Exclusive – Becoming Iconic Is Coming to the Whistler Film Festival

Embarking on your first feature film is an experience all passionate filmmakers should experience, but its not. The road to stardom isn’t accessible for all drivers. How do you access the roadmap and what type of toll rates are you willing to spend? You can spend your time standing on the world’s tallest structure at night reaching for those stars and still be no closer than the man in the subway. We’ve heard stories of sacrifice and abuse within the system. What is true and what is myth? If you peel away the layers do you find the truth or just more onion?   The stories of corruption behind the politics of big Hollywood and the politics of Independent Hollywood are out there.  Who’s sandbox do you play in? 

The soup has been spilled and we all get a closer look at the broth.  This is all in thanks to Jonathan Baker for making the documentary, Becoming Iconic.

I caught up with Jonathan in LA through the spell binding science of the telephone. He was so forthcoming with his first feature directing debut and how the experience has impacted him, moving forward.

The feature is called Inconceivable and stars Nicolas Cage, Faye Dunaway, Gina Gershon and Nicky Whelan.  It was released on June 30 and is available on iTunes, VOD, PPV, Redbox and everywhere else. Over 1 million people have already viewed the film. Becoming Iconic is also currently running through the film festivals and will be available on Showtime or Netflix once it is finished its festival run.

Although Jonathan acknowledges the success of sales, he says the real accomplishment was staying true to his creative vision and getting the film finished.  That is the focal point of the documentary as well as the tooth and nail battles nobody hears about.  I’ve watched the documentary before interviewing Jonathan and my mind was enlightened by the darkness of the politics.  The industry is a far cry from being perfect and projects are derailed all the time because of the politics. Finding a way to get it back on track and finishing it is critical as a first time director. Hollywood is still a small town and you sometimes only get one chance to show your worth.  You are judged on your films and not your experience. Jonathan Baker is our tour guide in this documentary and you should buckle up. It’s gonna be a bumpy road.

 

“Many of us hear the stories of the corruption in Hollywood but we rarely hear first hand information confirming the facts. How did the opportunity to direct the film happen?”

“I was approached by Lionsgate with a number of scripts. I told them I wanted to direct my own script but they insisted I direct one of theirs before they’d finance one of mine. I agreed and found a script from the pile that would appeal to a female audience. I want to make films for a female audience and Inconceivable was very female orientated. The only condition I had was that I wanted to rewrite it. They agreed and on the 10th rewrite we went into 3 months of pre production. It wasn’t enough time but I made it work. They gave me a team to work with. If you’re going to make your first feature you really need to pick your own people, otherwise you don’t have the final word and they will be answering to someone else.”

 

With Wonder Woman coming out the same summer, the female appeal had also helped his film find its audience.  The film was a thriller but he’d rather be making dramas and music-based pictures.  Jonathan tells me he did his best to rewrite it into a drama about envitrol. The studio wanted it more scary and crazy but says staying true to your creative vision is vital.  He wore many hats during the production. Writing, directing, producing and taking on a small role in the film allowed him to get closer with the cast.  Although admirable, he admits it takes a lot of grunt when you’re standing in that 360 degree bubble.

 

“In your documentary you talk about your poor relationship with the line producer on set. How did that impact the film?”

“On one particular day the line producer, brought on by Lionsgate had come to set to tell me that my Christmas scene wasn’t going to happen. It was going to be changed to Thanksgiving.  We had an exchange of opinions the same day the Bond Company had been visiting the set. They work with Lionsgate and didn’t like the exchange between the line producer and me.  At the end of the day, the Bond Company walked away from funding the film.  Not many people would have the moxie for what I did but I happened to backdoor into the fact that Lionsgate and EFO (Emmett Furla Oasis Films).  wanted to derail the project.  I had the fight of my life to get it completed.  Lionsgate eventually came back to the table, with a bunch of rules, the day before shooting was to restart. My hands were tied and I had to adjust my vision to prioritize what I needed to make the film and let the rest of the Bond Company fee like they were still calling the shots. The Bond Company became the mafia for EFO .  The Bond Company works independently and whenever EFO wanted to pull rank, they’d blame it on the Bond Company.”

