Film Courage: Okay, this is from Smeltzer Sounds…hello. “The itch for a project or idea, how it feels, why you can’t stop thinking about it, it’s a project that has to get done…what was that first project like for you?”
Justin Warren, Writer/Director: What was the first project like that? Man…there’s a lot of projects like that actually. I kind of have a hard drive of scripts that I just desperately want to make. But the thing that I try to do was find the great intersection between that feeling he was talking about. That I desperately have to make this, I want to have this exist and I’m ready to lay down on the train tracks to make this work. That feeling intersecting with kind of realistic resources of where I am right now.
And so I have script that takes place in fantasy worlds where it would take phenomenal amounts of money to build just build the world and those are scripts I desperately want to make, but I’m just not at that level right now.
The thing for me is that it kind of has to tick two boxes. It has to tick the feeling of I just have to make this. And Is this realistic for me to make? Because I think one of the hardest things I learned was on the first movie because THEN THERE WAS JOE (which was my first feature) was actually the second script that I landed on to want to make after school.
I’d written an entire other feature that I was like I’m going to make this one. I’m totally going to take this one. And it was funny, I was talking to a producer friend of mine (not the producer of the movie, but a producer friend) and I was saying I really want to make this movie. What do you think I should do? And they were like First off, you should write a business plan. And I was like Ugh, no! So you can know realistically if you can make this or not.
And I was just like Ah, man. That sounds pretty awful, but I’ll do it anyway.
I sat down and for a couple weeks I budgeted out this script and I figured out very quickly this is a million dollar movie. And I thought just in terms of (perhaps cyclically, I don’t know if realistic is the way to put it) but cynically I thought Who would give me a million dollars to make a movie? Who would do that? And I don’t think anybody would do that?
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And so I was like Okay, I need to try and figure out something else. A way that I could gather some amount of money (every movie costs someone amount of money). It’s not possible to make something with nothing, you have to have some amount of money.
And so I was like Okay well I’m going to do what I can to write something that has that feeling of I have to make this. Along with something where it is cost-effective. Then I wrote THEN THERE WAS JOE thinking Okay, I’m going to shoot this back home where I’m from. I’m going to shoot it in my parent’s house where I grew up. I know for a fact there’s a guy down the street who owns this place who probably will let us shoot there for free and so that’s what I was thinking in terms of how to get it made. And so if I tried to do that with the other film, I think I’d still be trying to make it. I’d still be trying to come up with the money because to be frank I’m still a first-time filmmaker (I just completed my first feature), I’m still like Who would give me money for my next one? I don’t even know? And I’m still sort of in that mindset of Well, okay I know for a fact I want to make something else. It has to resonate with me and right now where I am, it has to be made in a way that is realistic, where I’m still going to be calling in favors most likely.
I think for my next film I think I can get a larger sum of money but not too much, you know?
My goal eventually is to like stair-step my way into it, each film just gets a little bit bigger than the last one which is not too unreasonable. It’s easy to think Oh man, I made this movie and now my next movie is going to be a 30 million dollar movie. And maybe I’m cynical but I just think that’s unrealistic. Maybe that happens for other people. It does happen for other people but I don’t know if it would happen for me?
But my goal is just to make films that I feel I have to make that are within a certain container, that can be made in a relatively contained way.
And what’s great about that right now is when I was thinking about that first script that I wanted to make that was like a million dollars. Now in hindsight I would never trust Justin two years ago with a million dollars, I would never do that. Because I just didn’t have the chops then.
I feel like now I could probably do that, maybe? I think? But it’s just one of those things I feel filmmaking especially directing and writing it’s a process to get up (to direct) a huge movie. And I’m just going to slowly, kind of march my way up the stairs until hopefully I’ll get to direct something really big one day.
Until then, I’m going to try and make films within my means that scratch both of those boxes.
Film Courage: I think it’s great that you wouldn’t be too tempted…I mean who wouldn’t want 2 million to make something? But so many people have over-confidence sometimes and I think it’s kind of this thing that’s definitely embraced and I think that’s great that you want to go to these next levels in a progression, not just totally jump.
Justin: Yes, because I think if I were to just jump to a huge movie right now, I don’t know how good that movie would be? Because there’s so many, you know there’s that whole thing Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems. That’s kind of a real thing. So my last movie was of a small budget range. The next script that I wrote is about twice that, but twice of a little is still not very much, you know what I mean? And I think I can handle that. I think I can handle how to make something really solid in a very fiscally responsible way. And I like that. I’ve actually learned to appreciate kind of slow growth and slow progression and being cool with that. Because I was talking about earlier, it’s really easy to just want to get there right now. I want to direct the next AVENGERS movie right now! You can really want that, but if realistic about it, I wouldn’t trust myself right now at this particular spot in my career, I wouldn’t trust myself with an AVENGERS movie. There’s no way! And so when I get there, when I get to the point where I can direct something like that, I want the experience and the resourcefulness to all line up hopefully in a way where synergy is occurring where I can actually meet that opportunity and do a good job with it.
Questions For The Viewers: What was the first project you felt you had to make? Did you make it?
JUSTIN WARREN was born in Little, Rock Arkansas in 1987. He started making movies at the age of eight, making his own stop-motion animated Star Wars films. He graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas with a B.A. in Theatre Arts and Dance, where he took the lead in numerous stage plays and won awards for his bold playwriting. In 2008, Justin and his family were featured in the 2008 CNN documentary “Black in America” with Soledad O’Brien which was broadcast globally. In 2014, Justin graduated from the prestigious USC School of Cinematic Arts with an M.F.A. in Film and Television Production. In addition to writing, directing, and co-editing his own films, Justin has also written, performed, arranged, and engineered three albums of original music. In 2018, his first comedy feature film, Then There Was Joe, made its World Premiere at Jeff Nichol’s (Mud, Midnight Special, Loving) Arkansas Cinema Society to sold out crowds. The film is currently screening around the country on the festival circuit and received a glowing review in the L.A. Times, which declared Justin as having a “bright future” in Hollywood. You can visit him online at Justinwarren.me.
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