Skype Interview with Michael Suscy
Hey, mike, go. I'm great. How are you? Well, you have been watching for about the last hour. Exciting. Uh oh, you're so sweet. How did I do on recapping the story? You got a close? Can you fix the ares? Where was I wrong on ares? Okay, I was I wouldn't georgetown university and I was staying at the school of foreign service, which is financed, but its international relations and I have always been interested in advertising my whole life and threw in the middle of college, you know, it's like you got to get a little bit, you know, real world or experience. And I thought what would be great don't work at an ad agency and in terms of mentors, a friend of my father's was one of the executives at saatchi and saatchi, and I did the internship program there, and he put me with a really, really creative division of the company called cliff freeman and partners and these were the the guys who years before this is in the mid nineties, but in the late eighties that had done where's the beef for b...
urger king and they were doing all the staples ads, and I don't know if you remember about the clusters serial squirrels and pizza pizza for little caesars, and so they were really, really fun creative shop to work for and it was through working for them that I got introduced tio through all the production. And I thought, wow, this is like a real job. People do this for a living which have been heading really occurred to me on that's, how I got introduced to teo teo, the film industry, and worked for several years azzan production system. And then, like he said, I went tio to grad school in los angeles for film, and and then, yeah, I was was after that that I it was directing commercials and realized that I really wanted to do movies and discovered the great aren't story and started pursuing that full time and, uh, and that's when I moved up to san francisco for the summer to do the research or because we found through friends and no valley, you mentioned who are the relatives off the little indignities. And I was up there doing like you said, jobs I painted somebody's action other student from georgetown's house, I was gardening for another another. I don't know anything about gardening, but they needed all these. We'd spoke out, so I did that and that's when you and I had had lunch, I remember that I think you had a couple of scratches on your arm from poland. Yeah they said I'm not very talented in that area side of myself but you know what I love is there's a couple of times in your story where you've said you took it internship or you did the odd jobs that you let your ego go and you just focused on what you needed to do to move forward. The other thing that I think is amazing is that the great gardens project wasn't it a number of years that you worked on it from yeah you and I the summer that you're talking about in summer of two thousand three and I had had the I had seen the documentary began working on the project february of two thousand three it was six years from discovering the story teo the premiere and a lot of people probably would have given up six years what made you keep going? Well, I'm not sure this is the best advice, but I'll share it anyway my father said you really gotta have a plan b and I looked at him and I said I can't because what I'm trying to do is so hard that if I have a plan b I'll go to it so I mean you know I and I'll modify that by saying you know cause he said a minute ago about checking your ego after the summer when you and I sat down and I was doing all that research up there and the reason I was doing it up there was that these were private papers that belonged to the family, and they couldn't you'll send them down to me or biscuit, having be damaged, so I was up there and go to their home and and read them and take notes and whatnot, but after he came back from that, and I had all the research, it's not done, but pile and I had to start running the script for the movie. I needed a job job and working freelance and the in production arena, which is what I have been doing. You're constantly looking for a job, I mean, a job can be a day could be a week could be a month, but you're always looking for another job, and I was spending way too much time trying to find my next short term gig, and it was taking away my time to do to, right, frankly, and so I got a job, a temp job, initially working for entertainment attorney, and then that end up becoming a full time job. But having, you know, left film school, having already directed commercials, that was a big I don't want to say it was a step down because it was a step to the, you know, a lateral steps so that I could, um we're not even lateral it was a necessary step for me to do what my bigger goal was but in terms of ego no I was answering his phone and his clients were other directors who had worked with and it was it was it was it was it was hard initially but because I had a bigger goal in mind it was something that I not allowed myself to do but I encourage myself to do because it took care of you know the practical needs that I had like money yeah exactly I love that and you know what that's really it's very honest you're talking about that and I'm imagining that some of those relationships and the phone calls you know while you were on the phone there and working as a temp probably served you later on in the bigger picture too is that precious definitely I mean this was I was like two thousand three tow you know I don't know what it was two thousand six and one of the other attorneys who was at that same firm I just passed him two days ago in the elevator he looked at me smiled at me and he said congratulations congratulations and it's been years you know it but he still remembers that you know that's what I was doing to make you know make my dreams of michael's happened great one thing I remember about when