I met today's interviewee back in college, when he lived above a semi-fast food place called Booeymongers which was great because I could combine the activities of visiting and enjoying a wrap. He's come a long way since then. Currently you can find his work in select movie theaters, as he's the Producer of Marketing and Distribution for the documentary How to Live Forever, which is getting some very nice reviews. No big deal, but a film he was PMD on, God of Love, won the Oscar this year for best live action short film. Stephen also writes and directs narrative films, documentaries, music videos and more. His personal documentary Home Unknown follows his journey to the Philippines to rediscover his heritage with a pair of uncooperative sidekicks - his parents.
Did you glean anything from "How to Live Forever" that led you to change your habits in terms of either living forever or just enjoying life while it lasts?
At first, I tried to carefully watch what I ate and ate less overall. But that didn't last too long. But the movie has given me a greater appreciation for having a positive attitude and a solid sense of humor, which definitely make life more enjoyable.
What exactly was your role as producer on the film? (I think "producer" is a term that's not always clear to yokels like me.) What were your day to day and overarching responsibilities?
My role on this film is as the Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD). I came on board the project last October, after the film had been completed, but was just gearing up for its theatrical release. There are all sorts of film producers, but this PMD position is a new one. Instead of entire marketing departments that studios have, independent filmmakers are often on their own when trying to figure out how to get their film out into the world. My job as PMD is to develop and execute a strategy for making the film's release as successful as possible. My day to day responsibilities have evolved over time but they have included lots of research, developing marketing materials (poster, website, trailer, bonus videos), community outreach, social media engagement, tons of emailing and a bunch of other stuff.
I feel obligated to ask you, what, if anything, from your experiences at our alma mater helped you in your career as a filmmaker?
At Georgetown I studied in the School of Foreign Service, which has very little relation to what I do now. However, a few of my friends from the dorms and I really enjoyed making ridiculously awful videos in our spare time. We didn't know what we were doing, but we had fun making short films about killer robots, racquetball grudge matches and German sex-ed classes. Going out, making something and showing it to all of our friends so much fun, and those experiences made me want to continue pursuing this passion.
What are some of your favorite documentaries?
The Garden - Great social justice doc with so many thrilling ups and downs. I wish I had made this film.
King of Kong - Hilarious with an awesome antagonist.
Exit Through The Gift Shop - Funny, couldn't stop talking about it afterward.
To Be and To Have - A doc about a small French school. The quiet moments speak volumes.
Scratch - Very fun and cool doc about hip-hop DJ culture.
Have you had any the mic was broken/the batteries in the camera were dead moments with any of your projects, and how did you recover?
Thankfully, nothing comes to mind. There have certainly been big and small disasters on many different film shoots, but we've always found a way to pull through.
What are your best memories from the Oscars?
Best memory was at the Vanity Fair party when Tom Hanks came up to Luke Matheny (writer/director/star of God of Love) and said, "A star is born." He congratulated our entire team and was genuinely happy for us all. Luke then told him how one of his favorite movies is Joe vs. The Volcano, which he has an 8-foot poster of on his wall. I don't think Tom Hanks hears that very often. Also, they served In & Out burgers at the party, which was pretty awesome.
What are the top 5 movies on your Netflix queue right now? (Or, if you don't have one, what are you most looking forward to watching that's coming out?)
Waiting for Superman
Last Train Home
Glengarry Glen Ross
The Kids Grow Up
What do you watch for comfort?
Right now it's Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, The Office, Modern Family and Notting Hill.
If you didn't have family ties to LA and the film industry wasn't centered there, where else would you live, if you could?
Montana. My wife is from there, and she'd love to move back some day.
What are some future subjects you'd like to tackle in your work?
My films as a director have generally focused on social justice stories and themes, and I'd like to continue that. However, I love comedies and want to grow more in that direction. I think some of Charlie Chaplin's work does an amazing job of blending laughs and substance, which seems like the perfect combination.
Currently, I'm gearing up to start a YouTube channel that focuses on independent films and the people who make them. In addition to showcasing the work of other filmmakers, I plan on shooting some new online videos that allow me to experiment and have fun.
What did you learn from making "Home Unknown" that helped you with future projects?
Embrace feedback and support from others. Home Unknown is a personal documentary that I'm still working on. It follows a trip I took to the Philippines to explore my roots with a pair of uncooperative sidekicks - my parents. For so long, I focused the story on my trip and my feelings about making the film. Working on the project mostly alone, I was afraid to make a film about my parents and our relationship. But once I started showing the footage around and bringing others into the process, the film started to come together in a much more focused, entertaining and compelling way. Films, or any other big project for that matter, shouldn't be made alone. What you can do with a team is so much better.
Do you have any juicy stories about any celebrities you've interacted with in your travels through the industry?
Nothing juicy. Got the chance to talk to Mark Ruffalo, and he was super nice. My friend Emily had met him at Sundance a year earlier because he spent a lot of time in the museum where she works. It was really cool when I brought her up, and he remembered hanging with her.
If you could get a half an hour with any producer/director to pick his/her brain (living or dead), who'd you pick to chat with, and about what?
That's a tough one. Part of me wants to say Francis Ford Coppola because The Godfather is my favorite movie, and I'm fascinated with his current views on the industry. However, I think I'd have to go with Paul Greengrass because his Bourne movies are incredible, and two of his other films (Bloody Sunday & United 93) literally had me balling in the theater. Since his background is in documentary films and he employs that style in his movies, I'd ask him what his approach to the craft is and about how he made the transition to narrative films.
What's a genre of directing you'd be curious about trying out, if just once for the experience? (IE Music videos, big budget action, etc.)
I'd be very curious in directing a highly improvised comedy in the way the Duplass brothers work. I think that would be a cool environment to work in and also offer plenty of lessons that you don't normally pick up while directing.
How does it feel to be the 285th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
It's an honor, and it makes me feel proud to have such talented and kick-ass friends as yourself to move up in the world alongside.