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 Max Myers Interview 
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Max Myers initially contacted The Independent Critic to express his thoughts about my review of "Irish Jam," a film for which Myers is credited as screenwriter. After exchanging two e-mails, Max Myers agreed to this interview with yours truly.

Max Myers is an award-winning writer/director and Professor of screenwriting and directing at Hollywood's Columbia College. His most recent film credit is for "Irish Jam," a film starring Eddie Griffin. Myers has written and directed "Don't Let Go," starring Oscar-winner Katharine Ross, Scott Wilson, Bo Hopkins and Shari Belafonte. His upcoming film, "62 Pickup" is currently in production with Eddie Griffin attached to the film.

 
Richard:

Can you tell me about your background? Where you're from...what got you interested in film? How young were you when you started, and how did you start?

Max:

My mum is from Germany and my dad is from London. They met just after the war in Germany and that's where I was born; in a British Military Hospital in a town called Iserlohn.

I first started making up little scenes as a very young boy and acting them out for my family and that led me to the great English tradition of Saturday morning pictures. I remember back then, that for 6 pence, I got to see several cartoons, a couple of serials, the Pathe newsreel and two features. It was practically a whole days entertainment. Film fascinated me from the first time I ever saw a big screen movie. It was and still is, a completely magical experience. Fantastic worlds created by great writers, directors and actors and something for which I was truly grateful for.

Richard:

Did you study film in college? How did you actually break into the business?

Max:

No, I never studied film in college or even went to film school. In fact, I left school when I was fifteen and joined a rock-n-roll band as a drummer. I toured for many years and finally got sick of living out of a suitcase. I gave up playing, bought a computer, switched it on and started writing. Fortunately, it has never stopped pouring out of me. So for the next several years, I just wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I had never achieved great commercial success as a drummer and had to take day jobs. These inevitably were either as a bouncer, which I did for several years or as a waiter or bartender. But all the while I kept honing my gig. When my friends would go out, I stayed in and wrote but it never became tedious because for me, writing is the greatest gift of expressive creation there is.

Richard:

Your first IMDB listing is "The Devil & the Angel" from 1997. You wrote and directed it. That's a lot of responsibility for your first film...how did that come about? What did you learn from it?

Max:

I had been aching to write and direct my first flick, so I raised some money, found a producer, Lawrence Elmer Fuhrmann Jr., whom I'm still friends with and could not have done it without his expert help and guidance and shot the film. I was lucky that I had a good cast and crew because we had little to no money, no permits and everybody ate pizza. It was tough but an amazing experience and I learned that you can never have too much money or too much time. But what it really taught me was to be as prepared as you can. When you make a film, you're MacArthur leading your troops into battle and if you show the slightest insecurity or can't answer the barrage of questions, you might as well pack up and go home.

Richard:

Then, in 2002, you write and direct "Don't Let Go." You won an Achievement Award at Stony Brook for this film...Your cast included an Oscar winner...how was this experience as a filmmaker?

Max:

Actually, Don't Let Go won three awards; Best Feature Film at the Westchester Film Festival and a Festival Achievement Award at the Los Angeles Prism Awards. Working with the likes of Katherine Ross and Scott Wilson was an amazing experience. Both being consummate professionals yet very different in the way they wanted to be directed. And also having Brad Hawkins and Levi Kreis in the film was great because they brought eagerness and youthful vigor which sort of acted as a counter point to the more experienced and calmer approach of Katherine and Scott. When you're making a film, if you're really lucky, something magical can happen and that energy, that emotion was felt and shared by a lot of the cast and crew.

Richard:

It seems like you really enjoy being both writer and director...why is that? When you first contacted me it was in response to my review of "Irish Jam," a film for which you are credited as the screenwriter...My understanding is you actually wrote the lead role with Eddie Griffin in mind...can you explain?

Max:

Yeah because when you direct a piece that you've also written, the vision is much clearer. As the writer, you know the story that you want to tell and then when you direct the piece, you obviously have a much stronger idea of how to put that story on the screen. Although that's evidentially not what happened with "Irish Jam," which is a tremendous disappointment to me. I had long been a fan of Eddie's and knew in my gut that he would be great as Jimmy McDevitt. Although he most certainly can be over the top, he does have acting chops but like a lot of high energy performers, needs to be restrained sometimes. Had the direction been there, I dare say it would have been a much different movie. Although I do have two credits for Irish Jam, one for "Story By' and the other as principle writer, in truth, I think that only about 35% of my original screenplay was used. But that's what you have to accept once you've sold the script. It ain't yours anymore and the harsh truth is that that which you created, probably wont end up on the screen. I guess it becomes a case of quit ya bitchin' and cash the check, which I did.

Richard:

You pointed out in one of your e-mails that "Irish Jam" ended up being about 35% of what you actually wrote. Not to have you burn any bridges, but it sounds like you wanted to direct the film? What happened? (as much as you can say). I recall that when you actually purchased the film (which is, in itself, rather sad) you were rather dismayed at the film's end result?

