Werner Herzog & Andre Singer Film ‘Meeting Gorbachev’ North American Rights Go To The Orchard

A film memoir of former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev featuring exclusive interviews has had its North American rights acquired by distributor The Orchard from History Films. Meeting Gorbachev is a documentary directed by Werner Herzog and André Singer for Spring Films and Werner Herzog Film. The behind-the-scenes look at the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union features interviews of Gorbachev by Herzog on three occasions across a six-month period…

Jeff Daniels Pleads The Finch: Broadway’s Atticus On ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, Aaron Sorkin, Film Icons & White Saviors: Deadline Q&A

Jeff Daniels can sense the moments during performances of Broadway’s To Kill A Mockingbird when audiences jump aboard for the Aaron Sorkin ride, when fans of maybe The Newsroom or The West Wing recognize that Atticus or Scout or Calpurnia is about to “roll out a Sorkin,” to launch into one of those trademark ten-sentence runs (the key for an actor, Daniels confides, is that “it’s all one thought”). The new Atticus Finch says he feels theatergoers signing on for the rides…

John Krasinski Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Making Noise About ‘A Quiet Place’


Nine months after John Krasinski debuted “A Quiet Place” at SXSW to the best reviews of his career, eight months after opening in the number-one slot at the box office, seven and a half months after crossing the $100M threshold, and six months after Paramount Pictures confirmed a sequel, he can’t believe he’s still talking about the thing.

The reason, of course, is a good one: distributor Paramount Pictures is giving the film a full awards campaign, one that has recently been bolstered by top 10 designations from AFI and the National Board of Review. Still, this is not how the actor-filmmaker (who has also found the time to start filming his second season as the star of Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series) expected to spend his December.

“Absolutely not, unequivocally no,” Krasinski said. “I’ve never done the awards season thing for anything. This is very new to me. You actually get to have this relationship with your movie all over again … this is more of the emotional side of it, because you get to talk to people about it.”

That means more than just his audience. Fellow filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson — whom Krasinski refers to as his “number one, a stratospheric director” — recently hosted an awards event for the film, which was enough to make Krasinski’s head spin. “When he was talking about our movie and raising a glass to our movie and [wife] Emily [Blunt]’s performance and my direction, I had a complete out-of-body experience,” Krasinski said.

His hiring for the gig was unexpected. Krasinski’s first two films, “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men” (2009) and “The Hollars” (2016) each debuted at Sundance, and were acquired by IFC Films and Sony Pictures Classics, respectively. Neither made a dent at the box office. He wasn’t even looking for a directing gig.

"A Quiet Place"

“A Quiet Place”

Paramount Pictures

Initially, Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes approached Krasinski only to star in “A Quiet Place.” When they tried to gauge his interest in making the jump to genre, he proved a tough sell. He’s been open about his initial lack of interest in the genre space, chalking it up to not growing up as a horror fan. Instead, he turned to the emotional center of the original script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, a family holding on to each other at the end of the world.

“I connected to the idea of family,” he said. “When I did the rewrite, I thought, ‘I can make this an entire metaphor for parenthood, as long as I keep the metaphor going every single page, every single scene,’ and really drill down on what it is personally that I’m connecting to about this story. … One of my favorite compliments was, somebody saw it with their husband and then they immediately brought their high school-age kids back to see it, because it was a family experience.”

Still, Krasinski didn’t resist the film’s unabashed genre elements. While horror films are often pushed aside during the awards conversation, with recent standouts like “Get Out” or “Hereditary” earning the hammy designation of being “elevated horror,” Krasinski isn’t bothered by such labels. Being a genre guy made him a better filmmaker.

“I think this idea of ‘elevated horror,’ people coin different phrases, and that’s great, but the truth is it’s a type of storytelling,” he said. “My best answer for that is actually stealing from a friend of mine who gave me the best advice about genre movies, which is: Genre is a wonderful place to deal with things that are bigger than the story itself.”

Pointing to a film like “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” which used genre packaging to tell a story about the impact of divorce on kids, he said: “I think that when people are talking about elevated films, I think that’s probably what they’re talking about, is the idea that there’s more going on than just trying to scare you.”

