Independent film producer Jon Kilik is having a busy year, from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I” and Cannes entries Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Homesman” and Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” to Spike Lee’s upcoming “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.” He’s also celebrating the 25th anniversary of Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”
Kilik is a prolific producer whose films are primarily based on his relationships with filmmakers. His goal is to serve and nurture his directors as he helps them to make the best possible film. He has remained an independent New Yorker through his entire career. He has worked with Lee on 14 films, as well as Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell & the Butterfly”), Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” “Hunger Games”), Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel,” “Biutiful”), Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”), Robert Altman (“Pret-a-Porter”) and Oliver Stone (“Alexander”).
He also made some waves last fall with his controversialkeynote speech at the IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project) conference. I grabbed Kilik, who I met back in 1987 at our first Cannes Film Festival, for a Q & A at the American Pavilion in Cannes.
I was at the L.A. Weekly in 1987, and your movie was with Julia Phillips, “The Beat.” HOw did you get started as a producer?
I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Burlington, Vermont, and moved to New York. I started at the bottom of the producing side as a PA and an AD, paying the rent. That was my film school; that was my grad program, on the streets of New York in the early ‘80s. Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen and Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet were all making a movie a year, and I had the great fortune and good timing to not only be there during that time, but to fall under the wing of a couple of talented assistant directors, producers, production managers who, I guess, thought I was hard-working or pushy. They gave me a job, another one, and another one.
My first day in New York, I met maybe ten people that became the core network of contacts. I never had to look for another job again because people would ask me back, and I built relationships and stayed in touch with people — which is what I did with that core group of friends, PAs, and people my age who’d just gotten out of college. I’d do it with directors I’d meet, because I don’t wait for them to call me for a job — I maintain a relationship with them over years. Gary Ross, who directed the first “Hunger Games,” was a friend during the 14 years between “Pleasantville,” the first film I ever did with him, and “The Hunger Games.” We just stayed in touch; he’s not paying me, and I’m not getting anything out of it. I had no idea it was going to lead to “The Hunger Games,” but if you hang in there and are really true to your commitment — if you have one, as an artist — and try to even bring forth good work, bring the most out of talented musicians, actors, directors, whatever, and make your combined dream for that material come true, you don’t wait to be hired to do it.
A friend of mine from high school and I made “The Beat” for under $1 million. We wanted to come here, be a part of it. We submitted it — of course, we didn’t get in. We had a distributor, but we still had territories to sell. This was at the birth of the video and “ancillary” markets, which gave young indie filmmakers a chance to get features made for a low price. So we came out here, made our film in New York — first time filmmakers — and showed up in Cannes and started putting posters on the walls and showed the film in the market. So we could still say we went to Cannes.
It’s the 25th anniversary of “Do the Right Thing,” which came to Cannes in 1989. How did you meet Spike Lee?
I met Spike in 1988. He had just made “She’s Gotta Have It,” it was the only film he had released. It inspired me. I thought, “Wow, I want to follow his career.” I never thought I’d be working with him, and I had just made my first movie that premiered in Cannes, and then was released in a theater, actually, for about a week. But I still made the movie the way we make “The Hunger Games,” believe it or not. That’s a stretch, but when we made “The Beat,” I thought, “Okay, now’s my chance. I’ve been PAing and ADing for seven years. I finally have a chance to produce my own film, so I’m going to get the DP who shot ‘Stranger Than Paradise,’ the Jim Jarmusch movie; I’m going to get the composer who did ‘Blood Simple’ for the Coen brothers.”
So I put together a group of people who are of a like mind — who are going to bring out the best in the work we do. That’s how I put together “The Beat,” the flawed masterpiece that lasted a week. Well, at the same time, Spike was looking for somebody to produce a work-in-progress that became “Do the Right Thing,” and David Picker — who’d worked on Spike’s second film, “School Daze” — knew a girl who was the PA with me on the first day I was on a movie set, on a Paul Mazursky film in 1979. So, again, that network: staying in touch with her, who worked with David Picker, who then called her up to ask her if she might want to do the budget for Spike Lee. She turned him down, but she said, “Well, Jon Kilik’s a friend of mine. He just produced his first film; he can help Spike Lee out.”