Max:

I had originally wanted to direct "Irish Jam" myself, but at that time, did not have my own company and had very limited contacts. I have now rectified that and am happy to say that my company, The American Independent Film Company  is doing quite well. Anyway, I digress with this shameless promo, okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, so John Eyres had been given the script by a mutual friend, took an option and three years later made the flick. Film is collaborative art and if you're not willing to accept that, then you're in the wrong business. And thereby lays the rub.

Richard:

You really brought up a great "teaching point" for me as a critic...sometimes, we critics can be quick to assign "blame", if you will, for a film's weaknesses. You made me really think deeper about a film's script...if I'm perceiving a lack of cohesion or clarity...is it, perhaps, because the original script has been so altered? Is it because the original vision for the film has been diluted? It seems like your vision for "Irish Jam" was massively diluted.

Max:

"Irish Jam" was not just a fish-out-of-water romantic/comedy, it was about racism, greed, honor, integrity and how love and forgiveness are the most powerful gifts that we can bestow not only on each other, but as importantly, on ourselves. After having purchased a copy from Target for $14.99, I was confused when I watched it. My girlfriend looked over at me and pointedly asked me to explain the ending to her, which I was at a loss to do, so yeah, it's quite different from my script. To this day the producers have never given me a copy and in fact, I was invited to the screening the day after they screened the film and now I see why.

Richard:

You have a film in pre-production? Can you tell me anything about "62 pickup"? You're back directing again?  You're also producing this time...how'd this happen?

Richard:

I'm producing out of necessity and now have some great partners that I'm working with; Lisa Norcia, Marie Mathews, David Pritchard and Brandon Evans. "62 pickup" is a script that I wrote and have wanted to direct for a while, but needed the right situation to make that happen, which I now have. 62 is a crime drama/comedy that ends up as a modern day Western. I lament the passing of the Western genre, particularly as it is so uniquely American. The films of Peckinpah, Leone, Eastwood and even some of the more traditional fare of say, Ritt, Houston and Ford, served as indelible blueprints as to how we became the incredible nation that we now are. Plus those films, including the "Spaghetti Westerns" were and are, incredible pieces of art.

Richard:

Any other projects in the works? Do you do other forms of writing? If IMDB is correct, up until this year you've averaged a film project about every five years...yet, when you do a film project you REALLY go for it...writing, directing...do you work regularly in film? teach? write?

Max:

We have several other film projects in development, along with a graphic novel I'm writing. I write whatever inspires me, be it drama, action, horror, comedy, romantic/comedy, whatever because story and character is everything. Too many filmmakers today rely on CGI and fast MTV edits to make a weak story happen, although that is a contradiction in terms. You can't make a great film from a weak script. But you can make a fantastic film from a great script. I believe that filmmakers need to study and learn from the greats. The film noir era is one of my favorites, but what speaks to me most of all is the brilliant films made in the sixties and seventies. In both of those eras, story and character was king. Not special effects trying to cover for bad writing or directing, although I do love the work of Peter Jackson. I also teach at Columbia College in Hollywood and my students will attest that I am constantly reinforcing in them that story and character is everything. Genre is nothing. It doesn't matter what arena you choose to place your world in, just make it believable with compelling story lines, unique characters and taught dialogue.

Richard:

How do you make it in film? In "Hollywood," if you will? My initial impression of you was that you communicated well, were assertive, and also knew how to network. Your initial e-mail to me was direct without being offensive. That's quite the gift to have. Are these traits necessary to have to make it in film? I hate to ask the stereotypical question, but I have to admit it's one of my favorite questions...What advice would you give someone who wanted to break into film? What about a writer who wanted to get their screenplay produced?

Richard:

In order for a writer to get their work produced, they gotta be in the game to play. You wanna make cars? Move to Detroit. You wanna make films? Move to LA. That is not the only way for a writer to make it, but it's the one I took and have had modest success in doing so. It's very important for anyone, no matter what their chosen field be it film, literature, painting, medicine, science, whatever that you never, ever, stop believing in yourself. EVER! People always project their own insecurities onto each other so when someone says, "Oh, give it up! Why don't you get a real job?" that's just their own crap, their own fear propelled jealousy. It takes a lot of guts to pursue your true calling but once you start on that path, you have to stay committed, no matter how many times people might and will, reject your script or film. I don't ever take no for an answer and I never, ever, stop believing in myself.

I had written a script back in 1992 called "Wiggaz." That and my film, The Devil and the Angel, got me a development deal in 1995 with Barbara Defina and Martin Scorsese. It didn't quite work out for me so when I moved to LA from New York in 1998, I used that script and the tiny bit of heat I had, to get it into the hands of my one and only agent, the legendary Bobby Littman. He was the old school kind of agent, one that found talent and nurtured it. Unfortunately, he died in 2001 and I miss him greatly. Anyway, he had passed the script onto a producer friend of his, Brad Wilson. He read it, took me to my first LA lunch meeting at Musso and Franks, where I had filet mignon for lunch and offered me this deal; he said, "I love Wiggaz but it's too violent and controversial for me to make. However, I wanna do a rock-a-billy movie and if you write the script on spec, I'll raise the million dollars and you'll direct it." I took the shot and that's exactly what happened. The film is "Don't Let Go." Moving to LA is a massive leap of faith and let's not romanticize it, this is one tough town. A close friend of mine, Bryan Conover of Light, Sound, Imagination said to me when I first moved here, "LA is like a big, self cleaning oven." Whew! Was that the understatement of the year or what? BUT, we live in America and our country was founded on people pursuing their dreams, an ideal for a better life and thank God because here, at least, if you can dream it, you can do it.

