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  •  INTERVIEW: P.J. POSNER

    P.J. Posner

    Hold that Posner

    New York-based P.J. Posner's latest film, "The Next Big Thing," opened to positive reviews for its satirical portrait of a failing playwright who suddenly hits it big as a bogus artist.

    By DAN EPSTEIN
    Offoffoff.com

    P.J. Posner made his directorial debut in 1996 with "Lifebreath" (aka "Last Breath"), starring Luke Perry, which Mr. Posner co-wrote with brother Joel, and produced. "Lifebreath" premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival. Variety raved about Posner's first effort, calling the film "a solid, thoughtful little thriller [that] keeps you guessing right until the end and even past it."

      
    P.J. POSNER
    Location:
    New York

    Resume:
    Secretary (2002, producer)
    The Next Big Thing (2001, director)
    Lifebreath (1997, writer-director)
    Getting In (1994, writer)
    The Posners' first feature film screenplay to be produced was produced by Victor Simpkins and directed by Doug Liman, makers of the independent hit "Swingers." "Getting In," a comedy/thriller satirizing the cutthroat competition for admission to medical school, starred Kristy Swanson and Matthew Perry and helped launch the careers of Matthew Perry and Calista Flockhart.

    In 1994, P.J. made a short film called Expiration Date satirizing assisted suicide and the media frenzy surrounding the issue. Expiration Date anticipated the controversial "60 Minutes" assisted-suicide broadcast four years later. He was also one of several young directors, including Greg Mottola ("Daytrippers"), Evan Dunsky ("The Alarmist") and Nicole Holefcener ("Walking and Talking"), selected by producer Nancy Tennenbaum ("sex, lies and videotape") to shoot shorts for the Ha! channel, later known as Comedy Central. P.J.'s short "The Elevator Inspector" starred Melina Kanakaredes ("Providence") and Douglas McGrath, actor, director and Academy-Award-winning writer of "Bullets Over Broadway."


      
    "Now the film companies will hardly even look at independent films unless they have stars in them, unless it's one of those festival darling films, and this film wasn't one of them."  
    — P.J. Posner  

      
    The Posner brothers recently formed TwoPoundBag Productions, through which they produced "The Next Big Thing" and executive produced "Secretary" to be released by Lions Gate this fall.

    Dan Epstein: Your previous films seem noir-influenced. What made you decide to do "The Next Big Thing"?

    PJ Posner: The only other feature I directed was a noirish thriller called "Last Breath" [also known as "Lifebreath," released on video in 1997 and starring Luke Perry]. It was very dark. "The Next Big Thing" is as diametrically opposed as you can get. I like the idea of that.

    DE: How did you come up with the concept?

    PJP: My brother and I started this company and the scripts that we had were too expensive for us to make. We wanted to come up with something that was smaller-budgeted. He had a friend who was a painter and art director in advertising who had been robbed and one of his paintings was stolen. We were talking about it and bouncing around ideas. We started developing it. When you get the idea for the idea, the rest of it follows. This idea, I could see where it was going to go. We liked the tone of it. We did some research and wrote it.

    DE: All of your produced work has been written with your brother [Joel Posner].

    PJP: The other film we had written together besides this and "Last Breath" was "Getting In," that Doug Liman [director of "Swingers" and "Go"] directed. Oddly enough, that was the same idea as "Kind Hearts and Coronets." Although none of us had seen that movie, our movie did end up being a kind of a horror-thriller.

    DE: How does your writing relationship work?

    PJP: It works well. Sometimes we sort of sit in room and write every word together, which we did with "The Next Big Thing." With "Last Breath," I was writing it on my own, and I got stuck so he helped me out enough that he got a writing credit.

    DE: Did you guys go to school together?

    PJP: He went to Haverford College and I went to Columbia University.

    DE: How much research into the world of painting did you do?

    PJP: I did some. We actually have a cousin named Dan Green who is quite a renowned pastel portrait painter. We spoke to him because he lived in Soho when it was still sort of a slum. He was a friend of Ayn Rand's. We spoke to him and he was enlightening. Also, while the movie is about painting, it's also about any kind of art. So a lot of themes applied — you could plug in any kind of art.

    DE: Could the situation that happened in "Next Big Thing" actually occur?

    PJP: At some point when we were writing this, there was that David Bowie thing. It was when Bowie wrote this book about this fictional artist through his publishing company. This fictional artist became somewhat of a sensation even though he didn't exist. People were claiming to have met him and that sort of thing. So it can happen.

    Also, we wrote certain things like when an art buyer was driven to the artist's studio blindfolded. Apparently for a while Lucien Freud [German/British painter and grandson of Sigmund Freud] used to blindfold people on the way to his studio.

    I don't know if I should say this, but we wrote Janet Zarish's character of Florence Rubin as the art collector that sleeps with the artists. Peggy Guggenheim, the art patron, took such a personal interest in her protgs. She had affairs with Jackson Pollock and other painters. So it was unwittingly a Peggy Guggenheim parody.

    DE: How did you get Farley Granger involved?

    PJP: We were thinking about a lot of people. Our casting director came up with Farley's name. He liked the script. Farley has not been doing a lot of the movies because he doesn't like the scripts he gets. This was the one script he liked a lot. When Farley saw the whole movie during looping he was very excited about it. He worked with Hitchcock and Visconti, so that made me happy.

    DE: Anything unusual happen on set?

