Friday, July 29, 2011

Interview with Sean Hackett

Below is my interview with Sean Hackett.

What is the current project you are working on?

I just finished a small project that is part of a bigger project with the family of Robert Altman. It doesn't have a title yet and will probably be out this winter. It was myself, Robert Edgecomb (who shot One Big Holliday for My Morning Jacket), Josh Polon (who shot/edit/produced Jay Duplass's award-winning documentary Kevin), and Daniel Williams (who is the Sundance Labs' sound guy and did the sound for Homecoming) traveling around the Tennessee / North Carolina countryside to follow legendary singer/songwriter Danny Darst. Danny is a bit of a ghost, so we never had any planned agendas. We were constantly leaving the bar or dinner table to capture what he was doing. He's very different than other musicians you'd meet in Nashville. He reads Plato and listens to Mozart and sifts through old junkyards looking for antique parts.

I'm also starting a project this fall in the midwest and preparing for that. All while doing a lot of work on the distribution side of Homecoming.

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

To say I never wanted to be a journalist, FBI agent, graphic artist, or something practical would be a lie. But I can tell you that I've always loved filmmaking and always hoped that somehow the cards would be right for me to become one. I read as many interviews w/ directors or writers as I can. Jeff Goldsmith's Q&A was literally my motivator / film school. One thing that you often hear from directors is that they remember their first film they saw in Theaters. I have a notebook filled with other director's firsts. For me it was Top Gun. I was 3 but I remember everything. Missing the first two minutes and having to sit in the back (my parents could only afford the Dollar Theatrers) . I remember dancing in my seat to "Shake My Nerves and You Rattle My Brain". I remember crying and having to leave the theater with my dad when Goose died. I remember the Brucheimer-esque sex scene. I remember my uncle losing his wallet between the seats. I remember eating at Fuhrs cafeteria and trying to understand the Cold War while eating fish sticks. I love how movies are ways to see other peoples Daydreams or Imagination.

What inspired you to become filmmaker?

Being an only child that lived in an older residential area, I often laid on my stomach and drew on printer paper from his old job. I often created sequels and crossover sequels to films or cartoons I loved. My parents weren't artists to say the least (my mom was a Med Tech and my dad was an accountant) but I think they knew pretty on that I loved to be imaginative. When I was the right age, around 10-11, they surprised me with a vacation to Disneyworld in Florida. At the MGM Studios they had a tour of the animation department and I heard what "Storyboard Artisits" did and through out gradeschool I sort of wanted to do that. I was almost too involve with becoming a storyboard artist for a long time. When my friends thought about asking out girls in junior high, I thought about going to an Animation Camp ran by Disney....and maybe finding a cute girl to make out with there...but mostly Animation Camp.

What is the best thing about being one?

In one word. Everything. Every part of the process is like getting to travel to a new, awe-inspiring location that you've only seen in postcards. I really love assembly a cast and crew and collaborating with them. There are these moments where you're watching a scene being filmmed and then part of your brain switches on and says "15 years ago you were doing this in your backyard with Jack Smedile and Patrick Clark". And the crew I have worked with, you sort of get that electric feeling ...the same way you do with Rookie Atheletes , that their potential is worth jumping on the bandwagon for. You want to succeed because you want them to succeed and vice versa.

Writing a story is a personal journey for me. It's a marathon made up of confessions and childhood yearnings with characters I have had in my head for years. And then there's editing, which I feel like I do with a kindred spirit like Kate Hackett. She's sort of the compliment to everything I feel weak about and yet she and I have the same passions and frustrations that it takes to make a quality film in the editing room. Having legelnds like David Kitchens & Ben Zaria or Art Freed & Bruce Goodman who have worked with the very best directors in Hollywood take on your film so it's made for theaters even better. But the finishing touches... like having Gingger Shankar (the award winning composer from Sundance hit Circumstance) show up to a recording session with a terrific harpist and turn your independent into a major - i still get goosebumps with that. I dunno... it's all priceless.

What is the worst thing about being one?

I mostly worry if the project i'm working on can advance myself and my crew to getting more chances to make films. I'm always have this fear that I'll be working at an Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 2-5 years.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

Probably over 50 if you include short films. I've done a bunch for AFI, UCLA, and USC over the years. In terms of features, probably 10?

Who is is your favorite filmmaker?

