I met Benjamin Ironside Koppin in 2013 on the set of his indie horror feature, Made Me Do It, where I ruined a long handheld take by dropping the camera into my lap. Fortunately, he was cool about it, and we went on to collaborate on several other projects throughout the years.
The philosophy of his production company, Ironside Films, is simple: tell the stories we want to tell in the way we want to do it. Partnering with his wife Kristin, they work together to bust through limitations and manage expectations to make one feature film a year.
About Benjamin Ironside Koppin
From BenjaminKoppin.com: “Benjamin Ironside Koppin is an award winning writer and director. He has a passion for finding honesty and truth within the medium of film. He loves collaborating with actors, pushing each other to find what is authentic within each moment.
Since graduating from Biola University with a degree in Cinema & Media Arts, he has directed seven feature films (3 Documentaries and 4 Narratives). His documentary work informs how he approaches narrative features – often shooting his own work in order to have a more intimate relationship with his actors, pursuing beautiful mistakes instead of manufactured moments.”
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
- Room 104 (2017-2020)
- Jaws (1975)
- Apocalypse Now (1979)
- Suicide Squad (2016)
- Quentin Tarantino
- Michael Bay
- The Mandalorian (2019- )
- Steven Spielberg
- Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
- Avengers: Endgame (2019)
- My Dinner with Andre (1981)
- Tangerine (2015)
- Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez
- Robert Rodriguez
- Roger Corman
- Jason Blum
- Raging Bull (1980)
- Rocky (1976)
- Creed (2015)
- Warrior (2011)
- Good Time (2017)
- George A. Romero
- Simulation Theory (2019)
- The Mighty Ducks (1992)
- D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
- Heavyweights (1995)
- Signs (2002)
- Chariots of Fire (1981)
- Moonlight (2016)
Benjamin Ironside Koppin (BIK): My name is Benjamin Ironside Koppin. Uh, I have a production company called Ironside Films and basically we do, uh, started out doing commercials, uh, documentary work, that kind of stuff. And we’ve gradually moved into making indie features. And so we just try to pump them out. Uh, we kind of use the, the commercial side to pay our bills and then we just make these little small indie movies and we’re able to kind of tell the stories we want to tell and the way that we want to do it as opposed to relying on someone else to, to fund them or help make them, we just make small character pieces and that’s kind of our goal.
Chris Martin (CM): That’s awesome. And I love that goal so much because that seems to be the, the model of most independent companies right now, of using commercial work to fund everything else that they want to do.
BIK: Absolutely. And it’s one of these things that like, I don’t know, you’re seeing, like you hear the, the, the whole thing where it’s, you’re either making a Marvel movie at this point that’s, you know, a couple hundred million dollars or you’re making like the low budget, no budget films. There’s nothing in the middle these days, you know what I mean?
CM: And, and what do you do with that as, as a, as a producer because as someone who loves film, you know, you, you want to hope that there’s some upward trajectory that your career is progressing to without having to, like, “Indiana Jones” the chasm to find the grail.
BIK: Right, exactly. I feel like, uh, my wife, uh, who’s my producing partner, she said to me one time, uh, you know, we’ve, we’ve been busting out these features, the goal is to do, uh, to basically make one feature film a year. And that could be a small one. I mean, it could be shot on iPhone, or it could be shot on a red. It could be big crew, small crew, but one feature film a year. Uh, and my wife said to me, one time, she’s like, “well, what if we never break in? Like, what if we never like get there?” Uh, and I told her, I was like, well, I think, I think we’re looking at the wrong way, the fact that like, we’re making one film a year and we’re able to do it, however we want to do it, like, that’s getting there, like that’s breaking in. And it’s like, yeah, you need to be a little more careful with the stories you tell. But, but sometimes taking inventory of the friends that you have that’ll work for free or for cheap and the locations of resources you have for free or cheap. And then building the story from that, kind of like, I always say, like build the sandbox first out of what you have and then find the stories that interest you within that sandbox of what you have, because it’s, it’s endless, man. You could have a whole, like, what is it, the Duplass brothers, I think have a show called, it’s like, Room 104 or something like that.
CM: Yeah. Something like that.
BIK: Yeah. It all takes place in a hotel room and it’s just different stories in one hotel room. And so some are sci-fi, some are drama, some are romance, all the stories you can tell in a hotel room, it’s just, it’s incredible. You know? So that’s kinda my mentality.
CM: That’s a great mentality and all the stories that you don’t want to tell in a hotel room as well.