His resistance to labels also extends to the recently announced (and currently retracted) Academy Award for Best Popular Film. He’s not a fan of the idea, because he’s eager for films, no matter the genre or box office take or whatever other quantitative judgement can be slapped on them, to compete on an even playing field.

“I certainly would be happy with any kind of nomination from anything, because it’s such an honor and we’re totally blown away that we’re even in the conversation,” Krasinski said. “But at the same time, would I be more proud by getting nominated for Best Picture flat-out rather than Best Popular category? Yeah, if I’m honest, because all of my heroes in all of the movies I loved have been judged by that, so I always want to be judged by the same. I think we should all be judged on our merit.”

He added, “If what you’re saying is tapping into that bigger conversation about bigger ideas and you’re making people feel things, then we’re all in the same pool. That’s why we’re all going to the movies. If you start culling out certain sections of film and saying, ‘We’re celebrating this separately,’ where does it end?”

Left to right: John Krasinski and Noah Jupe in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

“A Quiet Place”

Jonny Cournoyer

After the awards race, Krasinski will continue talking about “A Quiet Place”: He’s confirmed that he’ll at least write the sequel, if not more. “S>ometimes I wish I wasn’t a realist, I wish I could be a little more romantic about something,” Krasinski said. “But I try to see everything from every angle, and I certainly understand when a studio has a hit like this, they’re gonna want to do another one. I gotta give Paramount a lot of credit for making sure that it’s good enough. Long before I was gonna do it, they still wanted my ideas and my consultation, because they really respected the audience’s response.”

While Krasinski is tight-lipped about his vision, he does offer that it will further expand the world seen in the first film. There are hints built into “A Quiet Place” about where its followup might go, including a scene that follows Krasinski’s character, Lee Abbott, as he dutifully lights a nightly signal fire and is greeted with more in the distance. More people, more stories.

“The idea of the sequel was hard for me to consider, because most sequels are about the bringing back or celebration of a villain or a hero,” he said. “In this one, the world is the star. I thought that was really interesting, that there is not necessarily one person that you need to follow or explore with, because the whole world’s going through the same thing.”

As daunting as the idea of a sequel may be for the filmmaker, Krasinski is turning to some old tricks to make it work, expanding out his influences and tapping back into what made this whole crazy idea work in the first place. He’s started working on a new list of films to help inspire the second film, just as he did with “A Quiet Place,” which he’s said was influenced by films like “Jaws,” “Alien,” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Now he’s working on a new list.

“It’s sort of an amalgamation of horror movies, but also filmically and cinematically, other movies that have nothing to do with horror,” he said. “It’s mixing all of the film experiences.” It worked the first time.

“A Quiet Place” is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming.

New Hollywood Podcast: ‘Beale Street’ Star Stephan James Continues To Rise And Represent

Stephan James is quickly becoming an actor known for notable prestige projects. With starring roles in award season favorite If Beale Street Could Talk and Amazon’s Homecoming, the Canadian native is easily becoming a breakout star of 2018 and there is no sign of stopping for him — except for a recent stop he made at the New Hollywood Podcast. James is not new to the Hollywood scene. He starred in various TV series starting in 2010 including the popular teen drama series D…

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Ben Foster Loses Himself in His Roles, and ‘Leave No Trace’ Allowed Him to Disappear


Ben Foster only knows one way of working. After working in Hollywood for over two decades, the rare child actor who managed to find his way to a compelling adult career has been reaping the rewards of long-term commitment. In recent years, that has included an Independent Spirit Award for his turn in “Hell or High Water,” a continued relationship with his most cherished directors, and a sustained level of intensity that might exhaust other actors but only seems to keep Foster more tuned in. He buries himself in performances to a point where, as he describes it, he’s not even acting in a traditional sense.

“For my job, the goal is to learn the thing, and then do the thing, and do it, and do it, and do it over and over until I don’t think about it,” Foster said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “You start building a world where you don’t have to think so much. It’s the only way I know how to do it.”

It may not be the most suitable approach for every film — and over the course of 22 years in the business, Foster has dabbled in all kinds of projects, from an “X-Men” installment to the 2001 teen rom-com “Get Over It” — but Foster’s world-building approach has yielded his best, most satisfying work. His latest film, Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace,” allowed Foster to once again gets to disappear into a role.

