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 "The Ape" Interview 
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It was 1996. Fresh out of Ohio University with a degree in Film, Vincent Jolivette left the Midwest and headed for Hollywood. Primarily focused on writing, Jolivette began taking acting classes at Robert Carnegie's Playhouse West in North Hollywood. It was at Playhouse West where Jolivette would meet and become friends with James Franco. Franco had just dropped out of UCLA after one year and began devoting himself to studying acting. After 15 months at Playhouse West, Franco was cast in the television series Freaks and Geeks, and his friendship with Jolivette would blossom into theatre and film partnership that would lead to multiple theatrical productions and, most recently, Franco's feature film directorial debut, The Ape. Jolivette, along with The Ape co-star Brian Lally, recently talked to Richard on their way to a film festival in San Jose.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
Tell me about the process of filming The Ape.

VINCE
The Ape was an experiment. James (Franco) co-wrote The Ape with Merriwether Williams for production at Playhouse West. We changed very little from the stage production, and used almost every actor from the original stage production.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
My understanding is that the only person in the film not in the original cast is the woman who plays the boss in the film?

VINCE
Exactly.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
How did that work out? I would think, in some ways, this film could be turned into a joke. I mean, you have a man who, basically, spends the entire film conversing with an ape in a variety of ways.

VINCE
Very true. That was a big advantage to having the original cast. They lived with these characters for three months on stage. When we started filming, they already had a history with these characters and had developed a chemistry with each other.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database), The Ape was filmed on an approximately $225,000 production budget. By today's standards, that's amazing.

VINCE
True, we knew our first film would have a modest budget. We chose The Ape, even though James has several other scripts, because it lended itself to a smaller budget. Much of the action takes place in an apartment.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
And you attracted some View Askew folks to help?

VINCE
Yes, James and I had met David Klein, who did the cinematography for Kevin Smith on Clerks and Chasing Amy. He introduced us to Smith and ended up doing the cinematography on The Ape and was one of the film's producers. He is also working on our next two films. He also hooked us up to Scott Mosier, who edits for View Askew and edited The Ape.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
It must have helped to have people working on your film who had experience working on a modest budget and producing a quality film.

VINCE
Absolutely.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
If I am correct, this is not your first time to produce a film?

VINCE
No, it's not. I acted for a few years, then ended up producing Prairie Dogs, a film I did with George Wendt.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
How did this evolve into your current production company?

VINCE
James and I have been acting together for about eight years now, and had worked on several shows together. He started to boom, first in Freaks & Geeks then James Dean. It just has kept growing, and a couple years ago we started to look at producing films. We started Rabbit Bandini Productions with a primary emphasis on supporting the independent filmmaker. 

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
Okay, I give. Where'd you get the name Rabbit Bandini? 

VINCE
We're both into literature. Rabbit comes from John Updike's "Rabbit at Rest," my favorite novel. Bandini is taken from the character Arturo Bandini in "Ask the Dust," which is getting ready to be released as a film.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
What have you learned now that your first film is done?

VINCE
Well, like I said, The Ape was really an experiment. I think that's really a better question for James since he directed the film. I do think we'd consider re-writing the screenplay specifically for film. We're all happy with the film, though. One of the things I've learned over the course of showing this film to numerous film festival crowds is that if I preface the screening with saying to the audience not to take the film too seriously, that Merriwether used to be the head writer on Spongebob Squarepants and the feel of the movie is on that level, people seem to like it better.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
You'e got two more films nearly wrapped up. Are these higher budget films? Are you utilizing the same cast?

VINCE
Yes, our budget has grown probably about four times that of The Ape, though it's still under $1,000,000 per film. We have used many of the same actors, as wells and, once again, both films in production, Good Time Max and Fool's Gold, have scripts written by James and Merriwether. James is also directing both films. I would look for Good Time Max to be released first.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
What is in the future for Rabbit Bandini?

VINCE
James and I are looking at options for expanding our options. We are reading additional screenplays, and would like to produce an even higher budget film, possibly starring more big names.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
What about you, Brian? How'd you hook up with Vince and James?