I interviewed you for the books you talked about so you got the rights to this story and a lot of that was really showing the family that you cared and that you had integrity and that you're going to betray the story in a positive way. But I was also really interested I remember you talking about your meeting with jessica laying and that you were very prepared and they came in with this beautiful book that kind of showed your treatment and I think he said afterwards that she called somebody on the project and said he's a real directory knows what he's doing and so what I what I want to talk to you about is how you got the meeting why was preparation important and how you ended up networking with people like jessica lange and and drew barrymore? Well, I will back up is a like a second from that because the story starts just slightly earlier in terms ofthe the idea of preparation you know what what's that chinese saying that luck is reparation opportunity or something like that? No intersecting and I obviously skipping like two, three years forward from when I started doing the research I now have this script it was two thousand five I was just finishing it and but I was just finished with it and out of coincidence there was a documentary that was a tribeca film festival in new york that was a short documentary again. It was essentially about the fanaticism surrounding grey gardens like the strong fan base. And there was an article or a headline in the new york post that said that renee zellweger was dying to break it to be a bill, and renee zellweger was top of the a list at that point in her career, and and and my producer called up her agents that I have that script and said, what are you talking about? Look, att you know, page six and the post is that's kaulder backs that sent me that script and that's, that script and kid got into her agency, which is cia, which is very, very well respected agency and and jessica lange, agent actions same agent representing jessica lange into very well at the time, and he circulated it and out of coincidence, he had been sitting down with jessica earlier in in the spring, and he said, what kind of projects do you want to do? What should I be looking out for? And she said, well, I don't know anything about it, but there's, this really fascinating documentary called grey gardens, so she independently brought it up to him. He heard that the script was in to the agency brunette when his daughter was looking at it. He sent it to her I gotta call you she was one of two people who is on my list for the for the role he called up and said would you meet with her? So what I need what they're of course I mean I dynamic but they're so all of these different things intersected and kind of conspire to, uh to make yeah, I guess the inevitable happened and when I sat down with her I had a very comprehensive uh what we call it a look book of visuals of photographs that told the story and gave an indication of how I visually saw it being executed and that impressed her so that was a lot of preparation and a little bit of serendipity it sounds like yeah, but I think that I think those pieces that's kind of serendipity actually come on theirs I'm not a particularly religious person but there's that story about someone being told you know, the judges are that the lord is going to come visit them and some you know, they open the door and there's you know, somebody there and they close the door and then that happens three times and then later on it's wide and should countries it's like three times but you didn't see me and I think that that's what happens with these kinds of opportunities, I think they actually are constantly coming up but we have to be prepared for them or we don't notice that they're there right? So it's really you know the preparation another statement though that you said when I interviewed you that I loved you said that um at least in hollywood that agents don't go where it's cold and make it hot they go where it's warm and they make it bigger and that you need to make your own heat so you were in essence preparing yourself getting your skills he went back to school you were doing the jobs that you needed to dio and starting to create your own heat so grey gardens skits made it goes on and wins an emmy right and a golden globe amazing for your first long feature what happens next it becomes a calling card yeah I mean I think every team all of your work speaks to you know what you want to do next and what you're capable of doing you know hollywood has a a bit of a bad habit of wanting to pigeonhole you and do it you've done before so somebody offered me and other projects that was actually very interesting story but out of coincidence she ends up kind of old living alone and having a lot of cats and I stopped well, I think I've already done that story so it's a matter of finding it was just finding a story that it speaks to you and at that point I put so much effort into grey gardens that it wasn't like I had five or six things lined up, you know, other things lined up eggs that was I got a lot of meetings off of the script and then once the movie went into production they wanted to sort of wait to see how the movie turned out and what not um and uh and then when they did yeah than a lot of opportunities every time something happens like a piece of your work comes out if other opportunities it opens the floodgates for for new possibilities and that's what happened with the vow and so tell me, how did you end up getting the bowel project? How did you get recommended for that? I my manager sent me a script for what I guess it's sort of a romantic comedy and it was an adaptation of book and I read it and it wasn't really my sensibility, so I passed on it and it was being done by a company now now it's the company called mgm, but at the time they were called spyglass my manager said, will