- Josh Horowitz
- 29 years old
- Born and grew-up on the Upper West Side; now lives in Murray Hill
- Writer, "The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker: 20 Conversations with the Next Generation of Filmmakers"; Freelance writer and television producer; creator and writer of the pop culture blog, BetterThanFudge.com
There have been several books comprised of conversations with filmmakers. What gave you the idea to do one, and what do you think makes "The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker" unique?
This one’s different I tells ya! I’ve re-invented the wheel.
OK, maybe not. But I guarantee it’s far more factual than James Frey’s work.
Basically this is the book I wanted to read so I thought, why not do it myself? The idea I was exploring was -- wouldn’t it be great to read a collection of interviews with our top filmmakers back when they were starting out, when they were still solidifying who they were both as directors and human beings? We can’t go back and talk to Spielberg and Malick and Altman when they were 30, but we can make some educated guesses about today’s talent and talk to them right now. And that’s what “The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker” is all about.
I think of this book as something of a time capsule -- a snapshot of contemporary moviemaking today. The idea was to talk to a wide array of filmmakers of different stripes and sort of take their pulse, see what they were all about, look at what was common and unique to each of them, and most importantly -- just have fun talking about the movies. The book’s not necessarily an academic study of film nor is it a celebrity worshipping collection of profiles. It’s something in between; the kind of book any film fan, from the casual to the obsessed, can pick up and enjoy any or all of depending on what they’re in the mood for.
How did you decide upon who you wanted to participate?
I believe the group in the book reflects a truly varied cross section of filmmakers. Everyone is going to cheer someone’s inclusion and take me to task for someone as well. And I’m happy to make a case for each of them. In no way am I saying that these are the finest 22 young filmmakers working today. I am saying they are some of the most influential and important, and they each have something significant to offer.
I didn’t have a specific set of criteria all of the filmmakers had to conform to. I wanted critical darlings like David Gordon Green as well as blockbuster factories like Brett Ratner. There’s a wide breadth of filmmaker out there. Why stick to one type?
So considering your inclusion of critically acclaimed types like Green and Michel Gondry as well as mainstream blockbuster filmmakers such as Ratner and McG or those who might straddle the line like the Weitz Brothers and Doug Liman, did you find commonalities among these different types of filmmakers?
That’s part of the fun, isn’t it? To hear from this extraordinary range of filmmakers and see where they overlap and differ. Surprisingly there really was a lot of commonality I saw across the board. For one, most of the filmmakers had a sense that this was the only profession for them. They believed that come hell or high water they had to make movies or fail miserably trying. I found that struggle and tenacity quite inspiring. It really seems like the best filmmakers, regardless of where they began, need to be making films and need to be telling their particular stories. It’s that passion that comes through on the big screen I think whether it’s Neil LaBute or Todd Phillips.
Did all the people you approached say yes? Was there anyone you really wanted to talk to who said no or wasn't available?
I’d say most did say yes, though it took a while to get some on board. I really am thrilled with the group I ended up with. I think they represent the current crop of filmmaker quite well.
However I’d be lying if I said everyone I wanted in there participated. Many people wanted to participate but couldn’t because of production schedules, etc. Two that come to mind are Bryan Singer and Sofia Coppola. I desperately wanted to chat with P.T. Anderson but it just wasn’t in the cards this time around. There’s always volume two…
Do you believe everyone you spoke with will maintain similar levels of longevity? Looking forward, do you think 10 or 20 years from now their work will be remembered as important or even representative of this period?
The short answer is who knows? It’s literally impossible to predict. We need only look to the past to see how unpredictable the future can be. I mean the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection most recently directed The Hunted! You just never know. That being said, this group of filmmakers is off to a great start. I look at their offerings this year and continue to be enthused. I think Paul Weitz’s American Dreamz and Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales could both be quite special.
How much did you edit from the conversations? The back-and-forth reads very naturally. Did you deliberately decide you were just going to print word-for-word whatever was said?
I’m glad you say they read very naturally because that very much was the goal. I’m all the more proud of that because there actually was a lot of editing I had to do to the conversations because of space considerations. Some of the interviews in their raw form number in excess of 30,000 words and each one was cut to fewer than five thousand. Some tough cuts had to be made.
My goal for the interviews was for the reader to feel like they were eavesdropping on a casual conversation between film buffs. The last thing I wanted the book to read like was an academic conversation between film school snobs.
Did any of these people say anything that truly surprised you?
Truly, each filmmaker surprised me and that’s what kept it interesting. A few things off the top of my head though that surprised me…there was Dylan Kidd’s honesty about his disappointment in his second film, P.S. and Karyn Kusama’s clear misery in finishing up her first studio film, Aeon Flux. There were revelations from directors who weren’t used to talking in such detail about their career such as when Patty Jenkins revealed for the first time (I believe) that she nearly died right before filming Monster. The Italian Job’s F. Gary Gray opened up to me pretty forthrightly, telling me he was still figuring out how to direct actors even after his first few movies. I relished the discovery that David Gordon Green of all people loved a movie like Red Dawn in his youth. If you keep people chatting long enough they’ll open up to you.
