Hi Greg, Thank you for this opportunity. It’ll be fun to pick your brain.
How and why did you choose to get into movies?
I saw Jurassic Park in the theater when I was five and immediately became transfixed, obsessed and an instant Spielberg-kid — infinitely fascinated by the idea of movie authorship and directing. That’s my ‘getting bitten by the movie bug’ story; pretty standard. I dreamed of having a career in the movies and show business but I didn’t know that I could really make it my life and vocation until I was 15 and I saw Clerks. I always say that Kevin Smith, famously, has a story about how he was a comic book kid that loved big movies like Batman and then he saw Richard Linklater’s Slacker at the Angelika Theater in Manhattan and it made him realize that he could do this thing, this movie-making thing.
Clerks gave me that same feeling — you could actually create iconic, characters and quotable lines on the level of movies I loved like JP and SW, but you could do it on credit cards and pizza!? — I’m in for life! Not that HK is anywhere near as good as Clerks, not what I’m trying to say at all… But, just the idea that someone out there from the suburbs of this country, not in Hollywood, could spend 20k of their own money and compete, in a way, on the Hollywood level with their unlimited toys and hundreds of millions of dollars. Obviously, Kevin Smith went on to prove his talents in that Hollywood world and make some great movies like Dogma! And, obviously I have not done any of that yet, and HK is very very tiny by comparison. But, that was the experience, seeing Clerks at 15, that crystalized a path for me that made sense, a path that I felt like I had access to, rather than trying to get into USC (the famous one?) in LA with my mediocre grades and sit through traditional university classes while I wait to get my hands on a camera.
Right after high school, at 17, I moved to New York City by myself and went to the low-key, non-accredited at the time, New York Film Academy’s one-year directing program. I finished that at 18 and started interning and freelancing and assisting as a PA and making music videos and never looked back. I was, and still am, a huge South Park fan and I heard about Cannibal The Musical at 18 or 19. That, in a similar Clerks way, was a HUGE inspiration… But it also lead me to Troma, an awareness of Lloyd Kaufman and eventually his legendary book “Make Your own Damn Movie” Which I read at 19 and really really really really fueled my energy that ended up making Hectic Knife happen 5 years later when I was 24.
I always knew that, similar to David Lynch’s Eraserhead or Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, my first movie would be a long, cheaply done, production; and HK was just that. We started in 2010 and didn’t finish until 2015. I would have loved to have had 10, 25, 50, $100k at any time to make the movie all at once, traditionally; shoot in 30 days and do an efficient, 6-month post-process, in the correct order, picture lock, sound mix, score, etc.
But, by virtue of only having access to 1k at any given time, we (Peter Litvin, producer, star as HK and sound mixer and created the entire original score!) had to make HK on fly and despite the hardship of that and the clunky technical process, the movie really found itself during production and was written and shaped as it went. Plus, not that HK is nearly as good as Eraserhead or Bad Tate, but I figured if Lynch and Jackson are willing to go through such lengths to suffer for their projects, and if I really want to do this, I better have the guts, blind, stupid confidence, insanity and perseverance to be able to take off and land five years later with a finished project — no matter how much pain and frustration and tears it puts me through. I wouldn’t want to have to go through that process again but I love everything I learned and now I get to apply those lessons to my next thing!
How many movies have you done to date? (include titles too please)
Hectic Knife is my first movie.
But, the book is out on what that means and I have also never had a real job and have only ever worked in the movie industry. So, that said, I’ve directed dozens of music videos, short documentaries, promo videos, web series, etc. If you look at my imdb I think I have like a dozen director credits and the latest one is this short film called “The One” that I was literally hired to direct over the phone based on previous work — I was paid $100 for one day on set, the movie was never finished, yet it lives on imdb as something I did!?
So, to stop rambling and answer your simple question:
Store Front New York (2009) 6 min, short documentary
Various short films, documentaries, music videos with Peter Litvin
We have a DVD compilation coming out this summer called Short Films For Nobody that includes this material.
One highlight from these projects is my connection to The Room & The Disaster Artist. If you look in the “Acknowledgements” of Greg Sestero’s book “The Disaster Artist” you’ll see my name there. I’m also interviewed in The Definitive Guide to The Room, a blue paperback, coffee table book out of the UK that’s all about The Room and the cultural stuff around it. Unfortunately, Tommy has taken the original video down from my youtube channel. But, here are links to what remains online:
The Room Rap Remix featuring Greg Sestero!
