Interview: Director Michael Jolls Mocks ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’

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CHICAGO - A mockumentary in the style of 2009’s political comedy “In the Loop,” “The Great Chicago Filmmaker” aims the camera back at burgeoning directors who mar their projects with delusion and self-admiration. Motivated by real-life horror stories from Chicago film sets, the movie follows a young director (played by Devin Sanclemente) on his journey to birth the next indie sensation, but stumbling over his own ego in the process.

The director poking the psyche of “The Great Chicago Filmmaker” is Michael Jolls, who has been moving towards this feature debut since his 2011 short “6 Rules.” In 2013, he co-directed a 38-minute documentary about a reformed archdiocese in 1872, “The Cathedral of the North Shore.” He now transitions to fictional documentary with “The Great Chicago Filmmaker,” of which he co-wrote and executive produced.

The film is based off an idea by Natalia Samoylova. The script was co-written by Jolls, Laurence F. Knapp, Josh Levine, Sriram Parthasarathy, and Devin Sanclemente. The project was produced by Roxie Cohen, Vesi Peneva, and Logan Stone. It is executive produced by Jolls and Samoylova. talked with Jolls in an exclusive interview about constructing this mockumentary, the ideology that fires up the film, the person who hates his film the most, and more.

‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ will screen on January 26 at Chicago’s Landmark Century Centre Cinema.

Devin Sanclemente is 'The Great Chicago Filmmaker'

HollywoodChicago: What did you want to express with this project that you felt hadn’t been explored as much, or at all, in other films about filmmaking?

Michael Jolls: Both “Dedicated” (2010) and web-series “The Videographer” (2013) had come before us – however from the moment we began, the goal was to tackle the Chicago-based film industry in a very tongue-in-cheek approach. This meant mocking it in a way that the other projects hadn’t – actually having actors from the city cameo as themselves on the ‘fake’ sets in the film. Or actually having the main character (ie. the director) do a green screen pitch for money.

HollywoodChicago: So you were making the movie with Chicago and its film scene specifically in mind? Are they your number one audience when you think of who you'd like to see this film?

Jolls: Well, I know they’re the audience who’ll most likely will see this movie - or specifically see it first. There are inside jokes to the Chicago filmmaking industry (the cameos and locations especially) - but the real test would be to show it to a filmmaker in Ohio or New York or Nevada, and see if they can relate to the same frustrations.

HollywoodChicago: What was a real event that inspired your desire to take these experiences and to make them into a comedy?

Jolls: There was a film project I knew of - I mean, for years I had known of it, and had been waiting to see it because a few friends of mine were in it. I was told they were making final edits to it. Anyway, two years go by since I first heard of it, and as matter of circumstance, I wound up getting into a conversation with one of the producers of 'said' project. Simply out of curiosity I asked what the status was on 'said' project, and the producer went into this long grand tale of how they made it, all the production value, and the money spent (upwards of 5-digit number is all I will disclose). At the end of this epic tale was when the producer told me that this grandiose project was merely a short-film. A short film that had been sitting on the shelf for over two years because the director, writers, and producers couldn't agree on an ending. Again, I won't disclose the dollar amount, but when you spend that much money on a film, hype it up on the internet for two years like you're going to release "Star Wars Episode VII" and all it will be is a 10-minute short. Well, good luck at the Oscars.

That was one of the ideas that went into the story of ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ - a guy who piles all this money, time, and hype into what's going to be simply a short film. What Natalia Samoylova (the person who came up with the original story for the movie) picked up on was the delusional mind-set of filmmakers.

HollywoodChicago: Did the story always speak to you as a mockumentary, or did you try a different style before going with that? Or did it seem more inviting maybe as a first time doing a feature?

Jolls: This was actually the third shot at doing a movie about filmmakers. Previously in early 2011, I drafted something about art students which never really came of much. The second time, early 2012, I had collaborated with two other writers and come up with a full screenplay, yet that also never came to fruition. So when Natalia approached me with this concept we knew from the first time talking about it that it would be a mockumentary style. Credit to "In the Loop", as it really wasn't the mockumentary that we were focused on - rather it was the catapult to use when doing a film where the humor comes from the behavior of the characters, not the exact jokes per say.

HollywoodChicago:What has making this film made you appreciate about directing comedy? Where did getting the comedy right rank in terms of challenges that this project created?

Jolls: The answer to your first question: editing. Timing is a huge element of comedy especially in film, and you got to make sure that the movie glides. As far as getting the comedy right, that came relatively easy because of the amazing talent that the cast had.