So, connect those dots, and that’s how I met Spike. I sit down with him, and he had just started the first draft. He was in such a mindset: “Okay, the first one, ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ is done; the second one, ‘School Daze,’ is shot, I’ve got to get the next one.” He was so restless in those early years, knowing that you want to have your next project ready. So “Do the Right Thing” was his next vision: “I want to go back to New York City after ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ with more money and make a bigger feature. I want to get $10 million, I want to get Paramount to finance it, Robert De Niro’s going to star in it, we’re going to shoot in Brooklyn, we start shooting next June or July. So you can do a budget and schedule and I’ll see you later. You’ll take a week, and I’ll take it over again.”
I read what he had and I loved it, obviously. I started to work with him on how to create a plan on how to make it. He saw that I had my one movie that just came out, so there was a full-page ad for “The Beat” in the New York Times, and Spike saw it was produced by Jon Kilik. He thought I was legit. Then I showed up at a Knick game and he saw me there, so double the credit. Then we started to work together, and I don’t think he ever paid me anything until we shot; that first budget was all on spec. He didn’t have a place to go. We never got Paramount, we never got $10 million, we never got Robert De Niro, but we started shooting the movie on July 17, wrapped in September, brought it to Cannes. May 19, 25 years ago. And that was a press conference. It was Malcolm X’s birthday, and that was my real baptism here. Two years before I was hanging posters here, by myself, with my friend from high school, showing our movie in the market, and five people saw it. The whole thing is documented in Julia Phillips’ book [“You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again”].
And Spike Lee’s press conference? What happened there?
Spike Lee’s press conference was, you know, Spike at his best. Roger Ebert was a big advocate for the film; the film had its supporters, and it had people who thought it was too inciting and the theaters were going to get burned down. [Cannes jury head] Wim Wenders was one of those people. We ended up having such a split —
With the jury. Spike was “robbed.” He was so angry.
Hector Babenco and Sally Field were on the jury — they were really for the movie — and Wim Wenders said, “There’s no way.” We found this out later because, the night of the awards, they called us up to show up, which is usually a sign that you’re going to get something. They know the night before, the morning of, who’s going to win, and they start calling you back. So awards night starts and they give out a few of the other prizes — Grand Jury Prize, Director — and we didn’t win any of those, so now the Palme d’Or’s coming up. “Hey, this is looking good!” And it went to “sex, lies, and videotape,” and we were really disappointed. And then we bumped into Steven Soderbergh, who was with his producer, Nick Wechsler, who was my agent/lawyer for the first film I did two years ago. Again, this whole thing is so incestuous; just hang around long enough and you’ll know everybody. Just survive — that’s my advice.
So you came back to Cannes with “Jungle Fever,” which had a better result, in that Samuel L. Jackson got Best Actor. There were three Cannes movies in a row: “Broken Flowers,” “Babel,” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” What did you bring to the table on “Hunger Games”?
Well, my approach is to put together a group of people who are all making the same movie. You don’t want to have a bunch of different opinions that aren’t related to the same goal. Different opinions, different skill sets, different strengths that people have are all great, and to be harnessed as part of a successful outcome. Making sure that they’re all of a like mind and with like goals is important, so it’s casting — casting, DP, production designer, editor. I like to work with people who I personally get along with and who, creatively, I respect.
“The Hunger Games,” you know, I had this long history with Gary Ross, so we knew we trusted each other and built that over time. A lot of my relationships — even with Julian and Spike — starts with nothing, and it takes you time. I’ve never started on a movie that was greenlit already; every movie I’ve done — all 40 or whatever — have always been movies that needed to get forced into existence somehow. It’s not a studio calling me up, saying, “We’re going to do ‘Batman 3,’ and we want you to do it.”