The Room Rap (on Pete’s channel, the original that Tommy took down from my Monrovia Pictures youtube channel had 250k+ views. With the book and the James Franco movie I’m sure it would have surpassed 1 million by now) 🙁
Sing Along music video (2009) https://www.youtube.com/watch?
The Stupid Alien (50k+views! 2008) https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Grimmy Smip (2011) https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Garlic Bag (2011) https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Jasons Jasons (2010) https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Two notable shorts:
(2009) The End music video for Meghan Tonjes, viral, youtube celebrity artist, activist, her first ever music video, 135k views!
(2016) Washington Capitals Time Capsule, this got released via the Washington Post and they did a big interview with me, pretty crazy!
This was directed by Jeff Krulik, director of Heavy Metal Picnic (listed below), I have cut about a half dozen shorts for him, but as a huge hockey fan this one is my favorite, plus he gave me artistic license on it since I LOVE hockey and Alex Ovechkin!
Here’s another short that he directed and I cut though, Celebrity Underwear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Heavy Metal Picnic (editor only) Directed by Jeff Krulik, 2010, 70 minutes. feature-length documentary, music, comedy
Canada’s Best Kept Secret (2011) 70 min, I shot, edited, wrote and directed this myself
Fake Henrik Zetterberg (2011) 12 episode comedy web series (60 min total run time), co-wrote, shot, edited directed, comedy/drama, Based on the Penny Marshall movie Big, also my first time ever directing actors I had heard of before: Austin Pendleton and Dot Com from 30 Rock. We wrote, produced, shot and edited in under 1 year and we raised the 5k budget via IndieGoGo, so the whole thing was not a financial loss. We never reached a wide audience on any level, but tucked away out there we have a few dozen fans!
ep 6 (of 12, one of the better eps though): https://www.youtube.com/watch?
FHZ gets ready… viral, 30 sec short that started it all, 100k+ views, all real, this video was an overnight hit, got us interviewed in Yahoo Sports and Huffington Post, was Top Viewed Sports/Comedy video for a week.
you know the rest!
Are there more in the works?
Right now I am finishing up a short documentary that I shot 12 years ago called “What Does E=MC2 Even Mean?” Here’s the pitch “Einstein & E=MC2 explained in 8 minutes!” I interviewed a physics professor and author of 15 books including Collider, Edge of the Universe and Einstein’s Dice in front of Einstein’s old house in Princeton, NJ. Then I coupled that with people-on-the0-street interviews in Union Sq, NYC and I’m putting it all together now with original stop-motion animation graphics and b roll and whatnot! Very fun and it’ll come out this Summer!
I also filmed Mick Shank from one of my all-time favorite movies, American Movie reading from his dream journal for a short documentary called Sleeping Dreams.
As I finish up those and release them throughout 2018, I am all along finishing an EPIC, 2.5 hour long, intermission having documentary all about music called: “What Kind of Music Do You Listen To?” I started it 12 years ago and it took me all over North America, from Seattle to Montreal. I collected 100s of hours of footage and over 100 interviews with dozens of musicians including Bela Fleck, Daniel Johnston, DJ Spooky, Victor Wooten, Dandy Warhols, Liu Fang, Suphala, Erik Mongrain, RA the Rugged Man, Sugar Hill Gang… and the list goes on and on.
I’m hoping to have that finished up by 2020-2022. During those, I have about 6-12 scripts that I have at various stages. From a Christmas romantic comedy to a Liberian Warlord in Detroit fighting neo-nazis to a girl dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup to a Channel Surfing Tom Hanks, a fictitious punk band made of high school girls and a teen, horror movie set on Devils Night in 1980, Detroit!
Anyone know any cool, non-raping, indie producers that have like an extra 10 million!?
After watching Hectic Knife, it was brutally clear that it wasn’t the atypical superhero movie. What was the motivation behind it?