I was at the bar the other night and forced to say one and one only. So... it's Cameron Crowe. I picked him 1A over 1B , Alfonso Cauron because he's written all of his screenplays. Crowe tells these magical, personal stories that relate to everyone in the audience. I root for his characters more than any other filmmakers. His pacing ,editing, music, and dialogue is an explosion of American Cinema that can't be replicated. The common argument is that visually he's not up with Scorsese, Kubrick Spielberg, or Terrence Malick or as bold as someone like Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock, or PT Anderson - but every film he's directed has had an epic, visually stunning scene. And I think with him, he doesn't always strive for every scene to be masterful because he captures us with those 5 or 6. All of his screenplays are just hypnotizing to me, even some of his darker stuff.

But to add to the list in no order at all..... Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise/Sunset = Top 10) , Andrew Stanton , Brad Bird, Pete Docter, JJ Abrams, Robert Redford, Jason Reitman , David Fincher (first boss) Hal Ashby , Rian Johnson , Shawn Levy, Robert Zemeckis (who needs a comeback) , Woody Allen, The Coens, Guillermo Del Torro, , Jay and Mark Duplass, Zach Weintraub, Lucas McNelly

How has your life changed since you became a filmmaker?

I feel more self-assured with making the decision to move to LA and try to get to the point where I am directing films. Whether Homecoming was good or bad, I'm trying my best to make sure my next film is a solid follow up. I'm probably more mellow. For some reason I also really crave Del Taco's 49 cent bean and cheese burritos alot since I became one.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to make it in the movie business?

Ask other directors questions. Work with directors. The one part of my career that was a changing point for me was working with Jay and Mark Duplass. We're different directors cinematically, but they took a lot of time to teach me the perfect recipe of Ambition and Patience without being a douchebag. From big to small scripts they genuinely thank and love their cast and crew. Both of them have this contagious personality that carried off with me to other projects.

What do you like to do besides filmmaking?

I love journalism. My grandfather was a journalist and I'd like to write articles for a movie blog or something like that. I approached GordonandtheWhale.com with an idea that I think they liked, I just need to find time to do it. I also garden and cook. My blackberries are incredible this year.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a filmmaker?

I worked at a Best Buy in college. I also ran a football website for CBSSportsline.com while I was in high school. That's a story that I need to write.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

All Time Favorite : Back to the Future

Gradeschool: Jurassic Park (saw it 15 times in theaters), Dumbo , Ferris Bueler’s Day Off , Quiz Show , Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

High School : The Graduate, Good Will Hunting, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, Say Anything, North By Northwest, M*A*S*H.

College: Y Tu Mama Tambien, Before Sunrise/Sunset, Big Lebowski, The Last Detail, Finding Nemo, Almost Famous

Post : Puffy Chair, All The Presidents Men, Children of Men, Brick, Little Miss Sunshine, Half Nelson, Nashville

TV Series = Twilight Zone, LOST, West Wing, Community Modern Family (they are first comedy series i really loved) , Friday Night Lights , and guilty pleasure is Deadliest Warrior or maybe Dawson's Creek Season 1 and half of Season 2)

Foreign Films = I digg French New Wave a lot. Japanese Animation and French Animation is almost always in my Netflix Que. I thought the Illusionist was quite cool. Probably the last one I saw.

How would you describe your film education?

Inspiration / Writing - Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith. http://www.theqandapodcast.com/ . Jeff is actually from my hometown and one of the nicest, funniest people I've met. He used to run Creative Writer Magazine but started his own thing. I never had money for film school after College. Not even night classes. But since I've moved here

I've listened to his stuff. He gets everything you need to get a chip on your shoulder and tell yourself to writer as well as get you into the heads of some of the top up and coming writers.

Directing - I worked in development on mid-to-major studio films. Production on small independent films. And Post Production with mid-sized independent films.

The studio jobs (Sony , Jerry Bruckheimer) paid my bills, but on weekends I would run around town working on short films for AFI, USC, UCLA. That's how I learned about what is needed for sets. I didn't really direct my first short film until 3 years. I'd volunteer to do everything from casting to PAing to 2nd AC / 2nd ADing on them. I mostly watched other people make mistakes with their parents money before i felt confident to make my own.

Producing - I got an HVX-200 off of craigslist for $1000. I served as a producer on alot of peoples shorts and even features by offering the camera / my apartment for the credit. Usually i was a one man craft service, equipment , grip , location manager...but all of those moments helped me appreciate producers and their thankless jobs. It's also awesome helping out other up-and-coming directors get off the ground.

Watching Films - I see two movies a week in theatres and a lot on Netflix Streaming. I ran a short film festival where I got to meet other great filmmakers.

Scripts - Also I read a lot of scripts - luckily Homecoming helped me sign w/ Chris Davey of Media Talent Group. He's a fantastic manager and he and his assistant have gotten me the chance to read a lot of blacklist and up and coming screenplays. I read about 1 script a day, usually in the afternoon.

