and trying this and trying this and trying you know it’s tiring because I think Nick described it to me the first time I never even realized that how hard your job is sometimes where you have to use the mechanical sense of the software and putting things together. But then you got to think creatively at the same time and when you’ve got a director feeding you creative ideas from behind my creative end starts to shut off because I have to keep up with the mechanics while he’s throwing fast. Creative ideas at me and directors who just do that to you. It’s hard to keep up and you can’t give them the input back. So I think if they give you the breathing room then you’re like they’ll tell you to do something and then they leave and then you say well I did what you wanted. But I now I came up with this idea that I think works even better or this let’s try this. So I think you need a little bit of both.

Eric: After working with Alejandro Iñarritu on babel and birdman Douglas Crise feels the director is the perfect collaborator supportive of the editor’s vision while still pushing them to do their best work.

Douglas Crise: He never wants to compromise Alejandro’s a very particular guy an has his idea how to do it. He doesn’t want to change if he can. I mean you know he wanted to make a movie that took away the safety of cutting because Alejandro is a he’s a genius editor himself I mean he doesn’t actually physically ever touch the computer but he knows all the possibilities of an editing room and that’s where he even pushed me like you know he knew I could do something with this if I tried if there was something that we thought we couldn’t you know I’m like it’s one shot what am I going to do with it. No no no. There’s a way to make this work. And he wanted to make a film where he wasn’t relying on the editing room as much and he he said to me when I did one of my many visits to set he was so stressed and he was like saying that he’s like I got to get it right getting it right. I can’t fix this later. It’s got to be I got to keep all those ideas in the head. You know there’s the pacing there’s everything. You know he would script edit on set. He would shoot the scene then shoot it again with less dialogue and shoot it with less dialogue and shoot it again with. So he’d have because he knew we couldn’t cut the tape so we’d be like you know we got it we got to have our option of what what we’re gonna do here.

Eric: When Claudia and Michael collaborated with Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station. The director was so involved with the editing process that he all but moved in with them.

Claudia Castello: I went to Brazil. I took some time. I was like, “Okay I’m done with film school and now I’m going to rest.” And then I got a call like, “we need you guys to work with me. There’s basically no pay. You’re going to live in the same house. Michael lived in the closet”

Michael P. Shawver: For a while, for Fruitvale I lived in a closet. It was a one bedroom apartment they put us in an I’m obviously going to let Claudia have the room.

Claudia Castello: It was very nice to have.

Michael P. Shawver:The only other little enclave was it was a closet no door had a had a curtain and it fit an air mattress fit perfectly like a twin air mattress just fir perfectly right inside it that was it. That was that was I mean we were working like seven days a week. Also if anybody was doing laundry my light had to be on. So that’s just that’s so no naps

Claudia Castello: No laundry after 10 and we didn’t stop working it was like work work work work and then little sleep and then work work work. It was it was massive. It was a lot of work but we were really passionate about the subject about what we were doing. So in the end it definitely paid off. There were days where Ryan didn’t go home. He slept right there in this sofa. And then there was one day that he went to the bathroom…

Michael P. Shawver: Let’s just say you know you you know you when you’re up for hours and hours and hours and everybody gets loopy like you think something’s been said or done and you just start cracking up. We’re going to leave it at that and lets

Claudia Castello: There are funny things that happened because we are so tired

Eric: Fruitvale Station starring Michael B Jordan focused on the true story of Oscar Grant, an unarmed young man who was shot and killed by a transit police officer in Oakland. Michael and Claudia were proud to put in the time to help share such an important personal story to a mass audience.

Claudia Castello: We have a serious problem with the media in the whole world nowadays that everything’s so polarized. Then you have to read so much to kind of start understanding what’s going on in the world and human rights issues is not a priority for the media. And I found in film a very powerful tool to touch those subjects without people turning their face away. You know, I think when you go to the movies you kind of let the guards down and you’re there for how many you know an hour and 20 minutes and you open yourself to see what’s on the screen. So whatever the filmmaker puts there on the screen it’s really really really powerful. So I think it’s important for all of us to have the awareness of what we can do. You know as communicators because film is an art form but it’s also a very powerful form of educating people or raising awareness. And that’s I think what we’re dealing Fruitvale Station. We had an opportunity to humanize a victim and a victim by the eyes of the media is never humanized. And I think every one of us here have that opportunity to use for the best. And that’s that’s why I I make movies actually.

Eric: The biggest pressure the filmmakers felt was when Fruitvale Station premiered at Sundance not because of the festival’s prestige or even its A list audience but because of one important family in attendance

Michael P. Shawver: Specifically with Fruitvale. So Oscar Grant’s family was going to see this movie for the first time at Sundance so we didn’t even care about Sundance we that was whatever we were done with the movie just happy. But his family was a big thing and the first cut of the movie Oscar was the nicest human being you’ve ever met in your life. And it was good. It worked. But there’s something that we weren’t we weren’t being true because nobody is the nicest person ever all the time. And there’s a scene in the movie where where he goes to get his job back and they did one take where he threatens his boss like you want to see me outside I’m gonna wait till you’re done I gotta feed my daughter. It’s amazing. That was the one take that he got mad everything else he was just kind of like begging.

— I hired somebody else for me to bring you back that means I have to let someone else go. I’m sorry. I like you man but I can’t – I need this f*****g job breh. You want me selling dope breh? You need me outside waiting for you to get done breh? —

Michael P. Shawver: It was towards the end we went in and just cut this. And it changed the movie completely because it made him a more complex character and through his interactions with his family and his daughter and his mother and his girlfriend we all have and having this like he could be nice he can be he can be all these things to all these different people. I think that actually brought people closer to him and saw like we could relate so that we could relate to getting frustrated. We can relate to having our mom say you don’t be driving with you know whatever. So there’s sort of this addage I guess it’s. When you make things more specific to a character they become more universal. And so you know and in those those specific moments those specific relationships and the textures of those are what make people feel and cry for Oscar you know which they wouldn’t have watching a news report.

Eric: One of the editor’s most time-consuming responsibilities is combing through a productions dailies that’s the daily footage that’s captured on set depending on the director. This could be an hour of material or so many feet of film. It stretches a hundred football fields. Douglas Crise experienced this dichotomy first hand when working with Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh and Alejandro Iñarritu.