I think it was the “atypical” one hehe! No, it is not your typical superhero movie! I guess the best way I can describe it is; I’m a comedy nerd, I’m insecure and desperate to make people laugh. When you’re young and angry and down and out and broke and trying to figure out how to have a career there’s a chip on your shoulder and you’re mudslinging and trash talking… That was the 24-year-old me living in New York with mice dying in my laundry bag. All of that vitriol and aggression and sarcasm was channeling into HK and that’s where you get all of the spoofs on Hollywood movie tropes like hollow, female, eye candy characters with no death, heroes that cant die but can kill almost at will, and all the little things we poke fun at. Then, with Pete as my partner and it being our thing together, he brought to it an amazing insanity that tempered by spikiness. So, Pete would say, “bagels” and he’d present the prop and the bag bagels he bought and start feeding the actors lines and my job was to funnel that brilliant, bizarreness into a context that made sense. We didn’t have story arcs or characters that learn or change. So, for me it was important to be under 90 minutes and that the oddness of the jokes built on themselves into some kind of joke frosted or climax? That ended up being the bagel scene. Ironically, coincidentally, on purpose by accident, if you read the classic, screenwriting book Save the Cat by the late-great Blake Snyder, you’ll see that the nuts and bolts of a movie plot that he lays out in 15 distinct beats of movie story structure are followed in HK. It’s just that without arcs all I could do was try to kinda, match the timing, pace and emotional feel of the scenes to kinda match the graph Snyder creates for you in the “Beat Sheet” in the book. It’s obviously not exactly matched, and it’s not a science. BUT, I love how in the bagel scene HK is kinda getting killed by the bad guys. The music that Pete did turns dark and we’re in the moment of a traditionally story, meaning; in a regular action movie, at this same time in the movie, according to the Snyder Beat Sheet, this is what should be happening to our hero! It’s just that in HK we were allowed to just break from all of that to do insane jokes… so much so that its all distracted away from everything i just said! Which is good, because not noticing that stuff is what should be happening if I did my job. It’s just funny to me that it aligns at all… It proves that in some silly, cosmic way things kind of align if you’re really focused on something. Because from the very beginning it was not my specific intention, I had to learn it as we created the movie — which actually, goes back to what I was saying about the elongated, unprofessional, guerrilla, DIY, 5-year production… there was time to learn how to shape it within that.
What was the purpose of the flowing blonde wigs in the movie?
There is none and to be honest, it’s not even a reference to anything. I think to start it was Pete playing with wigs and costumes and that wig is a pretty standard, cheap, costume shop wig, just one of many he had lying around. Once HK existed though and he had a family it was only logical to us that his relatives would have the same hair!
Who did you imagine the target audience to be when creating Hectic Knife?
Hectic Knife won’t appeal to everyone and Peter & I knew that going in. In fact, the idea that it does appeal to anyone still blows me away and is so crazy to me — its a dream come true! But, for me, HK is a pure comedy, and not even a ‘’meta’’ one, because what does that really mean anyway — jokes are jokes, who cares if they’re aware of themselves, sometimes that is the joke!? We wink at the camera a lot and there practically isn’t a fourth wall for us to break! But, we were also going for all kinds of jokes from slapstick to sight gags and timing and musical stuff and to be honest, breaking down the 4th wall in our way is a little easy, low hanging fruit, joke territory. I mean, the constant self-aware stuff will definitely turn off folks, and it has! We got a terrible, scathing review all about the cheap comedy that isn’t funny. That’s good though! If it worked for everyone it would be a sitcom, and its clearly not trying to be a sitcom. So, I take some pride in the polarization but I do accept, acknowledge and urge you to understand that this movie is not for everyone, it’s got a ton of swearing and its all very silly and cartoony. For me, as a comedy nerd, I hope that people who like movies like David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer, Mel Brook’s Spaceballs, Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered, The Zucker Brothers, Airplane! will like it, but I can’t compare it to those things, those are the gods on Mt. Olympus; from Mr Show to Kids in the Hall to and everything Jerry Seinfeld & Larry David have ever done, that’s where the heart of HK is for me and I was just trying to add my voice to the party in whatever tiny way I could.
The end scene (no spoilers) ended in such a way that it almost felt like it could lead into a sequel, will there be a sequel to Hectic Knife?
There is a draft of a 150-page script out there, I’m not going to lie. And when we started way back in 2010 we both knew that it felt like a trilogy. The best I can tell you right now is that I think there are two more HK installments in us; a space adventure, ah la HK meets Spaceballs and old Star Wars, and then a Hollywood farce; HK meets the third act of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure…
Have you worked on any projects that you wish you would have done differently? If so, how?