    PJP: Well Cardinal O'Connor died during the shooting of the movie. We were supposed to shoot in an apartment on 82nd and Madison, but the funeral home is right around the corner so the city pulled our permit at the last minute. So we had an insurance claim because we lost a day because we had a little more time on the location. We ended up being able to shoot a sex scene and realize it more fully.

    DE: What was the budget of the movie?

    PJP: Under $2 million.

    DE: How did you get your cast?

    PJP: Connie Britton [of "Spin City" and "The Brothers McMullen"] auditioned. Everyone pretty much auditioned — everyone except Chris Eigeman. I had seen him in Wilt Stillman's movies. I was very skeptical about Chris at first. One of the nice things about this movie is he plays a character he had never played before, which is a good guy. The character he plays in Stillman's film is a supercilious intellectual son of a bitch. So I met with him and he really liked and understood the material. I became so happy with that choice. I think he's the best thing about the movie.

    DE: What it hard to sell this film to a distributor?

    PJP: Well, it's tougher than ever for independent films, and a lot of that is because of "The Sopranos." HBO used to be the safety net for independent films, and HBO isn't buying as much anymore because of their original programming. They don't buy independent films anymore, and the stuff they do buy is much more star-driven. It's pulled the rug out from that middle independent market. So now the film companies will hardly even look at independent films unless they have stars in them, unless it's one of those festival darling films, and this film wasn't one of them.

      
      "I always thought that it's true that art speaks for itself. When you go to a museum, it's more important how it strikes you viscerally than what the didactic on the wall tells you or what Philippe de Montebello tells you on your audio tour. But some people are intimidated by that stuff and feel they should be told."
      — P.J. Posner
      
    DE: What festivals did you get into?

    PJP: The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, the Marco Island Festival and some smaller ones as well. We've been told that we were close to some of the larger festivals. The bottom line is that it's not your typical festival film. It's kind of mainstream. The production value, I believe, is pretty high. It doesn't look like it was something that was shot independently.

    DE: Maybe if you shot it on high-definition video . . .

    PJP: I don't want to be presumptuous about stuff like that. It felt like if we shot it on mini-DV it would have been grittier and been a much more festival-type film.

    DE: How autobiographical is the film for you? When Gus starts spouting that art speaks for itself, are those your feelings about art?

    PJP: Well, actually, yes. It's like with a lot of movies, the story of making is more interesting than the movie itself. A good example of that is "The Blair Witch Project" — it was a really good idea to make this quasi-improvisational movie, and that's great for marketing but I'm told that the movie stinks. I always thought that it's true that art speaks for itself. When you go to a museum, it's more important how it strikes you viscerally than what the didactic on the wall tells you or what Philippe de Montebello [director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art] tells you on your audio tour. But some people are intimidated by that stuff and feel they should be told. I always think the art should stand away from its criticism.

    DE: Where did you grow up?

    PJP: I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and went to Bronx Science high school. My dad works at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center — he's a physician.

    DE: You have your own production company now.

    PJP: Yes TwoPoundBag Productions. We're excited about "Next Big Thing." We executive-produced a movie called "Secretary" that Steven Shainberg directed. That was a festival film. It won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and will be released by Lions Gate. It's an S&M love story starring James Spader.

    DE: How did you get involved with that?

    PJP: Double A Films [producers of Michael Almereyda's "Hamlet"] worked on "the Next Big Thing" with us and produced "Secretary." We helped with the financing for "Secretary."

    DE: What was it like working with Luke Perry on "Life Breath"?

    PJP: [Laughs.] It was an experience. He's a very down-to-earth guy in some ways. He's a smart and charming guy when he wants to be. He's a star.

    DE: I worked on low-budget films, and if you had a star in for a few days they were usually a pain in the ass.

    PJP: You said that.

    DE: Like you said, you wrote your first film for Doug Liman. How involved were you with that?

    PJP: We wrote and I sent it out to a few places and got very enthusiastic responses almost immediately. I thought we were going to get it made in six months, plus I wanted to direct it. Then finally, ten years later, it got made. Then Nelle Nugent and Victor Simpkins were the two producers who optioned it for several years. They hooked up with Doug and ended up making the movie after numerous rewrites. We did some of them but then we ended up not seeing eye to eye [laughs] with the producers.

    It's an interesting story because Doug wanted a writing credit and whenever a producer or director wants a writing credit it automatically goes to arbitration at the Writer's Guild because they don't ever want to put a writer in the position pick a fight with a potential employer. So it went to arbitration and we — John Lewin, me and my brother — wanted the credit, but we wanted it to be story by us and screenplay by the other people so we could point the finger at the place where everyone else fucked it up. We thought there were a lot of places where that happened. The Writer's Guild determined that we should get sole credit.

    I think the last draft we handed in was better than the one that got made. I have a lot of respect for Doug. Subsequently, after the movie was made, we met and talked about it. He was in a very difficult position making that movie for the budget he had — something had to give. It was his first film as a director and he learned a lot.

    I've been told that "Getting In" is highly regarded by people in the industry. I think because it was Doug's first film it was looked at as a starting point. It has been good as an experience.

    MAY 30, 2002
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on P.J. Posner:

  • Great work!   from Johanna Ruiz, Jun 16, 2002
  • names, artists, creativity   from Rivka Louis Brodner Posner, Sep 3, 2002
  • sham   from Lou Posner, Nov 23, 2007
  • I sat next to PJ in school   from Kaori Miyamoto, Apr 6, 2004
  • PJ will be a star   from dan diker, Jul 24, 2004
  • Greetings   from Dorothy Hong, Jan 30, 2008

  • Post a comment on "P.J. Posner"