Douglas Crise: They’re both very committed and very good filmmakers I mean Iñarritu’s more I would say. You see his passion on his sleeve more and you see his emotion more and until maybe Birdman again he went to a comedy if you can call it a comedy because you know to him movies where you’re having a good time are a waste of time. You know you have to be feeling something you have to feel anger you have to feel you know despair. And Soderbergh is more of a cool cat. I mean he’s very quiet and doesn’t really talk a lot but he’s very sure of himself you know and shoots a lot less. He has a pretty good idea what he wants and once he gets it he’s done. I mean there were I, especially on the like the Ocean’s Eleven movie you know there was days we got 500 feet of film. He got what he wanted he was done and that’s not a small movie. I mean we had a nice big long schedule but the only day we got a lot of film was the day they had all 11 characters in the same room and they had to shoot coverage on all of them. That was the day we got I don’t know 30,000 feet. I think in film back then days because we were still getting film and winding it. And even though we cut it on the Avid we were still thinking dailies on film but they definitely work differently. The two of them but you know both talented in their own way.

Eric: A quick definition here. The first assembly is the first cut of the film usually done when it just wraps production. It’s a chance for the filmmakers to see the basics of what they captured. Douglas Crise adores this part of the process because it gives him the opportunity to show the director how he initially sees the film.

Douglas Crise: My biggest influence initially is the assembly because I’m assembling the movie and they have no input. So I cut the film together. And by the time they show up I’ve got a cut of the movie. Now it’s usually too long and it’s usually boring and it’s usually you know and it’s got all kind of problems and story things don’t make sense. And then I give the director his moment right. I don’t say anything hardly. I’m like Okay we’re gonna work the next couple weeks and I want to hear everything you want to do I’ll even tell a director what I love to do and I do this to harmony too is we won’t watch the whole movie when they come in for the first time this is what I prefer and this is what I always try to talk them into. They’ll come in and I’ll say let’s watch 20 minutes. You tell me what you hate about this 20 minutes what I got completely wrong. What performance I put in that you absolutely hate or this or that or or you know you want to try some music and then let me work on that 20 minutes and then tomorrow we’ll watch the next 20 minutes or whatever and then you would do the same thing and then like a week or so now we’ll watch the whole movie at least then they’ve put their stamp on it a little bit and then we will go through it again and I’ll work on their cut. But then after we were in that stage after you know a few weeks where I let them just tell me what they want. I try to give my perspective of saying OK now this is what I think or this is what this is working and then we’ll watch the movie with other people and then it becomes a back and forth hopefully. But I always usually take my feed from the director as much as possible.

Eric: When working on Creed a continuation of the Rocky saga. Michael and Claudia had to do a tremendous amount of work before a frame of the movie was even shot in a way much of their first Assembly occurred prior to the first day of filming.

Michael P. Shawver: We want to make this movie for everybody so people who’ve never seen a Rocky movie in their life can watch this pick it up. Not miss a beat you know but there were some previz work pre-visualization. A lot of big movies do it. Marvel does it like crazy like just just for money and stuff like that like they plan every single shot as much as they possibly can. So before creed even shot they had Claudia cut together storyboards and animatics from the final fight so Ryan and the producers can see like okay this is going to work out if we cover it you know this way and then I had the task two tasks one of which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as an editor but it was cool because Michael B Jordan came over to my house and watched boxing. Ryan had me break down the script and find every single line of action boxing action. Find it on the Internet, real boxing fights. Download that stuff, and cut it all together into a timeline. It’s like editing something when you don’t even know if the footage actually exists. So it was terrible so that was the realistic aspect that Ryan always goes for. You know the real the punches feel like they hurt you know I mean like Ryan was always like if the punch doesn’t look like it hits take it out movie I don’t care if I wrote it I don’t care if I love it like take it out if it doesn’t feel real. The other thing that we do that Ryan had me do was basically think of every single fight of every single movie I could ever think of and basically cut together these sequences of every fight from every movie. Like everything from Play It To The Bone that Woody Harrelson boxing movie to Girlfight you know all the Rockys so. So we saw what it would do. Now if you go back and watch the Rocky fights. They’re terrible boxing. They’re this far away you know.

Claudia Castello: So special effects weren’t that good.

Eric: As someone who grew up around Philadelphia I do not condone any negativity against Mr. Balboa. But as Claudia and Michael pointed out special effects have advanced so much since the 70s and helped make Creed’s punches land both figuratively and literally.

Michael P. Shawver: Now VFX I don’t tell a lot of people this but VFX did some amazing stuff. They could actually make punches hit if they didn’t hit so and they would ripple the face and put like sweat coming off and blood coming out and stuff like that. So. So if we had this scene that we loved there’s that awesome shot that actually passed through the ropes and back in the ring and out of the ropes when they’re just wailing on each other. And there was one that that was just missed completely but they were able to fix that to kind of keep that. But yeah I mean there’s you know when you when you do a Rocky movie like you’ve got to be…I’m actually more worried now doing the Dirty Dancing remake so I’m more terrified of all the girls that are texting me like you better get this right. I’m going to this is my favorite movie I’m having the time of my life. But what we wanted to do with the fights and I honestly think this is this is why it’s so effective. I mean obviously the set up for the fight you care about the characters and it’s funny when we first cut the fight together, we just cut the boxing and it wasn’t until we started adding the reaction shots of the mom and the girlfriend and Rocky that you actually like oh my guy. Like I’m feeling emotion for these people. It’s what the other people who care about this character are feeling just as much if not more than than that guy. So the thing with the fight is it’s not just punching. It’s an emotional journey it’s rocky coaching him it’s him. It’s that father-son relationship it’s getting your ass kicked and then coming back and showing you got a little something and then going to the depths of hell in those awesome Raging Bull homage shot. And it’s an emotional fight an emotional journey where if you watch a lot of these other fights it was just punch punch punch punch punch punch punch oh my god like that hard punch look at this blood look at whatever we tried to bring as much emotion humanity story you know and always goes back to story. Montages, fast cuts, lots stuff happening but there’s a story there’s Adonis not getting it. He gets in a fight with the other dude. Rocky tells him to shut up and listen. And then he starts to get it. That’s the story of that montage. You know it’s really story. It’s always it’s going back to story and above the action the hard hits all that.

Eric: The Oscar-winning Birdman was made to feel like it was one continuous take. The irony is making a film look like had no cuts. Actually takes a tremendous amount of cutting and special effects wizardry.