BIK: Yeah, yeah, exactly. A hundred percent, a hundred percent, man.
CM: There’s something to be said, too, about limitations because in the absence of big budget, you know, the limitations almost become ever more present and ever more real. And that’s where creativity really kicks in, I think.
BIK: Dude, a hundred percent, I always go back to, uh, like, two of my favorite movies are like Jaws and Apocalypse Now. And it’s, like, those movies were a disaster. Like, when making them, do you know what I mean? It’s like, they were absolutely a disaster and they turned out to be like two of the great, in my opinion, two of the greatest movies of all time. And I’m constantly on our films being, like, okay, the shark is not working. What is the other angle that we go for it at? You know? And even if we just, uh, you know, we shot a film, we were hoping to raise like $250,000 to make it, um, it’s called Pastor’s Kid and we did not raise, uh, close to that. And so we had this scene that we shot that was supposed to kind of be this little mini stunt, right, and since we didn’t have a stunt double, couldn’t afford a stunt team, uh, you know, we’re just, we’re trying to make it work as best we can, uh, we, we do the best we can with this little stunt. I get back to editing, I’m just like, shoot, dude. Like this is not working. And, and you could tell, you know what I mean? It’s like, I’d say the movie as a whole was at like a 7 or an 8 out of 10? And then you get to the scene and you’re like 2, you know, 2 out of 10, it’s bad, it’s bringing it down. And so we rewrote the scene and went back and shot a different way where it wasn’t a stunt. It was something different just with a different location that we had. Cause it was like, you know, we’re in post and we’re like, okay, the movie is great. And then this, this bit happens and it takes it down. We need to change the story or tweak the scene to be something else and just, dude, just having open hands and just being open-minded to, to things like that. That’s like, Oh, if this little thing that I was really stuck on, when writing it, we couldn’t afford to do, let’s not do it. And let’s, let’s make something that’s going to look better and up to production value. So it’s like, you know, don’t be trying to make Lord of the Rings on a $10 budget. Right. You know, so.
CM: Exactly that’s already been done, both the $10 budget and the $10 billion.
BIK: Yeah, exactly. Oh man. But dude, even I’ve been, no joke, I’ve been rewatching Lord of the Rings, uh, just with everything going on in the world, I needed some hope. And uh, and, dude, when you study The Two Towers and The Return of the King, they like miss so much when they originally went to film and had to go back so many times to reshoot things and those films are amazing. You would never know it. You know what I mean?
CM: Well, like reshoots, aren’t the death knell of a, of a production. It just means that, you know, you got more to get, unless they really tanked it. That’s, that’s a whole nother topic, a whole nother conversation.
BIK: Unless you’re Suicide Squad or something like that.
CM: I’m laughing as you’re describing this reshoot and, and kind of reframing how you come at the scene because I’m, I’m flashing back to a moment when you were filming, Made Me Do It, and there was the, the axe blow to the chest, a practical effect. And I remember just, you know, all of the, the plastic goes down on the ground to protect everything, the camera’s protected, you know, you’re like “live axe on set” and you’re doing all this stuff. And then, then I just remember the thud of the axe hitting the ground and you feel it. And then you just hear “hit it again, hit it again” because it didn’t have the effect that you wanted it. I just, that, that moment to me just kind of sums up what you’re talking about and just like you have these expectations and it doesn’t work out like you want it to.
BIK: Dude, it never does. You know what I mean? It’s like, what you have in your head is, unless you have a ton of money to do it. But I would say even still that way, it’s like the goal of collaboration, too, is like, that’ll hopefully be better. But then you get those moments with an axe where you’re just like, okay, that didn’t do what we needed to do. We need to like capture more, you know what I mean? And it’s, it’s almost like, what do they say? They say shooting a film or being on set, it’s a battle against time. And that’s where it’s like, in that time, you need to get as much as you can, because I found like when you get into the editing room, that one take that you’re like, “Oh, that was the one, that was the one I know it was”, and then you watch through it or you’re building a scene, you’re like, “Oh, shoot, we needed that to be bigger or we need that to be subtler”. And so that’s why it’s like when collecting on set, being able to improvise and, kind of, kind of play and not being afraid, that’s like, “This is the exact way I needed it to be this exact way”, but being like, “Hey, let’s capture three or four different versions of this because in the editing room we might need it to do something else”. So it’s kind of like a, it’s a battle with ego sometimes where you’re just like, like no joke, we just shot a feature, uh, this year, it actually during Covid.
