Joe Carnahan On 'Nemesis' And The Crooked Hollywood Business Model [/Film Interview Part 2]

Read part one of our Joe Carnahan interview here, in which we primarily discussed Stretch and Death Wish.

Below is the second part of our interview with director Joe Carnahan. The director recently won the the Mendez Award at the Maryland International Film Festival-Hagerstown and took the occasion to offer both updates on his career and thoughts about the current state of Hollywood.

In this section, we talk about potential alternative distribution models for Stretch, what's going on with his Mark Millar comic book adaptation Nemesis, his admiration for Steven Soderbergh, his hatred of the foreign sales model and the dark side of the Hollywood business model.

So are you exploring different ways to distribute Stretch? Are VOD models something you are looking at in general moving forward?

Yeah dude, but there was this discussion, because it's so much fun, "Do we just make it like 10 episodes?' Because it's such a cool little story. But then I thought it has its kind of place and time and it's representative of this moment and we should just kind of stick to that. And yeah, I think there's absolutely [VOD]. There's also this old-fashioned part of me that's like 'Let's take it to Toronto and have some fun, man.' Let's go on the back to the festival circuit, which I always had a blast doing. And I always loved going to film festivals. So why not, man? It'll play like gangbusters, you know? Like that would be a lot of fun. And it would be ultimately kind of worthwhile. But again, these are off concepts. These are exercises. Listen, the guy whose career I love is like Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh will go off and do, like The Girlfriend Experience, he'll do Che, a four hour version of Che Guevara. And then he'll do an Ocean's film, you know what I mean?


And then Haywire with Gina Carano. Who saw that coming? You know, there's a total kind of contrarian spirit in that guy as an artist, as a filmmaker, that I just love. I mean, who has the balls to re-cut Heaven's Gate? Like you just lop off the Harvard section and just start in Wyoming on the plains. I love that guy's spirit. And I think that's kind of where Stretch came from. I wanna do a Soderbergh. Just do a little script I've got laying around and go have some fun. But again, when there's an agreement in place, then it's like 'Well wait, we didn't think it was gonna be this, we thought it would be that.' And there's this weird unraveling. My first thought is 'Well, guys, we all read the script, man. We knew what we were getting into.'

They know what the movie is.

You know, I thought it was an extremely wider market. But again, I think the landscape of contemporary big cinema is constantly [changing]. Somebody said recently, I don't know who it was, but I heard a quote when somebody at Warner Brothers said, 'We would not make Argo today.' Which I thought was like 'Wow,' you know? If that's true, I mean, that's crazy. You wouldn't have made the film that won Best Picture last year.

But at the same time, I get it, man. It's there's a lot on the line now, dude. And they'd rather spend 150 million dollars marketing something than take a runner at something. Also we were trying to do an action comedy. Forget about the horror genre, can you do an action comedy on the cheap? And have it be of really great quality? And it is, dude. That's the thing about Stretch. You'd never know it was a five million dollar flick. You just wouldn't know it, you know. But again, dude, listen, I appreciate everything that's going on in the business right now. And oftentimes you have to also decide, 'Right now it ain't for me.' You know what I mean?


Like I'm having fun doing this other thing.

We talk about $100-million dollar movies, and those being the ones that get made. And you're a part of Nemesis, which you think would that kind of movie. What's going on with that? It seems like it's an R-rated movie about a villain. 

Yeah, [Nemesis] is an extremely controversial script, man. To encapsulate, it's a very thorny, very dark paean to anarchy in this country. You know what I mean? Listen, I know how much Mark [Millar] loves it. I think the script's great. But again, you come back to that same thing. It's like we can continue to generate these things. And if they ain't getting made, for whatever reason, are you gonna keep lamenting the fact they're not getting made or are you gonna go do something else? I feel like there's a time and a place for that script. I would like it to be sooner rather than later 'cause I think there's a lot of extremely topical, extremely contemporary, extremely hot button things within that script. But you know what? If we're having this conversation in 1975 and I wanna make Nemesis, it's a greenlit film.

You know what I mean? Post Watergate, we're not having that conversation. We're having that conversation in 2014. It's a different time and a different place. Radically so. Is my hope that we will see the way through and get everybody on the same page about Nemesis? Absolutely. Am I gonna hold my breath? Absolutely not. To be candid, I can't tell the studio what's gonna work for them. That's what they're there for. They know what works for them.

My brother feels the same way. We can only write the version that...the thing that we pitched, the thing we laid out is exactly what we put down. And it's scary, dude. It's dystopian. It's kind of bleak. It's also very hopeful in an odd way, you know? And then what Nemesis ultimately represents is really I find fascinating. And I know my brother does. But again, that doesn't mean 500 million dollars worldwide. You know what I mean?

Someone has to make the leap. If another studio made an R-rated super-villain movie and it made 250 million dollars, your movie would be made instantly. 

Absolutely. I think John Landis said recently, and I'm paraphrasing, so forgive me, but he said Hollywood is not interested in the idea so much as the previously executed idea. Which is so spot on, man. It's like everyone has to show some metric of prior success with a certain genre or certain type of film for them to even, you know what I mean?