Douglas Crise: I’ll be a little bit more open because you know Alejandro didn’t want a lot of the magic given away but there’s been several articles contradicting coming out in Hollywood Reporter. One says there’s 15 minute take in the movie one says there’s this one says there’s that edits can be done surprisingly places you never thought of before. I mean we had the planned ones where you know there’d be a dark alley or a whip pan or the pans aren’t even – you can do a an edit when the camera’s not even panning fast because you just start wiping the frame and you find an edge or whatever. And that’s where a lot were done. But I mean there’s rotos that we did in different things like that like one of I’m probably the most proud of is one I came up with because like I said he wanted this performance and he wanted this performance and there was where are – we going to put it? And it’s a scene where Michael Keaton is on stage performing for the audience and the cameras coming around him. And Ed Norton’s getting drunk in the background.

— I’m drunk Yes I’m drunk I’m supposed to be drunk. This is Carver He left a piece of his liver on the table every time he wrote a f*****g page. If I need to be… —

Douglas Crise: We roto’d around Michael Keaton and it’s almost like a 40 second edit happening because we’re changing the background to a different performance of Ed Norton. So then once Michael finishes he steps out of frame and we’ve wiped completely across. So there’s an edit there that wasn’t planned. What it was is basically split screen is the easiest way to describe it because it starts on Michael but you know as he’s talking I did it in the avid first where I just did an animat around him and we figured out we could do it because we thought oh we could do the cut. Later when there’s a whip pan but that wasn’t going to work because then we wouldn’t get the moment we want to with Ed. You know there’s so many things you can do with the visual effects once you’ve figured out it’s possible. I mean there’s ones we all came up with when Michael Keaton shoots himself and he falls out of frame we switched the audience because the gun goes off his arm wipes the frame and he falls because Michael Keaton’s best performance was his last one but the audience had been there all night, they’re tired they’re not professionals their best performance was take four not not you know, and that’s the best audience he wanted. So when he falls out of frame there’s a cut there. You know there’s 100 cuts in the film. There was no 15 minute takes the longest takes every the standard day of shooting was it would be a set up of like three to four minutes long. And that’s how long that takes were and the longest take I think they ever shot was close to five minutes. And probably the longest take in the movie’s five minutes. But most of them are way shorter and there’s cuts in within those even in those four minute takes we’d put two or three edits that we didn’t plan on having. I mean there were like I said they had the planned spots and we did a lot of other stuff like you know on every film you do speed ramps and you do dialogue replacement people’s mouths. You do all kinds of stuff but here you had to really work it because you couldn’t play anybody’s over the shoulder too much. And you know if you wanted to find you know someone flubbed a line a little bit you had to sneak the word in their mouth or we would ramp the speed up to get the pacing a little faster. There’s one scene I won’t give it away but there’s a scene that you know it was one of the scenes we feel where the movie slowed down a lot. And I was ramping the speed up between every line of dialogue. So when somebody wasn’t talking we’d ramp it 30 percent faster and then bring it back down and still probably run their dialogue 5 percent faster. So we would be running ramps up and down. I never did so many speed ramps in a movie. And sometimes we actually slowed down. sometimes we actually wanted the moment to last a little longer. And what was I think ingenious about Alejandro is he knew to build in some of these moments in the film where. OK. We’re going to take a break here. You know it’s like one of my favorite scenes that I didn’t understand when he shot it was the corridor. And that of course we had the mobility of once and there’s actually a cut when the cameras panning over to the empty hallway. It’s actually wiping and you didn’t see it. But anyway you know we I think we slowed that footage down so it even plays slower because he knew we could go faster or slower with it until he wanted Michael to step in. And you know and I think we’re even digitally zooming in a little bit before the camera actually starts to zoom.

Eric: One of the editors many challenges is dealing with the sometimes tricky landscape of the film’s final cut and potentially then having too many cooks in their kitchen. But Douglas Crise never loses sight of who’s the head chef.

Douglas Crise: I think this is probably true for most editors and I hope it is. I definitely took this from Steven is when I’m working on a movie. I work for the director for anybody else. Nobody else tells me what to do or what to change or how they want it. We’ll have producers in the room when when the producer is allowed to come in and they’ll give their notes and their notes. They don’t give me notes separately their notes go to the director and director gives me the notes and they fight it out. They fight out the politics and if they’re arguing about things I’ll usually agree now when I say work for my director I will agree with my director if I agree with him if I don’t I will say I will take the producer’s side if I agree with the producer on something. But I I try to stay out of that political nonsense that will happen. And those choices that are made I would say as a director you should get final cut as quickly as you can in your career and you hold on to it and never give it up. I mean harmony when he was shooting Spring Breakers the producers came to him and said they wanted they want to have final cut. And he says you know give me ten million dollars right now. You’re not getting it. That’s that’s his standpoint and he’s had final cut from the day he started and he won’t ever give it up. And Soderbergh has final edit or if you’re going to hopefully align yourself with a producer who is strong and someone you trust immensely they might have final cut over you on your first couple movies but they’ll have your back and you know and I know George Clooney’s first movie he didn’t have final cut but Soderbergh did and Soderbergh was a producer on it. So they are as tight as they get those two guys. So that’s the way you start out before you get your final edit.

Eric: For Michael and Claudia on Creed. The path to the film’s final cut was made even more complicated since one of the producers was Rocky Balboa himself.

Claudia Castello: We had to fight until the last minute because the studio wanted Adonis to win and we strongly believed that he had to lose because he’ll win something much more than that which was the humanity which was more important than him being a winner you know. And then we had discussions Stallone was a big help for us because he had a lot of weight on that movie. He’s responsible for the whole series and that was one point that he actually went to the other side and we were like, “oh we’re done. Oh my god.”

Michael P. Shawver: He came in and he was like, “we’re going to do this we’re going to do this we have no time we have no time we’re doing it.” And Ryan was out of the room and I’m just sitting.

Claudia Castello: He was sitting on the –

Michael P. Shawver: Claudia gets up and leaves.

Claudia Castello: I look at him like I’m going to the bathroom.

Michael P. Shawver: And I’m sitting there and he was like. And then he goes he goes, “where’s Ryan? I don’t say this twice.” And I’m like, “I don’t know,” and I like slow turn around and then Ryan came in and kind of talked him down a little bit.

Claudia Castello: And he totally changed.

Michael P. Shawver: Yeah well the thing about Sly is that he listens and he listens to us. He didn’t have to listen to us he can come in and. Do this do that change this. But you know he respected Ryan so much because at the beginning Ryan said. Look I know you’re a director. I know you’re a producer just let me direct like you’re a great actor. Do what you do. Let me worry about everything else but he would come in. And he he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life and would come in with very specific notes and but also like this timecode on this scene this tape this frame like “I really like the delivery here I really like this reaction here,” and he would come with all that stuff and I’ve never seen a producer do that let alone one of the biggest icons in the history of movies.