BIK: And I had the actor down to walk through some of the takes. And I remember we filmed kind of this last moment of desperation for him. And he did these two takes that were like really, really big, right. Uh, kind of like punched a wall and screaming and mad and angry. And I was, as I was filming and I was like, you need to internalize, it needs to be more internal. And so he, like, he did a last take that was more subtle. And I was like, “for sure, that take is the take”. And then as you’re watching through the footage sure enough, I was like, “I don’t think that last subtle one is it because it doesn’t show the desperation as much as the more physical take showed”. Um, and so that has to be me being like, okay, like he brought something that I wasn’t seeing. And thankfully he was willing to do an option my way, but I’m so glad I have both of those options to play with in post.
CM: Yeah. Well, and what a great learning opportunity as the director to, to expand for the next time, when do you come into a scene and you’re like, you know, should this be small or big? And, and you kind of have that, that freedom to try both.
BIK: Yep. And I think like something, I feel like I’ve been learning is, you know, the actor and this is going to sound so silly maybe, but the actor is 95% always right when it comes to, seriously, cause they have mulled over these scenes so much as a character to try to feel like how, how to make it honest and how to make it work. And so it’s that collaboration of like being willing to like, get rid of your ego and say, let’s try it your way and let’s try it my way. Let’s, let’s play with it on both sides or listen to them. I, a good example on Pastor’s Kid, we had this one moment where, uh, where our character, it was a very simple, small interaction within the film and we lit it. We spent like a couple hours lighting this, like, garage where she’s dropping off, she’s like delivering drugs, right?
CM: Like the pastor’s kids do.
BIK: There you go, as pastor’s kids do. And, uh, and so she like knocks on this garage door and opens up. She goes in and delivers the drugs and I’m talking with my gaffer and we’re like, okay, if the garage door is down, right, like, then they can have this conversation. We can light it well, it’s going to look better, let’s do it. So, so we spend a couple of hours lighting this garage to make it look good. We start doing the scene and the energy in the scene just feels awful. It just feels so stunted. Um, we knew where we’re supposed to be in the film, it’s supposed to be a little more quick pace and it just felt slow. And just, I don’t know, the relationships weren’t working. And so I came up to the actors and I was like, what do we do, what’s going wrong here? What are we not feeling? And she’s like, “I just don’t think I’d like, come in and sit down and have a conversation. It would be like, I come in, drop off the drugs, we have a little quick convo and ditch”. And I’m like, okay, well, let’s lift the garage halfway up and just shoot it with the garage door light instead of using all these lights that we have. So we simply lift the garage door halfway up and we turn off all these lights we spent hours setting up and we shoot the scene and she leaves and it’s perfect. And you’re just over here, like, man, I just wasted half a day or whatever, trying to light the stupid garage to do the scene this way, where I should have, I should have collaborated with them in the first place and been like what, energy feels right for what you need to deliver here. So it’s a, it’s a tricky balance, but, dude, the more that you can collaborate with the actors, I feel like the better products turn out in the end.
CM: And does collaboration come naturally to you? Or is it something that you constantly have to learn, like in that moment with, in the garage?
BIK: Yeah, dude, I think it’s a complete learning process. I know, I feel like you see younger, and I, I work as a cinematographer a lot on commercials and you’ll work with these younger directors who think they’re the next, like, Quentin Tarantino or Michael Bay. And they’re like, like no joke, I have horror stories of people being like, “don’t roll until I tell you to roll, don’t talk to the actor, don’t blah blah blah!” And it’s like, “sir, I’m just trying to tell them where their mark is”, but it’s like, uh, it’s insecurity, you know, it’s this insecurity that’s like, I’m the dictator director, I’m the one who says how the ship goes, and there’s very little, you know, what angle would be the best for this or as an actor, where do you feel like falling would feel real and honest. And so I think that’s a big thing, it’s constantly a fight against ego. I always tell my actors and everyone we work with that we’re going, it’s play–when we go shoot a movie, it’s going back to play. And how when you were a little kid, you had action figures and you had Wolverine fighting Superman. It’s back to that kind of play. Like when I was a kid with my brother with the VHS camera and there was no expectations and you’re just goofing around in the backyard. It’s like, you have to get back to that kind of mentality instead of it being, I need to get these shots to make a bazillion dollars and make the next Transformers. You know what I mean?
CM: That’s interesting too, because I love that you kind of rewind the tape to the days of when you’re making films with your brother and the VHS camera. Cause it, it speaks to not only the simpler time, but just the, where the origin story of you, the director comes from.
