Face To Face With The Masters
Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.
Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+
Interview with Joe Nussbaum
Director of 'George Lucas in Love'
Joshua Griffin recently interviewed Joe Nussbaum, director of fan film 'George Lucas in Love'. He talks about the July 9th, 2004, release of his MGM directorial debut 'Sleepover', a comedy starring Alexa Vega from 'Spy Kids', his five years of frustration involving eight different projects at four major studios, and what it takes to be the first maker of a fan film to finally get a chance to direct a studio movie.
Tell us about your journey to feature filmmaking. Why USC?
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to make movies. When my family got a video camera in sixth grade, basement plays became backyard movies. In junior high and high school I took every video production class or program available to me. The summer before my senior year I attended Northwestern University’s National High School Institute (also known as “Cherubs”) for TV and film. A number of the instructors were recent USC grads and their description of the film school sounded like Shangri-la to me. Of course, the fact that my childhood hero, George Lucas, was USC’s most famous alum didn’t hurt either.
And just what is your Star Wars background, since you're obviously a huge fan?
I saw Star Wars at age four, and I was never the same. I loved the action, the fun, and the escape. I bought all the action figures and spent hours in the basement creating storylines for my favorite characters. I waited anxiously for Empire, then Jedi, and loved every second of them. I had Star Wars on video tape and probably watched it every single day in fourth and fifth grade. It remains my favorite movie.
Were there any cut scenes or cameos that never made it past the idea stage that fans might enjoy knowing about?
The one scene that we cut out of GLiL was a parody of the scene in “Shakespeare in Love” when the Gwyneth Paltrow character has her chest bindings unraveled in slow motion. We wanted George to unravel his love interest’s hair bun in sensual slo-mo. We shot it, but our hair piece just wasn’t up to snuff. It didn’t look right, so we cut it.
Hey, what grade did you get on that school project (GLIL) anyhow?
GLiL was not actually a student film. I made it three years after finishing film school. It was self-financed. We did shoot at USC, and a number of the crew were fellow alums, but it was an independent endeavor.
So you make George Lucas in Love and the fans loved it. It went all over Hollywood and you were an 'overnight success' - what happened at that point?
The whole thing was really incredible. GLiL led to me signing with an agent and a manager and going on probably 100 meetings all around Hollywood. I met with studios and production companies and began being sent dozens of scripts. There was also press and TV coverage and so much hub-bub, the whole summer of 1999 was just surreal. I started reading scripts and meeting on the specific projects I liked. And it worked. Within months, I had signed to do a movie called “Almost Romantic” at Dreamworks. Then, I began to learn the difference between being “attached” to direct a movie and actually getting a green light and making a movie.
So you worked on how many projects with how many studios over the past 5 years?
So it started with that Dreamworks movie, but a few months into the development process, the studio had a shake-up and the project fell apart. Somehow I rallied and was attached to a project at MGM within a few months but that also dissolved. Over the next three years I was hired to direct four more movies. Two were independent, one was at Paramount and one was at Warner Bros. Each time one movie would get way-layed or fall apart, I thought that was it, that the GLiL mojo had worn off. But somehow I kept getting more chances. In the meantime I was also directing TV commercials, but the goal of making a feature film never went away. Then, in the spring of 2002, just when I thought I had finally worn out my welcome, MGM hired me to make a movie called “I Want Kandee.” And we started casting! This was the closest I had ever been. One of the producers even promised me that we would get a greenlight. Long story short, we didn’t. “Kandee” fell apart, and then I knew it was over. I had a golden opportunity and somehow I blew it. Almost a year went by, and in the spring of 2003 I read a script called “Sleepover.” I loved it, plus, it was an MGM movie (hey, they had hired me twice!), it was written by Elisa Bell (I had worked with her!), and it was being produced by Bob Cooper and Chuck Weinstock (they had hired me before too!). I felt like this was my last chance. If I couldn’t get this movie with all the connections I had to the production team, I was truly done. I would know that GLiL’s magic had finally worn off. It was a tough fight, but I convinced them I was the person for the job. They hired me. And then the unbelievable happened. It was something I didn’t know really existed but thought was just a myth to keep young filmmakers toiling. We got a greenlight!
