'Sold' Shows a Nascent Screenwriter's Narcissism in True Guerrilla Fashion
We all know this person. As filmmakers, we've sometimes been this person.
Jordan Firstman's Sold is an undulating exploration into the confidence boosting and self validation of success-seeking individuals. I spoke with Jordan about life, Hollywood and everything.
I wanted it to feel intrusive but from a distance.
NFS: I saw your film The Disgustings at a Riot LA event and I notice thematic similarities between the two films right off the bat.
Jordan: About terrible people?
NFS: An innate disgust with yourself or the industry at large?
Jordan: Both projects started very outward for me. I was noticing things in myself or people around me that were really annoying to me. And after I made them it became very clear that those were the things I hated most in myself. The Disgustings was a little more over the top. I was noticing in gay representation in film that there were either the traditional gay archetype — the over the top, bitchy gay fashionista with, like, a purse — and the new era of gay content which is just boring as fuck, which is what Looking was. So, why did we work this hard as a people to play boring likable characters? Looking at those shows and TV that have a lot of internalized homophobia, I thought if I externalized my homophobia I would make a film. I was saying: "I hate gay people for these reasons, but I also love gay people and I love being gay."
I think the character in Sold is a little more sympathetic because he does want something really badly and he's ambitious.
NFS: There's an incredible amount of ego involved in art and filmmaking, especially when it's tied to such a large industry.
Jordan: There's no way to be successful without sounding like [the character]. You have to be this overly confident person, you have to make people trust you enough to make things happen. By doing that you're just talking about why your vision is so special when it's really not.
NFS: You are not special.
Jordan: No, I am very special but you are not -- yeah, it sucks.
I was wondering if people would think I was playing a character or just think I was annoying as a person.
NFS: How did you go about producing the film?
Jordan: We went to this town for 3 days and I had a script, but I knew that I didn't want people to say the lines that I wrote. So I decided that I would say the lines and then go along with them if they veered in another direction. Most scenes, though, I'm just talking, talking, talking and don't really give them an opportunity to go in another direction. Especially with the hotel guy -- that was really as awkward as it comes across. He really didn't want to be there. Some people we just shot from really far away with tight lenses and never told them. With [the hotel guy] we needed more coverage, so I told him I was doing a documentary on young Hollywood. He really wasn't into it and he was angry, but his discomfort makes that scene what it is.
NFS: That's probably my favorite scene, it just has this palpable energy to it.
Jordan: I learned a lot about life on that shoot. That town made me really sad, and I think the lead character finds it sad too, but the difference between us is that when I left I realized that everyone in the world is equal amounts happy and sad. The town was really poor, a lot of meth it seems like, and when we went back to LA I felt I was lucky to live here, but it's really just the same amount of happy and sad.
NFS: No matter where you go, everything is the same? What else did you do to capture that feeling once you got there?
Jordan: There was a guy named Drexel who wanted a movie made about him. He literally told me his whole life story and we filmed it all. Those little kids approached me and asked to be in the movie and I said "of course." That was one of my favorite moments because they were so natural. It was kinda sad because I gave them $30 for McDonald's and it was like nobody ever gave them $30 to do anything before.
It's helpful to think that if you're working in service to something, you can get out of your own way.
NFS: How did you work with your DP?
Jordan: I wanted everything to feel hidden camera style. I wanted it to feel intrusive but from a distance. I would put things in front of the camera to make it feel like we were behind something. I didn't want any clean shots of just two people talking. Playing the character, I was wondering if people would think I was playing a character or just think I was annoying as a person. No one signed any releases because, y'know, whatever. No one from that town will see this film on Vimeo, it's a guarantee.
NFS: Maybe they will after this.
Jordan: Anywhere I've traveled in the world, when I've told people what I do — when I'm not lying about it because it's embarrassing — no one cares. L.A. people think, "I can't go home because everyone is going to be talking about what I do and asking about how cool it is." Nobody thinks it's cool.
NFS: Filmmaking is no longer cool, you heard it here first.
Jordan: I think it's the best art form. Fine art has always really annoyed me. If you want to tell me something, just tell me, and I'll agree or disagree. But don't just do something and say it means something. I guess that's why I consider myself a writer. Super cinematic filmmaking with beautiful images? I just never care if there's not good words attached to it. I think it's the only thing we have as humans. We've come so far and have so many great ways to express how we're feeling in words. I get why people would love images, they just aren't my thing. [laughs] You can quote me on that: "Images aren't my thing."
I think art matters and I think film matters, but you have to do it for it to matter.
NFS: What's the first thing you meant to say with Sold?
Jordan: It changed a lot. It started with this guy that I brought to a dinner with some non-film friends and he was just talking about agents and selling scripts. He was literally sweating he was so passionate and angry and anxious about it. He went to the bathroom and the two girls were like, "Does he think any of that matters?" And I was like, "Yes. He truly does." And I agree, none of the talking about it matters. I think art matters and I think film matters, but you have to do it for it to matter.
NFS: What about when money gets involved?
Jordan: The second you're being paid to do something, it really actually takes all the ego out of it. When you're doing something that's just a passion project, you're thinking "my vision, my vision, what will people think of me?" When you're getting paid you can justify it any way you want and actually just do it. My screenwriter friend says, "Take yourself completely out of it so you can actually get the work done." Your self is gonna be in it whether you like it or not. It's helpful to think that if you're working in service to something, you can get out of your own way.