Deauville: Jon Favreau Talks Creative Freedom on 'Chef,' Highly Technical 'Jungle Book'


Jon Favreau is known these days for directing the sort of films that attract teenage fanboys far more than grown-ups — i.e. the Iron Man franchise — but, in this return to his indie roots, he has crafted a delectable drama about a middle-aged man suffering a mid-life crisis, of sorts, including the loss of his job. Most people of a certain age will also relate to his character's struggles with social media, if not his relationships with women such as Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson.

The director also downplays the indie's rerelease as an effort to drum up awards interest

Jon Favreau's Chef, the food truck film that has driven to more than $30 million in the U.S. box office, is hitting the road with a string of European openings this month.

For the Iron Man director, who was in Deauville for the French premiere of the film, making Chef was a needed break from blockbusters.

"I scaled down as much as I needed to to have creative freedom," says Favreau of doing the indie comedy. "When I play in the other sandbox, there are definitely a lot of voices."

He's now knee-deep in production on one of two Jungle Book films in the works, including voice-recording sessions with star Idris Elba, during his European press tour for Chef, which he compares to "a starfish race."

"It's one of those never ending, long, highly technical films," he says of his version of the Rudyard Kipling classic. The process will blend live action, animation and motion capture in a time-consuming process that he compares visually to Gravity.

"With the appetite for highly technological films, the price goes way up, and with a higher price tag, automatically your freedom as a filmmaker is diminished," Favreau adds. The need to appeal to foreign markets to make back big budgets "makes the bets safer and safer."

"The whole middle ground that was supported by DVDs is not there anymore, so your choice is either make big movies that you can connect with, make what would have been a midsize movie for cable or television or online, or do small enough films where the budget is appropriate for what the possible revenue might be," he explains, adding that for Chef, "I knew I had to scale down."

The short shooting schedule allowed Favreau to recruit a star-studded cast — including Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman and Oliver Platt — that could commit to just a few days of shooting.

"People popped in for a day here and there to do cameos. It was electric with chemistry, and we discovered a lot of things on the day. There's not going to be a lot discovered on the day in Jungle Book," he says.

"For me to do a movie like Chef that you essentially could have done 10, 20 years ago in the style of 'let's put together a movie and do it with creative control and deliver it essentially as a negative pickup and support it through foreign presales and working the festival circuit' — that's what it was like when I started," he states. "I didn't know if I was ever going to experience that on a small film again."

He also credits social media for Chef's continued success months after its original May release, comparing it to the word-of-mouth recommendations that L.A. food obsessives have for spots like Kogi taco truck: "This movie would have been out of theaters months ago were it not for social media."

Favreau frames Open Road's decision to rerelease and make the film free to guild members as more of a last push before the movie comes out on video, not an effort to drum up awards interest. "The fact that we're in theaters will start to dovetail into the time of year when award films come out, so some people are generously confusing us with an award campaign," he says, but he indicates that could be a consequence of the move.

"Open Road making it available to guild members for free does make people start to think of it in a different way," he admits.