Process, Patience & Trust: Josh Mond on the Importance of Making Films with His Friends
It's something we all want: infinite love and trust in the people we work with. The specialness of that kind of rare and precious collaborative energy undoubtedly shows up on the screen. So what's the key to finding that? Josh Mond says simply, "Love."
In case you didn't know, Borderline Films is a production company comprised of some of the best American independent filmmakers working today, including Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer) and Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene). Founded in 2003, it's been a long journey for Josh Mond, a heavy-lifting producer on the Borderline crew, to rotate into the director's chair and make his first film. James White is the story of a self-destructive New Yorker dealing with tumult in his family and a complicated mother-son relationship. We caught up with Josh in Park City last month to discuss his film, working with his friends and coming to terms with the often long and arduous process of creating.
To get an idea of the people and the project, check out their successful Kickstarter campaign video:
I got a chance to share a few words with Josh on a couch in a hotel lobby in Park City.
NFS: I've been really excited about your work, ever since I saw a music video that you made a really long time ago. Kids running around --
Josh: That was 'Kids in Love'.
NFS: Yeah. I just remember seeing that video when I was just starting out. It just hit me really hard. It was exactly the kind of thing that I needed to see at the time. It was very visceral, very felt. It makes you want to be one of those kids.
NFS: How much anticipation was there for you to get into the hot seat after you saw all you friends make their films?
Josh: I got to watch Antonio and Sean do their thing. They were both really ready. You're never really ready, but I got to learn what it was to want to make a film -- what drives you. I didn't have anything that I wanted to say. I didn't have a question I wanted to explore. From my experiences, I was encouraged by a bunch of people, besides my partners, to explore this. Subconsciously I had tons of anxiety to make the film I wanted. I just wasn't ready to make the move.
NFS: Was it because you felt like you hadn't found your voice yet?
Josh: I didn't think I understood being involved in something for three years of your life. It's all you think about. It has to be something that you want to dance around in your head with. Because I have such wonderful partners who know me so well, I was pushed to explore something that was somewhat personal. I definitely did lose my mom to cancer. It was extremely tough and still is tough today. She was my best friend. You don't want to just sit around and think about this stuff all day, so to have something as a filter, an excuse to process it creatively, allows you to play with something really intense. You're still tortured by [your thoughts], but it gives a little bit of tolerance.
NFS: And working with your friends, who are able to be supportive through that pain, you're actually trying to process in the form something that other people can experience.
Josh: It's not only the material, it's also the making of the movie. No matter what it's about, even if it's your first movie, it's completely scary. I'm very lucky to have my best friends be my influence -- my support and my teachers, and stuff, you know?
It's a process. It's patience. It's tolerance. It's wanting to understand other people. It's not all just beautiful all the time.
NFS: Working with your best friends, how to you compliment each other's skill sets? Or does it all just blend together at this point?
Josh: I think the main thing is love. We all want the best for each other. We're all very deep-rooted. Tony's family is my family. His sister came out, his brother came out, their spouses. We just want the best for each other, as corny as that sounds. We trust each other. We try to do whatever the other person needs to get there. I couldn't differentiate between the three of us.
You have to be open to other people's ideas being better than yours, and, sometimes, not having the answer.
NFS: That's great. I think that's something we all want. It is rare though and it's good to know that's a special thing.
Josh: It's friendship. My relationship with my other best friend hasn't been all roses for 16 years. It's a process. It's patience. It's tolerance. It's wanting to understand other people. I don't know. What I'm saying is: it's not all beautiful, all the time, because it's not. Yeah. Whatever.
NFS: Philosophically, how did you approach this film? Were there strict rules that you had going into this, like, things that you were really solid on, or tropes you wanted to avoid. Or were you more open to just letting it happen?
Josh: One of the things that I've learned from Antonio and Sean is the ability to be comfortable saying that you don't know. It's so important be able to trust the people that you're collaborating with. Like my DP, and my editor, it's their movie, too. Their hands are on it. I think it's really important to be able to say, "I don't know how to shoot this scene." You have to be open to other people's ideas being better than yours, and, sometimes, not having the answer. I think as a director, or even in film school you're naturally going to want to overcompensate. You know what I mean?
NFS: You wanna be in charge. You want to be in control.
Josh: You don't want to feel out of control. You don't want to be embarrassed. You've got an ego. Through the years, it has worked to my benefit, to be like, "I don't know, but I'm willing to figure it out. What do you guys think?" I think that's really important, collaborating with your key people.
Explore something that's close to you, because the only thing that makes you different, is you.
NFS: All of your guys' films feel so coalesced. They feel like one person has an idea they really want to do, and everybody else is on board.
Josh: There's a Scorsese interview with Paul Thomas Anderson where he asked: "Please tell me Scorsese. Do you ever think 'I don't know what to do?' That's how I feel." He's like, "Yeah. That scene with the phone in Wolf of Wall Street, you don't know what to block, you don't know what to do. Just stood there. I think a script advisor yelled something out like, 'Do it on the counter.'" That's the thing. You're all in it together. Everyone's creatively thinking.
NFS: Totally. What was the biggest learning curve on this particular picture for you?
Josh: Understanding process. Everything's a process. Being patient with it. Knowing your assembly's going to not be good. Your first draft is not going to be good. Your script, in the end, may not be good, but your intent and the emotions there that people will be brought in to work on it with you. This is going to be the process for a couple months or whatever. You haven't figured it out. I learn from my own experiences. I think it's normal when making a movie to not know everything. Not knowing the process. Now, I have experience with the process. I have information and education.
NFS: What kind of films do you watch, a lot? What kind of your contemporaries, or any film that you've seen, recently.
Josh: Joachim Trier, Denis Villeneuve. True Romance is my favorite movie. I love Law & Order. I was just hoping to make a movie that I would see. I love Wong Kar Wai -- it's like, "Why is he cutting to these waterfalls?" Right? Why? It's like, "Wait. You don't need an answer." I love A Separation and The Past.
NFS: Asghar Farhadi, yeah!
Josh: Those are the kind of movies I want to make. So real. I cried after watching The Past, then after I watched the trailer for The Past and I cried again. I study The Past. I love Gaspar Noe, I Stand Alone. I've never seen cinema like that. I love Bullhead and Chopper. I love Black Rain -- not Purple Rain, Black Rain! Michael Douglas! Hunger. Wonderboys. I love James Gray, man. And of course Paul Thomas Anderson, but you can't even say that, it's just understood.
NFS: Do you have any advice for a filmmakers just starting out?
Josh: We did a class for our Kickstarter as part of our rewards. There was like five people in there and they were from all different ages. One was an oncologist. One was in e-commerce. Another dude was in school at UC Berkeley. What connected all of them was that the stories they wanted to explore were really personal to them. So, I guess the thing that I could suggest is that if you want to make something, you want to think about it for three years, or four years, or five years, it better be something important to you. Explore something that's close to you, because the only thing that makes you different, is you. Does that make any sense?
A big thanks to Josh for his time.