First 20 Interviews for RogerEbert.com

Damien Chazelle on the set of “Whiplash.”

Damien Chazelle on the set of “Whiplash.”

One of the most incredible and humbling parts of my job at The Ebert Company has been the opportunity to write for RogerEbert.com. It’s an honor simply to have work published on the same site that contains decades of the late critic’s timeless reviews, as well as those of a hugely talented and diverse group of writers tasked with providing a wealth of new content for the site each week. For Part II of Indie Outlook’s third anniversary retrospective (click here for Part I), I’ve compiled a series of highlights from my work at RogerEbert.com, including my first twenty interviews for the site, many of which were with independent filmmakers. Click on the name of the interviewee, and you will be directed to the full article.

“When I told my story as a young person, it opened doors for many kids to be rescued. It was also used to bring food into the refugee camp. […] I’m using storytelling now for social and emotional learning. Music became the painkiller. It’s the place where I became a child again, and it’s the place where I’m able to see heaven.”—Emmanuel Jal, Sudanese refugee, singer and star of “The Good Lie”

“The thing that I love about working with Wes is that’s he’s not obsessively trying to accomplish his vision to the point where it becomes cold. He always has a smile on his face and is open to ideas and mistakes. He sets up a world where those things can play out, and it’s a blast.”—Jason Schwartzman, star of “Listen Up Philip”

“A lot of my favorite movies are told intimately through the perspective of the main characters. The camera doesn’t hop to the bad guy in the middle of a scene just to cross-cut for the sake of cross-cutting. It was really important to me that we kept our focus on the kids and told the movie through their point of view. An audience’s excitement to what they’re seeing is funneled through the perspective from which it’s experienced.”—Dave Green, director of “Earth to Echo”

“‘Raging Bull’ served as a big model for many reasons. When it comes down to subject matter, it’s actually, to my mind, only one step away from [my film]. ‘Raging Bull’ is about a guy who hits people for a living, this is a movie about a guy who hits things for a living. Andrew’s not actually whacking people with the stick, but it’s still the same violent act. You’re still f—king whacking stuff, and there’s still something about drumming that I find fundamentally violent.”—Damien Chazelle, director of “Whiplash”

“The people in that church thought in simplistic terms and encourage you to think in simplistic terms. That’s always where I had problems with it. I don’t think that way, though I was able to do that in one section of my life. How was I able to justify those two things in my mind? […] We contradict ourselves constantly. That’s why I love writing characters. We can be the hero and the villain in our own life.”—Paul Haggis, former Scientologist and director of “Third Person”

Alfred Molina, John Lithgow and Ira Sachs on the set of “Love Is Strange.”

Alfred Molina, John Lithgow and Ira Sachs on the set of “Love Is Strange.”

“The church is in a state of flux and state of crisis. It’s clearly a crisis when you look at the history of the Catholic church in the last few years. All history is defined by shifting modes of reality and time and how things change. That’s what I love about cinema. It changes in the moment. One of the things this film speaks to is how relationships are not defined by names or titles but by experience.”—Ira Sachs, director of “Love Is Strange”

“We all lived together—my wife of 18 years, my daughter, my niece, my mother—who has Alzheimer’s—and my wife’s father, who is an alcoholic. I’d look at them and go, ‘What is family anymore?’ Family is just the people you care about. We can bond with people that we have nothing in common with, even if it’s just for a moment.”—Theodore Melfi, director of “St. Vincent”

“The dream I have is that the film will help change how we treat people. It will make us rethink how we treated her, and the next time this happens, hopefully we won’t act the same way we did. Journalists are still doing the same thing that they were doing to Amy. The people who wrote about her are the same people who were interviewing me at Cannes when the film came out.”—Asif Kapadia, director of “Amy”

“You had people agreeing about real facts and then debating those facts. Now we have people who have their own facts and their own opinions and end up in these echo chambers of their own opinions which is, I think, corrosive and dangerous. We can’t even agree on objective truths anymore. That’s part of the slippery slope that this portends.”—Morgan Neville, co-director of “Best of Enemies”

“When the second IG report was released, [CIA Inspector General] Frederick Hitz went in front of the Senate Investigative Committee and admitted to an executive order that was signed into law in the early ’80s by Reagan. It was an executive order allowing the CIA not to report to the Department of Justice about their relationships with Nicaraguan drug dealers during the Contra war. What more proof do you need?”—Michael Cuesta, director of “Kill the Messenger”

Jude Law and Kevin Macdonald on the set of “Black Sea.”

Jude Law and Kevin Macdonald on the set of “Black Sea.”

“Skilled working men are getting thrown on the scrap heap as the industries that they work for are no longer being valued. We’re also portraying the battle between the 99 percent and the one percent. Just look at journalism, for example. Wages are going down, you’re expected to work harder for less and yet the company that owns your newspaper is making loads of money and the guy who owns it is a billionaire.”—Kevin Macdonald, director of “Black Sea”

“I find the accessibility of the Internet in our lives troubling just because it’s such a distraction, particularly if you work on a computer. It’s like working on a television screen. It would be very hard to get anything done. A computer may be worse than television because we can actually control it more, or we think we can control it more, but we really can’t.”—Noah Baumbach, director of “While We’re Young”

“There’s a conversation in the film where one of the characters says to the other, ‘We’re the equivalent of australopithecus, the neanderthal man. We’re an upright ape living in dust, just about to become extinct.’ I see the new, genderless creature represented by Ava as a continuation of the species, and the masks were supposed to be, in some sense, a representation of that.”—Alex Garland, director of “Ex Machina”

“‘Jurassic Park’ movies have been awesome for the science of paleontology. Not only did they raise awareness about dinosaurs but they actually educated people about them. They enabled us to see dinosaurs behaving in interesting ways and the first movie was pretty spot-on on a lot of things. […] Interestingly enough, the CGI people used Sue’s measurements to create the proportions for the Tyrannosaurus Rex.”—Peter Larson, paleontologist and subject of “Dinosaur 13”

“Anytime you’re in the territory that we’re treading here, you become ripe fodder for cynics. […] I go to a lot of [For Your Consideration] screenings around awards time, and oftentimes, especially over the last five years, they’ve become a bit of a depressing slog. […] I appreciate all of them and I love many of them, but it feels like the currency of laughs and smiles and a good kind of cry has become uncool somewhere along the line. I don’t know why that is.”—Dan Fogelman, director of “Danny Collins”

Chloë Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley in R.J. Cutler’s “If I Stay.”