Wow, you must really be persistent. So you finally got "Sleepover" made?
The planets really lined up on this one. The studio loved the script. The budget was right, and the casting that they really wanted – Alexa Vega – came through. I was so excited and so ready to finally make a movie.
Tell us more about the movie and casting Alexa Vega (Spy Kids)?
The movie is about a group of fourteen-year-old girls whose sleepover turns into a funny, action-packed all night cross-town scavenger hunt. They sneak out of the house, they “borrow” an electric car, they sneak into a nightclub, steal the cute boy’s boxers right out of his house, and battle the “popular” girls the whole time. For me it’s a real throwback to the great John Hughes movies that I grew up with. It has comedy, action, romance, and you really care about the characters. Alexa Vega plays Julie, the main girl and she did a fantastic job. Not only does she climb walls, skateboard, and dance like a pro in the movie, but she also shows her comedic side, has some real emotional moments, and even gets to kiss the guy.
The other girls were a mix of experienced young actresses and newcomers. They were great and so much fun to work with. Playing mom and dad, we had Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Jane Lynch (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind). With their improv backgrounds they were extremely inventive and added a lot to the comedy. The big scene stealer for me is Steve Carell (Bruce Almighty, The Daily Show, Anchorman) as the neighborhood security guard who becomes the comic foil to the girls.
Filming the movie was a dream come true in more ways than one. Not only was I doing the job I had always wanted, but we got to shoot at USC and on the Universal Studios backlot. The Universal backlot had represented movie-making for me ever since I came to California and took the tour when I was ten years old. As for returning triumphantly to shoot a film at my alma mater, words can’t really describe how cool that was.
One more great coup was that I was able to have my GLiL composer and USC classmate, Deborah Lurie, write the music for Sleepover. We had dreamed about working together on a feature for ten years. And, of course, she did a terrific job.
The movie came together really well, and I’m so proud of it. Test audiences have responded incredibly well, and I can’t wait to get it out there. Everything I loved about it as a script is still there, and Alexa and the cast did such a great job, I think people will really like it.
What types of projects are you hoping to tackle in the future?
I love comedy. I always have. It just feels so great to be able to make an audience laugh. If I can continue to make comedies with heart, with real relationships and characters that people care about I will be very happy.
What movie has yet to be made that you would love to direct? Maybe a remake?
There aren’t really any remakes that I’m dying to do, but my dream is to make a movie like “Groundhog Day” or “Big” or “Splash.” I love comedies with magic to them and a real heartfelt relationship at their core. I’m always looking for funny scripts with a big magical concept like that. Oh, and I would kill to make “Ghostbusters IV,” that would kick ass.
What do you think about fan films now compared to when you made George Lucas in Love?
I think everything is getting better and better. With the new technology, people are doing incredible things on their laptops! It blows me away. As someone who can barely get my computer to generate italic print, I’m amazed at what people can create at home.
Do fan films get attention in Hollywood? It seems like you may have started a trend here.
I think right after our film there was a sense that everyone should make a fan film or a parody. There was a bit of a glut, particularly with “Blair Witch” spoofs. But now that things have calmed down, I think the time is ripe for another “viral” short to blow people away. Good filmmaking and good storytelling will always get attention in Hollywood.
Do you see other filmmakers making it like you did after making a film that shows up first on the internet?
Absolutely, I know that a lot of the short film sites have dried up, but believe me, if someone sees something great, and short, on the internet, they will pass it along. If anything, I think video looks so much better now over the internet then it did five years ago. The timing could be perfect for someone.
So what is next for you?
I am once again reading a lot of scripts. There are a handful of comedies that I am definitely interested in, but nothing concrete yet. I will keep you posted.
Thanks again for taking the time out to speak with us. We hope your movie Sleepover (in theaters July 9th) does great! MTFBWYA!