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SXSW '07 Interview: "Silver Jew" Director Michael Tully

by Scott Weinberg

The "Silver Jew" Pitch: Not your typical music documentary, Silver Jew is an intimate portrait of reclusive poet/musician David Berman, the guiding force behind one of indie rock's most revered bands, the Silver Jews. In the midst of their first ever world tour, Berman, his wife Cassie, and the rest of the group traveled to Israel to play two shows and visit Jerusalem.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
David Berman. The Silver Jews. Israel.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
I attended SXSW last year with my first feature, Cocaine Angel. (Note: I actually answered this very set of questions. I'm not going to cut-and-paste, and I'm not going to provide new answers for the sake of providing new answers. I'm just gonna live in the moment and see where that takes me.) As for other fests, CA took us from Rotterdam to Austin to Sarasota to Boston to Maryland to Spain to Ireland to England to Italy to Connecticut to Wilmington (NC). A pretty amazing run for such a tiny film. The best part about festivals is meeting so many great people. I didn't meet ONE jerk last year. And I made several long-term friendships. It's incredibly inspiring to meet so many cool people who can share in the pain (and joy) of being an independent filmmaker. The least favorite part of the festival ride is the come down when you leave and return to your normal, quiet, boring life.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a…” what?
Until I was five, an ice cream man. From 6-13, an athlete (baseball, basketball, or tennis). From 14-18, a novelist.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
Looking back now, I guess the true start was teaming up with Damian (Lahey) to make COCAINE ANGEL. While all of my other filmic experiences (being a P.A., writing about film, etc.) were superficially connected to 'filmmaking,' I couldn't call myself a filmmaker, so they don't really count.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”

Nope. It is what it is, whether it's in a festival or not. Though I'd certainly rather it be in a festival than sitting on my laptop in my bedroom!

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
I guess Kermit (while singing "The Rainbow Connection").

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
No. Matthew Robison (producer) and I had no idea what we were getting into. We headed to Israel with a video camera and that was it. Our hope was that we would have enough content to make a film and not just a cobbled together music video, but we had no delusions of grandeur.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
Matthew lives in Nashville and is friendly with David. Before embarking on his band's first ever world tour, David mentioned to Matthew that he wanted the Israeli portion of the trip documented, as he had recently embraced Judaism and felt it would be a special occasion. Matthew saw the opportunity and called me up to see if I wanted to fly over there with him and shoot the film. At the time, I was living with my parents in Maryland and still trying to pay off Cocaine Angel, so I turned him down. But a few close friends offered to fund the trip because they sensed it would be a good move for me to make. While I didn't take them up on their monetary offer, I did change my mind and said yes. The trip itself was magical. I went to Nashville for a week in October to do an assembly edit with Matthew, then brought in the amazing Jane Rizzo in NYC to turn it into an actual film. Our goal was always to world premiere the film in Austin at SXSW, and we were fortunate enough to get in. As for last night, I watched the HD master on the big screen to test it out and make sure that it was in presentable shape. Everything was in order (all praises due to Andrew Fetchko and BrainBox Productions in Silver Spring, MD). Though I have to say, watching your film on a big screen for the first time is surreal and intimidating. I'm glad I got it out of the way now. Hopefully I'll be able to appreciate it at SXSW. This morning, I put it in the mail. I hope it gets there.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
When shooting a documentary, SHUT THE FUCK UP. I interacted with the subjects too much, because I didn't know what I was doing and wanted to keep things as comfortable as possible. And I didn't get enough coverage. When shooting a documentary--when shooting any film, actually (unless you're Bela Tarr)--get coverage!

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
Robert Altman. His films, his approach to filmmaking, his everything. Robert Altman.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?

Dave Chappelle's Block Party.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Paul Giamatti.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Although it's the stupidest idea in the world, Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road. Or Bad Ronald

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.

David Berman. Why? Because he's one of the most clever, brilliant minds of our generation.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...

...still breathing.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
Robert Longstreet.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
For me, "making it" would mean being able to pay my bills as a filmmaker. Since I don't do that, I'm afraid I have to answer a cruelly emphatic NO to that first question.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Not very. But maybe that's a good thing, because lately it seems like most reviewers would rather be writing for "The Daily Show." Their reviews are like low-rent standup routines. My favorite reviews are the ones that you read through to the end and still can't say for sure whether the critic is recommending the movie or not.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
A1 Sauce.

You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
I have no idea.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
I don't like the fact that the director seems to get ALL the credit for a film, but someone has to speak for it. It probably makes the most sense for it to be the director and not one of the office interns. For me, the problem with the above question arises with the directors who think they're the only person who made the film. THAT, my friends, is tacky.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
Right now, I don't know if I could. But we hired a publicist this time around, so I should probably have them do it.


Michael Tully's Silver Jew will have its world premiere at the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more info on the film. And check out BSide.com for even more info!

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2106
originally posted: 02/23/07 20:44:40
last updated: 03/06/07 17:20:49
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