The international Press Corps voted for
best first feature at the Toronto International Film Festival
and awarded the Benson and Hedges Discovery Prize to new American
indie Goat on Fire and Smiling
Fish, by Kevin Jordan. In the tradition of Clerks and The Brothers McMullen, the film is a romantic comedy
from the heart, a story about orphaned brothers. The title comes
from the nicknames bestowed on the boys by their partially Native
American grandmother, who calls stressed-out older brother Chris,
born under the sign of Capricorn, Goat on Fire,
and happy-go-lucky younger brother, Tony, a Pisces, Smiling
The film picks up with the brothers, now grown,
still living in their childhood home, and traces Chriss
path through a series of unsatisfying relationships, job trouble,
and his continuing role as parent/mentor/friend to Tony. A colleagues
80-year-old uncle, who once worked for the old Lincoln Motion
Picture Company, offers his wisdom about love and lifes
essentials. The part is brilliantly played by Bill Henderson,
and Jordan uses terrific antique footage from Lincolns
original films to add texture to his enthralling, insightful
debut, co-written and co-produced by actor Derick Martini, who
Kevin Jordan and Derick and Steven Martini
have an infectious enthusiasm and encouraged contributions to
their $40,000 film in a most unusual way. I interviewed them
in the lobby of a Toronto theater while the last Toronto International
Film Festival screening was taking place.
Stephen Ashton (MM): How did the movie
Kevin Jordan (KJ): My best friends are
Steven and Derick, who are brothers, and I have a brother myself.
Goat is a story about what it means to be brothers. We wanted
to make our first feature about something we know about. Brothers,
MM: Have you guys worked together on
any films prior to this one?
Kevin Jordan (KJ): Weve known each
other for about 10 years. I went to high school with Steven
at Professional Childrens School.
Steven Martini (SM): Yeah, we were in this
art high school in New York doing acting and plays. Of course,
we were obsessed with Goodfellas and The Godfather, and Kevin
would set up a video camera and we used to re-enact scen
es from The Godfather. Kevin would always be
KJ: We still have the tape, but believe
me were keeping it under close wraps…
SM: Im trying to get him to release
MM: You should put it on the website.
KJ: Yeah, and we were always doing scenes
from Mamet. At 15 wed go in and audition for parts and
do scenes from Glengarry Glen Ross. We thought we were 40-year-olds,
but we were like babies. We never liked the parts they had for
guys who were 15.
MM: And were you getting parts?
KJ: Yeah, we got some TV parts.
MM: But your first real shorts were
KJ: Right. I did a five minute short there
called The Ride Inside the Old Garden, which got
some recognition. NYU passed it on to Martin Scorsese, who started
scholarships for an undergrad and a grad student for that year.
I received the undergrad scholarship. He took me and the grad
recipient to lunch, which was a thrill. Later I was invited
to go with him to Morocco to work on Kundun. I didnt have
to work, just sit next to him and observe. Here we were, in
this Salvador Dali landscape at the edge of the Sahara. Every
day there would be a huge sandstorm and we would be wearing
these huge goggles and Marty would say (imitating Scorseses
trademark rapid-fire speech) I-I hope we can get this
shot off by the end of the day. Thered be these
200 Tibetan monks wandering around the set. It was surreal.
MM: What were your impressions of how
KJ: The passion and energy. The second
he walked onto the set he was on fire to get every shot.
MM: What did you gain most from this
KJ: I was so impressed that he had every
detail worked out with a vision so clear. Then when the elements
changed on set his ability to adapt really struck me.
MM: Getting back to Goat on Fire…
Derick Martini (DM): In about four months
we had a script. We did a lot of writing all along the way,
through pre-production and casting, even on the set.
SM: Me and Derick auditioned with all the
actors. We wanted to give them something, not just have them
read with some schmoe. Its such a drag to go to an audition
and not get anything to work off of.
DM: It was a great rehearsal process for
us, too, auditioning with all the actors. It gave us a lot of
insight for rewriting and refining the script. We read so many
really good actors, but somehow you know theres just the
perfect one still to come. When they start giving you the lines
in just that unique cadence it really comes alive. Sometimes
its better than you ever conceived of.
KJ: The screening Thursday night (in Toronto)
was the first time we got to see how audiences would react.
We were really sweating it cause we were numb to the pace
and timing after having seen it on the Avid 400 times. When
the first laugh hit in the opening montage, it was such a huge
MM: It was almost like a cast and crew
screening… people were going wild.
DM: The film is really fun. We had a great
time on the set, too. Even though everyone w
orked for nothing and the catering was lousy,
we had a great time. We had to keep the vibes warm. We knew everyone
would be working 16 hours a day for a 12-day sprint.
MM: You shot this in 12 days?
KJ: Twelve days and $40,000.
MM: How many lobsters?
KJ: Quite a few… We got free development
and telecine with two two-pound lobsters and a pound-and-a-half
of shrimp. We even got locations for lobsters…but it was more
of a gesture, really. Wed meet with the head of the company,
pitch the film and say, Look, we dont have any money,
but we have this film, and my family has a lobster business.
Can you help us out? So the next day theyd get a
special Fed Ex package with live lobsters. Even if we didnt
have a meeting we sometimes would just barge in on the head
of the company, pitch him, and ask for a hand on our first film.