Even with “The Hunger Games,” Nina [Jacobson] had found the book, which had maybe only sold 100,000 copies. She optioned the book and tried to set it up at different places that all passed, and finally found a home at Lionsgate. Then the challenge was to get a script made, find a director — maybe a writer-director — and she started looking for people who could fill those roles. When Gary found out about it, he told me to drop everything, the other projects we were working on together — this was the one he wanted to do, and you’ve got to go audition for the role. He put a presentation together and he wanted me to be part of the team. Nina and I had worked together; Nina was running Disney, and she had given us the go-ahead for a Tim Robbins film and two Spike Lee films, so she and I had a history.
Again, it’s just a long-term thing. But, in the approach of making the movie, I brought in the editor from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a French woman who wasn’t even in the union in the United States. So the movie had a specific look, and a look that is more like an independent film. And the story, too: it’s about human beings; it’s not about robots or action heroes. It’s about a girl who is trying to survive, number one, and trying to protect people she loves, number two. That’s the core of the movie: all the action and the special effects don’t work if that part of the story doesn’t work.
Well, Jennifer and I met when she had just finished “Winter’s Bone” and I had just finished “Biutiful,” the Iñárritu film after “Babel” — both very small movies released by Roadside Attractions. Actually, we showed “Biutiful” here in Cannes, also, and we were having a really hard time trying to sell the film. I argue with my directors all the time. I can give you this soft-spoken, down-to-earth thing, but I am pretty passionate, and it’s not that I think I’m right — I just have an opinion.
Well, they expect you to be honest with them. You have worked with directors who others describe as “difficult.” Julian Schnabel, I can testify: I did a panel with him once where he misbehaved horribly. And Spike, obviously. Iñárritu is not perceived as difficult? What is “difficult” for you?
What’s difficult on a panel, for you, might not be the same during the filmmaking process. Julian is just a great host of a big dinner party — that’s what it’s like working with him on his movies. On a panel — and publicly, with the press, as an auteur, as a painter and a filmmaker — he can behave poorly. Iñárritu is the most gracious interview; he’s the most interesting man on the planet. He’s just so articulate and smart and charming and handsome, and obviously one of, if not the most talented directors alive. The guy is a genius, but being a genius, at least for him — and probably for most — comes at a price, and that price… it’s a painful process. What I tell people when they say, “Jon, don’t ask me back for another round of it,” or, “This is so intense,” “Well, look at it. Have you watched the movies?”
Don’t think that what happens in front of a camera or on the screen is independent of the process that it takes to make that happen. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is a pretty intense movie, too. It’s all to serve the work and a certain vision, and I’m up for that because I’m a believer in the work and I know what it’s going to be like.
“Babel” we shot for 103 days — that’s the longest of any single movie I’ve ever shot, even “Alexander.” You wouldn’t think that a movie about, you know, two people in a desert or a deaf girl in Tokyo or a family in Mexico would necessarily take 103 days to shoot. Time, especially when you’re in the hands of the brilliant filmmaker whose compositions, shots, and editing, building the work, is on another level. Brad Pitt carries Cate Blanchett to the helicopter. It might be a line; it might be an eighth of a page. But if you look at that scene — and there’s not even one line of dialogue — there are a hundred shots that go into that scene; it took three days to shoot. And if you shot it as a Steadicam shot that takes her from the house to the helicopter, you’ve served the script. This is where he and [Guillermo] Arriaga might have had, you know, a difference in opinion about authorship.
You can serve the script with one shot and be out of there in a half a day, or you can have a vision for building a world and a painting that takes a hundred shots and music and a whole bit between Brad giving the guy money, and he’s not taking it. That defines cultures and it defines the whole film; that’s his writing, that’s his authorship, that’s his style as a filmmaker in editing, photography, design, costume, casting, and everything else that goes into one scene. If that was a studio making that movie and they watched what we were doing from an office in California and saw the production reports come in: “You’re still shooting that scene on day three?” I would’ve had my film-producing license revoked, but it was us, it was our money, it was our responsibility. Whether we’re working with a studio or not, again, I could be pretty stubborn, and I could tell people, “Leave us alone.”
