10 questions with Jonathan Newman

I’ve just returned from The Guerilla Filmmaking Masterclass run by Chris Jones over the weekend. With short-film The Choice in post-production, this seemed like the perfect time to get re-energised for the slog ahead (as well as try to meet other filmmakers and potential collaborators). The primary aim of this Masterclass was facing and overcoming fear (including getting audience members to do things they normally wouldn’t such as glass walking barefoot). Overcoming fear really resonates with me as it is the central theme of The Choice and this film has definitely taken me way out of my comfort zone (in a good way).

One of the surprises this weekend was a Q&A with Director Jonathan Newman who has made a number of prominent features and short films. A few years back Jonathan also kindly agreed to answer a few questions I posed to him. Hopefully this will inspire other filmmakers (and anyone who attended the Masterclass over the weekend).

Jonathan Newman

1. Can you go into the where’s and why’s which lead to that initial spark when you realised you wanted to become a film-maker?

Although i was born in London, I moved to LA when I was 5.  We lived in a lovely house on a cliff in Malibu.  When I was 8 they filmed Knight Rider, TJ Hooker, and Simon and Simon at our house!  I remember sitting in KIT and fiddling with all the buttons and then watching the show being filmed. My mother made me ask David Hasselhof if he wanted to stay for dinner (he did not).  But that gave me a very early glimpse into this magical world of storytelling and film.

2. What films and/or film-makers inspire you?

There are so many it is almost an unanswerable question.  I like movies that entertain and also move or somehow touch me.  ET, Amelie, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful all share that common power. Films that make you laugh but also connect emotionally with the characters are the best types of movies for me. I even cry every time I watch Ratatouille with my daughter!  When the story, characters, music all work perfectly, it’s magic.
I also just saw The Artist and was reminded how great storytelling can just be about images juxtaposed together. The whole film is silent, but it’s nostalgic and romantic and wonderful storytelling.

3. You’ve mostly made feel-good films.  Are you worried about being type-cast and is there a particular genre you would like to tackle but haven’t (yet)?

It’s easy to get typecast. I just love great stories and I don’t care about genre. As an audience member I love everything from surreal films, to small Australian films, to time travel to romantic comedies… so I don’t feel bound as a filmmaker to make one type of film.  If the story is great and you care enough about the characters it doesn’t matter where they are or what they are doing.

4. Both Foster and Finkles were short films which have been turned into features. Was this always part of your strategy and how did this all come about?
Not always.  My personal motto is to always stay active.  And it just so happens that it’s easier and cheaper to make a short film, especially when you are building your body of work, looking to get better at what you do, and it is a good forum to be able to show people you can direct and tell a story – though if you have not made a feature, that will always be the first hurdle to overcome.  Foster and Finkels were only ever intended as short films.  It just so happens that someone else encouraged me to make features of both.  Foster in particular, was difficult to adapt, and took my several years to think of the story for the feature.

5. How would you say that the shorts differ from the features?

They are different, living, breathing things – like different children.  I had to divorce myself from the shorts entirely.  Take what was good about them, in essence, and try to recreate that. Sometimes it works and is better, sometimes it is not. Finkels was a better short than it was a feature, for example. But that’s because a film evolves in every stage of production and sometimes it is or is not the film you visualised.  Foster, however, is a complete realisation of the film I set out to make.  It works really well. And it is already getting some incredible feedback from both critics and audiences.  It is most rewarding when your film touches someone else.

6. What aspects of the film-making process do you enjoy the best?

I love being on set – there is something very magical about the process of shooting a film. But ultimately, as I highlighted above, when you get it right, and you make a film you are personally proud of, and you sit with an audience and it touches them and they ‘get’ it’, that is possibly the best feeling in the world. After all, we make movies for other people, not just for ourselves.  And it only takes on a life (or death!) of its own when you push it out into the world for all to see.

7. The “creative” and “business” aspects to film-making can sometimes seem at odds with each other. How do you balance between the two?

Preferably you have a partner.  My strength and my preference is in the creative realm. There are some talented people out there who are good with money.  Find those people and partner up with them.

8. If you couldn’t be a film-maker, what would you want to be and why?

A chef or a professional magician.  I love cooking and creating.  I find it cathartic and almost meditative.  It is the one time I am able to switch off my inner voice and just be in the moment.  As for magic, well I have been into magic for many years and used to perform when I was younger.  Sadly it has fallen by the wayside but I do still love it.

9. What next?

I start pre-production in January (2012) on a rather large children’s adventure film set in the 1800s.  It is based on a best-selling book. I can’t quite talk about it in detail yet, but it’s tremendously exciting.

10. Do you have any final words of encouragement or advice which you would like to pass on to other aspiring film-makers?

Don’t give up the dream.  But at the same time, be proactive to make the ream a reality. Do not wait for anyone to come to you.  Create your own opportunities and get there.  And don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do it…” – you CAN do it!

Thanks to Jonathan for this. You can also watch the trailer to Jonathan’s most recent project (referred to in question 9):

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