A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to have a chit-chat with Mark Ehrenkranz, Director of the New York Film Critic Series. The Film Critic Series seeks to “provide the finest films and state-of-the-art experiences to patrons who don’t live in big cities. In addition to Critics series, Mark is also working on Turbulent Souls, a documentary on the co-author of Freakanomics, Stephen J. Dubner. We discuss all of this, plus Elaine May, below:
DE: Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to sit down and talk with me. Though we have a lot to cover, I thought we could start with Stephen J. Dubner and ‘Turbulent Souls’. Can you give us any hints? Details?
ME: Stephen is a really interesting guy. Levitt [Ehrenkanz’s co-author] is definitely more of the economist, while Stephen is the journalist. Nobody, at least before these memoirs, knew much about him. I actually think the whole generation who read Freakanomics know very little about his personal life. But, in the memoirs, we hear a lot on Stephen’s father, who suffered heavily from depression. He searched endlessly for a job, and when he finally found one in upstate New York , the commute was a few hours each way. Ironically, but sadly, he died on Christmas when Stephen was 10. I say ironically because they were originally Jewish but later converted – which is what the memoirs and Turbulent Souls follows. We, with Stephen, try and find out when they converted, why, etc.
DE: That sounds like a good idea for a movie…
ME: Well, we’re in the funding stage right now. So cross your fingers!
DE: We’ll certainly keep them crossed. I’ve read you’ve done lectures, produced, and been a vocal proponent of independent filmmaking. So, I have a two part question for you: 1) What was the personal impetus to focus on the indie circuit and 2) With sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter sprouting en masse, will independent filmmaking, like indie music, become oversaturated?
ME: Mainstream movies and Hollywood never resonated with me. I always enjoyed stuff like Jarmusch and other independent directors. I always thought their stories were more passionate and closer to the truth; reality rather than escapism. And to answer the second part, there are a lot of great homespun ideas, but at the end of the day, it takes more talent, genius, and character to take a film to market. That’s the trick in our business.
DE: So it still comes down to having passion with a good idea?
ME: Exactly. Having a good idea, learning to take help when it’s given to you, credible sources, and to execute. After that, it’s out of our hands. And the good ones will appeal to a lot of people, and most importantly, garnish enough financial success for you to do it again.
DE: So, I was reading in NJ.com that you once worked for one of my favorite directors, Elaine May?
ME: Ha! I did…. It’s when I was living in LA and really, just acting a gopher for people like Harvey Miller, who produced Private Benjamin, and his Jerry Belchen, who wrote the original Fun with Dick and Jane. They were all buddies with one another: Penny Marshall, Jerry Marshall, and, consequently, one of their friends happened to be Elaine May. So, she needed a gopher. The first time I went to see her, there was that first meeting trust factor: her door opened a little and a hand came out with a package. The next time, the door opened a little more, where she actually met me face-t0-face. Until one day she finally let me in. I was just a PA, really, 21 years old and schlepping around Los Angeles with scripts.
DE: I am infinitely jealous. Mikey & Nicky has to be my favorite film of the 70’s. And lastly, do you have any picks for Best Picture this year?
ME: 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, of course. There should definitely be a campaign for Fruitvale Station; this years Beast of the Southern Wild. We also had a great summer for movies: Blue Jasmine, Prince Avalanche, The Bling Ring, Blue Caprice. I’m hoping we see a few of those get recognition.
DE: I agree. Thanks again, Mark.