The movie, which debuted at Sundance this past January, arrived in limited release over the summer, and has somehow managed to sustain the rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes in the interim. The story finds Foster playing single father Will, who lives off the grid with his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie, who recently earned an Indie Spirit nomination for the role). Suffering from PTSD and eager to exist outside the normal realms (and all the normal people who populate them), Will and Tom’s lives are built around their isolation, one threatened when they’re accidentally spotted by a stray runner.

For an actor like Foster, who adores being immersed in a role, it seemed like a dream gig. If nothing else, it allowed him the chance to apply his desire to “learn the thing” in literal and practical ways: he eventually adopted primitive skills, as well as escape and evade techniques. He learned how to build a fire, how to dig out a tent, how to find food. He didn’t just want to do all that stuff, he needed to do it for his work.

Debra Granik on the set of "Leave No Trace"

On the set of “Leave No Trace”

Scott Green

And then there was filmmaker Debra Granik. Foster says he was an early fan of Granik’s work — he pointed to “Down to the Bone” as a marker of Granik’s “impressive” filmography and her ability to get in sync with her actors, all things that appealed to him. From their earliest meetings, Foster says it was clear that he and Granik would be able to work together in pursuit of a shared vision.

“The [filmmakers] that I’m drawn to are much more interested in collaborating,” Foster said. “In those [first] meetings, you try to create a shorthand or understand what the filmmaker wants to accomplish, what questions, avenues they want to explore, and can you share a working language? There’s nothing worse, well, there’s plenty of things worse, but it’s a drag to go to work when you’re making different movies, and I’ve found myself making different movies than the filmmaker. I found myself halfway through saying, ‘Well, I guess we didn’t understand each other.'”

Foster doesn’t name names when it comes to those films that were the product of such misunderstandings, preferring to reflect on the things that have worked. “My first film was with Barry Levinson,” he said, referring to “Liberty Heights.” “I’ve been a lucky fella in that department, and I’ve been really fortunate recently to work with some smart people. If you can go to work and someone can provoke a question that stirs you up a bit, that’s great. That means something’s gonna end up on film that feels true, and not a waste of time, or a lie. There’s less betrayal.”

The actor might have been even more sensitive to such betrayals when it came to “Leave No Trace,” as the film arrived at a pivotal point in his personal life. Foster and his wife, fellow actor Laura Prepon, had just learned that they were going to have a baby when he started reading the script. It all clicked. “Reading this script and coinciding with the news that we were gonna have a daughter months after completing this film, everything felt very charged,” Foster said.

“Leave No Trace”

Bleecker Street

For Foster, someone who often gets labeled “intense” or “crazed” in his work (both of which have been added those terms as part of his IMDb biography), signing on for the film and the experience it would entail seems to have been an easy decision. Not that it was necessarily an easy process, as the material that Grankik and co-writer Anne Rosellini adapted from Peter Rock’s novel “My Abandonment” contains heavy themes.

“We talked about the unseen scars of war and different coping mechanisms,” Foster said. “These are things that have touched my life by having friends in the military, and I felt like I could ask these questions in an emotional way that I haven’t before, so that was exciting. … Further than that, trauma is trauma, and war doesn’t get to own PTSD. Understanding that if you live long enough on this planet and you make it to a certain age we’re gonna experience things that go unresolved, leave a mark. We need to find ways to cope. We don’t do it so well sometimes.”

One thing that leaves a mark on Foster: his work. He doesn’t shake roles off, and he doesn’t seem to want to. “It’s like a breakup,” he said. “It’s three months of, we’ll call it an intense love affair, where it’s physical, and it’s mental, and it’s every day, and all night, and then it’s over. … It feels like falling in love and breaking up. Sometimes it’s a good breakup and sometimes it rips your heart out, and you think about it, every song reminds you of that person. It’s supposed to hurt a little. If it worked well, I think it’s okay to sit with that.”

While Foster admitted that has occasionally considering quitting the business, he has a hard time taking those feelings seriously. “Every couple of years, there’s a moment of an, ‘In case of an emergency’ clause, and get the fuck outta here, because this is clown town,” he said. “And then there’s an artist, a director, an actor, someone that inspires and excites. … I don’t even have a high school diploma. What am I gonna go do?”

“Leave No Trace” is now available on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD.