you? She wants to meet with you anyway, so you should just sit down as a general so I sat down with this woman is an executive at the company and we got on famously she's now become a very, very close friend of mine and she said so I heard you know we went we had discussed other projects and things they had in development things that I like to think that I wanted to do and then she said, you know, I hear you pass that are our project you know what? We're notes and I said, well, you know, here they are interested well, those are really smart notes and I said, thanks and she said when we have another project and then you'd be interested in and she chased me about and at that point the script wasn't ready to be released as they were still working on it on by said that really does interest me so please please send it when it's ready in about a month later she got in contact so I think that what that story is about is not saying not saying no you know, saying exceeded all our front front that what I was being asked to come in for was it interesting but being open to the opportunity of coming in anyway and it worked out well for both of us um you know, obviously have had great success now in hollywood but are there ever times when you are intimidated by you know, the people that you're meeting with or the networks and and how do you get over I mean any fear to have any fear about these meetings I mean if I was meeting drew barrymore I'd be a little overwhelmed well there's a product of the violence that I want to do about a fashion designer and someone so that I need to meet with anna wintour and I was in new york at the time and I said I'm not ready to meet without a winter I don't know what to wear blackie wear black right? I know um so you know, p people are looking to hire you they want and that I mean they want to hire you and what they want to hire them they're looking I'm not making general say about me they're looking for they're looking to me for answers so looking for a director with a point of view they're looking for someone to shepherd a project and to lead it and to have a clear take on the material you're not going this applies the auditions to you know, a lot of times actors think like, well what I did please the director you can't possibly know what I want um and I don't always know exactly what I want I know it when I see it and so you have to do your best you have to do your interpretation and have to do your take because especially are auditioning someone sometimes you get the same take nine times the same version nine times from nine different people and then all of a sudden somebody does it different and that feels unique and that feels fresh and that's what you want so there's not a right answer uh, for those actors are auditioning for director and the same thing the director is meeting with studio or what the producers it's talking it's, the coherence of the vision and the passion for for it that they're looking for so it's not about it's, not about him. It's not intimidating to me because I'm not trying to second guess what they want. I'm just trying to present my my vision of my point of view, so you're being authentic. Yeah, yeah, I love that. I want to just ask if there any questions we've got people around the globe who watch this show and a lot of them are photographers and filmmakers. So russ and chris, do we have any questions for michael from around the globe? Absolutely. Michael, this is rough someone the host here. Great to have you, by the way. Thank you. Uh, you have a question from purple j who says, do you strategically create the chance to network and make connections? Or do you find yourself in them or organically and take advantage when they appear? Maybe a little bit about yeah, I think the answer is of a little bit of both I mean lost that because it's such a you know, like washington is with politics uh county los angeles you know is to this industry and so aziz, I suppose difference cisco is but the kind of tech world so going out for drinks or go into a restaurant or going to an event you're not going to you're not going to not come into somebody who's related to the business um I don't really find myself like dangling like, for instance, I was at a recently sasha baron cohen stepped off of a project that was reviled pick about freddie mercury's and queen and there was another director on it anyway, but that had been announced as of the oscars and I was at an event for lame is rob it was like a party basically and he was there I was kind of a little bit of angle, a little left angry little right to see if it would kind of organically come up but I wasn't gonna bum rush him. I mean it's not doing its not like network come however I water because if you do it, if you come off aggressive or you approach somebody sort of in the wrong context, it doesn't really get you anywhere, so if it had come up very organically I would have said hey, you know, I know you don't director yet on that project really love to sit down with you and I would have moved on from the conversation I would have put the idea in his head let him kind of know who I am and how in terms of how to get to me like which agency I'm with or which project I did so you can look me up you know, someone who looked me up but I wouldn't have that is you know, you know event is here about it at the party is not the right context for it, but it didn't work out organically took to bring that up and so I let it pass so that would be an example of where I was maybe trying but I don't do that on a regular basis I let things kind of happened a cz organically as possible because then it feels I think when people feel that there's a strong especially in hollywood if there's like a strong agenda happening, you kind of feel playing and it doesn't feel um well, I guess it doesn't feel organic and then I think people get defensive right? Right