Monday, March 13, 2006

An Interview with Writer/Director Rian Johnson

This interview was conducted via email around March 13th, 2006 with writer/director Rian Johnson about his stylized film noir/high school debut feature Brick. The interview was originally posted on the message boards, but I am reposting it here for the sake of preservation.

Tyler Foster:
First, the basics. How long ago did you write this film, and how did the project and cast finally all come together?
Rian Johnson: I wrote Brick just out of film school, back in '97. We shot it in December of '03, so it was a six year process from script to screen. Part of that had to do with my lack of both industry contacts and social skills, part of it was due to the sheer weirdness of the script. But most of it is just that it's really hard to get the money together for any indie movie. It came together and fell apart multiple times, and all we could do was keep chugging along and hope that all the pieces would line up eventually. Finally, bit by bit, they did. I found a great casting director who helped us pull the cast together, and an amazing producer who knew how to get movies made for very little money. Then with those pieces in place, I had the confidence to pass the hat to friends and family and scrape together our tiny budget.

Tyler Foster: How's it been taking the film around?
Rian Johnson: It's been totally energizing. After finishing the editing process it's easy to get burned out on your own movie, but now that I'm getting to show it to audiences and see how it bounces off of people, I feel like I'm seeing it through fresh eyes.

Tyler Foster: I could ask you what your influences were in making Brick, but that might be too easy. Has anyone seen an influence in your film that wasn't there?
Rian Johnson: Yes, and those are always much more interesting than the ones I know about! My favorite is the "Dark Shadows" connection - a sharp eyed viewer pointed out that the Pin bears a striking costume resemblance to Barnabas Collins from the vampire soap opera "Dark Shadows." Coincidentally, Joseph played a part in the 1991 remake of the show. Weirdness abounds.

Tyler Foster: Looking at IMDb, I see you not only edited Lucky McKee's debut feature May but he also starred in a short film you directed called Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!! How did you two meet?
Rian Johnson: Lucky and I met in the dorms at USC. You can track down the Golfball short pretty easily online, and see a quick shot of Lucky in his glory days. There's also a pretty big visual May reference hidden in Brick, which at all our screenings I've only had one person catch.

Tyler Foster: You think he'd work on a project of yours in the future?
Rian Johnson: I hope so - he's actually a pretty fantastic actor. He just finished a movie called Roman which is sort of a companion piece to May. He made it with Angela Bettis, but they flipped roles - Angie directed it, and Lucky starred in it. I did a bit of editing on it too, it's a very cool little movie.

Tyler Foster: Any chance that Evil Demon Golfball From Hell!!! will end up on the Brick DVD? Do you know what other supplements there might be?
Rian Johnson: I thought about it, but because it's a USC student short they technically own the rights, so it would be a headache. But I am going to put a short that my friends and I made in high school called Origami Master which is fun. I've also put together a bunch of deleted and extended scenes, and some commentary and behind the scenes pictures that will hopefully give a good feel for what the shoot was like. We're working on the commentary track too -- I'm not a huge fan of commentary tracks where the director just babbles for two hours, so we're trying to figure out how to do it so it's a little more structured and interesting.

Tyler Foster: Speaking of DVDs, I think pretty much every Focus DVD I've popped in over the past three months has had the trailer for Brick on it. How has Focus been going about marketing this film and how much were you involved?
Rian Johnson: I've had very little involvement, just because I haven't felt the need to get involved. Focus has done a great job so far, they really believe in the movie and are doing a great job of spreading the word about it.

Tyler Foster: Lots of directors these days post blogs. Is the message board ( your version of the blog?
Rian Johnson: Absolutely. I'm a big internet geek, I'm constantly trolling the web, and it would always frustrate me to see people asking questions on various random sites around the web, and getting either no info or misinformation about the movie. So I'm trying the message board out as an experiment really, a place on my own personal site where people can talk about Brick and I can give answers when I have them.

Tyler Foster: What was it like, getting the Originality of Vision prize at Sundance?
Rian Johnson: It was quite a thrill. Going into Sundance, I had spent seven years of my life working on this movie and nobody had seen the finished product, so I was very very nervous. Getting that kind of creative validation was an amazing feeling, for me and for the whole crew (and my family, the investors!)

Tyler Foster: Did you see anything cool at Sundance that hasn't hit theaters yet?
Rian Johnson: The bad thing about having a film at a festival is that you don't have any time to see movies. I only got to see Mysterious Skin, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and The Squid and the Whale. Although after Sundance I saw a great movie called The Puffy Chair, which I think just got distribution a few weeks ago. So that's my hot tip.

Tyler Foster: Clear up the release dates for me, plus throw in your two cents on when maybe the film will open wide?
Rian Johnson: We open in LA and NY on 3/31, then will spread out very quickly in the weeks following. If you live in a major market in the US, chances are Brick will be coming to a theater near you. I'm going to be posting the exact cities and release schedule on the main site and on my message board, that's the best place to get the most current info.

Tyler Foster: Anything you're working on for the future?
Rian Johnson: Absolutely - a con man movie called The Brothers Bloom. It's a globe trotting con man adventure romance fairy tale. I cheated a bit, and wrote every location I've ever wanted to visit into the script, so we end up hitting most of Europe in 120 pages. Grab for the brass ring, right?

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