Julian Schnabel Spent His Whole Life Preparing to Make His Most Personal Movie

Julian Schnabel emerged from a giant elevator in the lobby of his West Village home, and gestured to a large black frame adorning the wall above his doorman. Jagged white lines stretched across the dark canvas. Schnabel created the cryptic work “Tower of Babel,” in 1978, a year before his first solo show and his arrival as a major New York artist. “I’ve always been interested in painting things,” he said, almost too matter-of-fact for his own good.

Schnabel lives surrounded by his work, in the sprawling, pink-encrusted condominium he’s labeled “Palazzo Chupi.” Hiding behind dark glasses and an unkempt beard as he wanders his home in an oversized sweatshirt, the frazzled 67-year-old looks as though he’s receded into his creativity in other ways. It’s no wonder that “At Eternity’s Gate,” the new movie he’s directed starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, comes across as Schnabel’s most personal project: It works overtime to put viewers inside the tortured artist’s mind, commune with his creativity, and emerge enlightened by it. As a painter who became a filmmaker but still mostly paints, he has spent his whole life preparing for this.

“It’s almost like making a movie about everything,” he said. Schnabel’s impressionistic approach foregrounds Dafoe’s face as Van Gogh wanders the French countryside with an easel, finding catharsis to his alienation and despair in the opportunity to capture nature — and himself — from new angles. The usual dark turns arrive, from the off-screen ear splicing to the painter’s enigmatic suicide, but they’re paired with a broader window into the artistic process. Much like Schnabel’s profound “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which depicted the experiences of a man with locked-in syndrome, “At Eternity’s Gate” transforms the outline for a standard-issue biopic into an immersive exploration of subjectivity.

The movie could deter audiences in search of a conventional payoff, but it represents a welcome bounceback following Schnabel’s poorly received 2010 Palestinian drama “Miral,” and it’s especially impressive given the wealth of movies and books on Van Gogh stretching back through the previous century. “People might think they know how to do it better,” Van Gogh said. “Well, this is my version of what a movie could be.”

Above all else, “At Eternity’s Gate” fixates on the fragility of a restless creative mind, and Schnabel lives in the confines of that struggle in rather hyperbolic terms. His private kingdom two blocks from the Hudson is filled with room after room with high ceilings to accommodate the many vast works of art arranged across the walls. He collects art, but much of the work on display is his own output. “If I don’t sell them, I can keep looking at them, and maybe learn something from them,” he said.

Schnabel’s paintings are often large-scale works with jagged, messy patterns strewn across more familiar patterns. He looks like a creature made up of the same elements that comprise his work — somehow larger than life and intimate at the same time, affable and guarded, full of himself but worried he might give away too much. “Whatever you’re gonna make, you gotta make it for yourself,” he said. “The elements or the use of the material has to speak to you. I’m always surprised when people make paintings that are so predictable.”

“At Eternity’s Gate”

Back in the elevator, he checked himself in a giant full-length mirror. The doors opened to a dramatic floor with four rooms splintering off in different directions. He pointed to a massive floor-to-ceiling tapestry from the late 17th century (“Nobody gets near it, really”), which sat on a wall opposite a rectangular pink canvas — one of his own works from a few months back. “I’ve been painting on these materials that I found that were covering a fruit market in the jungle in Mexico,” he said. “The sun burnt it.” He ran his hands across the jagged exterior of the piece. “I see the surface like skin,” he said.

He passed a blurry Jeff Elrod painting and entered another expansive room, where he stood next to a giant wax sculpture of himself. “It’s me sitting on an empty box,” he said, looking up at the eerie greyish figure, which had started to melt. Essentially a giant candle, it was a gift to Schnabel by fellow artist Urs Fischer, and Schnabel was encouraged to light up a wick inside the head whenever he felt inspired. (A similar work was on display at the Whitney Museum earlier this year.) Asked if he could pose for a picture next to the work, Schnabel nearly darted behind it. “Oh, you wanna post this?” he said. “I don’t know, I’m not really…it’s such a weird thing, because I want people to go see the movie and you want me to talk about that, but I have no Instagram, no social media.” And then: “Take a picture if you want.” He drifted back towards the elevator, pointing out at a 1985 Warhol on his way out.