Claudia Castello: And good notes like he was not a crazy producer.

Michael P. Shawver: Yeah because a lot of other producers are like well you know we don’t think the character would really do that and the story whatever a lot of producers would be like, “I don’t care do it. Cause I said so,” he would actually stop and think and if he agreed with us and a lot of times he did he would say you know, “yeah you’re right. Let’s keep this and move on.

Claudia Castello: Yeah he cared. He really cared and he knew what he was doing. He was not doing that for ego because sometimes you see some producers that come with the money but they have no idea what they’re talking about. But they have to have their print.

Michael P. Shawver: So they inject they inject.

Claudia Castello: Yeah they force you to do things that are not good for the project. And it’s really hard to deal with them because yeah we were very passionate.

Michael P. Shawver: Half of editing is politics anyway you know.

Claudia Castello: And then you have to deal with that situation as best as you can and it doesn’t always turn out for the best of the project. And then you remember it’s just a movie. Yeah. And you move on.

Eric: Maybe the most magical thing about editing is how much hard work goes into a part of cinema. You tend not to notice but editors are the first ones who transform what could be a mountain of footage into a cohesive story. And they provide the last rewrite the screenplay if you want to learn more about the invisible art of editing. Walter Murch’s book, In the Blink of an Eye is like an editor’s Bible. And Wendy Apple’s documentary, The Cutting Edge shows the many amazing tricks editors have up their sleeves. We want to thank Douglas Crise, Claudia Castello, and Michael P Shawver for speaking with our students. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on two Q&As. Douglas Crise was moderated and produced by Tova Laiter. Claudia Costello and Michael P Shawver were moderated by Kelly Gardner and Josh Eiserike. To watch these interviews or to see our other Q&A’s check out our YouTube channel. That’s YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me, Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department, Sajja Johnson, and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

This projector at the end it’s I just don’t think it’s very accurate. I mean it’s an audio broadcast on a digital medium involving no film. I have an idea. Why don’t we put in there an air siren from World War II because it’s just as relevant or the sound of a frickin dinosaur.

Eric: Hi! I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you writer J. Michael Straczynski.

J. Michael Straczynski: I write 10-12 hours a day every day except New Year’s Day, my birthday, and Christmas Day.

Eric: He’s such a prolific talent. His work spans pretty much every form of media there is: film, TV, comic books, novels. He’s even branching into web series. Mr. Straczynski created the beloved syfy show Babylon 5 as well as Sense8 for Netflix and the comic books. He reinvented Spider-Man Thor and Superman amongst many many others and on the big screen, he wrote Clint Eastwood’s the Changeling and he helped adapt World War Z.

— I am Thor Odinson.

The Old ways are done You’d stand giving speeches while Asgard falls.

What worries me is that you have stopped looking for my son.

Why would we be looking for someone we’ve already found?

You are an old man and a fool.

Humans and aliens wrapped in two million five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal all alone in the night.

You’re a liar and a troublemaker and if you ask me you’ve got no business walking the streets of Los Angeles.

This drink I like it. – I know it’s great right? – Another! —

Eric: He’s done all this despite admitting to almost sabotaging his own career multiple times.

Tova Laiter: How did you start in the business?

J. Michael Straczynski: I’ve actually started numerous times that I have a tendency to firebomb my own career on a regular basis. I think it’s important to do that from time to time. I started off as a – writing plays that were produced locally when I was 17 years old. I always knew I was going to be a writer and began preparing from the moment I could actually read a book like age four or five. So my first four years were wasted but after that I began preparing to become a writer. I knew just coming into it. And the thing about it is I come from ridiculously poor roots no connections to the business at all. We moved my first 17 years 21 times. Because my father had a unique economic philosophy blow into town run up a lot of bills and split. So we’d be in a different city. You know guys would show up at the door with badges and bills and that night the U-Haul backs up and we go somewhere else New Jersey to Illinois to Texas to California. And guys who were in my neighborhood the guys who I grew up with were never expected to do anything and we were considered dead-enders. Either you’d end up working in a mechanics shop when you got older or you end up in jail. Those are your options. So when I said I want to be a writer they all kind of laughed you know, as would I have done. But after studying and studying and studying when I was 17 the engine turned over in my head. What had happened was I was I had gotten most of what writing involved but voice and style the difference between voice and style was eluding me and I couldn’t figure out what the distinction was. I was reading a book by H.P. Lovecraft whose style is way over the top and it was so big that I understood something of what that was. I realized that voice is who you are and style is the clothes you wear so you could adopt a different style but your voice within that style’s always the same. And when I realized how that worked the engine of my head turned over and suddenly I that day I wrote two short stories couple of poems The next day I wrote two more short stories and began having them sold locally as little articles for magazines and newspapers and began working in plays and getting those produced and was a reporter about 10 years I actually did pretty well at that and ended up going from L.A. Times to L.A. reader to time Incorporated which is what got me out of journalism it’s a whole different story a different time. But I left that firebombed my career in reporting went into television animation where I worked on shows like pardon the expression he man the masters of the universe. She-ra Real Ghostbusters and others and then. And then firebombed my career in animation went from there to live action and was on that up through Jeremiah for Showtime which was a hideous experience then I firebombed my career in television. I went from there to films and did that now I circled back to television again so I failed upward is the answer to the question. Embrace your inner failure.

Eric: The seeds for Mr. Straczinski’s comic book work started years back as an unhappy child who found solace and connection in the pages of Superman. And as he explains he might have even received some of Superman’s bravery.

J. Michael Straczynski: I grew up being the geek of the schools that I went to. But for me in all the comics I read as a kid. Superman was kind of it for me because coming from a background of poor and no opportunities and the horrific family Superman could do anything he could fly and he could you know. And nothing could hurt him. And I learned my ethics from comic books and Superman in particular. So for me it became not just a fun thing to read it became a survival mechanism. A few years ago I was at a comic book convention in Chicago and you ever been to comic cons like the big ones like San Diego or whatever else the dealer’s rooms are like you know from here to New Jersey. They just really really long. And the guys selling at booths art work and tchotchkes and expensive stuff and cheap stuff and just general garden variety crap and I’m in this row of booths in Chicago dealers room the convention. I hear someone yell stop him and I looked down the row. And then there’s a guy like in his 20s who just grabbed a bunch of expensive artwork like tens of thousands of dollars worth of art. And was making a run for it and the crowd like the Red Sea they parted you know and I brought him down tackled him like a gazelle brought him down. The guy who caught up with me who’s booth it was we held him for the cops to show up and afterward they’re taking him away and the guy who runs the convention Mike walks up and says. Why did you do that. You could have been seriously hurt. I took him back to where I’d been standing under a ten foot tall cutout of Superman. I said How could I stand in front of that and do nothing. And Spider-Man would be even better given the mythology of that but it was Superman.

