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Interview With James Merendino By Chris 11/6/07
James Merendino is a fantastic director.
Who directed the cult hit SlC Punk
So read the interview and find out more about this directing talent.
1. How did you get into directing?
The usual statement is, “I started making little movies when I was six, using my dad’s 8mm” But I actually started professionally when I was 20. I moved to Los Angeles and got a job through a Temp agency with a producer named Dan Melnick. After two years of shrill shrieking torture working for this man, I escaped by meeting a young woman who was producing no-budget horror pics.. I managed to convince her to let me direct a movie called ‘Witchcraft 4”. I was paid one thousand dollars and I had one day to prep and six days to shoot. Once I had made that very small and questionable movie, I was sort of in.
2. What have you up to directing lately?
Well, last year I made a movie in Argentina in Spanish called ‘Death Club”. I had gone down there to attend a film festival. Somehow I ended up meeting some great people there and “although I do not speak a word of Spanish,” found myself making a movie. The movie is a strange and dark Dogme 95 type thing and it is not finished yet.
3. Did you ever think that SLC Punk would be come a huge cult hit?
I didn’t know SLC Punk was a huge cult hit. I certainly didn’t think that it would. I was really just making a sort of personal movie that I was sure no-one but my mother would watch.
4. Were you happy how it was received and turned out?
I was very happy how the movie turned out. However, I am surprised sometimes about how the movie is interpreted by people. There tends to be an argument going around that the movie is not a true representation of ‘Punk Rock”. The fact is, I have no idea what a true representation of Punk rock would be. Also I find people really get caught up on the Anarchy Issue. They wonder if the movie really presents that ethos correctly. Well on all of these points I have to say that I was not intending to make a movie that would promote Anarchy nor was I trying to define an old youth rebellion. I was just making a movie about young people trying to work their way into the world.
5. What was it like working with Matthew Lillard & Michael A. Goorjian?
Mathew and Michael were without a doubt amazing to work with. To begin with the guys are really smart film makers and game for anything. They were also friends before we started shooting so it made things easier. They were also fun. I remember when Mathew got to town, we went to a mall to by some play station games. We then went back to the production house and played a Samurai game through most of the production on a huge screen. Mathew and Michael used to play chess between takes and they were both really good. I tried to play them, but was murdered every time. In the end, those guys made the movie a good movie in my opinion.
6. Have you had any bad experiences as a director?
I have had many bad experiences as a Director. But, as I get older I seem to have fewer bad experiences. I tend to allow anything that may be a problem roll off my back. I make movies because I enjoy it. So I try not to let anything get in the way of that enjoyment.
7. Is it hard to get finance for a film your trying to make?
The worst nightmare one can go through, besides perhaps having your fingernails ripped off, is raising money for a movie. I realize there is real suffering in this world, hunger, war, disease, unspeakable cruelty… then there is raising money for a movie.
8. What was it like making the film Trespassing?
Trespassing was a rather tough one for me. I had written a really scary script and got funded pretty quick. But, for some reason I was given only two weeks to prep rather then six weeks and then fourteen days to make the movie. I didn’t get what I needed as a result and the movie never came close to the script. I am not blaming anyone for this, but, I am disappointed in what I ended up with. I wanted to make a really irreverent and scary movie and I believe I failed. The actors were great, so it makes the failure worse for me. It is for this reason that I am making a new Horror film called “The Bitch”. I am going to get it right this time. The script is already much better then Trespassing was and I am dealing with very careful producers who understand that I need enough time to make the movie what it needs to be. Plus, I am much more prepared to tackle the genre.
9. Were you happy the way film was received and turned out?
Well, as I said I was not happy with the way the movie turned out, but I am surprised anybody liked it at all. I keep wanting to apologize for that one and promise that this new one will make up for it.
10. Is it hard to direct yourself and act at the same
I’ve never done it.
11. Was it hard making your first film?
Actually, it was easy and fun making my first movie. The budget was so small that there was very little pressure and nobody was expecting much. I had already made so many short movies that I found the whole thing to be sort of like, messing around with a bunch of film equipment and trying to get really cool shots.
12. Who would you most like to work with?
There are many people I would like to work with. I think the question is better asked, “who wouldn’t I want to work with?” But, if I had the chance, I would work with Peter Jackson, even as an assistant, just to see him in action.
13. Have you had any problems with any actors in your films?
I have never had a problem with an actor on a movie. I wish I could talk about a scandal, and I would. But, I tend to get on with actors and I can’t really think of any real difficulties. This is not to say that I do not have funny stories concerning actors I have worked with.
14. What movies have you seen lately you really
I have been watching a lot of horror… I really liked “The Descent”. It worked for me and the girls were bad ass. I haven’t seen anything new as I have been focused on raising money for my next movie.
15. Any advice to people wanting to make a career in directing?
Get professional help and if that doesn’t work and you still want to make movies. Commit completely to doing just that. Take a risk, have nothing to fall back on and put yourself in the situation that if you do not get your movie made you will go hungry and die.
16. Is there any thing that annoys you with Hollywood and the movie industry?
People tend to sometimes be disingenuous. The industry attracts many flakes and it is hard to weed through them. You also get judged pretty harshly. People want to see you fail. You have to ignore them and ignore all negativity.
17. Who would you most like to direct?
18. What are your thoughts on the realty tv format?
I do not watch it. I do not understand it. Are people’s lives so empty that hey can find pleasure in watching other people’s lives on the television? I imagine two old ladies in England closely observing their neighbors.
19. What is next in the pipeline for you?
As I said, I intend to make a horror movie this summer/fall. Or, for the southern hemisphere, Winter/Spring
20. Are you happy how things have gone so far for you?
I am happy to be making movies, yes. But I feel I’ve only started. I have made a lot of indie festival movies… but I started rather young. I feel most of my work has been practice or learning how to make movies. Not that I didn’t take the movies I have made in the past seriously… But, I feel I have been learning this whole time. It is hard to become a good director. You can’t really practice, like you could if you wanted to be a Guitar Player. You have to be good right out of the gate. I find that unrealistic. Who picks up a guitar and is amazing the moment they first touch the strings.
21. Do you as a director like much of the new films that studio system are putting out these days?
Actually, I do. I think the studios have gotten back to making really big spectacles. I think that is what they should be doing. There was a time in the 80’s where movies were not much different than TV. Save a few, “Raiders” for example. People really complained about this fact a lot back then. But with movies like Lord of the Rings, or the Pirates series, or 300… etc, these are big movies with very talented directors behind them. And I feel they are getting even better.
Thanks for your time any last words
Just thanks for the interview…