Every day through the end of the Sundance Film Festival, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions.
Brian Jun directed “Steel City,” screening in the Independent Film Competition: Dramatic section. The film explores the relationships among the men of a working-class family: a father in jail for murder and an estranged uncle. After Jun’s short film “Jimmy Brown” screened at the Los Angeles Shorts Film Festival he was invited to Fox Searchlab, which identifies emerging directors, to create a short film. “Steel City” is his first feature film.
Please tell us about yourself. How old are you? Where were you born? Where do you live?
[I am] 26 years old. Born in Alton, Illinois, grew up in Collinsville, Illinois. Currently live in Los Angeles.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
At a very young age, I was interested in theater and performance art. Primarily the work of Sam Shepard, Neil Simon and Samuel Beckett. As this interest grew, I began writing dramatic sketches and focusing on character and setting — something that has transitioned to my screenplays.
How did you learn about filmmaking?
I went to a very small liberal arts school named Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. It was very hands-on, and the curriculum was split between production and theory. It was very loose and required a lot of self-discipline to finish your projects, and ultimately that would pay off when I started making my first feature.
How did you finance your own film?
“Steel City” was financed all through private equity, with money outside the industry. It was not much, but by working with tangible equity, I retained a lot of creative freedom and retained ownership of the film, thus giving me final cut. I think that is a great way to do it the first time out. By nature, you will make many mistakes, but I was prepared to keep going regardless of how obvious my flaws were. At the end of the day, you hope that you make more good decisions than bad. That’s the reality of it.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
The concept for “Steel City” came from my own frustration of trying to push another project. I knew the only way out was to write another script that I could make under my own guidelines — something very self-contained and focused on character — something that could be made ultra low-budget. I’ve always been fascinated by the breakdown of the contemporary family and the aftermath of that. … So I started writing dramatic sketches between a father and son, with the father in some type of a correctional facility. Slowly a plot emerged and I kept picking at it … no outlines, no exact idea of where it was going — I wrote the script in generations, almost 20 drafts to get it into something that was cinematic.
What are your biggest creative influences?
[My] creative influences are writers — Jim Harrison, Raymond Carver, Andre Dubas, Sam Shepard … Filmmakers — John Cassavetes, Jim Jarmusch, Robert Bresson, Bob Rafelson, Hal Ashby, Errol Morris.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
Some big challenges were the physical duty of getting your crew all working in unison, keeping the lines of communication clean, allowing people to understand your goals as a director … and shooting six pages a day, 25 setups. You have to trust your instincts and make lightning-quick decisions and just go with it. … The work you did in prep becomes your barometer on the day and gives you a better sense of what you need and what you don’t. Sometimes a nice master with good chemistry between two actors works beautifully. … If you really don’t want the singles, make the decision then, because you can’t go back.
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
When I got the call from Sundance, I was on the first part of my Thanksgiving vacation from my day job. I was reading a book in my apartment, and the call came. I think I forgot to eat that night.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
It’s a rare experience being included in [the] dramatic competition. … I think I’m there for the same reason that many other people are — to start a career. It’s so hard to get films made, and the competition these days with all the technology makes the whole notion of being a “filmmaker” a household ambition. Anybody can make a movie, and it’s great to be recognized by a festival such as Sundance.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
Independent film in my eyes is being “independent minded” as well as having no safety net as an artist. You have to feel the pressure of making your days and feeding your crew, all while accomplishing your goals as a director. It is also not being afraid to wear every hat possible to get your film made. An independent filmmaker is responsible for EVERYTHING. There’s no such thing as “that’s not my job” in indie film.
What are a few other films you’re hoping to see at Sundance and why?
Other Sundance films I want to see: “Right at Your Door” [dir. Chris Gorak], “The Hawk Is Dying” [dir. Julian Goldberger], “Off the Black” [dir. James Ponsoldt], “In Between Days” [dir. So Yong Kim], “Dreamland” [dir. Jason Matzner], “Don’t Come Knocking” [Wim Wenders], “Factotum” [dir. Bent Hamer].
What are some of your favorite films of 2005?
My favorite films of 2005: “Cinderella Man,” “Winter Solstice,” “The Beautiful Country,” “Walk the Line.”
[Get the latest from the Sundance Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Park City ’06 section.]