Eric: Mr. Straczynski doesn’t shy away from potentially alienating hardcore comic fans for the sake of an original emotion based tale. He boldly gave Thor a makeover by bringing the Norse god and his entire kingdom of Asgard to the fantastical world of Oklahoma now if this sounds familiar it’s because he also helped write the first Thor movie.

J. Michael Straczynski: I had been writing for Marvel Comics for a while and wanted to bring back Thor who had been gone for a few years and nobody wanted to get near the character. They offered it to Neil Gaiman he ran like hell they offered it to Mark Mallar. He ran like hell and I wanted it. I want to give it I want it and so alright give it to Joe. And the problem was that no one knew what to do with the character because he doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. He comes from this tradition a very faux Shakespearean dialogue.

— You have no idea what you are dealing with.

Shakespeare in the park doth mother know you weareth her drapes? —

J. Michael Straczynski: And what do you do with Asgard and so they give it to me and say what you want to do. I said first off main thing is I want to move Asgard to Oklahoma. And they looked at me as if I had three heads and feathers which I was wearing that day but that’s a different story. And they said why. And I said Iron Man next to Thor. Not much of a power difference. Thor next an ordinary person makes him more godlike but also makes him more human. Plus visually it’s really cool to go to Oklahoma to the flatlands it’s like flat flat flat Asgard flat and I’m all about contrasts and so they said. None of them wanted it anyway. Sure go out and have fun. We’ll see you on the way down on the Titanic. So I did it and really focused strongly on the characters I reimagined How Thor spoke I made it more not Shakespearean. But formalized you think who it is not for burning. Christopher Fry that sort of thing and more accessible to a modern audience was still formalized and created relationships with the local townsfolk and often in very funny ways. I mean they want to send him some letters and there’s no address for Asgard so you have one of the folks from the town comes out with a mailbox you know by Asgard one Asgard road you know and the cops tell them you can’t just put Asgard in the middle of this on this land. So with the incantation he raised it for at above the ground. It’s not on the ground anymore it’s 4 feet above the ground just to mess with them and what to their surprise happened was that the book became one of the top five sellers for Marvel and stayed that way for the entire time that I worked on it. There wasn’t a lot of action in it. There wasn’t a lot of big huge events. It was just a strong character story and people reacted to that. And they responded to it. That’s what makes the character work because of those small moments. One of the things I did in the book was as Asgard is now by this small Oklahoma town. We see how they interact and at one point the Town Council asked do you have indoor plumbing and they said no we throw it over the wall. But my favorite scene there is a guy who’s a chef cook in a diner who begins falling in love with this Asgardian woman who is a goddess and she likes him a lot also and he keeps thinking how is this ever going to work. And he’s in the diner and Donald Blake was the alter for Thor is there. He’s lamenting this and his dad used to say to him you know a fish can love a bird but where would they build a house together. And Don Don says by the edge of the river. Ah and that’s when the guy decides to pursue it. And that set the template for the movie. They wanted to put that setting into a small town. The outfit that he wears here is based on the outfit I and the artist came together and put together. So they said we want you to be involved with the film. I had a outstanding obligation to another film so I said I could do the outline for you but I can’t do the entire script so I came onboard did the outline for them and they proceeded to go off from there. And of course the great irony is that Ken Ken Branagh who directed this wanted me to do a cameo in this really bad idea. So I show up just to be one of a bunch of guys in line. And he said I want you to actually act in the scene. No you don’t trust me you don’t He said I want you to. So there’s a scene where a red truck after the hammer’s been thrown out of Asgard it craters in the ground a red truck drives up and a guy gets out and tries to pick it up and yeah I said you know despite all evidence to the contrary Ken decided that I could act. So there you are.

Eric: The fans’ reaction to Thor pales in comparison to how they responded to what he did to Spider-Man during the storyline one more day. Mr. Straczynski not only broke up Peter and Mary-Jane he erased their marriage and their entire backstory from existence. That one still hurts. But like with all his work he used the fictional web slinger as a response to what’s happening in the real world.

J. Michael Straczynski: The difference between creating your own characters and working for in-house established like Thor Superman whoever else is that when you’re writing your own characters you can go as far as you want to go. You can make them terrible people you can have terrible things happen to them. I did Spider-Man for seven years and during that time you know that you go from here to there but you really can’t go much further because you will you know break the equipment and they hand you these characters as a trust they think you’ll serve the character well don’t hurt it. You know. So you really do have I wouldn’t say mittens on. But certainly the fingerless gloves you know just partial mittens and you also realize that you have a much larger responsibility with that character because they’re a known icon. So for instance I was writing Spider-Man when 9/11 hit and Marvel called me up and said we need to respond to this and Peter Parker is the obvious choice because he lives there he’s a New Yorker it’s how we identify him. We need you to write an issue that somehow addresses 9/11. Swell you know. And for days I kept trying and I’d call them and said I know the words are in the dictionary somewhere but what order to put them in and which ones to use is eluding me they said well give it one more day and think about it some more. And we were shooting Jeremiah TV series for Showtime in Vancouver and I was in the producer’s trailer on location and I had this note pad in front of me and I wrote down. There are no words and another sentence unfurled itself to me. And in 45 minutes this prose poem meditation. A style I’ve never written before emerged that I can’t even take credit for. And I sent it off exactly as written to Marvel and Axel Alonzo was the editor at The Marvel closed his door and read it and was in tears for the right reasons for a change. And when that book came out the New York Times covered it and firemen shared it at fire stations. It was used in schools as a teaching device about 9/11. And I got letters from guys who were there and firemen who were there who said what your book captured was the emotion of that moment. He said people understand that what we needed the most as we were working in the ruins was shoes because the heat from below was so strong that our soles kept melting. I thought what a metaphor that is. You know and when you have a character like Spider-Man you can address those kinds of important things because he is an icon. Whereas your individual characters that are not going to be as well known probably can’t do that.