Richard:

What have been your favorite film experiences? (people, films? however you wish to interpret this question). What about your most challenging?

Max:

So far,"Don't Let Go" has been my most memorable experience but I have a feeling that "62 pickup" is going to be by far my most enjoyable. The Devil And The Angel was the most challenging because we were shooting on Manhattan's Lower East Side without permits. Now, that was tough but that's how I cut my filmmaking teeth.

Richard:

What are some of your favorite films? Recent faves? What'd you think of the Oscars? Or do you go more for indie films?  

Max:

I really enjoyed the remake of King Kong, although generally I dislike remakes. Recently, I loved the Lord Of the Rings, Crash, V for Vendetta, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Ronin, The Bourne Identity, Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels, Snatch. Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Open Range and the list goes on and not to forget the aforementioned Westerns. Older films I adore are Hud, Taxi Driver, Serpico, 1984, The French Connection, 2 Lane Blacktop, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, The Night The Stars Fell on Henrietta and on and on and on. Actually, I love the Oscars. It's another form of you being rewarded for your art. I love all kinds of films just so long as they have a great story, the direction is clear and the acting is, well, not. But that's only half of making a film. The other is the army of unsung heroes. The crew that bust their ass for you and the people that believe in you enough to give you the money to make your film.

Richard:

Any interest in acting?

Max:

I was an actor for a long time, doing small TV parts, indie fare and theater. Most recently, my students seem to insist in putting me in their films despite my protests.

Richard:

What kind of story interests you as a writer? Where do you see yourself going professionally from here?

Max:

Stories that say something about the human condition. Something that someone, somewhere can learn something from; either about themselves, the journey they're on or what's really going on in society. And last and by means least, a film that enables the viewer to escape and be entertained for its duration. I'll continue as I've always done, which is to write what interests me, not that which I feel the market place is looking for. I am slowly building my company so that I can make the films I want to. I also write way too much material for just me to direct, so I'll be putting some of my properties on the market.

Richard:

Independent films seem to be sort of "in style" right now...yet, in reality, I'd have to say the term is pretty loose anymore. It's certainly great to have smaller films being made, but it seems like for every true small, low-budget film you get several others that are really "Sony Classics," "Fox Searchlight," etc. Likewise, while I love Landmark Theatres (which we just got here) it's pretty obvious that they have a tie-in to at least half (or more) of the films they show AND it seems like most of their films are on the upper-end financially for indie films. How is Hollywood for the truly independent filmmaker these days?

Max:

Indie films continue to grow in popularity because they have what most studio pictures lack, story and character. I'm sick and tired of hearing, "You have to dumb down your script or film because the American public won't get it." Jeez, what an insult and the dwindling box office receipts support my belief that guess what? The American public does get it! They're no longer going in their droves to see the storyless, committee made, CGI driven crap that cost a 100 million dollars to make and is being offered for $11.00 a ticket, $6.00 for popcorn, $5.00 for a soda, plus parking, gas and whatever else it took to get to the movie theater. Crikey! Wake up! Thankfully, there are those producers, directors, actors, distribution and funding companies that are actually looking for solid, story and character driven films that might use CGI, but as an enhancement, not as a substitute. The budgets for Indie films continue to climb and that's great if you can get real, serious money to make your film. And if you can't, that's fine to because necessity is the mother of invention.

That said, Landmark Theaters, owned and operated by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's 2929 Entertainment, is certainly doing an incredible job in supporting and helping Indie filmmakers to get their work in front of a national audience. However, in January and somewhat ironically, they rocked the theater owners world by releasing Steven Soderbergh's, Bubble, as a simultaneous theatrical, DVD and HD cable release. Whether they're visionaries or not, only time will tell. My feeling is this; There is absolutely no substitute for the collective experience of 500 humans, gathered in a large dark room, eating candy, drinking bottled water, watching a great movie and having a shared, exciting and unique experience.

Richard:

How important is the film festival circuit?

Max:

Film festivals, no matter how big or small, are to the indie filmmaker what air is to humans - we can't do without them and thank God for all the people that work tirelessly to make them happen.

Richard:

Anything else you'd like to share?

Max:

Live your life fearlessly. There is absolutely no guarantee that any one of us is going to be alive ten seconds from now, so to get caught up in self doubt, the "what if" syndrome, is a complete waste of time. We live in one of the greatest nations on earth where dreams come true every day. I know because I'm living proof of that. You can either see the day as 24 hours, or, 24 hours of possibility. It's up to you.

"Irish Jam" was released on DVD on March 14th. For more information on upcoming films by Max Myers visit The American Independent Film Company.

- Richard Propes
 The Independent Critic
*Interview first published April 4, 2006 on IndependentCritics.com.

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