BIK: Yeah, dude, a hundred percent. It was basically, I found my dad’s VHS camera, he’d shoot Christmas and stuff on it. And then, uh, we were going through our closet, his closet or something, and we found this old lambskin jacket. And uh, and we created this character secret mailman. It was kind of an Austin Powers rip off. And it was me rolling around in my underwear, uh, with this lambskin jacket. And there you go. That’s the beginning of filmmaking, but dude, dude, do you remember, like, the way you would edit back in the day was you’d like hook the camera up, to like a VCR and every cut would be like stopping and recording on the VCR. Like the footage you taped. Do you remember that?
CM: I do. Yeah. When I went to art school and we learned, uh, video editing, we had the two decks and you had the control track and you know, it was linear editing and that was a pain.
BIK: Dude, these little young, little jerks, these little filmmaker jerks who can shoot a movie on their iPhone and then they airdrop it to their computer instantly and can edit it. It’s like, dude, do you remember having to rewind the tape? You’d have to rewind it and then import the whole thing. Just playing straight, right?
CM: Like FireWire, Mini DV capture.
BIK: So bad. So bad. So if you shot five hours, you were importing for five hours. It’s just crazy.
CM: And hoping it was in sync still.
BIK: Exactly, all the frame rate stuff. Anyway, we could nerd out. It was awful. Awful, but great, good learning experience.
CM: Yeah. So where, where do you, like, who were your heroes that said, this is the way forward, this the way in “Mandalorian speak”?
BIK: Dude, I don’t know. I did this little, um, homework assignment, just this last, uh, last summer where I, I don’t know. I had never heard anyone say to do it, but I wanted to write down, like if I was stranded on an island, what were 10 movies that I would want to have? Yeah, that would be the only movies I could watch for the rest of my life. I just kind of wanted to see what would shake out and dude, a lot of early Spielberg, like Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and, sorta like, uh, like Star Wars in there, those classics. Dude, Indiana Jones, I know it was it for me where I was like, I’m going to be an archeologist and punch a Nazi when I grow up. Like, that was the goal. And then I learned that archeologists don’t actually get to punch Nazis. So I was like, well, who made the movie of the archeologist punching the Nazis? I want to do that. And, uh, that was the main inspiration, dude, but uh, early Spielberg, it’s crazy how many of his were on my list. They just forget, like, I don’t know how he churned these things, like I just don’t know. I such a young filmmaker, he had the hand of blessing on him or something, man, cause it’s amazing.
CM: What’s interesting about that as is, it’s always fun going back and looking at the early careers of, of mega stars like Spielberg, because you do see, not only that hand of blessing, but I think you also see just how devoted to the crafty one and how driven he was to tell these stories. And also the collaborators that he had.
BIK: Yeah, I always go back to, Jaws is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s like top, top two, three on my list. And uh, and I always go back to that scene of, of all three of them in the middle of the boat. And they tell the, the Indianapolis story about the sharks attacking Quinn. And, dude, when you do your homework on that, it’s phenomenal where like, I guess he was drunk the first day when doing it and so he was all over the place. And so he came to Spielberg and he’s, the next day, and he’s like, “can we please run that scene again–I’m straight, not drunk anymore. And I want to, like, run the lines.” And so they did it that way. And the final film is a mixture of the drunk version and the real version. And so just, I mean, do you know what I mean, just to be able to be like, okay, I’m going to pivot and just own this like drunk guy, like rambling. It’s exactly what we need for the scene. And that scene in that movie is still like one of my favorite scenes of all time. And for that to be in this like, “B level”, like, monster movie is just insane, it elevates the whole thing.
CM: It speaks to his willingness to say, “yeah, let’s run it again”.
BIK: Yup. Yup. And trusting that he was going to go back in and do it. It’s just every time you go back, I just rewatched Jaws again this summer with a friend and you, and you’re just like, this does not look like a movie that had so much production trouble, you know what I mean? And that, I think just shows the caliber of filmmaker Steven Spielberg was where he, he could find ways to pivot and fill time that felt like they were supposed to be there and not just, you know, made up, improvised on the spot.
CM: One of the things that fascinates me and, and I would probably lump Spielberg into this category, but people who can see the finished film in their head and they’re constantly moving toward that vision that they have. Is that something that you possess?