News / Critics - most of my brain fart time is spent reading about 20 different news websites. I send letters to the writers if I like their work. Most people writing reviews or articles do it out of the passion of film, so a letter can make their week. Film Criticism / Journalism is a part of Filmmaking in my mind. They are the Oracles of what audiences or maybe more importantly what "word of mouth" audiences want and hate.

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

I live in LA, but my next project is going to be in the Midwest. As far as LA goes, I've been cynical myself but I don't think Studios or Development is as evil as The Player or Barton Fink or Movies That Hate Hollywood put out. One of my really good friends is a Studio Executive for Fox named Missy Foster. She's passionate about character pieces and has that same charisma that the old studios days of Disney used to have. And it's not just her. It might be my generation and the few ahead of me and it might be PIXAR or BAD ROBOT, but collaboration without "drama" is sort of on a silent comeback. That being said, I think a lot of people get jaded by studios because they are waiting for the right studio executive to read their screenplay and make it into the next summer blockbuster. I personally feel that that's very unrealistic. I plan to keep making low budget character pieces until a studio sees my vision and wants to give me a shot on something. It could be 2 years it could be 5. Do I want to shoot studio films? Sure. But it's been proven that good films can be made with great crews outside of the studio, so why I should I restrict that opportunity?

In terms of Orlando, Nashville, and now The Midwest... their film scenes are getting stronger. Social Networking has helped. Technology of Cameras has helped. I personally love to shoot extreme wideshots of amazing looking exteriors aka free production value. People in small towns embrace that, whereas everyone in LA is pretty savvy and are immune to the magic of a film crew moving into their neighborhood. There's something strong about a crew moving to a location outside of their hometown. You sort of create a mini Army Unit where working on a film is a lifetime experience rather than a 9 hour job.

How has social media changed the independent film industry?

I had a conversation with someone the other day about how every friend that I've made out here has happened because of an e-mail or facebook and now twitter. I think Kickstarter and Demand It are terrific tools. AMC Theatres is open to films being streamed off of a server and into Hometown Screens. Youtube , Hulu , Netflix Stream are all parts of everyone's vocab.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding and recent crowdfunding scandals?

The creators of Kickstarter will probably have a chapter dedicated to them in the history books of new millennium. And they deserve it. Yancey Strickler's legacy has barely scratched the surface but it's going to revamp small business into the next era of the economy. This goes beyond films. The chance to help others start their own business is what we need more of. We used to rely on the super wealthy and banking system to create our visions - and when they decided that we were too costly to make products and chains domestically they went to China and India and other 3rd worlds. It's the one way we have right now to bring our company back. One of my favorite memories of last year was seeing the girl get her own shaved ice company started through Kickstarter. Mark Bell is doing some so admirable with it too, trying to restart Film Threat to pay his writers by using Kickstarter. It's part very old school, with a new age twist. We used to build our neighbor's barn. Now we can build their dreams.

In terms of movies, it's impact has already started. Sundance had a film or two that was fully funded by KS. I'm sure 25% or more will be KS funded next year. My next film will be Crowdfunded, on the simple account that I know that when I was 16 the chance to produce a short film for a weekend of busing tables would be the best investment ever. I also sort of hate the wait game with making low-budget films. There's usually that guy with $100,000 that is and isn't in. It's a lot of frustration that isn't needed at all.

In terms of everything else... I don't know if I'm caught up on Crowdfunding Scandals yet? I know about the Four Eyed Monsters kid and thought he was tackling something too big again. He's an ambitious kid, but a little bit of a self-proclaimed indie messiah. He had a whole From Here To Awesome project that blew up really bad. And he always has a ton of bad karma around him - stuff gets stolen and he cries about it on the net. I was a bit stunned to see him go around DYI days and pitch a new idea. His heart is in the right place, but I don't think that he's the type of mind that could conceive an idea for the one-cure-all for independent filmmakers. I've heard he spent that money on his Burning Man weirdness but no one has verified that? So I'm just going by the fact that he had a project that never finished. But who is to say that that's his fault or the investors fault? Major films the people who come up with a movie have a bond company create a competition agreement for the project/film. Kickstarter doesn't really have that, so your trust in the person you invest in. If they don't complete...maybe you have the right to punch them really hard in the face ? But then they'll cry again on camera.

The only other scandal was about Quasi Celebrities joining Kickstarter. Some people who had hot tempers blew up about it. From a business perspective Kickstarter has been mostly filmmakers supporting other filmmakers and family members supporting other filmmakers. To get press on KS and the average follower of Colin Hanks or Moby look at that site means that more non-aquintances will be interested in your project. It's actually very brilliant. My best advice is to just research the project and be careful with investments?