Julian Schnabel shows off Urs Fischer’s wax sculpture

Back in the elevator, Schnabel began to ruminate on his artistic ambition through the years. “I think most young artists should never listen to anybody else,” he said. “You know better than anyone what you need to do. You might think an older artist knows better than you, and is smarter, and they may be, but nobody knows better than you do what you need to do for your own picture.” The elevator doors opened to another entrance, and he paused. “Most older artists are gonna try to get you to conform to the standards that you set out to destroy in the first place,” he said. He opened the doors to a largely vacant space.

On the far wall was a giant plate painting, similar to many Schnabel has made over the decades, with cracked materials forming the base of the work, over which he had painted a convincing portrait of Dafoe as he appears as Van Gogh in the movie. Two other smaller versions of the same painting appeared on adjacent walls. “Van Gogh used to make paintings of his paintings,” Schnabel said. “There’s more than one painting of 15 sunflowers because he’s painting the exact sunflowers in another painting, except they’re another color. He did that a lot. So I did it for the movie.” So what now? “I’m gonna make another one off that painting,” he said.

A red curtain blocked the view of the next room. He stood at the entrance and peeked in. “I can’t see what the fuck is going on in there,” he said. “I hate when there’s surprises around here…” He trailed off. “No. No. No,” he said. “There’s a painting on the floor. Why don’t you give me a hand for a moment?” We grabbed two sides of a curved wooden canvas and hauled it into the room, where painting materials were strewn around a messy desk on top of a poster for “At Eternity’s Gate.” Finally, Schnabel sat down on a couch at the center of the room.

“I think everybody that’s from the Western world is probably bottle-fed some concept of Van Gogh as a painter,” he said. “And probably Picasso. You don’t know what they do, but you know you’ve heard the names. …I’m from Brooklyn. I had no art education. Probably the first impression of a painting that I remember was the painting of ‘Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer’ by Rembrandt. So you have impressions when you’re a child, and then you become a painter. Then you engage in the materiality of it and the way things are put together. You break everything down to all of the elements. And the more I do it, the more surprised I am at how difficult it is to watch anything.”

“At Eternity’s Gate”

CBS Films

Looking at Van Gogh’s paintings, Schnabel recognized the technique, and grew frustrated with the artist’s reputation as a mad man. “I thought he was quite sane when he was painting,” Schnabel said. “Those paintings are not paintings of madness. They’re paintings of sanity.” At one point during the production, he shot 19 minutes of footage featuring Dafoe wandering the wilderness with an easel, but he pulled back from making the experience too off-putting. “I like to push the boundaries about as far as I can,” he said, “but at a certain moment, you don’t want people to say, ‘Well, I’m not in the movie anymore.’”

With his paintings, Schnabel resists interpretations; as a filmmaker, he’s keen on inviting people in. He made his 1996 debut “Basquiat” as a tribute to his late friend, but the acclaimed work proved to be a seamless transition. “As a painter, I’d been looking at a rectangle for a long time,” he said. “It’s my ecstasy and my pleasure to be involved in that practice, and it is outside a community of people that are going to give you an award for it or not.”

The Musée d’Orsay recently organized a showcase of Schnabel’s work, marking his first Paris exhibition in 30 years. The new show allowed him to pair some of his favorite creations alongside older work from the museum’s collection. He whipped out his iPhone to share some pictures. “So Van Gogh’s self-portrait is hanging next to my painting of Tina Chow,” he said. After flipping through a few more highlights, he got around to the point. “If you look at his painting, it’s the mirror of you,” he said. “The movie, in a sense, is a mirror of you, as well. I’m trying to reboot people’s perceptions.”

He was nonplussed by earlier interpretations of Van Gogh’s work onscreen, from last year’s animated “Loving Vincent” to Robert Altman’s “Vincent and Theo,” in large part because they hewed to conventional approaches. For “At Eternity’s Gate,” Schnabel wanted to deconstruct Van Gogh while introducing viewers to his work from a fresh perspective. “If you want to make a painting, paint something because it didn’t exist before,” Schnabel said.

But he conceded that moviegoers needed more context. “They can’t just sit here and go, ‘What’s that?’” he said. He looked across the room. “Sit over here,” he said. Schnabel looked at a recent painting of his on the opposing wall, a broad swath of pink with a blues shape stretched across it, and a smaller yellow rectangle hovering at the top.