That’s why Spike liked me so much — because I protected him, and we made the films the way we wanted to make them. “Do the Right Thing,” Universal said, “Okay, we’ll give you $6 million, and you can have Danny Aiello, and you can shoot it on July 30. But you’ve got to shoot it in California, because it’s a movie that’s all exterior and takes place on one day, the hottest day of the summer, so shoot it here on the backlot.” That was never going to happen. We shot it in Bed-Stuy and we figured it out. We don’t need somebody else telling us how to do what we do.
How did you get to meet Bennett Miller and get involved in “Foxcatcher”?
Bennett Miller and I were introduced through his agents at Endeavor, who were starting a finance entity called MRC. I had just finished “Babel” with MRC, which had put up the first million dollars or so. So, when “Babel” was finished, the guy thought I knew what I was doing, so he said, “We’re trying to develop things for Bennett Miller, who had just done ‘Capote,’ and we want you to meet him and he’d like to meet you.” So he and I sat down at his apartment in New York and he pitched me a couple of things that he was thinking about doing after ‘Capote.’ One was a Civil War period film, there was another one, and then he told me the story of the Schultz brothers and John du Pont. I said, “That is the one I want to do.”
So this is about seven or eight years ago, no script or anything. He had been given an article by two guys, and we started to develop that. It took a long time: he went off and did “Moneyball,” I went off and did a few other things, and we just kept at it. We left that finance group; we’d kind of run out of time and money and their patience, and we still wanted to do it. We found other partners later — a great partner, Megan Ellison, of Annapurna. Here we are. We just kept on pushing.
Bennett Miller is a demanding guy as well. He has high standards for what he wants to achieve.
I should hope so. I wouldn’t work with anybody who doesn’t. You know, that’s my whole thing. Or, if they didn’t, I can’t even imagine a version. So high standards and demanding… are those bad?
No. But what is his process as a filmmaker, and what is he like in the editing room?
Everyone’s process is like their fingerprints. You know, everybody has their own unique process, and I think what I have to do is not just adjust to that, but I have to bring my own, which they want to see as well — and combine that with theirs, and collaborate, make sure they get along. I’m O negative, by the way. That’s true. I’m the universal donor; there’s not much blood left.
So Bennett’s process is what he knows and what’s unique to him, and each film — because I’ve seen it happen with other directors, too — just evolves a bit, grows, changes, but it’s still true to his own way. He can’t make a movie the way Spike makes a movie, or Oliver, or Alejandro, and they can’t make a movie the way he does. This is based on a true story, just like Capote was, but it’s Bennett Miller’s version — just like “Basquiat” was Julian Schnabel’s. And there was another Capote film that was not such a different story ,but a very different movie, so it really depends on the voice.
His process is intensity, diving in, immersing himself in the world, research, research, research, truth, truth, truth. Find the truth, follow your instincts, and then, you know, you have your own style — so you have your taste, you have your signature.
He showed Sony eleven very different edits of the movie. I should hope, that during the editing process, you’re not showing your distributor a version when you’re up to screening three. So each time Tom Bernard has shown the movie — and I guess he saw it eleven — it was a little bit different, as it should be. During the months of editing, it’s different every day, and that’s a world a distributor usually isn’t invited into. That’s what’s interesting about… anybody’s comments, you know, are from their own perspective, so for Tom Bernard to go, “Hey, he changed the movie eleven times!” Well, welcome to my world. The movie changes eleven times a day; you’re just only there for eleven times. That’s great because, again, you’re finding the truth on the path — experimenting with different things, trying. What’s the best way, what’s the way that satisfies you as an artist, ultimately, and maybe never. That’s, you know, what every great artist, I think, has to come to terms with, because, at some point, you’ve got to release it. John Lennon wasn’t happy with Sgt. Pepper’s.
So, are you in the editing room with the filmmaker every day?
Not every day, but I try to keep myself… it’s a “feel” thing. You know, sometimes I want a break just to keep my eyes fresh and let somebody do some work — see it, comment, see it again later, and sometimes I will sit there, two or three days in a row. I’ve been in a sort of free-form for the last 25 years. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow or an hour from now — and I’d like to keep it that way.