BIK: I want to say yes, but, uh, but I feel like every time I do that, I’m, like, let down when we’re in production by it, like, not living up to what was in my head. And so a process for me has been just releasing and being like, you know, let’s go collect what we want to collect. Almost the, um, like, Apocalypse Now, like citing that reference where it’s like, let’s go collect and, and I’ve heard this phrase where it’s, uh, was it turning your face to the divine light, uh, where it’s like, you’re seeking this divine light you’re seeking when, when the actors are on point, when the camera’s on point, when everything feels honest and true, it’s like, I’m more interested in seeking that on the day on a set instead of being, like, uh, Oh, this is exactly how the camera needs to be with exact lighting and exact push because, and even, dude, even with lines on a script, like sometimes the actor saying the lines, how you wrote them is wrong for the scene. It’s not the most honest thing for the scene. And so you have to be willing to say, okay, like let’s, let’s do it. Yeah, like my whole strategy is let’s do it a couple ways how it’s written and then let’s throw everything out the window. And so it’s like that way we have the beats that we need, the actors–it gives them time to kind of run through and be like, okay, my character starts at this point, then goes here and then leaves this way. And so then when you just say, throw it out the window, improvise it, they know the, the, the flow of the scene and they can figure out what feels honest to them instead of, you know what I mean? I, I think sometimes, uh, oh my gosh, I talked to a director one time who was a little more arrogant and he writes his films. I mean, I’m not saying I’m not arrogant–I’m sure I am in my own way.
CM: We all are.
BIK: Yes, a little more entitled in some degrees, and, uh, he said he was working with actors and he’s like, “and they were, they were saying the lines, it just didn’t feel real. And I turned to him and just said, can you just sound like a real person? Is it that hard?” And I’m just like, well, bro, like, I don’t know if your words sound like a robot that you’ve written then yeah, it’s hard for them to do that. And so that’s where, and I’m sure I’ve done it absolutely, and I will probably continue to do the exact same thing in certain ways. But when I heard that, I was like, Oh man, that’s I got to get rid of that ego and, and help them find the honesty in the scene because no actor wants to give a bad performance. No actor wants to go to a premiere of their movie and they look like a B-level, you know, Hallmark actor, like, you know, they want to feel like, they want, they want to find the truth in the moment. And so that’s more what I’m seeking than a perfect, a perfect product in the end, I guess.
CM: I like that a lot. I like the search for the perfect moment and I’m laughing cause I kind of think about that David Lynch meme of do it again, but do it better. And it’s just like, you know, as, as a director, you know, how do you really bring out the best of the person that you’re with? It’s whatever they need in that moment.
BIK: Yup. Yup, exactly. And, like, even before we jump into a shoot, I usually do a FaceTime or meet with our actors and talk through like, Hey, if we’re running a scene and it doesn’t feel right, I’m going to yell cut. And I even tell them don’t be offended if I do that. But if we’re running a scene and it’s not feeling honest to you, you let me know, too. I was like, because there’s no point in us wasting a time when it’s a battle against time on a set if it’s not feeling truthful to us. Um, and so I try to really empower them that, uh, that we’re searching for truth. And I think especially in the indie film world, I think what stands out to me is performance over, over cinematography, over story, like performance and character are number one, um, over plot. And, uh, and that may sound a little silly, but, uh, but there’s so many friends of mine and people that I know that I’ll go to their screenings of their movies. And, uh, and you know, I always say, you know within the first five minutes what you’re in for and, uh, and you can have a really awesome opening, it looks great. And then the first time the actor speaks, you go, Oh, okay, this isn’t, this isn’t that–this is a Lifetime movie. And, and not that there’s anything, I’m not, I’m not trying to badmouth Lifetime movies. I think every film has a genre and a purpose and an audience. I’m not trying to badmouth those at all. But when you know that a director is trying to go for something deeper or more honest, and, uh, and you can just tell that it’s like, Oh, so, okay, so this is the level to set the film at for the rest of the film. And again, not that that’s, uh, not that that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying that’s not what I am seeking to tell. And so, you know, it’s like trying to figure out how to avoid some of those stumbling blocks, which I, I feel like on Made Me Do It, there were areas that I fell into that, uh, my first feature as well. So I hope no one feels like I’m badmouthing anything cause I, I definitely fall into these things all the time.
CM: Well, I, I don’t think it’s, uh, badmouthing anything. I think it’s just, is it we’re confusing where we need to learn and we’re confusing where we’re at. So thinking that we need to deliver at three levels above where we actually are as opposed to doing your best in the moment and pushing yourself when applicable.