Every single one. One of those classic, old boxers, Joe Louis or Ali, or maybe it was even Mandela (not a boxer)… someone cool said this: “I win or learn, I never lose.” Well, filmmaking, craft, art, creative projects… they are all failures from the beginning. They get worse the second the idea leaves your head and goes onto paper. Until we can download thoughts for free so that movies can be made on the streets of the worlds worst ghettos with the ease of just imagining all of Lucas Arts special CGI fx in your mind and downloading your thoughts into video files on your phone… until that time, we’re all just like throwing stuff at that big, dumb, white, screen, our canvas, and seeing what sticks. IF you’re lucky enough to get ANYTHING to stick, just repeat it and you got a career. I’m still throwing stuff up there seeing what sticks!
I’m lucky enough to make a living doing my craft. I have my video production company out in Detroit where I live and I have my regional clients and I’m generating about 60 min of original material for my clients per year. That’s almost a movie worth of craft that I do per year to keep the lights on. Occasionally, I get to get paid to break through and do something cool, but in general, HK is still in the red of the indie film market and I don’t even know… if you aren’t always listening to the audience with an obsessed, insecure, frenzy where every laugh, cough, pin drop, reaction is noted into a graph of data in your mind… if you aren’t living off of the crafting tools… if you have a backup plan — it just won’t work unless you’re lucky enough to win the lottery of talent, lottery of being ‘’discovered’’ or the actual money lottery and buy your way in!!!
But, if HK was perfect, somehow, if that existed, then I’d give up, I’d have nothing left to say. I would George Lucas the F out of everything I’ve ever made if I could too! I’d still be working on my high school thesis project if I had unlimited resources! If you don’t have that attitude, I can’t relate. But, at the same time, if you wanna make a living off of the craft and if you ever want anyone to see your stuff you gotta finish playing one song, “release it” however you can, from youtube to sitting on the streets and start a new one based on the reaction you got to the last one and whatever your next idea is.
I am doing my absolute best to LISTEN to all the feedback I’m getting on HK and whatever I do next, I hope, will benefit and grow based on whatever I would’ve done different now on HK. To me that’s kinda the idea. Instead of never finishing something and/or instead of going back and Lucas’ing old projects, just take all that self-criticism that should be driving you to get better and throw it all into the next thing… My attitude is always that I truly am blown away that ANYBODY has seen HK, likes it at all, etc. But, now it’s on me to roll up my sleeves and say “okay if you liked that one I promise I’m gonna do better next time and try even harder and you just wait, this next one… that’s gonna be the one…”
If you could work with anyone in Hollywood, who would you choose and why? (multiple answers welcomed)
Fun question! Never been asked this before! Although some of these aren’t “Hollywood” guys:
Tom Hanks above all. Of course. I’d like to just make a short called Tom Hanks Waking Up, and it’s just him waking up in real life in different contexts, all acted scenes… he’s my favorite laugher, waker super, crier, line deliverer. He’s America! Big is just The American Dream as a rite of passage story. He’s made of apple pies and baseball. He and Meryl should just like become king and queen or something, screw this president junk.
Denzel next. Tom Hanks is the childhood dream but Denzel seems like he could be ANYTHING. The guy could play an action hero, killing bad guys with machine guns, and a bum in the same movie. He’s like Peter Sellers in the body and face of a Greek statue or something? I mean, you look at Flight and his early stuff with Spike Lee, mixed with all the big action stuff and leading man roles… he’s done it all. He can carry your courtroom drama as the lawyer, the judge or the defendant! He can carry your romantic comedy with one wink and grin, and he can put on some crazy, future costume and kill baddies! I guess to be honest, Will Smith is all of this and more. But, I don’t know, Denzel is like, old Hollywood, a suit and a grin, really macho, tough guy thing!
Then probably Kevin Costner or Michael Keaton, those are the leading men types that I miss. Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, I’d fucking love to work with them too. They may be nuts or whatever people say or is true but like, not that I care if we’re on set. I don’t even know anything about a guy like Michael Keaton, to me he may as well be Carey Grant, some old Hollywood icon.
From what I know about Ben Stiller and his love and roots in comedy, I’d love to do something with him as the lead. I’d love to just talk to him sabot how awesome The Cable Guy is; genre-bending masterpiece! But, I think he’d be really really good as the Matthew Broderick role in a similar movie, like a weird, genre-bending romantic comedy. He’s handsome but he has an interesting, insecure energy, that we all saw break out in Something About Mary, I would love to try to channel that stuff with him in some way, I think he’s got more great movies in his filmography to come.