The lobsters (about 40 altogether) would be sent as a way to
say Thank you for taking your time to listen. They
had the ability to wave a finger and make it happen. We were
hoping theyd say These guys are OK. Theyve
got some balls. Lets do them a favor.
MM: Did you have all of your needs set
up before the shoot started, or did you have to keep going back
KJ: We had most everything together a month
ahead. We had a cinematographer, we had our crew and everything
in place, ready to go. Derick line-produced the film and got
everything. But we did go after telecine after we started shooting.
Originally we were going to do dailies and cut on a flatbed,
and it wasnt until we were through shooting that we got
a favor with the Avid.
DM: Oh, line producing! I didnt even
know what to call it when we started. I just knew we needed
this stuff and started making calls. I didnt even know
all the stuff we needed. We had to look it up in books at Barnes
KJ: We actually had too much stuff. The
Kodak Vision film stock was fantastic, with great latitude.
Goat isnt a big film, but we had 12Ks that were
too much for the scope of the picture. We shot at 500 ASA, so
we cut back on the amount of light. We shot on Super 16 with
DM: We did a couple of scenes in the bathroom
with available light and it looks great.
MM: Im looking forward to seeing
a film print, even though the transfer print looks great.
KJ: We tried to get the negative cut and
a print made but there was no way we could get it on time. We
got notice that the film was going to be in Toronto and
we didnt have time to make a print. So
we heard about this Avid/DigiBeta transfer process and went to
see the head of 4MC in the Valley. We told him our problem and
pitched him the film… and sent him some lobster… and got the
print in 10 days!
MM: Well, the print is perfect for this
film. It gives it an immediacy, although I am sure you want
to see a print from the film you shot.
KJ: Right now were happy with the
way it plays, and a print from the neg. will be great.
MM: How did you create the part Bill
Henderson plays and how did you get him?
KJ: It actually was something that I got
out of working on Kundun. There was an old master sound man
that worked with Marty named Clive Winter. He had all kinds
of stories of the early days. He was so warm and friendly. We
wrote in a character like this into the film…originally as
a white guy. We auditioned all of these 70-year-old actors and
it just wasnt working. We kept thinking about an Ozzie
Davis type guy and kept reading other guys. Then Bill Henderson
came to Dericks apartment to read and just blew us away.
DM: You struggle with something for weeks,
you know, and its not working, not working… and then
you strike gold. Kevin came across a reference on the internet
to the Lincoln Motion Picture Studio, an early black movie company.
We came across all of this information, which led us into a
whole new dimension. Thats an amazing story in itself.
All of this old footage was found in a garage or something when
it was thought to have been lost for years. We got in touch
with UCLA Film Archives and they helped us.
One day Kevin disappeared for hours. He came back
with all this footage of all of these black films. Footage with
Paul Robeson and stuff. Then the character took on a real shape
and became an important part of the film. Bill Henderson started
as a jazz singer with Count Basie, and started acting I dont
know when. But he was a super fan of Paul Robeson and he agreed
to do it for us. He even contributed three songs to the track.
The film just grew bigger and bigger. We added
more locations along the way. It was all shot around LA. People
were pretty cool about giving us locations… at least until
about 14 hours into a shooting day. Then they sometimes got
a little testy.
MM: Did you try to shoot the film in
KJ: It was totally location driven,
so we were at the mercy of the people whose houses we were using.
Some of the most emotional scenes had to be shot at the beginning
and I would have liked more time to build the relationships.
But it works because of our rehearsals.
MM: What was the hardest part of the
KJ: Having two company moves a day…the
fights and the worries about being able to make the day…not
having enough film to capture the performances…the nagging
worry that the actors would be frustrated that they couldnt
give their best performances. But what we got on the first take
was usually amazing. We actually had the opportunity to do an
improv take every once in awhile. I had the chance to let the
camera hang, give it time for a reaction or remark. Cutting
too early is one of the biggest mistakes I made in my short
films, so I forced myself to keep rolling at the end of the
scene. It was tough when we had to buy film on a daily basis.
SM: Im still amazed at Derick, who
acted and line-produced at the same time. That was a challenge.
MM: So you couldnt get to an Avid
right after the shoot, right?
KJ: Right. We didnt have any money,
but we did have time. We took the time to really live with the
footage for a while, because we had to wait to get the Avid.
It was really valuable for us to see what we had. Not being
rushed is really important.
DM: Time is critical in developing the
script, as well. I would hate to be rushed by a studio, either
in pre or post-production. Both are so important.
KJ: Yeah, Ill always fight for time.
MM: Was 12 days too short?
KJ: Theres something about having
to make it in 12 days. It gives you energy, although its
tough. We only had the money for 12 days worth of catering,
so we had to find a way.
MM: How important is the producers
rep at this point?
KJ: Really important. Jeff Dowd, our producers
rep, is the greatest. He is the Bill Parcells of the independent
film world. He calls the plays and we keep running in there…to
meet this distributor, to talk to that acquisitions person.
Thats another thingour Executive Producer, Sheila
Goldman, who got us finishing funds, got together with Nancy
Willen, a very classy woman at DDA, and she loved the film and
wanted to rep it here in Toronto along with all these other
KJ: Steve, before we finish up, about that
Scorsese question… you asked what I got most out of being
at his side… It was the realization of how much I havent
learned… how much I have to go back and study my classics.
I see how Marty refers to other films all the time, and I grew
up with Star Wars. I want to study the classics. MM