April 14, 2017
in theaters

How Producer Jared Ian Goldman Wills Indie Hits into Existence

Little Boxes
Jared Ian Goldman of 'Little Boxes,' 'Kill Your Darlings,' 'The Skeleton Twins,' and 'Loving' has producing advice aplenty to share.

Jared Ian Goldman seems to be just the kind of producer you want in your corner. He has spent years doggedly shepherding beloved projects into the world, often moving them from very humble beginnings to awards, critical acclaim, and even the kind of financial success that tends to elude indie films. 

Goldman started his career at Miramax in business affairs and acquisitions. He then moved over to GreeneStreet Films, where he worked in production and development and learned how to schedule, break down scripts, and budget movies, “which was fascinating,” he recalls, “because you really feel the movie begin to come to life during that process. Then I started to understand, ‘Oh, there is a line here of balancing the creative with commerce.’”

When the documentary Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) that he made with his best friend, Jason Kohn, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007, he thought, "Oh, wow, this magical door will now appear, and on the other side will be a pile of money and a Rolodex, and the script for Spider-Man 3 for me to produce." He soon learned that "none of those things was going to happen, but I now had a skillset and I had a calling card," which he leveraged into more producing opportunities. He has been working independently and racking up credits since. 

“It's almost exclusively no's, but if you believe in the story, you just figure out how to will it into existence.”

Goldman’s own profile was raised with the release of indie hits Kill Your Darlings (2013) and The Skeleton Twins (2014), and his hard work and persistence continue to pay off. In the past year alone, he and producing partner Jordan Horowitz (of La La Land’s classy-Oscar-handover fame) have had films premiere at Sundance, get nominated for Oscars, and screen theatrically.

One of Goldman's latest is Little Boxes. The film is released theatrically this week—eight years after Goldman first met screenwriter Annie Howell at IFP—and on Netflix this summer. The charming gem of a movie follows an interracial couple, played by Melanie Lynskey and Nelsan Ellis, as they move from New York City to a small, suburban town and face a panoply of cultural biases, including their own. The show is stolen by an utterly believable turn from Armani Jackson, playing their teenaged son who embodies biracial youth in America today.

Before the theatrical release, No Film School sat down with Goldman to discuss his impressive resume, including how he helped Little Boxes come to life, and what he has learned along the way.

No Film School: Starting more generally, how do you choose your projects?

Jared Goldman: It's pretty straightforward. I just always respond to things that have a balance of playfulness and poignancy. It's always some type of ratio of that, and essentially, just that old adage of, "Make them laugh, make them cry." When I read scripts, that's really what I'm looking for: does this have the ability to do both? 

I like to think I try to make movies that are commercial and can play in art houses, because I think there is an opportunity for movies to be broad and accessible and be smart. That's really the criteria.

I've made two movies with Rob Reiner, and I really learned a lot from him. I realized that those first movies he made—Spinal Tap, Sure Thing, Stand by Me, Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and A Few Good Men—they all have that ratio. Rob was able to transcend many genres. 

The funny thing now is, Rob said to me, "If I was trying to make Stand by Me now"— because I think he said he shot Stand by Me in like 60 days, or something—"how much do you think I would get to make it for? If I was going around pitching a movie about four teenagers, actors you've never heard of, trying to find their friend's dead body in the '50s, do you think I might be able to raise a million dollars for that movie?" I was like, "Yeah, you know, you're right." 

Everything is casting. It's not just actors. You're casting locations and crew.”

NFS: “Producer” is this kind of ambiguous title. In your case, do you take on the same set of roles for every film, or does it depend on the film? 

Goldman: It really depends on the movie, because each movie is sort of its own organic being, and has different needs and personality, politics, and dynamics. 

My partnership with Craig Johnson, for example...I made Skeleton Twins with him, and Wilson, which is out now, and now we're in pre-production on a new movie. He's very decisive and has a very clear vision for things, so in that instance, I'm there to just help make sure that he can achieve that. 

The Skeleton Twins
Craig Johnson's 'The Skeleton Twins'

With other people, sometimes I develop the project. Like with Little Boxes, I had read that script out of IFP, and then it became a matter of working with Annie [Howell], the writer, to figure out, how do we make this feel bigger? And then it became about looking for a director for it. It shifts from movie to movie. Ultimately, though, my job is to actually just produce the thing into existence. 

Filmmaking is a director's medium, so once a film has its forward momentum, it just becomes about, how do I support the director and help articulate the vision and help with casting? Everything is casting. It's not just actors. You're casting locations and crew. It's all about personality dynamics: does this DP that we like go right with this first AD that we like, and how does that all ultimately help achieve the vision? 

NFS: You're really touching every part of the process.

Goldman: Every part of the process. 

NFS: Which part do you like the best? 

Goldman: I love finding a good story. I've always been a really avid reader, and it’s such a magical moment when you feel yourself give in to the story and just be totally consumed by a story, and everything else in your life sort of gets pushed out because you're just so consumed by it.

I also love music, so [I love] the moment when the score comes in, or just talking about the music of the world and the music of the characters. I really think that music is such a huge part of every movie. 

Little Boxes
Nelsan Ellis in 'Little Boxes'
NFS: With Little Boxes specifically, what was it that you saw in the original script that made you feel like there was potential to, like you said, "make it bigger"?

Goldman: Well, [my producing partner] Jordan Horowitz and I felt that the majority of the movies that had been made about race had always seemed to focus on historic moments and huge shifts that suddenly happened, and we hadn't really seen anything that just felt much closer to the ground, more day to day. Not everything leads to a march on Washington or something on that scale, so we were interested in the idea of how everyday people intersect with stereotypes and misconceptions. 