We were surprised by the insecurities expressed by people like Jon Favreau, Gondry and others. Do you think this is a reflection of the kind of perfectionist personality that is often attracted to the mammoth task of directing a film?
I definitely think there’s something to that. The best tend never to be satisfied with what they’ve done. I remember being taken aback as you were when Gondry expressed such insecurity. I was speaking with him only months after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released. Here was a film that many (including myself) consider nothing short of brilliant, and he still had his doubts. I found that humility pretty endearing, and indeed most of the filmmakers had similar anxieties/insecurities. Maybe it’s youth, maybe it’s a neurosis common to all artists, or maybe it’s perfectionism. Probably a little of each.
You're obviously a big movie buff: did you ever want to work as a filmmaker yourself? If so, why haven't you?
If those who can’t teach, teach gym, do those who can’t make movies write about people who make movies? Not completely true, but I believe there is something to that for many. In my case, I still daydream about making movies of my own. And I’m not ashamed of it. In fact I should get back to that screenplay of mine. My career hasn’t followed a clear path so far. I’ve produced a bit of TV, written a bunch, and even performed here and there. I’m not quite 30 yet. So cut me a little slack. There’s still time for the movies.
Do you have a preference for writing vs. television? Do you plan to work on more books?
I don’t have a preference. I like to bounce around. Keeps it all interesting. I do have some ideas for other books. There’s this one about this boy wizard that I’m pretty high on. Stay tuned.
Your blog is called "Better Than Fudge." Come on … we are talking about fudge here. No offense, but how can your site or your book be better than fudge?
I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to say my book is better than fudge. I’d say it’s about as good as fudge.
And by the way, I don’t really know why I called the site "Better Than Fudge" except that I’m horrible at naming things and I really like fudge. It truly has not been worth the aggravation explaining to people…”no it’s not a gay porn site…”
Much as we like to ask each of our interviewees a group of the same standard questions, each of the filmmakers in your book is asked a series which you call "The Director's Take." We thought we'd like you to answer most of the same questions you asked them, so …
Dear God no…
What is the first film you ever saw?
Time Bandits had to be pretty early so blame Terry Gilliam.
What is your favorite film of all time?
It changes all the time. How about The Exorcist, Ed Wood, and The Untouchables to name three off the top of my head. Oh and Ladyhawke of course.
What's your favorite line in a film?
“I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, when he said, ‘I drank what?’” – Real Genius
What movie made you realize that film was an art?
As far as seeing something in the theater and being blown away, I’ll always remember JFK knocking me out.
What movie do you consider your guilty pleasure?
The Rocketeer. Howard the Duck. The Postman. Yeah, don’t get me started…
What's your favorite movie snack food?
Red Vines. The best thing about movie theaters in LA.
Who is your favorite director of all time?
Coen brothers, DePalma, Spielberg
Who is the most impressive filmmaker working today?
What quality do the best directors share?
Passion. Vision (as dorky as that sounds).
Who is your favorite actor/actress of all time?
Pacino, DeNiro, Michael Caine, Jeff Bridges, Gene Hackman…
Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Jodie Foster…
Who is your favorite actor/actress of today?
There’s always something interesting going on today with Daniel Day-Lewis and Kate Winslet.
Who would you cast as yourself in a film about your life?
Ricky Gervais or Warwick Davis
What is your best quality as a writer?
On rare occasions I’m moderately satisfied with what I’ve written. I can even make myself laugh from time to time.
What is your greatest weakness as a writer?
Inability to sit down and actually write.
Finish this sentence: I'll never write anything about …
Never say never.
Even more things to know about Josh:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
There’s this guy outside the Sunday flea market at I.S. 44 (my alma matter) that sells sausages that probably could kill those with a weak constitution. If you’re up to the challenge, they’re awesome.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
Probably the Best Buy in Chelsea (slightly overtaking the Union Square Circuit City).
Personality problem solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
I was born and bred here and so I’d like to think that I have equal parts hysteria and obsession. In other words I’m hysterical about my obsessions and obsessed with my hysteria.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
A dark movie theater with a refill-able diet coke.
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
I essentially cut my entire freshman year of high school here in the big city. My dad would drive me down to the old Stuyvesant on 14th street, and once I was out of sight I’d spend my days walking about the city, hanging in movie theaters, reading in fast food places and bookstores and even going to baseball games -- all by myself. This went on for nearly the whole year, and I was able to convince my parents that all the absence notices and calls from my guidance counselor were clerical errors. Eventually it caught up with me but by then my freshman year was essentially lost.
"The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker" is on sale now. Josh's musings on pop culture can be read daily on BetterThanFudge.com. Josh will discuss his new book at the Kips Bay Borders at 32nd Street and 2nd Avenue on Feb. 16 at 7 PM, and will be accompanied by one of his interviewees, filmmaker John Hamburg.
-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei