Between 2011 and 2014, J.C. Chandor wrote and directed three movies – the always rewatchable meditation on the financial collapse, Margin Call; the almost dialogue-free meditation on death, All is Lost; and the slow-burning meditation on crime, A Most Violent Year – and then, during the last five years, there’s been nothing.
Well, that’s not exactly true. There was his high profile, very public departure from Deepwater Horizon, a movie that would wind up starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Peter Berg that would go on to gain decent reviews, but lost money at the box office. Chandor, for his part, still thinks parting ways was the best outcome for him – and he explains ahead why, specifically, that happened.
And Chandor very much disagrees with Steven Spielberg’s new crusade to block, or at least limit, streaming movies from Oscar contention. Chandor’s latest film, Triple Frontier – about five military veterans (Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, Garrett Hedlund) who reunite to pull off a heist against a Brazilian drug lord — is exactly the kind of film that big studios have forgotten: The mid-range budget movie that isn’t connected to any previous work. Triple Frontier has been in production in some form since 2010 and, sadly, the kind of movie that really only gets made via something like Netflix these days. (In fact, you can watch Triple Frontier on Netflix right now as you’re reading this.) And that’s why Chandor hopes Spielberg, who Chandor respects immensely, will change his mind.
I haven’t talked to you in five years, since A Most Violent Year.
I’ve been off in the hinterland so…
Where is the hinterland for you?
I mean, it was one of those things, I live far up in Westchester, so way outside of New York City, and I’ve got young, young kids. Or had young, young kids. They’re not young, young anymore. And I did three movies in four years, basically. Write, direct, and promote. I’d been as good of a father as I could have been and I needed to secure our future so that we could lock it in. I basically signed on right to go onto Deepwater Horizon, so it would have been four movies in five years. And then when that blew up, I realized, “You know what? This is a sign. I should just chill out here for a year.”
I remember the last time we spoke that story had just come out. It was the week you were doing promotion for A Most Violent Year.
I mean, that was a nightmare. It was a total nightmare. Because I really believed in that movie. You know, the good thing is Pete [Berg] actually got to make sort of a version [of what Chandor was going to make]. I never saw it, but I know the script they used was the version that I kind of quit slash got fired over. And then it was one of those things where, once you leave the room, everyone’s sort of like, “Wow, he felt really strongly about that. Maybe he had a point.” You know? And so they kind of got to make the version that, frankly, I wouldn’t have gotten to make.
The saddest part of that was really at the end, which was the line in the sand that I drew. Which is I did not want to combine real people, who had done real things. So that you were essentially assigning blame to someone that had nothing to do with that particular issue.
So basically condensing the number of characters?
Yeah. I was like, “Leave it to me, guys. I can figure out the dramatic pause of it all. I’ll make it tense.”
That was the big debate over this past awards season, biopics getting things blatantly wrong for dramatic license.
In this particular instance, there were literally the biggest organizations in the world – BP, the U.S. government, Transocean – had all been suing each other for five years. What I kept saying about that movie is that we know the truth, more than you would ever hope to. Because, of those lawsuits, no one was willing to lie under oath. It was really fascinating actually. On the oil rig every button that gets pushed is recorded back in headquarters. So, if you move a dial from six to seven, they know about it and they know who was sitting in the chair and did it. You know those old recreations they used to do? That show where they would recreate the crimes?
Yeah. I was like, “We can do the hundred million dollar version of one of those things and it will be so awesome.” It was sad. Frankly, I needed a little break after all that. So, I took some time off and then I wrote a bunch of things. It will be coming out, hopefully, so I can get Hollywood to make some movies here, finally, not based on preexisting IP (intellectual property).
Are you anti-preexisting IP?
I’m not anti it. But, I think it’s a death sentence for the industry to only do it. And that’s what’s so scary right now. I mean, if you look at what happened to Star Wars, you can’t just do that. You can’t just make the same movie. Except, I guess, for these superhero movies. Everyone seems to just have an endless appetite for that. It’s a little scary that TV seems to be the place for original storytelling, and movies, it’s sort of disappeared from. I think it is scary. It’s a bummer. It’s not so much original IP, for me at least. I want my stories to represent what’s going on right now. I’m trying to make this big, fun, family adventure film. I could probably get a Goonies remake made! But, you can’t get today’s Goonies.
