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CineVegas '05 Interview ('Turning Green' Directors Michael Aimette & John G. Hofmann)

by Erik Childress

The "Turning Green" Pitch - The film is set in late 1970s Ireland, and it tells the story of 16-year-old James Powers, an American who finds himself lost after his mother dies and he is forced to live with his three Irish aunts. He’s displaced and depressed, and longs for a way to make it back to America, a place that he idealizes. On one lucky weekend in London, James discovers pornography and since he’s desperate for cash to return home to New York, he decides to sell them back in Ireland. Back home, his success spreads wildly. At the end of the film he has found a possible way home, but he must decide what he really wants in life. Oooooow, cliffhanger!

What first got you interested in filmmaking?

JOHN: For me it certainly began with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. After seeing them I took my action figures, and my dad’s Yashica 8mm camera, and made a film. I continued to mess around with shooting and editing, but back then it definitely wasn’t a career. It, like photography, really just became a hobby. Actually Michael and I majored in finance at Villanova, and after graduating got into advertising. Even back in 1990 it wasn’t really an option, the whole film thing… or at least it seemed that way.

MICHAEL: Life is really just a process of elimination where the lucky ones end up doing what they dislike the least. Just kidding, sort of. Truthfully, I didn’t ever really envision myself as a guy who made movies, although I absolutely love them. I did a lot of writing, short stories and things, but wasn’t aware that movies - something so fun and cool and satisfying could ever actually be a career.

Tell us about your Project Greenlight experience during that first season.

MICHAEL: It was fun and slightly terrifying and ultimately left me hopeful about getting the film done. It really helped remove some of those preconceived notions that making a movie is some mysterious process that only those who go to school for it for a number of years can do. I met a lot of people online that were in the contest, or just read the script and had comments or praise or criticism. It was a real communal experience.

As a disappointedly rejected Project Greenlight contestant two years running that I am, did you feel lucky at all to get out of that first round where all the "writers" were reviewing everyone's scripts? Since only the first three reviews counted towards your score, you could have easily received one or two harsh reviews right up front and been out immediately.

MICHAEL: Yeah, well, of course, any success one has is sprinkled with a bit of luck. I don’t remember the rules, but if that’s correct, I still seriously doubt that the next “Taxi Driver” was buried under an avalanche of bad reviews. On that same note, many lower-level script readers at studios don’t really have any qualifications either. On average, I’d say the better scripts rose to the top – there were exceptions, of course - but many good scripts did well. Life’s not always fair.

When you look at the winners of the previous contests, Stolen Summer and The Battle of Shaker Heights, do you wonder what the point was if Miramax couldn't even be bothered to give the films a proper release? Has Project Greenlight, while started with good intentions, essentially failed where a show like American Idol has succeeded in helping young "artists". Has it revealed itself (or ended up) as more of a gimmick than a genuine bit of altruism?

JOHN: I’ve always been much more interested in the TV show as opposed to the films themselves. The excitement for me has been in watching “the process” of making a film, not watching the finished product. Making a film is such a complicated thing, and really a bit of a crapshoot. I can’t believe that they really thought they would definitely have a successful film knowing the odds. They also tried to make subtle, indie, “art-house” films the first two years. Those are hard to make even when you are a talented director with a lot of experience. How is Pete Jones, with no experience, no time, and no money, going to succeed? Although I think they wised up this year and realize what most people would rather see. And in fact I think this year they actually gave a true talent a shot by letting John Gulager direct. I don’t think it is a gimmick, and it seems to me that they really do have the best intentions. Hey, as long as someone is still willing to write a check… I’ll watch it.

MICHAEL: I don’t know if an “improper” release was what sank those two films. Everyone would agree that they, like many films with first-time directors, were flawed. And Miramax evidently wasn’t excited enough about either film to give them a widespread release. It’s a business. The real tragedy is this happens with many, better movies than those two. How many people saw You Can Count on Me or Mean Creek?

Overall, I think Project Greenlight is wonderful and very humble in its origin. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and the rest -- all well-established people in the industry -- know that they benefited greatly from the Hollywood system, but others have not. They know the industry tends to stick to what they know and rarely gives unknowns – even talented unknowns - a chance. It’s just a cruel fact. Three directors and writers can now die saying they made a movie. That’s good enough of a reason for the contest to exist, in my opinion. Good for them.

After the contest, how did you eventually get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?

MICHAEL: We had a lot of interest in the film, some of it based on attention garnered from PG, some not. The film was entered in a few contests, Final Draft (the screenwriting software company) being one. It placed 2nd, I think, and we got a few calls from producers based on that. We signed an option agreement with a producer and were very close to getting financing a few times. But, as is often the case with small films with unknown filmmakers, the opportunities never quite materialized. Then, we got a call from the producers from CurbSide and we made a deal.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?

JOHN: We did and often discussed what we watched and how it could help us. Truthfully nothing specific just anything we could get our hands on. The other thing we’ve been doing for years is listen to the director’s commentary on the dvds. This probably helped the most and I really listened to anything I could find. They didn't have to be Irish films or even similar in tone. We just wanted to hear experiences and learn how to avoid mistakes. Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass), Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly), The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson) and Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson) to name a few.

Ireland and its brethren remain one of the more frequent cultures explored in movies. Why do you think that is and what do you believe you're bringing to the table with your film?