BRIAN
I'm actually the elder statesman of the group. I was at Playhouse West when both James and Vince began classes. I actually got started in acting late. I was in my late 20's when I started at Playhouse West. My father was an actor, and when I started showing an interest in acting as a child he said "There will be no child actors in this family." I really did get back into it until my late 20's. I quickly realized how much I had missed it.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
Okay, you play an ape in The Ape...Or, at least you play a man dressed like an ape. Like I was saying to Vince, this could easily have become a joke. Was this a challenging character for you?

BRIAN
Not really. I'd played the character onstage for 3 months. I was used to it, and used to wearing the mask. Once I put the mask on, I could block everything else out and just throw myself into the character. There were no distractions.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
When actors talk about shooting a film, you often hear that the hardest part is the end. You've spent however much time shooting the film and bonding with each other, then it's over. On a certain level, you guys have transcended this issue.

BRIAN
Absolutely. It's great. Because we've worked together before, there's a lot of trust. Because we're friends, I can count on James or Vince to give me an adjustment if I need one. This film has been about the best experience I've ever had making a film...well, with the possible exception of that one day with Spielberg.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
That's right. I remember that. You had a part in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It was a good experience?

BRIAN
It was a wonderful experience. I sat next to Spielberg much of the day. I asked him questions all day..."What bout this shot?" "What about that shot?" I even talked with him over lunch. He was so open and so nice the entire day, one of the nicest people I've ever met in the business. He was patient and answered all of my questions.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
You do have quite the diverse acting background. You've acted in everything from student films to Jurassic Park to an indie fave like L.A. Confidential. In this film, you play an ape...in one of your upcoming films, I saw where you're playing God. That's quite a range. Which do you prefer, stage or film?

BRIAN
Theatre until I die. It's live, thrilling. It's the actor's medium. We didn't change anything about my character in The Ape from stage to screen...same mask, same lines, same character.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
This may be rude, but I'm going to ask. Feel free to ignore me. You read a lot about the struggling actor, the people who never make it. You read a lot about the mega celebrities. You read very little about the everyday, working actor. You aren't necessarily a "household name," but you've been steadily working in film since 1990. You've got 28 films to your credit. Are you able to make a living as an actor?

BRIAN
I do now, but it was a long time coming.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
So, it's possible?

BRIAN
If you are only out here for the money, then you're probably going to end up heartbroken. If you are in Hollywood to be an actor because you have to...it's absolutely what you have to do, then it can happen. If you keep studying, you keep working at it...if you stay out here and you do have talent...eventually, it'll happen and you'll get recognized. I've seen quite a few get frustrated and give up...if you have talent, keep studying and keep working at it eventually you'll get noticed. There's always plays and theatre, too.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
I'm curious. What did you think of the Oscars this year?

BRIAN
I loved Capote. I loved Walk the Line and Syriana. I love Clooney...real good example. He could have had the FU money, but he put his money and his talent into incredible films this year.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
Which brings about the question "Is it possible to make a truly independent film anymore?" It seems like even the "indies" are tied into the bigger studios. You have Sony Classics, Warner Independent and so on...

BRIAN
So true. Where are films like The Brothers McMullen and Star Maps? You look at Sundance this year...that's not what Sundance is supposed to be about.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
I'm curious. It sounds like this group of actors/friends has been working together for much of the last eight years. Now, one of you has really achieved a pretty high degree of success. James has won a Golden Globe...he's in the Spider-Man films. He's a star. Is there any tension? Stress? Jealousy?

VINCE
I knew the first time I laid eyes on James that he was just so unique. His look, His presence...there'd just never been anyone like him that I'd known. I've always known he would be famous. There was never any doubt. I can't speak for the entire cast, but I'd  have to say "No."

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
What does the future hold?

VINCE
We plan to keep producing films. Rabbit Bandini will keep getting bigger. We'll finish up these films and keep working together at Playhouse West.

BRIAN
I've got a few things in the works. I can't really talk about them yet. It's all Hollywood, man. It's all Hollywood.

INDEPENDENT CRITIC
I understand. I thank you both for your time. I really appreciate your taking so much time out of your day to speak with me.

VINCE
You're welcome. Thank you.

The Ape is currently available on DVD through Blockbuster and Netflix. For more information on upcoming Rabbit Bandini productions, visit their website.   Exclusive interview first published on March 12, 2006. Copyright The Independent Critic, 2006-2010. All Rights Reserved.

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