In Part 2 of my interview with Josh Eisenstadt, we discuss his journey into film making, his early work, his upcoming release Spreading Darkness and Josh also speaks a little about the script he’s currently working on now. If you missed Part 1 of my interview with Josh, where we discussed Twin Peaks theories, the festival and much more here is the link: My Interview With Josh Eisenstadt: Part 1. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation about a man chasing his movie-making dream and succeeding.
On His Inspirations: I’m sure one of my influences is pretty obvious [laughs]. I’m influenced by all the greats though. Definitely Kubrick, I love a lot of his work. I try not to think about all of the films and filmmakers that I love and try to focus on what the story calls for. In my first two films, I think my influences show a lot more than they do in my last two. A lot of it is finding your own voice and I think I’m getting closer to that point, especially with Spreading Darkness.
Growing up wanting to be a Filmmaker: I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker as far back as I can remember. I know that I have a first-grade paper that I still have somewhere where the assignment was “What do you want to be when you grow up”, and I wrote that I wanted to be a movie director. There’s a video from Thanksgiving dinner when I was 7 and my grandparents are asking me what I want to be when I grow up. I’m having them guess and they’re guessing all of these things and I’m saying wrong to all of them. Finally, I said, “I want to be a movie director”. As far back as I can remember, this has been what I’ve wanted to do. I was that kid turning my friends that weren’t actors into actors running around with a video camera. I’ve got plenty of videos from high school where I was trying to get my friends to be actors and say certain lines. It’s always been something I’ve loved and been passionate about, so I had no choice but to pursue it with absolutely everything I have my whole life.
The beginning of his career: I did go to UCLA and it was there that I decided to make my first film. I got together a very low budget and made a film. That was when digital cameras were first becoming available as a means of making films. They weren’t as widely known about then. So I got one and this was after I had the chance to visit the set of Mulholland Drive for two days. I met some people there that wound up helping me out making my first film. So I made this movie. I think the only reason I made it was because I didn’t know how little I knew, so I thought I could do it. There were over 40 actors, over 30 locations and it was just an insane sized thing for the budget I had. I did complete it though and wound up doing a few film festivals with it. From there I made a second film a couple of years later and learned a lot more. I did more film festivals and had a good response from that.
From there I did this 6 or 7 minute short called Inner Balance starring Dana Ashbrook that really got things going for me. That came from a script that I wrote that I still want to do today and we filmed the 6 or 7 minute opening scene from that script. The cinematographer, Eric Steelberg has gone on to become a big cinematographer (Juno, Up in the Air, 500 Days of Summer, Baywatch). I haven’t talked to him in about 3 or 4 years, but the last time we spoke, he said he still wants to do my feature because he’s doing a lot of comedies and he’d love to do something different. I had described Inner Balance as looking like a broke painting. The film has a very distinct look — all of this lead to my first good sized film, my third feature.
Inner Balance: Inner Balance isn’t online anywhere, but we have screened it at the Twin Peaks Festival before. It has to do with exactly what the title is. Someone’s idea, maybe an extreme idea of keeping things around them. I don’t want to say much more than that because I do still want to make the film, but it does involve someone getting kidnapped and being forced to watch an 8mm film [laughs].
Growing as a filmmaker: There was a big jump between my first, second and third films. I went from a much lower budget to a seven-figure budget for the third film. So a much bigger sized film. It’s a lot different when you’ve got huge trailers, a huge base camp, a huge crew and a bunch of known actors. It’s a different experience. Not that I didn’t have great actors in my earlier films because I did. I had people that I knew who were willing to come to do things and do me favors early on. I see it as there being a monumental change from film to film in terms of my growth as a filmmaker. The learning process, the analysis of what worked and what didn’t work, seeing what my own faults were, the pitfalls that I fall into. Each step has been a monumental improvement. I think my next film will be too. My fifth film’s script is being completed, and it’s a complete absurd comedy, but it’s not pointless.
I’m looking forward to it because it’s totally a different type of thing. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’ve already talked to several people about being in the cast. Some of them I’ve worked with before, some that I haven’t but I’m really looking forward to working with them.
Being hands-on with his films: I like to co-write. I like to come up with the characters and the story, and I like to have a co-writer come in and work on it and then I come back and shift some things around. In my films, I’m extremely hands on. I try to focus on the writing and directing part of it, but it’s a necessity that I get hands-on in a lot of other areas. Before filming, I’m involved with the production aspect of it but once we’re shooting, the producer part goes away and I’m solely directing. I can’t do both.