“You know, what is that?” he said. “I’m fine with that. People can look at it and they don’t need an explanation. But when you go to the movies, usually you want to know what happened by the end.” He shrugged. “I guess the movie is kind of more radical than other movies that are out at the moment,” he said.

The door buzzed. “What time is it? I need to go,” he said. A few moments later, fellow painter Dan Colen walked in. A contemporary of Dash Snow, Colen often paints large-scale works that bring to mind some aspects of Schnabel’s style. He admired the movie. “Most of my painting is about hovering between abstraction and figuration,” Colen said in a phone conversation later. “This movie allows us to consider abstraction at the same time as narrative, creating a more open-ended experience. …This is what I relate to. He constructs that ambiguity between narrative and pure visual splendor on the framework of Van Gogh’s mental erosion. It’s very cool that Julian takes that on.”

Colen noticed a through-line in Schnabel’s film work. “It’s not that different from Basquiat,” Colen said. “These are people who were so important. The biographies often can help generate excitement around an artist’s work and help a wider audience relate to it, but that same kind of energy can backfire. My biggest struggle as an artist is trying to communicate the experience of the process to my audience, which is impossible to do in a literal way. A lot of the movie is about Julian’s intimate relationship of putting paint onto a canvas.”

Schnabel himself wrestled with how much of his own experiences come through in his work. “I mean, why does anybody make a movie? Or why does anybody make a painting?” he said. “Why does anybody make anything? One is to make it for yourself. The other is to share it with other people. If you’re going to show it to somebody else, then a whole other set of variables comes in.”

Eager to move on to his appointment with Colen, Schnabel opened the door and pressed the down button on the elevator. “The impulse of why to do this work engenders many different kinds of personalities, ambitions, and reasons,” he said. “Jean Renoir said the problem with the world is that everybody’s got their reasons. Anyway.” He paused as the elevator doors opened, and his reflection stared back from within. Finally, he said, “I think that this film is probably the closest to where form and content have converged for me.”

CBS Films is now playing “At Eternity’s Gate” in select theaters nationwide.





Richard E. Grant’s Unexpected Career Renaissance & His ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ Con – Q&A

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Alex Winter Survived Sexual Assault and Hollywood Exploitation By Becoming a Documentary Filmmaker

Many actors have survived the intensity of Hollywood fame with second careers, but few have followed a trajectory as fascinating as Alex Winter’s. After skyrocketing to stardom as Bill S. Preston opposite Keanu Reeves in 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and its 1991 sequel, Winter grew disillusioned with the movie business. He grew sick of the pressures of the spotlight and, as he would reveal decades later, still contended with trauma of sexual assault experienced in his childhood. But Winter escaped through twin obsessions that would form his career: filmmaking and the internet.

Nearly 25 years after Winter gave up on professional acting, he’s enjoying a new life as a serious documentarian, with movies that untangle some of the thorniest questions surrounding modern technology. Following the Napster-focused “Downloaded” and the dark web portrait “Deep Web,” Winter has completed two new documentaries that reveal the intensity of his obsessions.

In “Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain,” Winter demystifies the paradigm shifts of digital currency. “The Panama Papers,” which airs on Epix this month, explores the coordinated efforts by 400 journalists to expose tax fraud by combing through millions of leaked documents. Like his cohort Laura Poitras, Winter is charting a path toward clarifying rapid technological changes with a series of documentaries loaded with breathless observations about an unpredictable new frontier.

“Technical stuff is largely misunderstood,” Winter said in an interview, as his new works began their festival rounds. “This world is filled with really interesting people. Some of them are legitimate, and some of them are really batshit crazy, and I was really interested in trying to put my arms around all of that.”

Winter’s non-fiction oeuvre tracks a range of intense personalities enmeshed in the uncharted and often dangerous possibilities of the digital landscape, from Napster founder Sean Fanning to Ross Ulbricht, who operated the darknet operation Silk Road until he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment on a range of charges. Winter approaches these subjects with clear-eyed, scholarly precision. “I want to make movies about people in this crazy, compelling, polarizing moment we’re in,” Winter said.