Chloë Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley in R.J. Cutler’s “If I Stay.”

“My role as Abby in ‘Let Me In’ was incredibly hard, but I find it more challenging as an actress, weirdly enough, to be a normal kind of kid who’s falling in love. You can feel loss from the time you’re five years old and your pet hamster dies. People feel loss all the time, but it’s harder to feel true elation, especially when you’re a teenager.”—Chloë Grace Moretz, star of “If I Stay”

“Black people during that time didn’t have much to smile about. We were always thinking about what was going to happen to us next and whether we were going to live tomorrow. Our characters do what they have to in order to get by. That’s the harsh reality of it.”—Ashton Sanders, star of “The Retrieval”

“There are less films being made and there’s less work in Australia. When actors get a job there, they really try and commit to it. That’s not to say they don’t commit to it in America or that it’s not hard to get work. I’m sure it is. I guess my break in America came a little too early. It would’ve been nice to have a few more years to find out what I’m like as an actor without a camera on my face.”—Brenton Thwaites, star of “The Giver”

“I had an instinct that I wanted to do some other things and challenge myself a bit more than I had previously. […] Then I met Adam, who suggested a different physical transformation, beefing back up again while staying in similarly dark territory but having a lot of fun with it. It immediately reminded me of all those movies that I loved while growing up. To get to connect with that sense of why I wanted to be an actor was very important to me.”—Dan Stevens, star of “The Guest”

“I don’t know if I believe that love is a long-term experience. It’s something that comes to us if we’re lucky. It flares up, and, to me, it’s more about the individual evolving. We have people in our lives who help us evolve along the way. If you’re lucky, you find someone who evolves along with you, and that’s what you call a long-term relationship.”—Richard LaGravenese, director of “The Last 5 Years”

In addition to these interviews, I’ve also provided coverage of last summer’s Comic Con in San Diego, Female Filmmaker’s Night at the Midwest Independent Film Festival and last month’s AFI Docs fest in Washington, D.C., where I reviewed films including “The Wolfpack,” “India’s Daughter,” “Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation,” “Radical Grace” and the final masterpiece from Albert Maysles, “In Transit.” Some of the articles that I’ve published on RogerEbert.com originally ran on Indie-Outlook.com, including my tribute to Roger Ebert (which was preceded with an introduction by Chaz Ebert) and an expanded version of my essay on Christian indies, entitled, “All Are Welcome: Religion at the Movies.” I poured my heart into my “Meet the Writers” questionnaire for the site, and enjoyed highlighting my personal favorite Ebert review, which I’ve read so often that I know it by heart.

Amy Schumer and Tilda Swinton at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

Amy Schumer and Tilda Swinton at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

Perhaps the most thrilling event I got to cover thus far was the Gotham Independent Film Awards ceremony in New York City last December. It was my first experience interviewing celebrities on a red carpet and in a press room reserved for award-winners, and I was initially quite nervous. However, I came to realize that my many years of experience conducting interviews would enable me to think on my feet and ask questions that focused on the subjects’ work and not “how they feel being nominated” or “what they are wearing” (seriously, who cares?). I ended up having wonderful encounters with Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Julianne Moore, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Laura Poitras, Ellar Coltrane, Tessa Thompson, Dan Gilroy, Steve James, Justin Simien, Ana Lily Amirpour, Macon Blair, Ted Sarandos of Netflix and “Run Lola Run” editor Mathilde Bonnefoy.

Yet the most exciting chat of all took place after my colleagues had left the press room and I was on the way out. Suddenly, I saw Amy Schumer standing in the corner of the room, looking at her phone. The night had already been so surreal that it felt perfectly natural to walk up to her, introduce myself as a writer for RogerEbert.com, and ask her if she wouldn’t mind answering a couple questions. I had seen her on the roast of Rosanne Barr, and immediately fell in love with her style of comedy. It wasn’t until after we met that I binge-watched the first two seasons of her exhilaratingly funny Comedy Central show, “Inside Amy Schumer,” which has garnered well-deserved attention and acclaim in its third season this year. I had no idea I was talking to a woman who was destined to become one of the biggest stars of 2015 when I asked her about “what it was like working with fellow female trailblazers,” such as Swinton [who has a role in Schumer’s upcoming film, “Trainwreck”], who are crafting similarly uncompromising visions. “Just hearing you say that makes me really excited,” Amy replied giddily, before giving me the following response…

“When you grow up and people make you feel like there’s something wrong with you—whether you’re a girl who wants to fight for justice or make people laugh—it’s really powerful to connect with people who have had that same struggle. I love the people that I work with on my show. We tried to make something that we thought was funny and never diverted from that. There just happens to be some heavy social commentary, but I think that’s just laced in our comedy. In the third season, it feels like there’s nothing holding us back. We made the show we wanted to make without worrying about pandering to anybody.”—Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck,” directed by Judd Apatow, opens Friday, July 17th.

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