The mindset behind the comedy of this movie was not about the jokes per say, it was the characters themselves. One of the films that heavily inspired this was the comedy Armando Iannucci’s “In the Loop” which is about politics. The charm of ’In the Loop’ was that you were laughing at how the characters behaved with one another. Same idea with ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ in that you put these characters (a director, producer, a couple PA's, some actors) on a set with a generally, simple problem that arises. But it's the way these clowns behave towards each other is what draws the comedy out. So again, heavily in credit to the actors and cutting it the right way.

HollywoodChicago: How long did this film take, from conceiving the idea to your first screening of it?

Jolls: Late August 2013 was the conception. It previewed first 30 minutes in late August 2014. The premiere full version in mid-December 2014. We released final cut in late January 2015.

We had a set back a few months after we began so that delayed us a little, but eventually once we got rockin' and rollin', certainly the second half of 2014 the project became an everyday thing. Originally we were going for a summer release, however with Dr. Knapp's book releasing, "David Fincher: Interviews,” which I also worked on as assistant editor, we needed to let that release first and run its course before we put out ‘Filmmaker.’

HollywoodChicago: Are there any plans to release ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ digitally, or to festivals?

Jolls: Festivals won’t touch it. No matter what you say regarding the copy right laws, even though we had lawyers supervise us, and were very careful about disclaimers - the festivals get all bent out of shape when they hear about the content of the movie. So we’ll release it digitally, again provided that the music licensing doesn’t freak out. They might - but whatever. And a Blu-ray/DVD is always nice to have on the shelf. ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ was not made to make money - it was made to be the obscene clown in the room and make the proclaimed auteurs uncomfortable. That was our intention from the very first conversation. I’m curious about your stance on rising directors, who need a type of confidence and ambition to get where they are. Are you trying to humble traces of ego with this project, essentially? What do you see as the moral of the story?

Jolls: Well, we’re talking about rising directors who don’t need confidence and ambition because they have plenty of it, so much of it that they’re actually blinded by it. ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ is a commentary about people whose egos are the size of a school bus - that run off to do a horror film that they shot on their iPhone, edit it with no sense of timing, and the sound quality … let’s not even go there. Put out a poster that was made on Microsoft paint, and then pay $100 bucks to some sketchy-website to purchase ‘likes’ on Facebook, and ‘views’ on YouTube. Boom - and overnight you are the up-and-coming Christopher Nolan.

The moral of the story is that Generation-Y falls short on their work ethic. Listen or read any of these interviews with big names in the industry - not exclusively directors - I mean someone like Hans Zimmer, Thelma Schoonmaker (the editor), or Jessica Chastain, and you’ll hear how hard these guys work. And still work - not because they got nominated for an Oscar, life is then easy. No way. They keep at it constantly throughout their careers. Zimmer especially, there is a reason why he pumps out so many soundtracks and so many of them are better than most. By setting your film about such a subject, and by kind of making fun of the ego that would go with calling the “Greatest” as in your title, what thoughts do you have about your film as something that could be criticized back, or people could respond to by critiquing any of its possible own imperfections? Is it fair game, or do you see your film differently than a regular feature that people see and respond to, etc?

Jolls: No one hates ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ more than me. I see every single one of it’s flaws, both technically and structurally. Possible imperfections? It has hundreds of imperfections! Now, it remains different in one large way - ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ is not for profit. It would be illegal for us to capitalize on it. We’re not relying on box-office returns or award circuits - rather it was made for our own selfish entertainment.

That said, when you ask an audience to sit there for 90 minutes, you bet it’s fair game. Criticism about it’s narration, cinematography, editing, sound, etc - those critiques are welcomed with gratitude. Criticism on the ideology of the movie, in that it might be too nasty - that makes me smile. The best complement I received on the movie was when someone told me how much they hated the pretentious director.

HollywoodChicago: So is there a playfulness meant for all then, overall? The film is poking fun but it is overall in good wife spirits?

Jolls: I cannot speak on behalf of what the other writers brought to the piece, not to mention the actors, specifically Devin, Sriram, Natalia, and Dr. Knapp who are professional filmmakers - but I will say this: my fuel to do ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ was due to the frustration of watching my friends get burned by directors who promised the Sundance Film Festival, but never even finished the project, let alone get a DVD copy.

On the flip side of the coin - the first half of the movie remains fairly light-hearted. The second half is when the sleeves are rolled up and the movie gets a little more on the offensive. Yet when we first screened the movie, I did sneak into the room specifically when the jokes got more offensive, and to my surprise the audience was laughing harder. And by more offensive I mean targeting bad social media behavior. On the outside, it appears as all in good spirits, and that’s probably how most audiences will view it. However if you dig under the surface you might get a sense of the sadistic pleasure we had in mocking Gen-Y.

To get tickets for the January 26 screening of ‘The Great Chicago Filmmaker’ at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, click here. editor and staff writer Nick Allen

Editor & Staff Writer

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