[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
JJ Lask brings his directorial debut, “On the Road with Judas,” to Park City this year. The film’s main character, Lask, “lives in two worlds, and both exist inside his mind,” according to the Sundance Film Festival. “This deliciously playful tapestry of narrative point of view–at times recondite but always stimulating–of the author, the filmmaker, and the subjects is seamlessly integrated and invigoratingly sophisticated.” The film is screening in Sundance’s Independent Film Competition: US Dramatic section. JJ Lask has also won numerous awards, including a Clio Award, a Cannes Lion, and a London International Award.
Please introduce yourself.
Hello, my name is JJ Lask, I am 36 years old. My day job is editing television commercials in a company called PS260 that I own with two other editors. I love editing, I put lots of love and time into it. I’ve been editing for 12 years. I started as a messenger at an edit house and slowly worked my way up to an assistant editor. As an assistant, I would edit music videos at night and over the weekend. The first piece I ever edited was a commercial for Sonny Orlisi, a guy I met at a party who was running for Senate in Guam. We made four commercials and he ran them in Guam, [and] he won! When I became an editor I was blessed to work with many brilliant directors. Watching dailies, then trying to figure out how to edit material is like brain surgery sometimes. And then to add creativity to the process is the true test of a great editor–to add things that no one thought of and people loving it. That’s what gets me off as an editor, now as a director. To think completely opposite of how it should be done. I’m always thinking about how to make each commercial better.
I was born in New York City and lived here all my life, except for the eight months I lived in Venice and worked at the Santa Monica Mall Gap. Now I live in Williamsburg. I love it there. I love the graffiti and the empty streets on the south side.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker, and what other creative outlets do you explore?
When I started high school every year my grades got worse and worse. So I said to myself, I’ll just be a writer. So I started writing. Then I thought if I couldn’t write I would be a painter. Thank God I wrote. I’ve been writing ever since, every night.
Other outlets that I explore… I play basketball, softball and football in leagues. I’ve ruptured my Achilles, broken my nose, I’m very proud of that. But really, it’s about every minute in every day, looking around you and seeing the stories that lie there. I had this job once to hand out flyers to people as they were coming home from work at the entrance of the Bedford Avenue L train stop. It was the worst job ever. But I saw these people coming home, I saw their lives written on their faces. It was a very profound moment for me to see the misery in people.
How did you finance your film?
How to finance your film: you need to sign up for my intense weekend workshop in which I give all my secrets for a modest fee. We serve muffins and coffee in the morning and we break for a half an hour for lunch for baloney sandwiches on wheat bread with American cheese and apple juice.
Please discuss your film, and how the initial idea come about.
The idea of the unique structure for “Judas” came to me while I was on vacation in St. Martin bored out of my mind. For years I was working on a script for “Judas” and then it just hit me. Fuck a script. Let’s just film this thing. So we interviewed the characters from the book and the actors playing those characters. Then we edited all that material. Then we decided which scenes to go out and film. Then we edited it all together and added some great music and effects.
What was your approach to making “On the Road with Judas?”
My approach to making a film is like robbing a bank. It’s a heist. Filmmaking is the greatest heist. “Judas” is filled with metaphors of stealing. The writer steals from the souls around him. Judas, his job in the film, is a thief. He actually steals. Me, as a writer and director, I’m stealing from the actors. With the crew, it’s like planning for a bank robbery, we all have our roles, he makes sure the alarm doesn’t go off, she makes sure the get away car is there, he makes sure everybody gets down, she makes sure we can pick the safe.
How did the casting for the film come together?
Casting was the hardest part and the easiest. You see all these great actors come through the door that would do a wonderful job and then the perfect person comes in and you know it before they say one word.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
I write late at night, in my office at home, with a couple of bottles of wine and music, it’s very romantic. So in my room while I’m writing–this is going to sound like a Weezer song–it’s all perfect. The movie or the book is perfect in my mind and on the page. The next day I show Amy [Slotnick] and Ronan [Nagle] the producers, then Ben the DP, then Jen the set designer then Annie [in] wardrobe. Then the actors and the whole result becomes very different. Your whole vision becomes tainted in the film making process. Later you watch the dailies, you edit the scenes together, alone, it goes full- circle, and you think, “man, this is great, just like I pictured it when I wrote it.”
What do you hope to get out of the festival?
My goal for Sundance is to meet Robert Redford, my mother would be so proud of me.
Describe the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
I spent the day wandering the streets of the East Village. It was right before Thanksgiving and really cold, [and] I had this horrible feeling we weren’t getting into Sundance. I strolled up Avenue C. I strolled down Avenue C. I realized no one offered to sell me any drugs. That made me even more depressed, New York has changed I thought. Later that night I was at a bar with Ben the DP, across the street from CBGB‘s, that had closed the week before. Now more depressed than ever. I looked at my cell phone I had two missed calls. I listened, one was from Amy our producer saying she got a call from [Sundance programmer Trevor Groth] saying that we were in. The next message was from Trevor telling me that we made Sundance. That’s when it hits you, history is written by the winners.
What is your definition of “independent film?”
My definition of independent film is a lot different than what independent film is today. That’s one of the reason’s why I made “Judas” like we did. Independent film needs to be film as art. Not film as an outlet for money.
What are some of your favorite films, and why? What is your top ten list for 2006?
My favorite films of all time are the standard top ten lists that you see around, but these films changed my life, I swear, changed my life. “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan“, “Hannah and her Sisters,” “2001,” “Barry Lyndon,” “Goodfellas,” “Boogie Nights,” “Kids,” “Blue Velvet,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Clockwork Orange,” “Tootsie.”
My favorite films of the year are “Half Nelson,” and “Point and Shoot,” and “Squid and the Whale” last year.
What are one or two of your New Years resolutions?
My New Years resolution is to start smoking and stop doing yoga.
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