It felt like there was an opportunity there for humor, but also for getting an insight into what those people who are experiencing what they think is racism are feeling, and the other way around—like, you may not realize that the way you look at somebody may lead them to feel a certain way that is not your intention whatsoever. That dynamic seemed very interesting to try to navigate. 

I feel like our timing now is very good with Loving having come out, and then Get Out. It's also just so interesting—when we first started developing it, Obama was running for president, and we were like, "This is going to be so great and timely. There's this African American guy running for president. There'll be all this conversation about it." Then suddenly, now, eight years later, the movie's finally coming out, and it feels like, "Wow, we are in a totally different landscape of what this movie means."

"If you amortize my fee over the nine years it took me to make the movie, you'd think I was nuts."

NFS: Can you tell us more about that path to development, from reading the script at IFP to now, with the theatrical release? 

Goldman: It was hard. It really became about casting those two leads. Melanie [Lynskey], I think, has such accessibility and vulnerability, and Nelsan [Ellis] we had seen in True Blood. He played Lafayette, and he has such incredible depth. Then it became about finding those kids.

Avy Kaufman casted. I've done a whole bunch of movies with Avy. I think she has like this incredible intuition, not only into actors and character, but in how to create a whole dynamic world.

Nelsan Ellis
Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette in 'True Blood'

Goldman: Then it was like, who could help anchor it to get it financed? Netflix and Amazon came in, and it started to shift how people model financing, and we were just very fortunate. We found financiers who felt very passionate about the story, and Rob Meyer came on to direct it. I met him through Craig Johnson. I met Craig on Skeleton Twins, which he wrote with Mark Heyman, who wrote Black Swan. Craig and Mark and Rob and Cary Fukunaga [Little Boxes Executive Producer] were all in the same class at NYU. 

Rob just really responded to the material and really responded to Annie. The movie is based on Annie's life, to some extent. She is in an interracial marriage, and has kids, and moved from New York to teach in Athens, Ohio, and so, you know, she was starting to experience a little bit of this stuff. 

NFS: How do you persist in these long development periods, when you get a lot of no's?

Goldman: It's almost exclusively no's, but if you believe in the story, you just figure out how to will it into existence. What also happened between when Jordan and I started making Little Boxes to when it actually got made was that he made The Kids are All Right, so then, suddenly, his profile increased. I had Kill Your Darlings and Skeleton Twins come out, so suddenly my track record was improving. 

"You need to have a very clear sense of: why your story, why your story now, and who the story is meant for, realistically."

All of that just helps create a more alluring package for a financier. We also made the movie for very little money. We shot the movie in New York State, which had a great [tax] incentive, at the time. There was also a federal incentive.

That being said, if you amortize my fee over the nine years it took me to make the movie, you'd think I was nuts. 

NFS: I imagine, especially over long development periods, that you’re juggling a lot of projects. What are some of your tactics for keeping the different projects straight and making sure that you're giving the right amount of attention to each project? 

Goldman: It's organization. I have intensive notes: this is where this project is, this is who we're out to, or I owe notes to....And then, sometimes one project gets a little momentum, and the other one is sort of waiting on something, so it just becomes about balancing and prioritizing, and staying really vigilantly organized. 

NFS: Do you have specific organizational tools you use?

Goldman: Not really. In my Apple Mail, each project has a folder, and those folders have folders, and those folders have folders, so I can always very easily access everything. Then there are apps that just help remind you to do this or call this person, or follow up with this, so it's like a virtual assistant, I guess, to some extent, but it's really just about staying very focused and organized in my own head.

'Little Boxes'
'Little Boxes'

NFS: Do you have advice for either screenwriters or directors who are looking for a producer for their project? How would they hook up with someone like you? 

Goldman: There are so many opportunities out there, whether it's the Sundance Labs or IFP or Tribeca Labs. The industry really works hard to nurture storytellers and talent to find more experienced producers or a director to move things forward. 

But you need to have a very clear sense of: why your story, why your story now, and who the story is meant for, realistically. It's very helpful, at least for me, when I'm talking to people, understanding why they think their story needs to be told. It seems like an obvious question, but not everyone has an articulate answer to that. 

Goldman: I think it's also understanding the scale of your project. Even if you think it's for everybody, that doesn't mean it's going to get out to everybody. For example, Little Boxes is opening in just a couple of markets, and then we hope that it will find its audience and grow, but realistically we understood, "Okay, well, it'll open probably in New York and LA." So then, how do we then be smart about using whatever money we have for marketing and publicity and trying to just get the word out there?

Ultimately, it'll premiere on Netflix in July. Netflix has become like the great equalizer, because then it becomes accessible to everybody, but then you still have to worry about that lead-up to that release on Netflix. Has the movie been reviewed in the right places so that the people who do like these types of movies know how to find it? 

NFS: What about advice for aspiring producers? 

Goldman: Try to understand your own taste. I think it's easy to be very broad about it, but understanding how you can contribute to the storytelling process and where your strength is has allowed me to find a path forward. 

What I’ve always sort of done is keep in check with what I've done previously, and how that can help inform the future. What's nice is that there's no ladder to climb, so to some extent, I am trying to also look two to five years ahead—looking at people who are a little bit older than I am who are making the movies that I feel like, "Okay, well, that's a direction I'd like to be going in." How did they get to where they are? Does it make sense to try to model that type of path?

I've been fortunate. I try to be very thoughtful. When people tell me things, I really just try to listen to what they're saying and see if it can be applicable to what I'm doing.      

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