Good Neighbor

This two time Oscar winner is one of the mostly pleasant people you will ever meet. Humble and hardworking, he believes in letting his creations do all the talking. SMU graduate, who has made good in Hollywood, he’s not only a good worker and a good neighbor; he is also one hell of a director.

ISM: How did you get your start in the business?
RJ: I went to school in SMU in Dallas and graduated from the film department there. I was interested in editing and sound, of course wanted to write and direct also. When I graduated the local PBS station had a sound job opening and I went over there and applied and got the job. I worked for there for about two years and there were some great filmmakers that worked there. One of my peers from school made a motocross documentary and he hired me to edit it. I quit my job and went to New Orleans called “Ape Over Manhattan” but they ran out of money two months into it. I figured it was an opportunity so I moved to L.A. I didn’t know anyone. I used L.A. 411 guide to the industry and I would make dozens of cold calls every day. Took about three years before I was getting steady work to where I felt like I could pay the bills.

ISM: What is it about production sound that you love? RJ: I like being on the set in any compacity. To me that is where the film gets made. I love that interaction between the cast and the director.

ISM: Can you tells us about your first experience working with Steven Spielberg? RJ: I worked my way to working on better films and got into the union here. At the time it was harder to get into the union but I made it. I was working on Warner Brother’s movie called “Dad” with Jake Lemmon and Ted Danson. Didn’t know it but Steven’s company Amblen was co-producers so he came to the set one day. He came over to me and introduced himself as if I didn’t know who he was [laughs]. He said he was going to be doing a movie called “Hook” in a few months and asked if I would be involved. Of course I was honored but it was a very hard to work on. Now I’ve done thirteen of his movies since.

ISM: You have worked on some of the largest studio movies, how keep your love for indie films intact? RJ: A better question is how do I keep my love for big studio films intact? For me if I go to the movies or redbox or Netflix it’s going to be an independent film or something that’s not the main stream. I don’t really enjoy tent poles to watch but I love working on them. I love drama and things like Lincoln and Schindler’s List are dramas they are just huge and it’s fun to work on them. I’m most proud of my work on Schindler’s List out of everything I’ve worked on. It’s been good for me because I can work once a year or eighteen months and make a good living and it allows me to pursue indie.

ISM: You are transitioning into a Director and Producer. Why do you think Hollywood places its below the line workers in a box that is hard to transition from? RJ: That is a good question. I don’t think it’s just Hollywood but once you get known for a certain thing it becomes everyone’s first impression. Especially if you are proficient at it. When I do sound I use a different part of my brain as when I’m directing. I think it’s just the mindset that you have to overcome.

ISM: Has some of Steven’s directing style rubbed off on you, and if so how? RJ: I would never say put us in the same category but being on set for as many years as I have I know how the set operates. I’ve seen him take control of a set and just tell everyone to stop and I’ve seen myself do that a few times. He is a master of how he visually set up his shots and I’ve picked up something’s like that. He is a master! Every director is different however.

ISM: Which type of films are you most interested in directing? RJ: I’m more interested in life stories and the films they tell you not to make because they are hard to sell. Stories about characters that are up against something and have to grow or reach outside of themselves to grapple with life and make peace with it. I’m working on something more political and controversial. What makes any story interesting are the people involved in the story.

ISM: You are a two time Oscar winner, what do these and the other awards you have won, mean to you? RJ: I never started off wanting to win any awards, I just wanted to do good work. The awards are validation of all my hard work. I love that my family are so excited when I win, made my mom so happy when I won for Jurassic Park.

ISM: You wrote and directed “Finding Neighbors”, What was the inspiration for this film? RJ: It sort of parrells my story. I’ve had success in my sound career but not as much in my directing/writing career. First movie went to Sundance in 1999 and I thought it would mean more studio backed projects. Went down that path, got an agent, packaging and taking meetings. Then three years went by. About three years ago I got to the point if I’m going to make another movie I just have to do it myself. We are going to shot it over at that house and it’s about this neighborhood and neighbors. When I got ready to write what that was, it was about a guy in the mid-fifties that had some success as a graphic novelist who hadn’t done anything in a while. How does he break through and reacquaint with his passion. When I started to show that script to a lot of people I know, many people knew who this character was. I knew I hit pay dirt and knew I had something.

ISM: Can you give us insight on your film “24 Peaces”? RJ: It’s a three part project, a web site, traveling art expedition and a documentary. At the core it’s twenty-four conversations with twentry-four different peace makers around the world with different ideas of what peace is. The idea is that your peace might not be your idea of peace and engage in conversation about that and how to get there for each of us. I was brought on to do the interviews and create the documentary film. I have been working on it for about three years. We still have about seven more interviews to do and we are funding it out of our own pockets.

ISM: What is your goal for Antic Pictures? RJ: Antic was conceived to make low budget real movies. We never got the money for the film fund we wanted but I learned during the process that I don’t like producing. I didn’t feel a lot of love as a full on producer but I’m ok with like associate producing. It’s a banner my partner Mark and I use for our passion projects.

ISM: What advice would you give aspiring directors? RJ: Depends on where you are in terms of geographically and how connected you are. The bar to entry is so low now that anyone can make a movie for twenty thousand, etc. Find a script that has a compelling story that you can make with the things you have. There is so much talent here that will work for free or almost free that are good. You won’t make any money off of it but It will become your calling card and will give you your leg up. I wouldn’t make a short, they aren’t as valid or important as a feature. People want to see if you can make a feature, if you can work within the ninety minute format.

ISM: What are your thoughts on crowdfunding? RJ: Crowdfunding is great! Two thoughts here for me. One, if you run your campaign well you are going to make your money. Two, It becomes a proof of concept and it will let you know if the idea works. When it works it helps you identify who your core audience and you learn why they do and why they don’t. You have to provide value to the people who are giving you their hard earned money and slowly engage and developer your audience.