Spreading Darkness: When I was working on my third feature, Dark Reel, I had other thoughts on what I wanted to do next. Mainly my thoughts were going towards Inner Balance. That’s really where I was at the time; I wanted to do it next. I should say this: Spreading Darkness is by far my most personal film. Without going into any details, it was inspired by some things that I saw happen to people I know and told in a completely fictionalized way. There’s a very big question of morality in Spreading Darkness. Every character is a shade of grey, with some being much darker shades. I had my first thought for what would become Spreading Darkness driving through In-N- Out Burger. I’m not sure why their drive-thru line inspired this, but I’m envisioning this psychiatrist’s office. The psychiatrist character, who wound up being played by John Savage and the patient who was played by Rena Riffel (Mulholland Drive, Dark Reel) came to me. She’s being questioned by the psychiatrist about someone who had destroyed her life and the psychiatrist is encouraging her to seek revenge on the person who had ruined her life. Then as a reward, handed her a pair of pink socks for doing what he wanted. So I had that idea driving through In-N-Out Burger, and the burger was particularly good that day, which didn’t hurt. Then other things started to inspire the businessman character that Eric Roberts winds up playing. He’s not successful, he’s at a moral crossroads and he’s got this really nasty billionaire as his mentor who’s bullying him into bullying others. There’s this revolutionary new invention on the market that not that many people know about yet and Eric Robert’s character is being bullied into ripping the inventor off and stealing his invention, which sets off this whole chain of bad events. The question of “What is this invention” becomes a question mark throughout the film. I haven’t done an official screening yet but there are a few people who have seen the film and that’s a question I get. I think the answers are all on screen. Look closely is all I’ll say. It’s not so much about what the invention is though and more about what Eric Robert’s character has done. That was the second idea, this dark energy overtaking him after he steals the invention and then it connected to the first idea I had at the In-N-Out Burger. A lot of times it works that way with me. I get a lot of little ideas for storylines. There’s one over here, one over there and another that way but two of them will feel like they’re part of the same story. In the writing process, a lot of it is just following these leads and then developing who these characters are. In the case of this film, I wanted everyone to very much be a shade of moral grey.
I don’t know why I was drawn to the ideas that became Spreading Darkness, but I was. So you write a script, you get it funded, you film it and you get it out. You do the best job you can and release it. I know that my life inspired some of the ideas, and some were inspired by people I know. Anybody that’s making any kind of film is expressing how they feel at that time. The film might not express it in a straight forward way, but it’s expressing them in some way, perhaps through symbolism. Everyone has times in life where someone has something wrong done to them. This film is a lot about not letting that destroy you as a person or becoming that yourself. It’s definitely a major theme.
Becoming more experienced: There’s so much to learn about film making that before every new film I make, I realize that I know less than I thought I did [laughs]. There’s always so much more to learn. Things do move quicker with experience. You have a sense of how things need to be done and when to do them. You learn ways to communicate ideas quicker. The big rule, especially in independent film is that the clock is your enemy. I think it’s that way in any film really. The more prep you have, the more everyone goes into the day knowing what you’re doing, the better. However, you want to leave room to experiment. You never know what might come up during rehearsal or whenever that might make the scene 20x better. There was one scene in Spreading Darkness where everything was planned one way and we get there with the actors on location and all of a sudden it’s not working at all. So I have to go back to the drawing board and work with the actors to find another way to run the scene. We found a way to run it really, really well.
However, what that did was now change the shot list, but it needed to be done. We knew we were going to go overtime. That meant the entire cast and crew were now getting paid overtime. You look at your budget and you figure out where you can cut elsewhere because in a scene such as this one it needed to be right. Oftentimes you have to improvise. You see it one way in your head, and you get there and you’re in that space, and it’s different. Ultimately I don’t think this example cost us that much time. If this had been my second film instead of my fourth, it probably would have cost us a lot of time. That’s one big thing that experience does. If something’s not working, experience tells you not to forge ahead with that.
Final Thoughts: I’m proud of the film. It’s another stepping point. You try to get as close as you can to how you envisioned it being but you never get all the way there. There’s all kind of constraints, but you get as close as you can. There’s a lot of stuff in here I’m really proud of. It’ll be available on Video OnDemand on March 6th, so Netflix, Amazon Prime all of that. On January 2nd is the Blu Ray and DVD release. I know the deal was closed to sell the film in WalMart so it will definitely be there and we’re working on additional retailers that sell DVDs and Blu Rays. We did the film festival rounds for Dark Reel that we won’t be doing this time. I may have other plans that I can’t talk about too much at this time [laughs]. Keep an eye on the Spreading Darkness Facebook page.
I hope you enjoyed the conclusion to my interview with Josh! Please be sure to look for his new film, Spreading Darkness available for purchase on January 2nd and on Video OnDemand services March 6th. Thanks as always for your support of the site!