Eric: His writing on the Superman comic was equally as bold making Clark Kent more human in an attempt to relate to the majority of us who just can’t solve our problems with superpowers.

Tova Laiter: How is your approach towards Earth one? Superman?

J. Michael Straczynski: Comes from a number of different things but probably the seminal image that guided me in that book the first one in particular it was on the New York Times bestsellers for like half a year. Again this happened while I was still working up in Vancouver on Jeremiah and every Wednesday I would go down to my comics sticks downtown anybody been to Vancouver anybody know Vancouver at all. There is a street called Granville which is where folks of your tribe know guys and gals in their 20s tend to congregate. You know and younger you know 15 18. It’s that age 15 to 20 and you see them sitting on the curbs. They’re panhandling asking for money. Hanging out drinking. My favorite guy there had this sign he had held in front of them said you know need money for weed. I thought that was really honest of him. And when I went to get my copy books. What I discovered was every once in a while one of those guys would come into the comic book store and walk down the row of garishly colored books his eyes hungry for something he could relate to. And he got to the end that you saw the light in his eyes go out and he would go to leave and I would follow him out and said what happened just now what’s going on and he said there’s nothing there that is like the world I live in you know. And when time came to do Superman I thought let me create a character for that tribe who don’t know where they fit in. Don’t know where they’re going. Clark Kent early 20s fresh out of college come into metropolis what does he want to do with his life. Not sure he wants to be Superman so he can do anything he wanted to do and be found profoundly successful at it. But he has to figure that process out. Let’s focus on that and that became a large part of it. I’ve introduced a character to a second volume who is next door neighbor who works as an escort. And people were at first you know horrified by the fact that Superman that Clark Kent was friends with a hooker and he wasn’t trying to get her out of the life. He knew she wanted to get out. That wasn’t an issue question is do I respect you for who you are while you’re trying to do this you know. And they became really good friends. And there were a lot folks were up in arms about that. But in the third book we make that work pretty well. So I try to look at this from a different point of view and addressing the concerns of economics of direction of sexuality things that you can just not hit too hard because you’re still writing for a certain audience but enough to make it a fresher approach to the character. But it all started with the image of this guy in a hoodie which is the Superman in the first issue first book book wearing the hoodie which also freaked everybody out. Walk into that store and not seeing somebody he could relate to and filling what that need was.

Eric: Mr. Straczynski has been a TV writer for over 30 years from He man to the reboot of Twilight Zone to Walker Texas Ranger starring the one and only Chuck Norris but his work as a creator and executive producer of the sci fi series Babylon 5 truly showed his mettle as he wound up writing almost every episode of the show. No small feat particularly for a program that had over 100 episodes.

J. Michael Straczynski: Babylon 5 was really kind of a one man show to its large extent for the first two years we had freelance writers for half of it. Then it got so convoluted that I had to do all the writing myself because I couldn’t separate it out by saying this episode ends here and that one begins here. There’s your assignment. It was the first series to do a five year arc we were the first ones to do that. And because I needed to figure it out as I did it it was hard to assign episodes so I ended up writing out of 110 episodes 92 as well as showrunning the darn thing so I was kind of a one man show. Whereas Sense8 was the three of us sitting in a room and just chewing through all the details and all the background of where these characters come from. Who are they. And we ended up covering the walls with these boards a metallic magnetized boards that had three by five cards on them with it going this way with who the characters were then the backgrounds who they were where they came from fathers parents. And this way across was their individual arcs. And we did over a period of like a couple of months we finally worked this thing out that everything laid out day by day and time by time what the whole thing was. And I’m looking at this construction one day and I went oh crap. And Lana said What I said time zones. Because they’re all connected telepathically. And if one of our characters in San Francisco is in trouble the character who is in Seoul can’t help them because they’re asleep. So we now have to redo the entire thing to incorporate time zones and they kind of hated me from that point on for you know for obvious reasons. And there was a lot more travel involved in doing doing sense8. We went to we shot the show on location. As opposed to if that was all done onstage in San Francisco Chicago London Mexico City Berlin Iceland Mumbai Nairobi and Seoul. No stage work at all. It was it was quite an experience so it was pretty much as different as you can get from each other on every possible level.

Eric: Mr. Straczynski’s current Netflix shows Sense8 is a collaboration with the Wachowskis the innovators behind the Matrix trilogy. Despite the show’s massive scope and globetrotting locations the show spawned from an intimate and emotional central theme.

J. Michael Straczynski: We worked on what the story was going to be and what the first three episodes on spec took it out and our first meeting was at Netflix and figured okay fine that went well lets book the next meeting and they called to take it off the market and said we’re going to give you the budget to make the show. Do you all know what the concept the premise of sense8 what the idea is Lana and I particularly are big believers in the notion of community. The problem we have as a culture right now is that we have been marginalized and tribalized and factionalized to within an inch of our lives. If the country were divided geographically as it is politically right now you’d be hearing gunfire in the distance. And we wanted to talk about the fact that whatever your gender identity is or your sexuality or your ethnic background that the common coin of our shared humanity is stronger than all of it stronger than what divides us. And we wanted to do a story on a global scale that was about community and one of things that entered into discussion was I have friends three dubious words but I do have friends who will when they’re in different parts of the world they’ll all queue up a DVD at the same time of a movie and as the movie plays they will text back and forth with each other about what they’re seeing and they’re sharing that experience even though they’re in different parts of the world. So I said what about you know characters who become telepathically linked to each other and suddenly there’s someone in your head who knows everything that you know about yourself and only you can see them but no one else can. And that person knows your secrets your background your skills your abilities and theres eight characters who share this hive mind and to me as a writer what’s appealing about that is I have a theory that there are five kinds of truth the truth you tell the casual strangers the people you meet the truth you tell to your friends and to your family. The truth you tell to only a few people in your entire life. The truth you tell to yourself the truth you won’t even admit to yourself. And we wanted to do a story about truth number five because suddenly someone’s in your head and has access to your secrets and our secrets are what define us. In many respects so that became the core of it. And then we built out the universe from there.

Eric:Despite years of success in television. When he went out with his feature screenplay Changeling he was considered a newer writer. Fortunately he won over two titans of the industry which ensured the true story would reach the big screen.