Actors/comics that I LOVE and have dreamed of working with: John Goodman, Alicia Silverstone, Selma Hayek still needs to star in a classic romantic comedy with someone, Kevin Bacon/Fred Ward, Steve Buscemi, Holly Hunter, Jennifer Jason Lee, John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, I want to cast from Oz as General Butt Naked, It would be awesome to work with Rose McGowan even though I think she said she’s retired?, Bill Murray, Steve Martin
I want to bring Jack Nicholson out of retirement for Wee
Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show cast, old SNL alumni, Steven Wright and of course Julia Louis Dreyfus
Writers: James L Brooks; the god of light-hearted, drama/comedy writing, especially with Nora Ephron’s passing. Sylvester Stallone (I love him from Rocky 2 to Copland but I’m not really into The Expendables and I thought what he did with Rambo like ten years ago was a great idea for what Expendables could have been. But, like, as a writer, few human beings have ever written a script in a tiny room with their dog, living off its food while you act for nickels in a Woody Allen movie and then write fuckin Rocky. I mean, say what you will, but from that room to an Oscar to a statue of yourself in an already iconic city… thats a high bar and Rocky is a TENDER, NUANCED, HILARIOUS, SILLY, INDIE script that’s way more about going on dates in empty ice rinks and taking care of the dog than it is boxing!
Cameron Crowe, Amy Heckerling, Dave Mandel, Steve Koren
DPs: Barry Sonnenfeld, Taq Fujimoto, Ernest Dickerson, my three favs, love everything each has shot.
Music: Mike Patton, Alan Silvestri, Weird Al — would love to have him do an all-accordion score for a romantic comedy, like how they had Eric Clapton solo over Lethal Weapon. Bad Brains, Leo Kottke, Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo is my favorite band and I’m actually pals with a huge inspirational guy for me, their music video director who did Whip It and Jocko Homo, all the famous ones that I watched on repeat when I was 19. I got to meet the director, he’d be embarrassed if I name dropped him which is why I’m not. But, he said some nice things about HK whip was a dream come true!!!
I’d like Roderick Jaynes to cut something for me too. 😉 Justing getting to talk and hang with the would be a dream, Sam Raimi and Paul Feig too, they are both local kids from 2 towns over from me in the Detroit burbs. I’d love to talk shop with them about growing up in Michigan and making it in Hollywood. And I LOVE Paul Feig’s books!
I’m still sad that Phil Hartman and John Candy are gone. It would’ve been beyond a dream come true to make something with Phil Hartman as a leading man… a car salesman, a lawyer, a cop… he could play any area of society. I heard they had been discussing a live action, Troy McClure theatrical movie — wouldn’t that have been beautiful? And, of course, who am I to wreck John Candy’s filmography with my junk… the man created some of the best things ever.
Is there anyone (personally or professionally) that you want to say anything to?
All I want is to say is this: Greg Sestero: PLEASE ‘tell Tommy to put The Room Rap back live on my youtube channel: I know Tommy has the power to do so and that despite I am pals with Rick Harper, I’m not in his movie and I don’t know anything about it and have no allegiance to anyone! I just made “The Room Rap” with my friends Pete and Mark for fun and to support your thing. You can do whatever you want, its your movie, but it was cool meeting you, you were very sweet and I wish you no harm and would really really appreciate it if the video could be allowed to be live on my channel again because I think people would like to see it now that The Room is even more popular!
Then, to you, Greg, please re-post the video and also tweet and post the HK trailer! — thats all! I feel like for all the free videos I made and all of that it would be really nice because it would certainly give a huge bump in views to the HK trailer, at the very least! Plus there’s an overlap in fan bases and you could just say “Hey these are the guys who made “The Room Rap,” here’s a trailer to the movie they just made that’s it on Blu-ray from Troma right now! (with the trailer link below)” That one single tweet would probably double the view count on the trailer and sell 3 Blu-rays!
It’d also be cool to hear from Franco, that he liked the video, I’m sure he’s seen it. It’d be fun to talk to him too, I know he studied Michigan dialect for Freaks and Geeks somewhere out near me and I’ve seen all of his movies including the crazy black and white, poet one where he performs oral sex on the guy, graphically, for like ten minutes.
Well, Greg, Thank you again for this opportunity to pick your brain. We here at Movie Deputy look forward to more titles from you. Your creativity and abstract thought are absolutely undeniable.
THANK YOU SO MUCH! Super fun questions too, my pleasure!