that's one other lesson that I just want to bring up that when I interviewed you that came out like loud and clear and it's back to great gardens you had spent aa lot of energy on the script and hbo decided to pick up the project and as I recall they said to you that they wanted another writer to take a pass at it and I think your quote back to me you have talked to your agent and the advice was do you want one hundred percent? You were a little upset at first she one hundred percent of something that never gets made or fifty percent of something that does can you tell me about that learning about the power of collaboration and what you could learn from it yeah it's actually I'm glad you brought that up because I forget exactly in the last hour you were talking about something and it did it spark that same it was about you're the idea of paying it forward and giving not maybe he's in the right vocabulary but the idea of giving things away given giving things away for free kind of the thing in terms of your time and your advice and your connections and according that what comes out of that on the local kind of double back to your question is is that you come off to other people as a team player and a collaborator and you know, if you're if you come off a cz being so serving and hoarding and that kind of thing I think subconsciously people don't wanted engage with you but if they see you as somebody who's willing tio you know, set up a contact and not expect, you know, ten percent of the earnings in return that that you're you're a team player and then they're open to bringing you in on something that they'll think of you and say, oh, you know, we should bring him, you know, porter because she's should be really good for this, but what there's some consciously thing is, is that she's a team player in terms of the specific example, I mean, it was just a very I was new obviously to the to the system, hollywood always has tons of riders on a few different writers have different skills, I think, well, I learned from that, but what happened is that we basically had a very we had our project was too expensive, the script I had written was just not going to fit into the budget and we end we needed to go into a different direction, and frankly, I was really close to the material, and it was hard for me to, uh, sort of new mental acrobats and acrobatics and just reimagine the project is drastically as it needed to be re imagined it was is basically was a forty year linear piece it just went from the nineteen thirties straight through the nineteen seventies, and what we later did was end up cross cutting it with between the past and the president, the president being the nineteen seventies in the past being the thirties, forties and fifties and sixties and that's allowed us to jump time and then therefore cut whole chunks out of the script, and initially it was difficult because I don't they're obviously ownership of the idea and what not, but working with this other writer patricia, she really opened my eyes to what didn't need to be in the script is still stick to till the two still tell the same story. It was just a defective and you didn't lose anything by losing things by losing different parts of the what I had originally written, the core of it was still there, and that was really valuable that's great. Well, I want tio, thank you so much for your time. I know you have a lot going on. Are you working on a project right now? Yeah, I'm directors always have that several irons in the fire. Anything you can share with us. Recently, we just announced a project called jeremy it's aa book written by a woman and make it a habit and it's the new york times described the book as heather's meets fight club that's my god, it's, about a high school cheerleader squad slides were turned upside down by a a coach and it's ah it's a thriller it's it's kind of the other the other comparison is mean girls meets to die for it's kind of dark but it's got this sort of you know mean girl kind of dialogue world setting but it's it's it's very well written and megan abbott has done that adaptation and it's a project that fox two thousand's producing so we're decided tio do that hopefully this fall? Well, congratulations you obviously will not get typecast because you're doing such a variety of types of work so thank you for your time thank you for being in the book and for sharing your wisdom with the class and the online viewers it's great to see you again and I hope to see you in person some day soon. Susan, thank you for having me take care. Wow that's fascinating, right? Six years that he worked on that so again, not that you have to work six years on getting your business going, but it's just an important reminder that so much of kind of creativity and putting things together is really about being focused and being passionate. The other thing that I do talk a lot about in the book is that when you're creating things, whether it's photography or ideas or helping somebody bring there they're g matt business toe life and their ideas that those are the things that you're connecting on so there's once between the relationship that's really important in that it could become a calling card for the future. So we're going to talk a little bit about three degrees of separation. We've talked about this briefly, it's, all about technology, but I want to talk about why networking is so much more important than it was in the past. We did talk about how our networks are getting bigger, but the phrase three degrees are six degrees of kevin bacon. If you guys played that game, it's now down to four degrees because of technology, and if you have things in common, it's, three degrees or two degrees. And so you know all of the filmmakers and the people that we talk tio. They probably are much closer together because of all the things that they have in their lives.