J. Michael Straczynski: Ron Howard bought the script to direct initially for himself. He couldn’t do it brought in Clint and how the town works is that the director comes on they give you notes and you come back with a draft. So they finally said Clint wants to meet you so I went down to his office at Warner Brother on the lot and comes in we’re sitting on the couch and the funny thing is Clint doesn’t really look at you a whole lot. So we’re sitting like this he’s looking that way the entire time I’m talking to him he’s talking to me and finally we’re done with the meeting. I say you know do you want any revisions because obviously he has some thoughts that I can change a few things and suddenly he looks at me and it’s Clint Eastwood And you remember what your colon is there for and he says you know how many movies I’ve made a lot. A lot. That’s I thought point is he said. I’ve got more phone calls about this script than any other script I’ve ever produced saying Don’t screw it up. My job is to not screw it up. Don’t change a word. The ultimate irony of Changeling was that we went to Cannes and we missed winning the Palme d’Or by one vote. We discovered from a French critic who didn’t believe the story was true he said police would not handle someone in this fashion. Obviously not from here. And Clint called me because then the story had based on a true story in the credit and and he said half of what he said was unrepeatable. But what the gist of it was. Sit down with the universal attorneys go through all your notes with them. Show them where every single scene of the script comes from to get a true story not based on a true story. On the screen from now on. So I sat down with universal attorneys and I had done a year’s worth plus of research. I had like 25 hundred pages of documentation about that story and I show them every single case where every single line came from a transcript or a hearing document or a court record or a hospital record. And we got a true story which is very rarely ever been awarded to anyone. He’s still pissed off about it.

Eric: After working as a writer for over 20 years the changing turned Mr. Straczynski into a Hollywood big shot a role he was less than thrilled to portray.

J. Michael Straczynski: After being in television for 15 years I wrote Changeling which got all of this attention and suddenly I was invited to all these studio meetings and most of them didn’t know that I had been in television before they thought this is my first script and again this up and coming screenwriter. So I’m at this reception with like eight guys in their 20s and me the best part of it was after Changeling became Changeling. I ended up going to all the different studios they all want to meet me and see who this Yeti was who had just done this. And I walk into this studio visualize if you will a long conference table and along the sides of the conference table. There’s the presidents vice presidents of production development. Yes Men flunkeys plenipotentiaries toadies the whole catastrophe and at the end of the table is Mr. Big who runs the studio and he begins giving me his background I ran Paramount for two years. I was in charge of Fox for three years I was head of production for this studio for two years. I ran this studio for three years. Give me the whole litany and then sat back to see my reaction. I said what you’re saying is you can’t hold a job and the president vice president of production the development people the flunkeys the yes men the toadies went white Mr. Big took a moment to realize what I just said and started laughing. And could not stop laughing because most people who walked into that room did so from a position of fear. The most important thing you can do as writers is never ever ever be afraid. There’s nothing they can do to you. And because I was not afraid of him he respected me and actually I walked out the door with an assignment. So never ever ever ever let him see you being afraid.

Eric: Before they work together on Sense8 J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis were mutual fans of each other. This led to perhaps his hardest gig ever doing a page one rewrite of a feature film in one week for all your non-writers out there. That is literally impossible.

J. Michael Straczynski: They actually were fans of mine. They were Babylon 5 fans and like my comics work. I didn’t know that till I got the invitation to see the last Matrix movie at the Disney center downtown. And I didn’t. My lawyer said we got this invitation do you know anybody involved with matrix I said No but I’m happy to go I love the movies. So I go up to the Disney theater and up the balcony and this couple sits next to me and the woman says What did you do with this. I said nothing. I’m just here to see the movie and this is who I am. She leaned over said Lana it’s the Babylon 5 guy and Lana came over and began talking Spider-Man and Babylon 5 and all the stuff and they were trying to run the movie and they’re like we’re talking Babylon 5 and comic books and so we became friends after that and we worked a few years later together on Ninja Assassin which not a terribly deep movie because it’s well Ninja Assassin. But what’s funny about that is this is kind of again where the effortless approach to writing pays off. I didn’t know they were working on Ninja Assassin until I got a phone call from Lana saying we’re in a bind. Can you come see us this is on a Monday. I come the next day on Tuesday and they said we are six weeks from camera on this movie and the script doesn’t work. We need to have a complete rewrite fade into fade out. Can you do it for us. I said you’re my friends whatever you want me to do I’m happy to do it. When do you have to have it. They said it has to go out to actors’ agents on Friday. This is Tuesday. So they said we know how fast you are. Can you can you pull this off. And I said I’ll have it on Friday. Went home. Fired up the coffee maker. I did the math. How many pages per hour that would have to be and how many hours I could sleep each day which is three. And I just made sure that every hour I hit that number and I didn’t go to sleep until I hit that page count for the day. And would doze at the desk I would put my pillow on the keyboard and nap get up have a cup of coffee. Keep on going. And on Friday morning I emailed off the script which Warners had no notes on which scared the hell out of me. Because if Warner would have like something you’ve got to worry so then they shot it

Eric: Mr. Straczynski gave our students some great advice about writing for one read a lot of screenplays or TV scripts. The good news there. So many of them are available online legally. So you literally have no excuse for not reading them.

