Jim Taylor: I'm working for
Rudin, writing something for me to direct, but I can't talk
about it. There's
a bunch of competing projects so until I'm ready to go, we're
not making it public because it will spur other people on
to move faster.
Five-O: What genre?
JT: It's social satire. It's
very similar to the work Alexander and I have done in the
Five-O: What was the origin
of your writing team?
JT: We were acquaintances
but then we ended up as roommates because Alexander had a
spare room he needed to rent and I couldn't afford my apartment
anymore. We wrote a couple of short films together that he
directed and that went really well, and he needed feature
scripts. He had actually written a version of "About
Schmidt" called "The Coward" for Universal,
but they weren't interested in making it. He needed material,
so that's when we started writing "Citizen Ruth"
Five-O: You guys were out
JT: It was after we did our
first draft of "Citizen Ruth" that I went to NYU
(film school), so I moved to New York. But Alexander was out
of UCLA, yeah. So that script that he had written ended up
being cannibalized for our "About Schmidt." We used
about the first third of it.
Five-O: It's a real Frankenstein
monster between the book and the early draft.
JT: Right. And then new stuff
that we wrote, about the last half of the movie was new stuff.
Five-O: Do you envision an
arc for your partnership?
JT: Arc implies going down.
Hopefully it's a rising motion. Actually we've gotten sort
of closer and closer. We can work faster together. There may
be diversions since I'm trying to direct. We'll
probably always continue to working as a partnership but we
also may try and do things on our own. But it's been a really
nice build into this movie and I think we've been really lucky
to make the kind of movies that we have. They haven't lost
money well, maybe "Citizen Ruth" did. But
not really in the end. None of them made a lot of money, but
I don't think any of them has lost a lot of money either.
Five-O: Your rewrite movies
made a healthy pile.
JT: Right, but to keep making
the kind of movies we want to make on our own, they have to
be at least somewhat attractive to people. Hopefully we can
keep that going and this movie, because it was more expensive,
will make the money that will justify its existence.
Five-O: Is there a complementary
process at work?
JT: Slightly, but mostly it's
more about us being in sync and having a similar sensibility,
sense of humor, keeping an eye on each other creatively, but
not so much I'm the
dialogue guy, he's the structure it doesn't break down
Five-O: Do you and Alexander
talk about film comedies you like versus those you don't?
JT: Yeah very much and there
are some ways we really share a sensibility, especially
the Czech films of the late '60s mostly that Milos Forman
made, like "Loves Of A Blond" and "Fireman's
Ball." Yeah, we talk about film a lot and Alexander's
very knowledgeable, able to retain a lot of what he sees,
more than I am. And he's seen a lot.
Five-O: You guys must have
seen some Buñuel, with the bourgeois comedies he did
JT: That's more Alexander.
He's a devotee.
Five-O: What did you grow
JT: Nothing that sarcastic.
I don't know about reading. I was really into the Firesign
Theater, which was a little out of sync with my age. It was
what my older brothers were listening to. The people I think
of reading were like John Steinbeck and Agatha Christie, Salinger
of course. Mad
magazine. I grew up in Seattle, which is a very film friendly
town, possibly because it rains
so much. I saw a great many films without any context to where
they fit in. I saw Kurosawa movies, but not necessarily what
people think of as the pinnacle of Kurosawa. Herzog. Even
Paul Verhoeven movies. "Soldier of Orange," "Katy
Tippel" and "Spetters." I was able to see all
this stuff that got me excited purely for what it was and
not because I was told that I was supposed to like it. Oh,
and Fellini of course. I love Fellini.
Five-O: Did you have the feeling
you'd be a writer early on?
JT: No, and I still don't
I think of it more as filmmaking, editing and shooting
and writing and stuff. It
just sort of turned out that writing was the basis for it
all, but I really was an actor first. Then I got interested
in filmmaking at a pretty young age and made some Super 8
films and then I kept acting and directing theater, so I still
have a hard time feeling an identity as a writer even
though that's what I am.
Five-O: Was theater also Alexander's
JT: No, he majored in history.
I think he had a dual major in history and Spanish,
maybe, I can't remember.
He was a history major.
Five-O: You roomed together
in L.A. then after that you
actually went to NYU?