What is the casting process like?

You always want to be the star maker and not star breaker. Casting is a ton of fun because you get to meet the next potential star. My first job had me making 50 page databases of actors, actresses, writers, director for a great guy named Mike Medavoy. After that I created a never-ending spreadsheet that i keep names of actors/actresses that I think have "it". I got to have first hand experience that "it" with Homecoming / Brea Grant. To me the "it" is a person who's more than an actor / actress. A lot of talent in this town can be over fixed with being famous or getting told their attractive. I like an actor or actress that I can talk about life with. The more emotionally intelligent an actor is the more relatable they can get with the audience. If Brea wasn't an actress should could easily make it as a history professor or who knows, a soldier? I was telling an actress the other day that the final two people who came down to playing Estelle in Homecoming were Brea and another actress. The other actress was a full-time nurse and a writer/comedian. The actress who played Lindsay (my character's ex-girlfriend), Christina Bach Norman, in the film is actually a Lawyer for the state of Florida. Tom Fox Davies is a musician and jack of all trades. So I guess I like people who aren't tunnel vision about one career.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

I'm not sure it does? Independent film usually means that it wasn't by a studio. Mainstream means that it's generally likable or made for the broadest audience possible. I don't really like that there's an "independent cinema genre" or "indie crowd". I'm not saying that I don't appreciate supporters of independent cinema, but the one thing

that both the studios and independents are guilty of doing is taking audiences for granted. Coming from the Midwest, I was a huge product of that assumption. I remember seeing Memento, Before Sunrise, and Hedwig and the Angry Itch at my hometown Arthouse with kids that played on the Football team and loved The Rock and Twister.

A huge amount of directors from this summer started out in independent film. The fact is that stories are only as good as their storyteller. Studios make great movies. Non-studio funded films turn out to be great movies. Both have things that aren't people's tastes.

You could go back in time and see any classic film being made. Which film would it be and why?

Charade. It has Audrey Hepburn , Carey Grant, Walter Mathieu , and James Coburn and was filmed in Paris. I've always been in love with Grant's classic banter mixed with Hepburn's quick wit. Other than that, I'd probably love having a Martini with Sean Connery, a flask with William Powell and Myma Loy , a cigar with Alfred Hitchcock, a cigarette with Rod Serling, and a thick joint with Kubrick.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

Walter Sobchak: That rug really tied the room together, did it not?

I quote Coen Bros movies a lot. Lebowski is my most quotable. I also have a t-shirt that says "I'm your Huckleberry" from Doc Holliday, Tombstone.

You could have any super power. What would it be?

I'd like to have the Flash 's powers. That way I could write a screenplay and lose my beer gut in a mater of minutes...

What is your opinion on movie remakes?

I'm going to say something crazy...but here goes. I think problem isn't that studios are making them, i think the problem is that studios aren't developing them correctly. They don't need time, but they need notes, they need fresh eyes who will bluntly point out the elephant in the room. The problem with successful franchising is that everyone who was part of it, thinks they were a huge reason for it and by that belief they believe that they should infact get more power to make it even better. That's when things sort of get messy. As much flack as studios get, some of our favorite films took tens years to make because Producers / Studio Execs saw that they needed more time. I read the first Script to the Hangover and had it been the shooting script it wouldn't have been a success. The first Pirates and first Matrix took years to make with tons of rewrites. Pixar has reshot a lot of their films because of lack of satisfaction. Every movie should strive to put us into unique moment with relatable characters. A great movie is a great first date. The second date is always anticipated, but sometimes you look too far long-term to make it memorable.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

My main point on remakes or book adaptations is that I want them to give me something more than what the book gave me. I applaud when a director or writer will use the material to make a movie rather than try to cram a book into a 2 hours of film footage. Jurrasic Park is an excellent film, but some people hate that they left out parts from the book. But that's because Jurrasic Park was written to be a novel and not a movie. I see no difference between what Spielberg did with Jurrasic Park than what Nolan did with Batman or Fincher did with Social Network (or Speilberg did to JAWS) Nothing on film will ever triumph over your imagination's vision when reading a novel. That's why people will always hark on filmmakers breaking canon.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just that my last film Homecoming would love to play in your home town. We're looking for people to DEMAND it at http://tinyrul.com/demandhomecoming . If you're a filmmaker, inspire the Underdogs. If you have any questions e-mail me @ seanhackett@gmail.com

Thanks for doing the interview Sean.  keep me posted on your vurious projects.