Today’s Goonies is basically Stranger Things, which is still set in the ’80s and is a TV show.
What’s so funny is, even a thing that’s pretty original, is still not. Because you know why? When you go in and pitch, the way they probably got that thing greenlit is that everyone felt comfortable because they were like, “Well, it’s nostalgic and it’s this.” The sad thing is that it feeds on itself, right? You don’t put out original things, so less people go. It’s less interesting and then you’re sitting home and TV feels better. I don’t know, it’s fun. There’s never been more outlets to do this stuff. On the theatrical side, it’s definitely scary days.
Was that strange for you coming back? It’s like a whole new world.
The interesting thing is my first movie…
So that movie made 20 million dollars worldwide, theatrically. But, I know because I own a very small percentage of the movie. But, the movie went on to be insanely profitable for the people that did invest in it.
With streaming rights?
Video on demand, and then pay-per-view. All the things that are now Netflix, basically. I think it’s quite simple. We are all dancing around this thing and now, Mr. Spielberg, whom I respect as a filmmaker more than anyone, pretty much…
I don’t think he’s correct on this issue.
It’s not that he’s not correct. Meaning, in a vacuum, do I agree with him? Of course, I agree with him.
But, he’s talking about Roma. Alfonzo Cuaron’s has said over and over that he tried pitching it to studios and they were not interested. It doesn’t exist without Netflix.
It’s weird I’m sitting here defending this billion dollar company. But I’ll say I’m happy that Roma exists.
One thing that’s sad, I think, that what is missing, a little bit, is when a new technology comes along… When sound came along, even though movies went from being action movies and awesome, basically, to talkies that you don’t even look at anymore because you had to sit there in a sound stage and you couldn’t move. Suddenly movies went from an action form to, essentially, a radio play in film. The answer to solve that problem was not going back to silent movies. The answer was, how do we get these cameras smaller? The answer was the future, not the past. Sadly, because [Spielberg’s] still able to get his movies, for the most part, made, we are kind of looking backward. But the answer is not back. When most of America has a movie screen in their living room! The question I keep asking is, Game of Thrones, that’s six episodes, right?
That’s six weeks. So, how many people, how many of the real hardcore fans, would go to a movie theater, if it was like an Apple store? A community place you can hang out, like a real hub. It’s like the Apple store with food for movies. It’s like a beautiful place with food, drinks, your friends, your community, if you’re into Game of Thrones. Imagine that, every Sunday night.
A lot of people would. There was a bar in Brooklyn doing this until HBO told them they couldn’t.
Right, but once HBO realizes there’s another 25 million dollars of profit in it? And let’s say you are an HBO member so you only have to pay half? These are just ideas. I’ve literally been getting this Steven Spielberg question for this entire publicity tour because, obviously, he came out right as we were starting.
Good timing for you.
I’ve sort of been thinking about it a lot.
The finale of Game of Thrones would be sold out. You couldn’t get a ticket to the theater.
Yeah, and I think that’s the future for me. I love original storytelling. My whole career has been based off movies that I’d want to go see, simple as that. I like movies that, sort of, take you on a wild ride. But, also for the next couple days, you are thinking back on them and if you happen to see the thing again, the second time you watch it, you learn a whole new thing that you didn’t even notice the first time. I feel like this one fits into that middle ground space that the theatrical business is essentially, almost, abandoned. I hope we work together to come up with new ideas. Within that, I’m just trying to keep my head above water and tell interesting stories.
Well, don’t wait five years for the next one.
I’m not. I’ve been writing away. While I was away I’ve been writing a bunch of stuff. I think I’m going to, hopefully, go into a little productivity stage here on the shooting side and get to work.
‘Triple Frontier’ is now streaming on Netflix. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.