JT: In '92 I went to film
school and I was 30 years old. We had written one draft of
"Citizen Ruth" before I left for school and then
we wrote a bunch more drafts over the next couple years, and
it got financed in '95, when I was just finishing.
I'd worked in the film industry for eight years before that
so I didn't have unreasonable expectations. I had realistic
expectations as to what it would do for me. I had a fine time.
First for a couple years I was a receptionist at a place called
Five-O: Cannon's awesome!
You got any good stories from that place?
JT: It was wild. I was in
production there for about a year and then I assisted the
head of development and business affairs for another year
I went to China for almost a year on a grant to study the
industry. When I came back I knew what I wanted to do was
assist a director. I'd met Ivan Passer at Cannon and really
liked him and loved his movies. I worked with him for about
three years. I ended up going into debt because a lot of it
was unpaid. And I came out of that actually more and more
determined to be a filmmaker and not to be helping other people
make films. Ivan Passer made two movies during that time:
one surely for money for cable, Showtime, I think, and another
was a really nice movie that ended up in a lawsuit and never
got released. I ended up temping in lofts in downtown L.A.
around the time I moved in with Alexander because I wanted
to be a writer-director or not be in the film business, so
I just was writing and temping.
Five-O: Your next script with
Alexander is "Sideways," kind of the misadventures
of two wine-nuts in California wine country.
JT: It's a fun book. Not a
ponderous philosophical meditation on anything. We're just
going to have fun writing it. I've been working on it but
I don't know how much it's going to be a real co-written script.
He helped me with me script as well, same thing. We're sort
of working that out. It's only by circumstance and not desire.
Five-O: Any chance you'll
break from humor and satire and do something else as well?
JT: I sort of do. We talked
about doing a Western and stuff, but I think there's a certain
sensibility that will always kind of linger around what we're
doing. Maybe someday we'll feel like we want to experiment
and do a
straight science-fiction picture or something, I don't know.
Five-O: Alexander said he
felt everything changed in 1980 as far as the value of American
films. Do you ever wonder, why did 1980 kill character movies?
JT: Totally. They figured
out they could sell crappy movies to people and that it didn't
really matter if it was
any good or not. Up until that point the top ten grossing
movies, I think everyone could agree, they were good
movies. Like "Jaws" and all that. And now if you
look at the top ten gross, sort of everyone can agree that
they're bad movies. So why make a good movie? From a fiscal
standpoint, it matters more whether you can make it into a
Five-O: So how did they make
an industry that's audience-proof? How did that happen? I
mean we must have given them a helping hand somewhere along
JT: Yes, totally. I think
people went where they were sort of told to go. This is the
next big movie. You all go and enjoy it and don't question.
there are plenty of movies that are supposed to be the next
big thing that just die, but still "Batman" is a
movie that I really couldn't stand, but everyone went to see
it and they loved it. That was sort of scary when that happened.
Five-O: Which is a good place
to ask about the Nicholson factor.
JT: I'm sure many more people
will see this movie because he's in it than otherwise. Yes.
And they will bring
whatever their prejudices are about him to the movie. He's
Five-O: They can't say he's
playing himself in this one. It connects with his tradition
of films made with Corman and Monte Hellman, Richard Rush,
JT: "Five Easy Pieces."
Yeah. Actually at one point, it wasn't going to work out with
Nicholson and we had to start thinking about alternates, and
basically we couldn't think of anybody else that we would
want to have in that role.
Five-O: Couldn't Len Cariou,
who plays Schmidt's best buddy, or somebody of his caliber
pull it off?
JT: Yeah, but I don't think
that anybody would make the movie. Where we were at, they
needed somebody with and
yes, we could have made the movie for x-million dollars with
Len Cariou and it would have been a great movie, but we weren't
in a position to do that. We'd be happy to do that. In terms
of thinking about the Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman-pantheon
of actors of that age that get movies made, none of them seem
to combine the sort of humor and pathos we were interested in.
Five-O: I had no idea how
"Schmidt" was going to end. It was nice that it
to back down to earth in a sort of graceful landing after
having to run the gauntlet for so long and getting and giving
all that abuse.
JT: Thank you.
Five-O: You're in a car driving
to a Q&A right now. Where is that happening tonight?
JT: Actually I don't know.
I thought I knew, but now that I'm on the freeway being driven
there, I don't actually know (laughs).