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SxSW 2016 Interview: PEE WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY director John Lee

by Jason Whyte

"I'm not a person who likes to sell anything. If you're someone who needs me to convince you to see the movie then we would probably not be friends, and I wouldn't bring it up. If we just talked like people and made each other laugh, I would bring it up." Director John Lee giving me a very good pitch to go see PEE WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY at the 2016 edition of South By Southwest Film.

I am glad you are bringing PEE WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY to SxSW. Are you planning to attend your screenings?

I'm super excited to have a film at SXSW. I have been here before with bands, but not with a film. I plan on standing outside the theatre, yelling "Boooooo!" in protest. That will drum up some sympathy and support, I think.

I will be there to document that if you do! So tell me about your start and previous work.

I went to the most acclaimed film school known to Man...San Francisco State. Its claim to fame was that it had Coppola's brother on the faculty. In all actuality it was exactly perfect for me.

Filmmaking was too expensive after college; there was no computer editing or cameras for cheap, so I was in a failed band. To pay the bills I worked as a PA, worked in post and jobs like that. My first step into professionalism was WONDER SHOWZEN, which is at the bottom of Rolling Stones list of Top Cult TV shows of all time. I then lived in obscurity, making odd-ball surrealism with PFFR, till now.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I learned from detective Dale Cooper, "Everyday. Once a day give yourself a present." I forgo a personal assistant, and have the production spend that money on a sundae bar which is always within ten feet of video village and between cuts I enjoy my custom designed Choclican American, a pro-diversity anti-white frozen taste treat in the shape of a Spot-billed pelican. That's what I do.

Great, now I'm hungry. What was your biggest challenge with making BIG HOLIDAY?

My biggest challenge was to not blow it. PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE is such an iconic movie that I tried to pretend it didn't even exist.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie.

Netflix has a legal mandate for 4K recording, so there are only a couple of cameras that record in actual 4K. We used the Sony F55. Cinematographer Tim Orr and I thought looked the best. Tim Orr is great and his name is one letter more efficient than mine. I will be forever jealous of that.

We wanted to shoot this as classic as possible and let Pee-Wee be the focus, and sometimes filmmaking gets in the way of drama. I think of cinematography as a brownie; brownies are the perfect balance between fudge and cake and in the camera's case fudge is not doing too much and cake is doing too much. I personally like life on the fudgy side.

Most of the cinematic thoughts is in the art direction. If you pay attention you'll see the world travel through time. Pee-wee's town has no power lines, the cars are from the 1940s & 50s. As he makes his way to New York, the world becomes more modern around him. I wanted this to be subtle, yet here I am talking about it. I just want you to notice what I've done, Mother.

After the film screens at SxSW, this is going to Netflix. But what else can you tell me about the release?

PEE WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY will be on Netflix for the rest of time, and it will play in all the Alamo Drafthouse theaters for a weekend too!

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I would screen it at the White House so I could meet FDR.

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Mom, can you please stop. This is my first feature film.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

I have my own tiny private school with about 5 students. Rules:

You need to write every day.
You need to make something as much as possible.

Then, don't create scenarios where it's impossible to make, like placing walls in front of yourself and making it a futuristic battle between cyber-chimps and cave-bots. Be realistic and practical; then create something with the goal of destroying society as we know it.

PEE WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY makes its triumphant Netflix debut on March 18th, but I highly recommend the March 16th premiere at the Paramount if you are attending SxSW.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/11/16 07:46:19
last updated: 03/11/16 07:50:01
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