His relationship to the internet began in the primal days of Usenet forums in the late ’80s, where he discovered that the the anonymity of online communication provided a welcome relief from celebrity. “It was kind of a decentralized global community,” he said. “I found it very, very liberating. I really found solace on internet.” He began to explore some of the anger and frustration over his assault. “Some of the stuff from my childhood was beginning to catch up to me,” said Winter, who came forward earlier this year as the survivor of sexual abuse as a child actor in the early ’70s, but declined to identify the perpetrator, who he said was no longer living. “I found this sort of post-trauma community before I started dealing with stuff in therapy in a hard-and-fast way.”

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Nelson/Orion/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5883268w) Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey - 1991 Director: Peter Hewitt Nelson Entertainment/Orion USA Scene Still

“Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”


In 1993, Winter directed the surreal cult movie “Freaked” on a shoestring. Then he quit acting, moved to New York, and then London, where he launched a film production company. After his 1999 thriller “Fever,” he reached another crossroads. “I was really happy with it,” Winter said, “it was very little and uncommercial, so no one was going to throw money at me to make the next one.” He developed a series of bigger projects that failed to materialize, including a narrative about Fanning and the early days of Napster for Paramount. He connected with Fanning and developed an instant bond. “He also had a very traumatic, difficult upbringing,” Winter said. “I really related to how he felt under the glaring media spotlight.”

Napster, which was vilified for the legal ramifications of sharing licensed music online, fascinated him. “It was this extraordinary way of connecting, because music is so powerful,” he said. “So that sparked me to telling these type of stories, looking at who the real people are in this space. It’s not to exonerate them, but to look at the full picture.”

The prospects for a Napster movie looked good, until one day, Paramount fired much of its development staff and cleaned its slate. “This script had gone through many iterations for a long time,” Winter said. “I thought at that point, ‘I know everybody. I spent a long time researching the story and writing it as a narrative. Why don’t I try pitching it as a doc?’” He went to VH1 executive Van Toffler and sold “Downloaded” the same day. “After spending 10 years banging my head against the wall, we’re shooting like a week later,” he said. As he interviewed Fanning about his life and his career, Winter said, “I was listening and asking questions. At that moment, I thought, ‘This is so much better than my narrative would’ve been.” That led to a larger truth. “I was hooked by these levels of truth and untruths,” he said. “I was so totally smitten with the process that I didn’t ever want to stop making them.”

trust machine blockchain

“Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain”

Winter hasn’t given up on directing narratives — he recently sold a one-hour pilot to HBO, but “I don’t ever intend to stop making docs,” he said. “It’s the most creatively gratified I’ve ever been.” Meanwhile, he’s reconciling with his past in a more endearing fashion, by reuniting with Reeves for the long-awaited third entry in the “Bill & Ted” franchise entitled “Face the Music.” Reeves, who lent voiceover narration to Winter’s “Deep Web,” has remained a part of Winter’s inner circle over the years.

“Keanu and I are very, very close friends,” Winter said. “So it’s just a friendly, inviting environment. We’re talking all the time regardless, so it all felt like a creative endeavor for a group of friends.” The concept of a third “Bill & Ted,” tracking the time-traveling rock ’n’ roll dudes into midlife crises and fatherhood, had been tossed around for years. “We’ve been pretty philosophical about it, like if we could get it made, great,” he said, “but if it’s not going to get made to our creative specifications, we’re all perfectly happy not doing it.”

He said he was content with a script from co-writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, which Dean Parisot will direct next year. Steven Soderbergh has offered his insight as an executive producer. “The idea is really just to make a sweet, enduring, and legitimately funny movie,” Winter said. “We genuinely believe these are timeless comic characters, not because they’re brilliant or anything, but just in terms of their cartoonish, clownish essence.”

Circling back to his current professional life, Winter compared the prospects of the next “Bill & Ted” movie to “Anvil!”, the documentary about aging heavy metal rockers past their prime and reuniting in middle age. “The affectionate nature of people trying to reunite as a rock band is a great comic conceit,” he said. He has plenty of documentary projects in the pipeline, some of which he’s not ready to talk about, but he’s keen on taking a breather. “I really just need to turn that entire side of my brain off,” he said, “and be the dumbass that Bill is for three months.”

Blockchain-based distribution company SingularDTV is releasing“Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain,” which is now playing at Cinema Village through November 9. It opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica Center November 16.

‘Vaya’ Director Akin Omotoso On Bringing Empathy And Authenticity To Filmmaking

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