You don’t like having a boss. No, definitely not.
And when you don’t like a script, you tell the filmmaker you don’t like the script. Somebody didn’t talk to you. Who was it? Spike didn’t talk to you?
Well, that’s true. You can’t agree… you know, we only have so much time… I’ve been loyal to people, I think, beyond the norm, and I’ve gone with things that I was willing to take a leap of faith on, but sometimes I felt like maybe that’s not the right thing for me. And some filmmakers have said, “Okay, you know what, maybe you’re right, and it’s not the right one for me, either.” So there have been times where other directors have brought me material that they liked, at first, then I said, “Hey, didn’t you just make a movie that had some of this in it? Let’s look for something else to do.”
Spike had something that he wanted to make that… we just didn’t match up. The stars did not align at that time, and he wanted to make the movie, anyway. I was more hurt and noticed the fact that we didn’t talk, because I missed him. So I said, “Spike, what’s going on? I haven’t talked to you in six months.” He went, “There’s no problem. I’m making my movie and you chose not to make it.” “But what about our friendship?” [Laughs] “Well, sorry. You’re not here and I need to…” Okay, whatever.
But you patched things up.
Yeah. He didn’t even think of it as a problem. He’s got a job to do. I mean, that’s the thing about Spike: he’s just on his course, and sometimes I’ve been on that train, too, and said, “Either get onboard or jump out of the way, because we’re coming through.” When we made “Malcolm X,” we were on a mission — we only had a certain amount of money, and you offer people scale. If they choose to take it, they come in with you and are a part of it; if they can’t, they don’t, and there are no hard feelings. So that’s how Spike was; I was maybe more sensitive about that because I thought you could choose to not do something instead.
Well, you made fourteen movies with him.
Yeah, he kept going. Just, for a year…And some producers blow smoke because their relationship with the director is all they have, or they’re there to finance a film, and they’re not really interested in anything but that. They’re along, not for the ride, but that’s just what they’re there for — because of the relationship with a financier or a manager or an agent or a friend or a partner company. I’ve never been part of, even over the 25 years since “Do the Right Thing,” Spike has 40 Acres & a Mule, and I guess I could have been part of the company if I wanted to. He asked, at one point, if I would do that, and it just wasn’t for me, because I didn’t want to only be doing somebody else’s.
I feel like all my work is my own body of work. It just so happens that five were with Julian and fourteen were with Spike and then four “Hunger Games” and two Jarmusch films and two Iñárritu films — but I love that all my movies are connected. There’s kind of a part of me in all of them, and they all, I think, tell a story that just reflects my tastes and my interests in other movies about people, places, and cultures that I’ve wanted to learn about. That’s why I spend two years of my life doing them: hoping that somebody is going to spend two hours of their life watching them.
Are you optimistic about the state of movies today, with all the changes? Some people are dire about some of the holes in the marketplace and the things that aren’t getting made. Do you feel good about it?
I feel great about it, because I think the whole process of making films has been so demystified and is so accessible now, where you can go out with, you know, your own iPhone and make a movie; you can get on Kickstarter and raise money. It doesn’t cost as much. The access into it is great — everybody and anybody can become a filmmaker. The only problem with it is that the writing, I fear, can suffer, because you can just go out and start shooting, and you still need to do your homework as a writer, as an author, to tell the story. It’s not just about photography.
But the access and the opportunities — even to distribute — are so much more than they ever were. Now, I know that there was a bit… I did my keynote about —where Soderbergh did his “state of the cinema” address at the San Francisco Film Festival, and then Spielberg and Lucas did kind of a “state of the world cinema,” and both were kind of doom and gloom coming from guys that are fairly successful. And, yet, for anybody — even those guys — when you set out to make your next movie, it’s still hard. Yeah, it’s not the ‘70s. It’s not a time where you see Hal Ashby films and a different kind of Scorsese film, or a Sidney Lumet, or the kind of filmmakers that I worked with when I started out, but Woody Allen’s still doing the same thing, and Jarmusch is still doing the same thing, so I think there’s room for it if it’s good. That’s the trick: to make good work and still have faith it will always, somehow, find its way, and the press and audiences will show up, reward, and support it. I hope.
