Question: You always have great music in your films; do you listen to music as you’re writing, do you wait and write the whole thing and then add music, what’s your process like?
Answer: I create a giant, epic playlist of just songs I love. I don’t listen to them while I write because it’s too distracting for me, but I create this epic playlist. When I hear a song, I go “oh, that feels cinematic, there’s just something about that”. Certain songs can be great but they don’t strike me necessarily as cinematic, and so I make this giant playlist of songs I think would be good in a movie. And those could be songs that came to me from a friend or I heard online or I shazamed it in a coffee joint, whatever, and then from there we’ll try stuff out in the film as we’re cutting. And it isn’t until you just find that perfect match, you get the hair on your arm raises up and you go “oh, that’s a possibility”. I don’t know the song is right until we’ve lined it up. Until then it’s just like anyone, finding songs that we thing could be possibilities.
Q: What’s the dynamic between you and your brother as far as writing the script is concerned?
A: The way we wrote is we got together and hammered out the overall spine of the story, and then we broke it down into an outline, and we spent that time together, because he lives in Honolulu and I was living in LA. So we would sort of write like “Okay, I’m gonna take a stab at this Aston-Martin scene, why don’t you take a stab at the scene with the young rabbi”. And we’d sort of like little by little switch it with each other and give each other notes, tweak and change, and little by little begin filling out the whole script until we had this giant thing and we started shaping it.
Q: You could talk a little bit about your experience with the crowdfunding and the KickStarter?
A: Yeah, you know, naively, I didn’t understand that the onus would fall upon me to explain the perils of independent film financing. You know, Rob Thomas had done it very successfully and everyone had cheered it on, and when I went out to do it, the first wave was, “that’ll never work”. Then when it worked in 48 hours, everyone had to rethink their think pieces. And so those who were detractors were making a lot of talking points that weren’t really true, and so that caught me off guard. I had to explain, again naively… You know when you know something, you guys are writers, you know that, if you have a hobby you know that very well… my life is trying to get money for movies, I spend my life trying to get projects financed, and so I know it really well and stupidly thought that everyone knows how this works, everyone knows how hard it is. So I then kinda had to go on up on a campaign, if you will, and explain all the different reasons why I had finally decided to try the crowdfunding. And it’s worked phenomenally well, I mean we had to take care of 47,000 people while we were making the movie, we shot it in 26 days. And if that isn’t hard enough, you have to make sure that every one of those 47,000 people felt taken care of. We had them visiting set, we had them being extras, we had them doing cameos, we created a whole online video blog of behind the scenes content. And that was my idea, I was like “Well people’s attention span on the web is like two and a half minutes, so let’s make like two and a half minute Project Greenlight behind the scenes videos of us making the movie.” I tried to do all the stuff to make it worth their while, and they seem pretty happy. The most fun of all is these Q&As, you know I showed the movie earlier, I’ve traveled the country, this is my second to last one and then I end in New York City. And show the movie early and do a Q&A with them and it’s awesome. It’s an experience a lot of people have never had before, you know the movie’s done and the guy who made the thing and stars in it sits with you and talks about it, and I hope that everyone who participated in it thought it was worth it.
Q: My question was going to be about your choice of Joey King [to play] your daughter. Did you develop a relationship as you were filming the movie?
A: Yeah, I just love that kid, she makes me want to have kids… [laughs]. You know, I met her on Oz [the Great and Powerful], we spent so much time together on Oz. Sam Raimi insisted that even though we were animated we were there every fucking day… And at first I was like “Oh God, I’m going to be stuck in this booth with this thirteen-year-old for six months…”, but she just turned out to be the coolest kid in the world. And she just was so cool, and so talented as you saw in the movie, if only I had that much talent at 13…
Q: Do you find it difficult to be both the actor in front of the camera and the director behind the camera?
A: It is tricky. You have to totally be bipolar in a sense and switch back and forth. Sometimes though it’s really helpful. I try to use it to my advantage, and that is, when you have a scene and it’s just two people, or not even two people, when it’s me and the kids or me and Kate [Hudson], I can sort of steer the scene from within. So if I’m doing a scene with you and you’re not being aggressive enough back with me I’ll just increase what a fucker I’m being with you. So if you’re a half-way decent actor you’ll naturally come back harder at me. And so in a lot of ways I think of it as being undercover in a scene. It was great with the kids too because the kids are so great at improving and being themselves, I would go on longer lenses and push the camera further away, so we’d just be sitting around that campfire, and I’d just talk to them. And the kids, little by little, just kinda forget that the cameras are there. And that’s stuff that a director can’t get as easily, because you have to call cut and come over and whisper in everyone’s ear. But I can just and roll the cameras and talk to Pierce [Gagnon], and get him to tell me stuff, like that campfire stuff is just him riffing. And that whole montage of them playing under the song and them all telling ghost stories was just us fucking around for half an hour and the cameras were way far back and shot the whole thing. And you just get these performances out of them that I wouldn’t have been able to get.
Q: Were you surprised by the success of Garden State when it came out?
A: Completely, it was my first movie. So when these think pieces come out that say “Why I liked Garden State then but not now”, I’m like, “Well thanks for liking it at all, it was my first movie”. I agree it’s flawed and at times it’s didactic and pretentious, but I never thought that many people would see it. So when it hit this cultural phenomena thing, I was shocked. Everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to even get those artists on the soundtrack, so when it went platinum and won the Grammy I was shocked, the whole thing was shocking.
Q: When did you realize it was a success?
A: I knew it did well financially, but then it won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, which is about as cool an award as you can get, for an indie-loving geek. Next to get getting an Oscar, getting First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards is pretty rad. So that’s when I felt like, “Wow, this worked.”
Q: Do you see yourself doing an Ed Burns kind of thing where he does a Hollywood movie for two million dollars in order to pay for his own movie?
A: …Hollywood doesn’t hire me that much… [laughs] Ed Burns has had more luck with that… But TV, at this point TV is where all the great shit is happening, so I see myself going back to TV eventually, because there’s just not enough roles. I mean, no one’s making 5, 10, 20 million dollar movies anymore, everyone’s going big, it used to just be the summer tent poles, now they’re all just all-in, Marvel-esqu giant blow-em-ups. So I’ll do that probably.
Q: So my friend want to know: can you watch Scrubs on ABC? Like the episodes that you weren’t on?
A: I will admit to you something that I’ve never admitted to any writers before: I have never seen an episode of Scrubs post my exit in season 9. And not for any mean reason, I just couldn’t, it was too bizarre and weird. It’d be like going to a play, I’m in a Broadway show right now [Bullets Over Broadway], and going to the show once I’ve left and watching someone else do it, it would be too weird. So that whole rest of season 9 I’ve never seen. And that’s funny because no one has ever asked me that question before.
If that got you interested, you can read our review of Wish I Was Here.