 

Jonathan was shooting an insane thirteen pages of script per day, primarily do to accommodating Nicolas Cage’s schedule. On other films, a regular film schedule usually demands 2-3 pages. 7 pages is considered a busy day.  As a first time director, you want to believe you have a support system but he says, the producers didn’t care.

 

“When things go wrong there are people that are quick to say, I told you so. When things go right, others will want to share the credit. You have to share a lot of the credit while being responsible for 100 percent of it. The experience felt like a hazing. I found my support team in directors like Jodie Foster, John Badham, Taylor Hackford and Warren Beatty. I had been schooled through them. When I was on set, it was their voices with advice in the back of my head.”

 

For some reason, my voices are always cartoon characters but that’s another story. Jonathan tells me, you’re judged on your films and not your experience.

 

“How difficult was it making a film with a team that you didn’t pick?”

“It complicated things. Instead of answering to me, they’d answer to the studio. It changes the chain of command and final approval on key decisions. It compromises the integrity of the film. If you’re not making the wardrobe, location and other decisions, you cease to be the director and become a facilitator. The two most important people on your team are your DP and Production Designer. They need to care about your vision and the film.”

 

Jonathan admits he’s a left brain right brain thinker and very stubborn with his vision. It’s the only thing he wants to hold onto.

 

“As a director, hanging onto the vision of the film is everything. What is it your characters are trying to do? Where do they start and where do they end? When you populate anything that happens in the camera it has to be yours. You can’t stand in front of a theatre and say my DP thought amber would look better than red, so we went with it. In the same frame, you can’t say you went with a fall clothing style even though its summer because your wardrobe people told you to do it. They have to be in line with your vision, otherwise you’re in line with their vision.”

 

He continues to explain that “good movies have a good team behind them and crappy films have a crappy team that doesn’t care. If your script sucks, it doesn’t matter how crappy anybody is.”

 

“In the documentary, you say you are always willing to collaborate. Does that have its limitations?”

“I’m always open to collaboration on set but you also have to know when to lead and be the dictator. They are waiting for you to tell them what their marching orders are. If you pick the right people they will come back with what you asked for. Pick the wrong people and you start making compromises.  Collaborating is the most important thing in life because everyone has something to say that’s worthwhile.”

 

Jonathan adds, that you can put as much or as little as you want into the film but if you’re in love with the journey, that’s what its all about.

 

“We write about it, we make movies, we populate the culture of content because we’re in love with the journey of seeing something pure that wasn’t done before. It is the reason I get up in the morning.”

 

Through interviewing the icons for his documentary, he got to stand in the light with them. He says, it has to rub off. The amount of Oscar winners lending their industry stories and advice are rare pearls of wisdom.  He says, every time he thinks he’s alone he just listens to their stories and it’s the same, just a different set of challenges. His biggest takeaway from making both the film and documentary is to be sure that your team cares about the film you’re making.  Nobody wants to make a bad movie.

In the documentary, Becoming Iconic it is revealed that he purchased a burial plot and tombstone above Marilyn Monroe’s. He says it’s all about making the journey interesting. It’s his hope that many will respond to the documentary in a positive way and thank him for sharing an uncomfortable situation. He adds, that it needed to be said and heard by anyone that wants to make films.

 

The documentary is premiering at the Whistler Film Festival. He believes anyone that’s made a film or is part of the festival circuit should watch it.

 

“The idea is real, the people are real and the industry is insane.”  

After Whistler, the film will be going to more festivals in Palm Springs, Paris and others.   He said he enjoyed talking to me as much as making his films. Gosh, I felt extremely honored and very grateful for his time.  His documentary is revealing and filled with rare stories from icons of the industry. If you’re going to the Whistler Film Festival please don’t miss this documentary. It was produced to help filmmakers embarking on the Hollywood system.

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