I hope you’re right, too. Where do you think young filmmakers get into trouble nowadays?
I don’t know that it’s suffering — I just find that I’m reading less-great scripts. There are less experiences like I had when I read “Do the Right Thing,” “Raising Arizona,” “A Bronx Tale” — scripts that were less-reliant on all the visual and flashy stuff, and were just pure story about people. I don’t know if that’s a function of just putting less emphasis on that. Audiences and filmmakers, too, might be less interested in telling those kinds of stories. Filmmaking changes — we’re not making the same movies we made in the ‘70s, and that’s not necessarily because people are as good at writing.
But the art form tends to evolve into something else, and maybe I get nostalgic for that and I remember how great those scripts were that I read, or those movies that inspired me to make the kinds of movies that I’m still hoping to make in the future. I just believe that the writing is such a core and important aspect of the work done; I don’t know that it suffers or people are just not doing their homework. It’s not English majors — it’s tech majors that, maybe, have come into it more.
Audience question: After you graduate, how do you know what to jump into? Do you try to jump into the film circuit? Do you try to intern more?
For me to say, “Trust your instincts” is an easy answer. You don’t even know yet, until you start to see. So, what I did is make films at school, go to New York, go on a set. I had a job up in Vermont, working at a TV station as a camera operator, so, when I went to New York, I went to TV stations to see about jobs as a camera operator, but sometimes it’s just a combination of timing, luck, and, again, trusting your instincts, even when you don’t know what they are, because you find yourself gravitating, kind of leaning toward the divine light. You find yourself moving toward the things you were better at and comfortable with and you like to do, and it just evolved away, for me, from camera operating, and the production thing just clicked.
I also, after I did one of my first movies, I was invited to be an assistant in the editing room, and that was interesting for a couple of weeks, but I got a little bored with it, so that didn’t click. Not being afraid to try stuff is huge, and trying stuff is huge. Getting in there and just not being afraid and doing it; if it’s not something you love, keep your eyes open. Always keeping your eyes open, anyway. When I was on a set as a PA, I just wanted to know what everybody else was doing — I’m curious that way, and you’ll find things. I had no idea what went on behind the camera. I came from New Jersey, not Hollywood; nobody in my family or home town or county had anything to do with movies, so just to be on the set opened my eyes. “There’s all these different jobs. Wow!” So just find what you connect with.
Audience: What’s the most challenging part of taking something that’s a book like “The Hunger Games” and bringing it into film?
It’s very similar to any challenge to make something good: what’s the weakest part of it, and solve that problem. And it’s not necessarily the weakest part, but what I mean by that is, it isn’t necessarily the weakest part of the book, but it might might be the weakest part of what might make the book a good movie. “The Hunger Games” is a first-person narrative — you’re in Katniss’ shoes the whole time. It works great in the book; it might not work great all the time in the movie. So how do you open the world, stay true to the book, satisfy the fans and the author? Make it seamless: you’re not changing anything, but you’re changing everything. So you’ve got to find what could be a little lengthy at adapting it, exactly, and take a little bit of creative license and liberty, and make it so nobody knows.
And, now, everybody says to me, “Of course The Hunger Games is great, because it’s a great project — it’s great material.” Well, you know, the director, writer, and all of us, I think, had a little something to do with that, too. It is a great book; a lot of great books… “Bonfire of the Vanities” was a great book. There are a million examples. Again, it’s kind of like what I said about Bennett and Capote: no disrespect to the other “Capote” — I didn’t even see it — but it’s not just as simple as, “Well, you have a great book, so it’s going to be a great movie.”
So the challenge is when you really carefully analyze it, there are things in it that we looked at when we were shooting. “Wow, that’s looking a little funky. Let’s get in tighter; let’s really get into it here.” Even if it’s the choice of a lens, you know, there are certain things that can make a scene play better or worse, and believable or not. I’m so concerned about making every frame of the movie work because you’re only as good as your nucleus, and that’s the challenge, always.