MICHAEL: I think what we were trying to do was depict a slightly different Ireland than what other films have. It’s very much a point of view movie. Many great Irish films are about a theme specifically Irish – In the Name of the Father comes to mind. But when you break it down, our movie isn’t really about Ireland. It’s about someone hating where they are in life and blaming the place for his troubles. It could have been set anywhere. The fact that it’s in Ireland has more to do with our familiarity with the place and a narrative idea than anything else.

JOHN: I think because so many Americans are of Irish descent, and because it is ethnic, but accessibly so. Plus they speak English… which helps. People really hate subtitles.

Which films about Ireland or the Irish would you recommend to people who know little about them but St. Patrick's Day, the fighting and the drinking?

JOHN: Irish people drink a lot? I don’t know if a film without those two things has ever been made. Actually, Michael and I are also Irish citizens, and are aware of all the stereotypes… but like a lot of stereotypes, some are true. On the other side though, the stereotypical “good” things about Ireland are also generally true. That’s life.

My favorites are The Butcher Boy (where Eamonn Owens plays 12 year old Francie Brady, a boy who’s family falls apart and he descends into madness. A very funny and dark film), The General (based on the story of Martin Cahill, a notorious Dublin gangster during the 1980’s. Brendan Gleeson is simply amazing here… kind of a sloppy Tony Soprano), and The Secret Of Roan Inish (John Sayles’ magical tale about a Celtic myth. Good for the whole family!)

Name the three directors working today that you most admire.

JOHN: Wes Anderson, PT Anderson, and Roger Anderson. I made that last one up.

MICHAEL: Alexander Payne, Pedro Almodovar and John G. Hofmann. I made that last one up.

How have things changed for you since your film started playing on the festival circuit? If this is your first acceptance into a film festival, describe what that's like and your thoughts about CineVegas. What are you looking forward to most during your CineVegas experience?

JOHN: Cinevegas is our first festival so we are just excited to see Turning Green on a large screen. After months and months of editing it in my apartment we will finally be viewing it in a cinema, which will be a totally different experience. That’s what I am looking forward to the most.

MICHAEL: I’m personally a lot poorer than when we started. That’s the biggest change, back to Ramen Noodles for dinner! CineVegas is very exciting, especially since many of our friends and family will be there. I’ll be nervous. Don’t mind the armpit stains.

When you were shooting the film, did you have CineVegas (or any other film festivals in general) in mind?

JOHN: No we were just concerned with shooting a feature in 21 days. That stuff all came later.

Have you been turned down by other festivals? If so, which ones?

JOHN: Our first cut wasn’t really ready for Sundance, and Tribeca turned us down. That was disappointing as New Yorkers, but oh well, what can you do?

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?

JOHN: I think as long as festivals keep their focus on including the best films, things will be fine. Some festivals have become premiere parties, which is a little disappointing, but again, we’re new to this.

Have you seen any independent films recently on the festival circuit, in theaters or on video that influenced you? Or anything that you would just like to give a shout-out to that audiences should be seeing (or given a chance to see?)

MICHAEL: We haven’t had a chance to attend any festivals. We’ve been focused on getting this film done and writing the next script. I am looking forward to a couple of films at CineVegas, namely Hustle and Flow, In Memory of My Father, Little Athens and Standing Still.

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?

JOHN: If you shoot a two shot, definitely cover both actors in singles. There were a few scenes where we, because of time, covered only the actor with the bulk of the lines. Unfortunately when we got to the edit it made it difficult with continuity and limited the ability to fake things or do pull ups. Essentially, our lead was always on camera and it was a very frustrating situation. I’m sure I didn’t explain that well, and it is pretty boring stuff, but that’s what I learned.

MICHAEL: On an Irish indie, craft services blows. Pack a lunch.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?

MICHAEL: I personally don’t love remakes.

JOHN: I don’t really either.

MICHAEL: I’d much rather let us make something we wrote for $8m. The only film off the top of my head that really could use a do-over is “Citizen Kane.” What a mess.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.

JOHN: I would say Don Cheadle. He can do anything. I think it is only a matter of time until he wins an Oscar. On our film, our lead Donal Gallery.

MICHAEL: There are many. Johnny Depp. He brings something different to every role, he’s funny and off-kilter. Plus, we’d be guaranteed distribution. In our film, I would say ol’ Donal too. Very talented.

At what point will you be able to say, "Yes! I've made it!"

JOHN: I think Michael and I have been thinking about this one. I would say when we don’t have to do anything else for money but write and direct films. I don’t think we measure success by money or awards… although they are both nice. For me at least, “making it” means freedom... freedom to write what you want and have someone pay to make the film. That’s pretty much it.

MICHAEL: You said it, Jack.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?

JOHN: I’m sure Brett Ratner’s a great guy, but I’m sure he had a lot of help. There are only a handful of directors that can actually “put the fannies in the seats.” I think that the “A Film By” may have been a creation of lawyers and agents who are looking for more for their clients, and I think it severely undermines the contributions of other equally important people on the crew. Oh yeah… we did not use that credit in our film. Maybe next film.

MICHAEL: I wanted to make it “A Film by Michael Aimette” but John had a problem with that.

--

Turning Green (written and directed by Michael Aimette & John G. Hofmann) - starring Donal Gallery, Timothy Hutton, Alessandro Nivola and Colm Meaney will have its premiere at the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival on Saturday, June 11 at 6:00 PM and screen again on Monday, June 13 at 7:00 PM.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1496
originally posted: 06/02/05 03:30:19
last updated: 06/02/05 03:31:09
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