J. Michael Straczynski: The best thing you can do seriously is to read scripts read because when you’re watching the film what works is often invisible but you can see it on the page but you can’t always see it on the screen and particularly look at I wouldn’t say read the scripts for but look at really really bad films because what works in a good film is often invisible. But what is crappy in a bad film is pretty obvious sometimes and you can learn more from seeing a bad film sometimes than a good film because like the magician how the hell I can see what they did wrong over there and just write every day. What you have to become is transparent as a writer and write all the crap out of your system. It’s like writing is like digging for oil you have to pump out the mud the yuck the dinosaur bones the water and then you get to the good stuff. The more you write whatever it is that you’re writing do it because what you want to get down to is your authentic voice. Writing is nothing more than talking on the page in your own natural voice. When you hang out with the writers a lot you learn that they write the way they talk and talk the way they write. There is this notion. Somehow writing should sound literary and sound a certain way. No writing is your natural voice. What you have to sell what all of you have to sell each of you stands on a piece of turf piece of ground that no one else stands on. No one else has your background your experience your knowledge your information no one else has that lens in the middle of your head that was formed by your experiences. If a diamond has value because there are few of them how much more rare and valuable is your particular perspective when you hire a writer you’re hiring them for their point of view. You’re hiring them for how they see the world and how that story will come through that filter. As a result you can give 10 writers the same basic idea you’ll get 10 very different stories. So whatever you can do to write just your brains out nonstop to get out of your own way and become transparent which only can happen by every day. Writing writing writing writing writing. I started writing nonstop when I was 17 years old. I’ve never stopped every day and the first three or four years my stuff sucked. It wasn’t the smell it was the burning of the eyes. It was that bad. And eventually I wrote out the crap and got to the good stuff. I’m still writing out some crap in my system there’s still some left over there. To this day I’m still working on it but the more you can get those words out of your system and learn to just be transparent and just here’s what it is there’s trying to write and there’s writing effortless joyful fun that’s where you have to get no matter what material he approaches be it thor a ninja assassin or the changeling’s harrowing tale of a mother losing her son. Mr. Straczynski comes at the story from the exact same place to me writing it’s all about emotion. That’s ultimately what it comes down to I don’t care how good your plot is or your effects or your action sequences if you don’t care about the characters you have got nothing. People may not remember you know all the whaling technology that was discussed in Moby Dick but you rember Ahab. For me it all starts and ends with character and my writing process is built around that in a kind of a weird way that you want the secret to write the real the real deal. Don’t tell anyone I told you this it’s you know imagine your best friend for a second if they haven’t got a best friend borrow one from the person next to you walking across the living room at night lights are off and they bang their shin on the coffee table. Now you know your friend. You know exactly what your friends gonna say when that happens. You didn’t have to work at it. Have to think about it. You just know and you can write it down. Writing is exactly the same. It is getting to know the characters so well that whatever you drop them into you lay back and you write down what they do. It’s very zenlike that way. It’s not supposed to be homework it’s not supposed to be hard it’s supposed to be fun. And by focusing on the characters. Let them do the work for you. It becomes effortless and keeps the character always at the center of the story. I worked with Jim Cameron awhile back working on a Forbidden Planet remake and he said one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard. He said he used to think that writing science fiction was about writing familiar characters in unfamiliar settings. It took me ten years to realize I was wrong. It’s about familiar relationships in unfamiliar settings. So. Terminator 2 is a father son relationship even though it’s not aliens is a mother daughter story even though it’s not. You may not be able to buy into you know alien civilizations or strange futuristic events but the emotion of what a father son or mother daughter relationship is will bring you in every time. So I always believe in going through the emotions first and foremost as the gateway drug and pulling back from there into what the plot is another piece of advice from J Michael Straczynski. Learn how to take feedback without letting your ego get in the way of ideas that can help develop the material.

You have to be honest. You have to step outside your own ego and say does the note make sense. If it does do it there’s nothing wrong with doing it. You get to bask in the reflected glow of the smartness of that note. If the note is wrong because your heart says it is wrong because your logic says it is wrong you don’t do it and you tell them that or you lie. I used to do this. Here’s how I wouldn’t say not bright but less in tune. Sometimes executives are at studios where the example would be someone says to you okay in your script. We have them coming in the door I think they should come in the window because that’s more dramatic. It doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Fine. You wait 6 weeks turn in the script and you tell them you know that note you had where instead of having them come in the window you have them come in the door. You were absolutely right with that. It works every time. They just want to be heard. They just want to earn their salary. And lying is a completely moral point of view when you’re working with some of these guys. But other times if you disagree with it and your heart says this is wrong you have to fight. You have to be a pain in the ass I cultivated that from a very early age to just say no if I thought it was wrong. But just be honest with yourself. Oftentimes it’s getting more to the spirit of the note and the heart than the actual letter of the note. Something in you was bothering and this is bothering you. You’re saying cut this sequence. Well are you actually saying that the sequence is too long because if that’s actually the concern I can take out this part over here which is not essential. Opposed to the point you want to take out which is the whole core of the scene. Yeah and lastly don’t worry about what the audience will think belief in your material is what will see you through this industry.

I think that the moment you begin thinking too much about the audience you’re doomed. It has to interest you because we all containe within us as I mentioned before the same basic elements we all want happiness. Love you know better future for our kids If you write something that’s true for you. The odds are it will be true for everybody else. At some level the moment you think what you should be writing about then you lost that and you what you write will be driven by the market driven by outside forces rather than your own heart. And again as I mentioned earlier the only thing you have of value to sell. Is your point of view. The audience changes you can write to a trend right now but that trend started four years ago when the developing process began on those films you’re now four years behind the times. Where as your. Your heart will always be on time. Because your heart’s writing to the culture right now. Yeah. Never. The worst that will happen is it won’t sell write the next one. That’s what a writer does. You write it you put it on the market it sells or doesn’t sell you write the next one and the next one and the next one I know a lot of aspiring writers who work for 10 years on a script. And the problem is you only learn the lesson that one script had to teach you. The more you write the more tools you acquire for your toolbox we all start in the same place with a pair of rusty pliers and a screwdriver that’s all you got. You only make so much with that. The more you write the more scripts you write the more tools you get for your toolbox so you can make more interesting things with that. But that box only opens up with your own heart. The moment you come from the outside of it and say I think I should be writing about this because that’s what the audience wants the box won’t open. So write your heart. The audience if they believe in you will find you Sense8 is that that kind of a show. It’s a show driven not by plot or by gimmick a lot of science fiction show’s about the gimic the gadget the mission the team. It’s about what William Faulkner called the human heart in conflict with itself. It’s the only thing that’s worth writing about in the long run. Only thing worth the sweat and the blood and the grief. And we sat there for days asking ourselves the most intimate questions Lana Wachowski who worked on this project with me is transgendered and one of our characters is transgendered so we get into some into the tall grass in some of our conversations. There were times he said Do we really risk going there do we want to go that far with this. Because it’s really intimate stuff. You’ve seen a bunch of it and it works and it has galvanized the Internet in ways that no other Netflix show has ever done. For those of you who don’t know the show we were logging 200 tweets a minute at one point people were just like oh my god look at this show by staying true to the human heart. If you’re going to be a writer what are you selling. Are you selling your point of view or are you selling what you think people want. If it’s the latter. Get the hell out. It was the former stay in

Eric: Mr. Straczynski’s Q&A showed he’s as great a teacher as he is a writer. So thank you to novelist TV writer producer comic book writer publisher and screenwriter J Michael Straczynski. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter co-moderated by Crickett Rumley to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple’s podcasts or wherever you listen see you next time

No, Kristian. It’s not just a comic book it’s Spider-Man. Mary Jane Peter their marriage was perfect and you know what they did. You know what he did. He ended it and it wasn’t just oh they got divorced. No none of that he erased their marriage and their entire backstory from existence. It doesn’t make sense.