So was there a big difference between the Gary Ross version of “The Hunger Games” and working with Francis Lawrence on the sequels?
Well, you know, I have to take lemons and make lemonade. You’ve got to make it all better, no matter what the changes or challenges are. It’s all positive. You’ve got be thinking everything is half-full for us. So Gary was my close friend and collaborator, and it was disappointing that he wasn’t going to continue, but we found, in Francis, a great partner who had so much respect for the underlying material, really liked the world that Gary built — the casting, especially, and the tone — but he could actually take all that and be protective, and, at the same time, build on it. That’s a generous thing, and a very amazing thing for him to be able to do as an artist: you’re protecting what somebody else did, building on that, and adding your own vision.
For me, that’s the course Nina and I needed to keep it on so the project could grow and go even further. We want to turn a negative into a positive, so Francis has just added to the greatness of this franchise and built on the amazing foundation that Gary left him.
So you’re almost finished on that movie now? “Mockingjay”?
We have about 20 days to go. We’ve been shooting in Paris for the last month, and we shoot in Berlin for the last month, for part four. We shot “Mockingjay” and split it in two, so that could be three and four, total, and the third one opens in November; the fourth one opens November 15, 2015.
Audience: “The Hunger Games” is an inspiration. I’m still starving to see real, complex female leads. Are there any specific obstacles that you encounter when you’re working with a strong female lead that needed to be overcome? Was there support that came from expect or unexpected sources?
Well, I think the hard work there was already done — what Suzanne Collins did in creating that character brilliantly. That was a character who was strong and sensitive, somebody who you could immediately connect with as you reading it. Whether you’re male or female, she was that tomboy and sister who was taking care of her mother and little sister. She just embodied so many things that have captivated the world, so starting with that made our lives very easy, because she’s just central to everything. Bringing Jennifer Lawrence into it — who just lives inside that character so perfectly — is another great gift that we’ve had for the last three, four years.
As far as continuing to find other films that have female heroines or films by female directors, the first director I ever worked with was Barbara Kopple, and she is an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker. There definitely needs to be more female voices, and I don’t know what’s holding them back. I don’t know if it’s the system, but I hate to think of it that way, because I’ve never gotten a break. Again, we’ve had to force things into existence, whether the director is white, Jewish, Julian Schnabel, a woman, an African-American, Indian, Native American. It doesn’t matter: the challenge of getting a movie made is still probably the hardest thing in the world to do, and the hardest art form to succeed in, because of the economics of it. But I don’t know. Why aren’t there more female directors?
I’ve been watching this for a really long time, and it’s one of the great questions. The industry, as Jane Campion said on opening day, just does seem to discriminate against women filmmakers. There’s just no doubt about it — the statistics are there. But the statistics are also there in how many movies do really well when they’re aimed at women, when they’re directed by women.
There’s incredible success that the industry just ignores, and Nina Jacobson, actually participated in a panel at Cinema Con that Geena Davis was working on — Paul Feig, all these other people. The stats… the women aren’t a niche audience. They’re 51% of the population, you know? Do you have any idea as to how it could be solved? Is it consciousness-raising?
You know, again, maybe I’m just stuck in my own little dream world, but I have nothing but… you know, the reason I’m here is because of the generosity of the women I’ve worked with. From Barbara Kopple to the first person who hired me as a PA on that first movie to Nina Jacobson to Kathy Kennedy, the executives like Donna Langley and Amy Pascal, and now with Megan Ellison. It feels to me that the presence of women on our sets… you know, one thing about Spike, we were always bringing in interns and we had a whole institute, at 40 Acres, where we encouraged people who were students to come work on the sets. Film sets, you know, there’s a great presence of women on film sets, but why writers and directors are not finding their way to the top, I really don’t know.
I wonder if it doesn’t have a lot to do with the fact that, at least at the studio level… and I often say to students, “forget about the studios; don’t even think about them.” I mean, Jon is a better model — a very good model, actually, for just about everyone — because look at this body of work that you’ve been able to achieve. It’s rather amazing.