What I Really Want to do is. . . Write: Boaz Yakin on "A
Price Above Rubies"
by Anthony Kaufman
Writer/director of “Fresh” and writer of such screenplays as Clint
Eastwood’s “The Rookie“, Boaz Yakin returns to the director’s chair for
“A Price Above Rubies“, the story of Sonia, (played by “Jerry Maguire“
darling, Renee Zellweger) a Hasidic woman struggling to free herself
from her surroundings. To many cynics, it seems impossible that a
white Jewish male could write intelligently and perceptively about young
blacks in the hood and then a Hasidic woman trapped in her Orthodox
community. But after speaking with Yakin (who for the record went to a
Yeshiva on the Upper West Side until he was 15 years-old), he appears to
have the required imagination and ability to delve into these foreign
worlds. He also has an affinity with his characters that crosses
racial and sexual lines. “I really tried to do a film more balanced and
open about the difficulty of being an individual in that society.”
As far as the potentially controversial subject matter, Yakin claims, “I
knew when I wrote it, obviously, that I was writing things that we’re
going to be upsetting to certain people,” he explains, “but the goal was
to write something that asked questions and that wasn’t necessarily easy
to swallow in every way. In a lot of ways, I feel I made a gentler film
than I might have,. . . but I really felt had I gone in that direction,
it actually wouldn’t have gotten across the human point that I wanted to
“A Price Above Rubies” was produced by independent producer of the
moment, Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction“, “Good Will Hunting“), so I
decided to begin the interview with discussion about him.
indieWIRE: How did you get involved with Lawrence Bender?
Boaz Yakin: We were friends. When I moved to Los Angeles. . . I optioned
my first script when I was 19 years-old and I was at NYU. I was
fortunate enough to get an option. I ended up moving out to Los
Angeles. And I just, Lawrence was a friend of a common friend. So we
kind of became buddies. He was broke and I had to take him to Cantor’s
for lunch, like he wanted to go and I had to pay for it. He was really
broke. He was struggling for years, working very hard. And, in fact,
the first film he produced was a film that I introduced him to my other
friend, Scotty, Scott Spiegel, and they made this low budget, horror
film called, “Intruder” for like $200,000. And Scotty and I wrote this
thing, “The Rookie”. Actually, it was Scotty that introduced Lawrence
to Quentin [Tarantino]. And at that time, I was leaving Los Angeles. I
was out of there. I had had it with L.A. I lived in France for a
year. While I was in France, Lawrence produced “Reservoir Dogs” and he
called me up and said, “If you could write a script for a low enough
budget, I think I can get this thing made now.” At that time, I was
thinking about not making movies anymore. I’d had it. I was doing okay
selling scripts and things, but it wasn’t the kind of thing. . .
iW: Did you see yourself as being a director?
Yakin: Interestingly enough, I got into screenwriting in order to use it
as a path to directing. Now I realize what I’d really like to do more
than anything is write. I much prefer it to directing. It’s my
favorite thing in the world to do. Sometimes you discover your “metier”
so to speak, when you’re thinking you’re going to do something else. I
have to say I can see directing for awhile, if I can, if I’m lucky to
get my scripts financed. But it is such a physically exhausting,
mentally exhausting, emotionally draining thing, that I can’t see doing
it forever — it’s just not a life. It’s terrible. And I seem to
always have a tough time getting my stuff made. And the sort of battle
to get it made, to find the financing and all that, just wears you out.
So I think without complaining, that while I can, I’d like to try and
make as many films as I can. And then I’d like to just write. But not
iW: Then what?
Yakin: I don’t know. Fiction. Writing is great because essentially
all the battles you fight are battles with yourself and your own
limitations. And filmmaking is like, you show up, you don’t have enough
time, you don’t have enough money, and the clouds are wrong, and you
only have two shots instead of ten shots. Essentially, you’re spending
your day batting your head against the wall, against reality. Whereas
I’d much rather bat my head against this sort of fantasy world that I
like to live in. So eventually . . . But for now I’m trying to do this.
iW: So tell me about those battles that “A Price Above Rubies” faced?
Yakin: Everyone passed on it. And finally what happened was almost by
a stroke of luck, not luck, but. . . Lawrence was in England for some
project that had nothing to do with this, but he ended up hooking up
with this guy, Ernst Goldschmidt who runs a company called Pandora who
had read the script and was wondering what was going on with it.
Lawrence told them, if we can get a European financier involved, maybe
we can get Miramax to put up the other half of the money. Ernst was the
guy who really got it made. And Miramax agreed to put up a certain
amount. But that was after many months of a long time looking like this
movie was not going to happen.
iW: Was there any politicking with Miramax?
Yakin: No, I think it was a matter of them feeling like the film was
not, you know — who wants to see a film about Hasidism? There were
certain things about the script that I think they wanted worked on. And
I did some work on the script. It was mainly that Lawrence leaned on
them. Once we got the European part of it, I think Harvey [Weinstein]
just went, “Oh fuck it, my risk has been minimized to the point of where
I might as well make this fucking thing so they leave me alone.”
iW: And they pretty much left you alone once it was shot?
Yakin: It was good. You know, of course, once you get into editing,
you do your screenings and “Oh, this needs to be shorter, this needs to
be this.” But that’s just normal. And they never made me do anything
that I didn’t feel was right. It was just a matter of discussions and
arguments which is fine. I felt actually they were pretty cool
throughout the whole process once they got on board.
iW: So as opposed to “Fresh”, do you feel this is in any ways less your
personal vision or has it maintained the same. . . ?
Yakin: I’d say it has maintained the exact same level. Essentially,
what I’m happy about in terms of both films is that even though there
were things. . . look, you compromise all the way through a film. But
if the film at the end of the day reflects what your original intention
was, I think it’s a good achievement, considering the environment of
making movies. This and “Fresh”, both reflect my script and my vision.
This one was tougher for me in certain ways than “Fresh” because I was
writing from a woman’s point of view, which I had never done before,
which I found very difficult at first and then got into. I was working
with different kinds of actors on this one. But in terms of my
intentions, both of them are equally personal.
iW: So considering now that you think your heart is in writing, what
were some of the difficulties you faced in the directing process?
Yakin: The difficulty in directing is that you are trying to bend a very
unwillingly reality to conform to some vision you had. You don’t
realize how freaky it is until you step out there into a room and you
realize it’s not in my head anymore and it’s all this real stuff that I
have to make into what I saw. And at the same time, you have to have
enough freedom inside yourself to deal with what’s in front of you. I
think the difficulty is trying to make reality conform to your vision
and at the same time, realize when you’d be better off letting reality
happen rather than trying to force it to be what you want it to be.
It’s a hard thing to learn. I still feel like I’m learning. I’ve just
scratched the surface of what I have to learn in order to do that. It’s
just difficult. I feel like on some level like I’m artistically suited
to directing, but emotionally or temperamentally not so suited to it. I
don’t like being the boss. I don’t like being the guy in charge. And
some guys and gals don’t care. They just get out there and “they’re the
man.” They get up there and they feel it’s like it’s some divine right
that they have and I think they’re very well-suited to it. For me, it’s
always a struggle.