July 21st, 2015
We got in touch with the amazingly talented writer/director/actor of Sold - Jordan Firstman. Here he talks about his influences, living in LA and "talking about your own work".
1) Hi Jordan could you tell us about yourself? Where did you grow up? Who were your key influences and how did you get into film-making?
I grew up in the suburbs on NY with a pretty nice jewish family. Of course there was some darkness hiding underneath but I didn't realize that till my 20's, so it was a good childhood. I started in the arts pretty young and did theatre and was obsessed with it. Then came comedy, then film. My biggest influences I'd say as a teen were Stephen Sondheim, Sarah Silverman, and Woody Allen. Weirdly, I have seen "Vicky Christine Barcelona" over 200 times and it got me through my parents divorce. I have analyzed why since, but that's not for this interview.
2) Neil is a writer who just sold his script and cannot shut up about it. There is a little bit of Neil in all of us and he usually stems from some insecurity. How much of Neil is there in you? What key psychological aspects were you trying to capture?
I would say the part of Neil that is in my is his ambitiousness and pride in what he does. When something good happens, I do struggle with whether or not to tell people. I always want to, but it can very quickly turn into Neil, and its embarrassing. So its about learning the art of subtly dropping your successes into conversation. I'm a monster.
I think this town can be really really isolating and really beautiful at the same time. And I think that's what makes it so special. If we wanted to live in the happiest place in the world, we would all move to Norway or wherever they say is the happiest place in the world. The darkness of LA is really interesting and people move here that are dreamers. The downside of that is that most dreams don't come true so people cling onto what they can. And that is Neil. Clinging on for dear life. Poor guy. But I think his need to feel important is what makes him interesting.
3) The people that Neil meets seem to be very authentic. Were these actors or real people? How did you work with them?
We had 2 brilliant actors, Lisha Brooks and Elisha Yaffe, and the rest were locals from the town. Some knew we were filming and some didn't. It was such a small town that by the end of the first day everyone was talking about the film crew in their town. We spent every night drinking with the locals and they were really really great people. Which I think was the unintended miracle of the film. It could've been just me going to a poor and sad town and it would have made Neil look like the winner. But you see that these people have lives, and they seem happy, and I'm happy Neil doesn't win that way.
4) The film has a surprisingly sweet ending. Is it a happy ending?
It wasn't intended to be a happy ending. But now I kinda think it is. I think the film in general is about expectations. I have that last scene to show that everyone has high expectations. And the female character thinks she is going to a house in the hills and going to have this glamorous life but really she is headed back to a studio apartment in Los Feliz. So inevitably, she will be disappointed. The question is will she rationalize it and find the good in it, kinda like Neil does, or will she leave? Maybe they are two lost souls that will be good for each other. I also thinks its kind of extremely sinister that he is basically stealing her life away for the promise of who knows what? I think one of the grossest things he says is "You deserve to live in LA". Awful.
5) You wrote and directed the film. And you played the lead actor. We are really interested in how you juggled those roles.
I like doing that because there is no time to over-think or over analyze. I don't remember acting in any of the scenes because I had to think about a million things and I think it let me drop in and be a little more natural when I was in it.
6) Since the film mentions Sideways once, and is kind of a (miserable) fish out of water story, Alexander Payne seems to be an influence. Who else influenced your work?
Alexander Payne actually is not an influence. I just thought that "Sideways" is a movie straight white guys love for some reason. It's really their version of an art film. They have sideways and David Foster Wallace and queers and women get the good stuff.
My biggest influence right now is Paul Mazursky. About a year ago, I saw "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" for the first time and it was like meeting a best friend. I became so obsessed with all of his films.
7) You crowd-sourced your first short film. How did that happen, what was the process and key learnings?
That I never want to do it again. I raised the money but it's a humiliating nightmare and I don't wish it upon anyone.
8) How do you think the short film medium is evolving. Do you see it impacting the cultural landscape?
I think its good and bad. Its good for me right now because since people's attention spans are dwindling, a 13 minute short seems like a real film. It's bad because you can't really make a 2 hour comedy anymore unless you are Judd Apatow. I think vimeo is really great because it's really feels like its for sharp minds. I have never experienced a "hater" on there and it allows people from all over the world to experience different kinds of art. I think its really great that you are running ShortFilmWindow in india and that that part of the world will get to see my stupid work. By the way, I know this is such a white girl thing to say, but I really am dying to go to india. THE COLORS ARE SO VIBRANT!!!
8) We loved “Sold”, and we want to know about your future projects. What are you working on?
I'm going to shoot another short soon that will be gay themed. I felt I betrayed my people a little bit by making this film not gay and playing a straight guy. I feel a responsibility to represent gay people by making gay content, but I also like doing whatever the fuck I want. I am also writing my first feature right now. I feel like Neil talking about it thought so lets stop. BYEEEEEEE!
Thanks Jordan for your time. You can see his super confident and hilarious short Sold here. He is definitely one of the upcoming talents to watch out for.