Director J.C. Chandor’s filmography spans three lauded features, starting with Margin Call for which he earned a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination in 2012. Earlier that same year Margin Call scored Best First Feature distinction from both the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards. At the latter competition, Margin Call additionally won the coveted Robert Altman Award, which is Spirit’s Best Creative Ensemble honor encompassing its director, cast and casting directors. Chandor was also named Best Debut Director by the National Board of Review.
From that dialogue-intensive ensemble Wall Street drama director/writer Chandor moved on to All Is Lost, centered on an inspired solo performance by Robert Redford. Chandor wrote the action/adventure film in a way whereby audiences came to know the Redford character through what he was experiencing rather than the spoken word. All Is Lost scored a Best Sound Editing Oscar nomination in 2014 as well as Spirit Award noms for Best Feature, Director, Cinematography and Male Lead Actor.
Chandor’s most recent feature, A Most Violent Year, received assorted plaudits, including last December being named the Best Film of 2014 by the National Board of Review (NBR). A drama set during the winter of 1981--statistically one of the most violent crime years in New York City’s history--A Most Violent Year starred Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales, a fuel supplier who’s trying to grow his business while staying true to his moral compass, a proposition which seems impossible in the face of rampant violence and corruption. Both the business and Morales’ family--including his wife portrayed by Jessica Chastain--are in jeopardy.
“A Most Violent Year is an exhilarating crime drama with a compelling story, outstanding performances, and an elegant cinematic style,” said Annie Schulhof, NBR president. “J.C. Chandor has given us a new and provocative perspective on the American Dream.”
NBR voting yielded a tie for the Best Actor honor between Isaac for A Most Violent Year and Michael Keaton for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). NBR voted Chastain Best Supporting Actress for her performance in A Most Violent Year.
A Most Violent Year also garnered Chandor an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Screenplay in 2015.
As for what’s on his career horizon, the industry can look forward to not only director Chandor’s next feature but also what his newly formed production company will yield in terms of movies for him as well as other talented directors. Furthermore, Chandor recently joined RESET for commercials and branded content projects. RESET is the production house founded by managing director Dave Morrison and filmmaker David Fincher.
In this installment of Chat Room, Chandor reflects on his career and discusses his joining RESET and being partnered in an as yet unnamed feature development and production company.
See J.C. Chandor live at the SHOOT Directors/Producers Forum on May 21 in NYC
For more beyond this interview, Chandor will be featured in an on-stage “In The Director’s Chair” session at the SHOOT Directors/Producers Forum on Thursday afternoon, May 21, at the DGA Theatre in NYC. For more info on the event, which also includes SHOOT’s evening New Directors Showcase, click here.
SHOOT: What’s the appeal of commercials and branded content to you as a filmmaker?
Chandor: I haven’t done any additional work besides making feature films in probably the last six years. I’ve been going at it full time, putting two years of my life into each one of my features. I think it’s healthy to kind of space out a little more time for me to write, reflect, enjoy life with my family while still being active as a director. I look at commercials and branded content as a real opportunity to expand as a director through visual storytelling, experimenting with different technical tools and narrative techniques. The interpersonal element of working with a client is also appealing. Working for someone else, trying to do justice to concepts written by other creative people, allows you to do things you wouldn’t always do. Furthermore, you get the chance to work with other artists--cinematographers, editors and others you hadn’t worked with before. It’s stimulating to work with talent that’s new to you.
Early in my career, I worked in commercials, did adventure sports projects, a series of surfing spots, longer-form storytelling with rally cars for Subaru. It was a great learning experience but at the time I didn’t realize exactly how much I had learned. It hit me when I was working on All Is Lost. A lot of the visual storytelling and narrative point of view in that film came from my different explorations years earlier going back to those commercials and action/adventure sports projects.
Working in commercials gives me some scheduling flexibility as well, a little more freedom to chose what and when I want to make my next film. But with that additional time, it would feel a little bit strange going a year or two not being on a set. Commercials will keep me active, offering a creative filmmaking experience that could help inform all my work, including features. I am drawn to the creative challenges that commercials and branded content can provide.
SHOOT: What drew you to RESET as your home for commercials and branded entertainment?
Chandor: First off, I had a wonderful amazing experience with my first filmmaking home, Washington Square films. Josh Blum, the executive producer there, was the first person to support me professionally in any type of meaningful way. His former head of production, Anna Gerb (a producer on Margin Call, All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year) is now working with me at my little feature production company. I still care so much about Josh and everyone at Washington Square.
Still, after A Most Violent Year, I was looking for a fresh start on the commercial side and RESET appealed to me. Everything that both David (Fincher) and Dave (Morrison) have done on the commercial and music video fronts has been so influential. In shorter form storytelling they were the guys who invented a lot of what I came up the industry admiring and looking at. Fincher for me was a huge draw. And Dave (Morrison) reached out to me. I remember him telling me he admired the chances I took on All Is Lost. I’ve always responded to people responding to my work for the right reasons. I see RESET as an exciting place to be, to build something special, to get the opportunity to show that I can excel in commercials and branded projects.
SHOOT: You touched upon how your early work in commercials and shorter form informed your feature filmmaking, specifically All Is Lost. On the flip side, what will your feature experience now allow you to bring back to the commercials and branded content projects you hope to do?
Chandor: We made three feature films in a relatively short period of time. I learned so much about working with actors and crews. My understanding and foundation of knowledge as to how to structure and communicate different messages and feelings is at such a stronger place than when I first did commercials and short films years ago. My instincts are stronger, my skillsets sharper, which makes you more confident and better able to bring the best out of those you work with.
DPs I’ve worked with through the years have gotten better as artists by shooting regularly, going back and forth between features, commercials and other different projects. I feel I’m just getting started in that respect, looking forward to working in different disciplines and having one experience inform the next. I’m looking for opportunities to stretch myself creatively. Some of the work being done in short-form storytelling is just great and I want to be part of that. Over the last six years I’ve started in the writing phase and worked my way through pre-production, shooting, editing and post on my features. In that process, you see what survives and what doesn’t. In the commercial and branded content world, I’ll get the chance to see that play out right before my eyes--but over a much shorter span of time. I’m hoping to do some commercial work this summer, I probably won’t be shooting a feature until late fall so there’s a window of opportunity (for spots and branded content).
SHOOT: Fill us in on your new feature development and production company.
Chandor: I’ve started a small production company with my two producers, Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb. We have a track record. Our three films have come in on budget and on time. Now we’re developing projects, some that need writers or that I am writing. We’re buying a couple of books. We’re starting to put a small slate of projects together. The last five or six years, I’ve been either shooting a movie, editing a movie, writing a movie or directing a movie. Now we’re taking some time to develop material--not just stuff for me to direct but other directors. We hope to help other filmmakers coming up. Neal and Anna are very talented producers and have a wide bandwidth. It’s humbling to be able to make movies for a living and to now hopefully help open up opportunities for others to as well.Category: Chat Room Interviews