But that also goes to like, nothing's more destructive or ridiculous or absurd or complete horseshit than the foreign sales model. I'm sorry. You know what I mean? It's a valuation based my brother tried to put this movie together recently with Garrett Hedlund who I just think is phenomenal. That kid's talented. A couple years ago coming off of Tron, Garrett gets [anything.] And nothing's changed between then, you know what I mean? He was still the guy that starred in Tron. But for whatever reason, you're not worth whatever this idiotic, measureless, abacus they have says he's worth. They just plug into the most formulaic, nonsensical system and yet, and I think it's systematically destroyed the way that we finance films and make films. Gone is the idea of 'Hey, this is a great script. And I wanna go make this film.' It's gotta be, 'We have to hedge that bet and then we have to hedge that bet on top of that.' You know what I mean?

It's this never-ending, circular saw of bullshit. It just is. And I don't wanna participate in that, man. It's like I get that there are, you know, the Avi Lerner's of the world, man, and I love it. Did you watch that James Toback, Alec Baldwin documentary? He comes right out and says it, man. 'I'm here to make money.' Again, I appreciate that. Of course, yes, I don't wanna eat soup the rest of my life. We want nice things. But I think it's we've done it now. It's like we cut off our nose to spite our face and we've also taken the ears and gouged the eyes out.I's just this kind of Grand Canyon-like gulf opening up between the Philomena and August: Osage Countys of the world and The Avengers. You know what I mean?

Of course.

It's like, nobody's making 35, 40 million dollar films anymore. They're just not making them. It just ain't happening. You know? You start to lead that, they go well, 'We should go to 100.' Or it's like three million. It's one of the two. And that's cause for concern.

The Spider-Man reboot was once going to cost like 50 million dollars. They really wanted to make a grimy Spider-Man. And then it ended up being 250. Because they had to make it big.


So do you find that your point of view here about the foreign sales is the prevalent feeling amongst filmmakers you know? Or do you think people follow the 'It's a business' mindset?

Well the directors I know, my friends, are always more interested in the craft than they should be, obviously. We all want the experience and we all wanna... You know, dude, I want another experience like The Grey. Because that was an adventure and we just happened to be making a movie at the same time. It's a very rare occurrence. That was something that is s a very, very fond memory for me, that whole experience. But I think the frustration comes because mostly everybody on the foreign sales side, they're just crooks. Literally they're crooks. There's no modicum of honesty or decency or polite business acumen. They're just cutthroats. I mean, I don't think they even disguise the fact that if they can fuck you, they're gonna fuck you.

It's like you know how much money I lost on The Grey because of these clowns that I was dealing with? And by the way, a guy like [producer] Mickey Liddell comes in and saves my ass because these other bozos were complete vipers. And Mickey made a really aggressive deal as he should have. He's not a bad guy, you know. But the rest of them to the man, they're just scum. And it's like, if that's how I have to go make a movie and go deal with these guys? I'll just skip it, man. You know, I'll do something else. Like that's the fear.

You know, I got The Grey made because Liam Neeson wanted to make that movie. And Liam is worth X, which is great. I owe that film being made to Liam. If you don't have that, it's the whole Johnny Depp thing. "He's done this movie, it hasn't worked." It doesn't matter, Johnny Depp's phenomenal. You know what I mean? It's like it's in a market, they're gonna knock on Johnny. Who gives a shit? But  as soon as Johnny Depp puts on the Captain Jack Sparrow stuff again, they turn the money faucets back on. So it doesn't matter. Johnny Depp probably doesn't wanna play Captain Jack every fucking movie, you know? And what happens, he tries to do something like Transcendence and they punish him. He's punished because of wanting to do something different. I just find it really restrictive and confining in a way that you wanna be comfortable when you work sometimes. You know what I mean? I don't wanna put myself in those situations. I've done it too many times.

Have you thought about crowd-sourcing funds for any of these scripts you have?

No. I don't want some poor bastard to give me 100 bucks. I feel bad. I mean, dude, I might get to the point where I just like... part of the reason you do television, too, is a successful show is so wonderful and can be so potentially lucrative. It'd be nice to be able to put enough money aside to just go pay to do the shit myself. So six people see my movie, I don't care. You know what I mean?

People always say, whenever you use your own money, you never...I don't know. But if you get kind of fed up with the process, why not? If you believe in something strongly enough, why not? And thank God for Kickstarter  'cause it gives me hope that, when people get these things financed, they're really decent, fans and benefactors out there. Supporters that'll actually dig in their own pocket. I have a very warm feeling about Kickstarter 'cause I think it's the best of what we can be. It's people who actually help out our fellow artists. We actually kind of go into our pocket for something. It's very rare. I just don't's Catholic guilt, man, or lapsed Catholic guilt. I can't shake it.

Check back tomorrow for the final part of our interview where we discuss the upcoming Daredevil TV show and more.