Unlike a lot of ArtCenter grads, I never had a mentor. There was no guru figure teaching me to be the best version of myself.
So, I proceeded to mine for inspiration straight from the source.
My “source” was the late 20th-century treasure trove of pop culture mythology that I devoured during my formative years. As a young man, I was obsessed with Alan Moore’s Watchmen (which I later adapted into a film), the transportive literary adventures of Joseph Campbell, the earth-shaking work of Stanley Kubrick, and a whole lot more. I kept returning to these works throughout my youth, trying to unpack what made them so transcendent. To me, these works were all part of the same invisible tapestry.
The greatest works of art change as you change – they grow with you. Watchmen, in particular, is more relevant now in the age of superhero oversaturation than it was even upon its release. Superhero worship is practically a religion in 2019. Moore’s seminal source material posed questions that have preoccupied my mind all of my life, namely: who is in charge of overseeing those in power? Who watches the watchmen?
At times, growing up, it felt like no one was watching me. I mean that in a good way. I was free to devour works that fed my imagination and gave shape to my emerging storytelling aesthetic. I attacked everything, from Star Wars and Excalibur, to The Caped Crusader and George Romero movies.
Granted, I’ve always understood the world in terms of myth-making. Once I learned that my beloved myths could be deconstructed and re-thought, that became my primary way of thinking. A creative property can’t evolve if its creators aren’t willing to tear the whole thing down and try to see what makes it work.
My way of seeing involves peeling back the shell of something and attempting to understand how it functions from the inside out. I got a chance to do that with my big-screen adaptation of Watchmen and my additions to the respective Batman and Superman filmographies. For fans of these heroes, the source material is more than just a comic book. To the fans, these are sacred texts that are filled with wisdom, imagination, and life guidance: works of cultural myth-building that hold a mirror up to who we are as people.
And because these comic books are designed for mass consumption… that makes them radical.
Making movies was always the dream. I was a film fiend, who thought in terms of heroes, villains, set pieces, and three-act structure. I was also lucky to come of age during a time where there was this kind of explosion of artful blockbuster filmmaking — The original Star Wars trilogy comes to mind, as does Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was seeing myths realized onscreen with a scope and scale that was mind-blowing. In my world, mythology and high adventure were always the order of the day.
My preoccupation with mythology made me something of an outlier at ArtCenter. Then again, my ArtCenter experience was a unique one. I didn’t follow anyone’s path. The truth is, there is no one path. There’s just the way you do things.
When I was a film student at ArtCenter, the department consisted of about 40 or so committed students. There was a time where there was literally no chair of the department, which made us feel like we could do whatever we wanted. It was a time of reckless creative experimentation, of shooting just to shoot something and saying yes to pushing against our own pre-established storytelling boundaries.
Early on in my time at the College, I hooked up with the incredibly talented cinematographer Larry Fong, who has gone on to shoot four out of the eight movies I’ve directed. Larry and I loved all the same stuff. We spoke the same creative language and still do to this day. The level of talent on campus at the time was staggering. Tarsem Singh, who would go on to direct The Cell, was our classmate. Michael Bay was just a year ahead of us. Matthew Rolston was beginning to revolutionize the way people look at photography. Suffice to say, the competition was stiff. Come to think of it, that’s still true over at ArtCenter.
It was at ArtCenter where I first met an incredibly formidable and impressive team of collaborators with whom to share my filmmaking endeavors. It soon became clear that whether deconstructing iconic works or creating rich and challenging new material, it is the people that you surround yourself with that makes those goals achievable. As individuals, we each have our own gifts, but it takes a team to make the seemingly impossible possible.
Co-Founder & Co-President Cruel & Unusual Films/The Stone Quarry
BFA 89 Film