What are the projects you’re working on now?
“The One I Love” is coming out August 22nd. “Creep,” which I just finished and sold — also to Radius — we’re going to do a trilogy of those movies. I’m going to make two more towards the end of year. My new show “Togetherness” will come out on HBO in January. This is the time when you start submitting your movies to Toronto and Sundance, so I have five others that I’m producing and working on, and I have two television shows I’m making independently. I’m very interested in taking the model of independent film directly into television, which it’s time for. Rather than just go out and say, “Hey, here’s my script and pilot,” and then they just cancel you — because that’s what they do — I’m trying to cut through all that and just say, “Here is a season of a television show. If you like it, you have to buy this and buy one more.” So I can guarantee being on the air.
So you’ll pay for that in advance, then shoot it. Wow. Netflix might give you the money?
Yeah. They might, but…I know it sounds crazy, but I’d rather gamble on myself. The money I have to make by owning myself and the control I have over the content is worthwhile to me, rather than getting an upfront price tag, having our salaries be low, and we feel like we should be grateful because… I don’t want to do that any more.
Is “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” an example of where you felt slightly compromised on what you ended up doing?
[Jay and I] did pretty well on “Jeff,” actually, because that was independently financed by Steve Rales, who runs Indian Paintbrush. But [on others] there was a bit of a battle. Ultimately, I’ve almost gotten to make what I want to make; it’s just a question of how much yelling you have to do to get there, and an unfortunate reality of this town is they often don’t think you’re passionate unless you’re screaming. I like to be a sensitive person. I’ve been to therapy; I know that you need to validate people and listen to them, hear them. I’m in a marriage and I know all about this stuff. When you do that in a studio meeting, they think you’re weak and walk all over you. When you yell, it’s “this guy has vision and passion!” Which sucks! But I’ve been put in that position. Sometimes you have to do that.
But you don’t have to do that with Lynn Shelton. Or Colin Trevorrow on “Safety Not Guaranteed,” another example where you collaborated with a young director. Who has gone on to “Jurassic Park”!
I work with really smart first-time directors. I think, “you’re like what I thought when I was 28. You’re full of these ideas, you’re a cool person, and you don’t know how to put yourself on film yet.” The first thing I ask them is, “What was the last conversation you had where you knew you had to go to sleep for work the next day, but you couldn’t go to sleep because you were so excited — you were up with your friends drinking wine? Something in the content of that conversation is what you should be making your movie about.”
It took me ten years to figure that out. When my brother and I would sit on an airplane and watch the crazy people coming on the airplane and tell weird little stories about them — people-watch in our private little sense of humor — that’s where your stuff comes from. I feel like, as a producer, I have something like that to offer: eliciting stuff out of people.
In an ideal world you would be moving up in the movie business, but you’re still working at a micro-budget level. Is there an opportunity for you to grow and make a living?
I’ll be perfectly honest with you: the way I work on a micro-budget makes me more money and makes me more creatively satisfied than if I was doing movies at a 4-to-$7-million level. It sounds crazy, but I now have the connections in the industry so that I can borrow cameras and I can borrow locations. Everybody comes to work for [a small flat rate] per day — whether you’re a PA or a director, whoever you are. It’s all Communism. But you get points, and everybody’s an owner in the movie.
Which movies follow this model?
Quite a few of them. “Creep” is a great example of that; “The One I Love” is a good example of that. “Your Sister’s Sister,” “Baghead,” “Pentathlon” — the list goes on and on. I take money from my TV shows and I do everything. What I do is, I don’t hog 80% of the profits like a studio would, because everybody’s doing the work, so I share a huge chunk of the movie with my cast and crew — anywhere from 50 to 80% of it, depending on how complex it is. We take that movie, we sell it, and I make sure the distributors get a piece of it, because I don’t beat up my distributors. If it’s going to be profitable, you owe me some of that. When you break down the finances… when you go from a $5 million movie, you make $30,000, maybe, and you get no points. But when I make these little movies and we sell them, people walk away with windfalls. You’d be surprised.
Something like “Black Rock” was a movie that we made for [a tiny budget and sold for much more than that]; I shared that with all my cast and crew; Katie and I put up all the money; and we still see dividends that come in profit. That’s more than you would make on those kinds of movies, but we put up no salary at the front. We risk the movie, we risk our efforts, but that’s how you get cool stuff made. I’m willing to have some errors, too. I haven’t lost money yet, but I’m sure I will at some point.