So the first thing you grab, whether you’re learning to play an instrument or writing or painting or whatever, the first thing you do is you just start copying what’s around you. Out of the copying you start to develop your own approach to things, and then, eventually, you figure out what kind of story is in you to tell.
Why do you think you gravitated toward filmmaking?
If you’re a gadget person, right, or a gear person, and there’s a lot of kids who are gear people—they like toys and mechanical things you can manipulate with your hands, stuff with knobs and buttons on them—then there’s a tactile component to the equipment, which is just very pleasing to a kid. When you make a film, even when you’re 12 and you’re making Super 8 movies, you have cameras, and then you have to edit the film. It’s like the Orson Welles quote, where he says: “A movie set is the greatest train set in the world.” There’s a lot of truth to that even to this day.
As I got older, and got on with it, it remained tremendously exciting. Because the thing that doesn’t leave you as you get older is how film encompasses so many different disciplines, and so many different avenues of creative expression.
There’s the story; there’s writing; there’s acting; there’s the design and there’s the lighting, and the photography and composition. And then there’s music and sound. It’s sort of like the modern version of opera in a way, where over 120 years ago, opera was the thing that brought all of these artistic disciplines under one roof to create a thing. Cinema eventually supplanted that. Right. And so what became exciting about it was the more I got into everything else, the more I saw how it all fed into trying to create a movie. It’s never stale.
Growing up on the West Side of Chicago, there probably weren’t many others making films like you were. Who were the filmmakers you wanted to model yourself after?
Growing up in the ’80s, I was a product of the late-1960s through the mid-1970s American New Wave, primarily. Because those movies were appearing on television when I was a kid: “Apocalypse Now,” “The Godfather,” “The French Connection,” “All the President’s Men,” “M*A*S*H,” “Nashville.” All of those pictures started to appear on television. And then there were the popular ’80s movies of the day: “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” all the Spielberg pictures, the James Bond movies. That was the pop stuff I was seeing at the movies coupled with all of the more interesting, darker, grittier, more tragic movies I was seeing from 10 years earlier.