'Looper' Director Rian Johnson Offers Behind-the-Scenes Secrets and Tips in Reddit AMA
The writer-director spoke at length with super-fans and aspiring filmmakers on Monday night.
Rian Johnson is a very popular man on Reddit.
The writer-director behind Brick and The Brothers Bloom releases his biggest film, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring time travel flick Looper, this coming weekend, and as part of his promotional blitz, he sat down for a Ask Me Anything Q&A session on the popular site. Making a stop at the site is becoming a promotional must (when the president does it, you know it's a trend), and Johnson, as an auteur who is bringing a smart sci-fi film to the big screen, received a very enthusiastic welcome.
He answered questions for several hours, addressing his own filmmaking methods, working on episodes of Breaking Bad (he's directed two), sci-fi influences and much more. Here are some highlights:
On indie film financing:
I wrote Brick when I was just out of college, and basically spent my 20s trying to get it made. We had a producer break down the script, and we said "OK we need X amount to make it." Then we started looking for that amount. And after years and years of failing at that, I met my producer Ram Bergman, who told me I was doing it wrong. I should see how much money I can scrap together right now, and then figure out how to fit my film into that amount. So that's what I did. It wasn't easy but we were able to get it made, we shot it in 19 days on 35mm for about $450k. This is before digital was really an option or at least before it saved you any money.
On his whether he'll renew his Twitter "feud" with Jason Reitman:
Nah. We're cool.
On gaining writing material:
I think all the experiences that had nothing to do with movies were tremendously important. That's a huge part of being writer I think, is living a rich life. Traveling and getting your heart broken and all that stuff that turns you into an adult, that's what all goes into the soup that you make your stories out of. So watching movies and making them is important, but also grab a cheap ticket and backpack around someplace strange for awhile. I went to Berlin alone in my 20s once, the memories from that trip heavily worked their way into Bloom.
On his writing process:
If I spend a year an a half writing a script, the first year will be outlining in notebooks. I really spend as long as I can sketching everything out and working on the structure before I sit down to type out scenes. Just the way I work, definitely not necessarily the best way. At some point in the process I'll go to Staples and get really excited and buy notecards and sharpies, and lay them all out or put them on the wall. It's a nice way to procrastinate for an afternoon but inevitable they just end up sitting there for the next month, and I don't really use them. I find notebooks much easier to work in fluidly.
On The Brothers Bloom:
The release for Bloom was a weird experience, it definitely got lost in the shuffle a bit.
On other great sci-fi films and books:
I guess besides the obvious sci-fi time travel movies (Primer, 12 Monkeys, Time Crimes) I'd say check out the movie Witness. Big big influence. And if you're looking for some good sci-fi to read, Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World by Murakami will blow your mind.
How he got started with Breaking Bad:
Vince Gilligan had seen Brick, and he just dug it and got in touch with me when they were putting together their second season. I hadn't seen it at that point, but I watched it an flipped out. Unfortunately I was off making Bloom and couldn't do it. But they got back in touch for season 3, and then I kept after them for season 5. I'm not doing one in the back 8, they have some great directors lined up, and I'm sorta happy I get to just watch the end of the series unspoiled as a fan. I think it's going to be a good one.
His directorial influences:
My dad introducing me to Scorsese's movies was pretty pivotal, it was the first time a director was presented to me as an author, and as someone whose work should be studied and revered. I think I still have Raging Bull memorized shot by shot, I can play the whole movie in my head.
More film financing:
There is nothing harder than getting someone to actually write a check for your independent movie. It's just nearly impossible. But it happens. I was about to type "it comes down to luck" but really what it comes down to is persistence. My dad, uncles and grandfather are all in the homebuilding business, and after seven years of putting the movie together and getting actors and a great producer and tracking down money and losing it and tracking it down and losing it again and just not going away or quitting, finally they happened to have a big deal go through and were able to put a little money into it, and that made it possible to get others to jump in the pool. So it's one of those "work seven years to get 'lucky'" things. The other important distinction is that my family was not investing in the movie per se, they were investing in me. They didn't look at the proposal and think it was a good investment (because a movie is never a good investment) - they looked at me and believed in me. If your money ends up coming from sources close to home, that's going to be the motivation I think.