BIK: Yeah, and I always say like, this is what’s nuts, and I just heard a Soderbergh quote that was actually very similar. Um, but I always say every movie comes back to two people sitting in a room, having a conversation in some degree, and it can be the biggest superhero franchises of all time. I remember we went to go see Avengers: Endgame. And, uh, the first act of that films is after they’re, you know, they’re grieving all their friends and all this stuff, spoilers, sorry, everybody. But, uh, but there’s a moment where Captain America and Black Widow literally just, like, stand and have a conversation for a long while about their grieving and what they’re going through. And I was just like, sure enough, there it is guys. Like every movie comes back to two people having a conversation. And so, like, you know, we’ve had a couple of interns and that’s something I’ve actually told them. I was, I was like, stop trying to make John Wick 4 and get two people sitting in a room, having a conversation and make it feel real and authentic and honest because once you get that down, then you can figure out and play with the bigger stuff. But until you’ve got that, like, honesty of two people just having conversation, I feel like you’re going to struggle with performance.
CM: Try to make My Dinner with Andre as opposed to John Wick 4.
BIK: Yeah. Or even like, I go back to was it Tangerine shot on the iPhone, it’s like, you know, not really much plot, not really much story, but character and performance and try it. It’s more like a feel and a mood that they were capturing. And I feel like that’s the area that’s better to error on than, you know, trying to pull off something big and then everything feels weak cause you don’t have, honestly, you don’t have time to really dig into the performances because you’re trying to get, you know, the action sequence or the stunt, like what we had, you know.
CM: It’s interesting. I love the idea that your, your goal is to make one feature a year. How do you bring in the whole concept of leveling up as, as a director, as a collaborator, as a storyteller?
BIK: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t, I honestly, like, I’ve had some friends be like, do you want to try to get, uh, you know, some B-level actors in this one or some TV actors and what’s hard is, I don’t know the moment you start to do that, there’s all these, uh, like when you study SAG rules and some of this other stuff. My wife, Kristen is great at all that, but there starts to become, you see this little tiny budget that you have all of a sudden balloon into this big thing where it’s like, Oh, now we need a trailer, now we needed this, now we need–they want their own makeup artist who’s this amount by day, you know? And so for me, I’ve just tried to be good about keeping things small and being okay to kind of like live in that sandbox. And I hope my best film is still ahead of me. That’s kind of, one of my goals is, you know, to keep making these things that if you would look at my films, you could easily see me growing as a filmmaker. And I just trust that at some point, if we continue to produce these films in this way, uh, hopefully someone will like them and we’ll be able to level up, uh, at that point when we can have a bigger budget, you know, it’s like we’re dealing in the, uh, the less than a hundred thousand dollar, you know, arena. And some of them, like, we just shot this feature last year, that was this boxing film, this boxing kind of crime thriller. And it, and it all happened because we’d worked with this actor on two films, and he’s amazing. And I kept keeping him in my mind and then I got on Instagram and he was part of this stunt gym up in L.A. where they owned this like boxing ring and all this stunt stuff, right?
BIK: And I messaged him and was like, dude, when are we doing a boxing movie? And, uh, and he messaged back and he’s like, he’s like, man, I’m down to do a short or anything, whenever you wanna do it. And I’m like, no, not a short, like a feature. And so for about six months, we kind of collaborated on ideas and then finally he messaged me and he was like, Hey, like we’re switching locations so we’re only going to have this location for like a couple more weeks, you know, are we going to do this or not? And so I just showed up, we filmed for one night and shot some footage. And then, uh, and then we develop the story a little bit more. Then a couple of months later, he’s like, Hey, I’m living in this house, I’ve got a roommate who’s an actor. This is when Covid had hit. I have this, you know, roommate, who’s also an actor. Can we just shoot in this house? He’s like, I’m leaving in a couple of months. I’m moving out of this house so let’s shoot it out. And so, sure enough, like we, we, we wrote an outline for it. And then I worked through and, like, wrote pages for those scenes and developed the characters and then I would just go up and we would, we’d shoot out the whole movie, like basically be like, okay, in this house, we need you guys to go through this kind of relationship. And so we’d film all those beats and then know that we have these other little, you know, tick marks on our outline that we need to hit, uh, down the line at other locations. So it’s, it was constantly like, Hey, we have this location, let’s do it. We have this location, let’s do it. And then as you start to incorporate, people are like, man, we need a warehouse, like shoot this like boxing scene. Right. You know, cause since we lost the gym and the new actors, like, dude, I work for company that hasn’t warehouse. I could ask if we can use it for free. And so we literally shot this feature for something like $2,000, if not a little bit less, like it was like food for actors, gas. And that was, that was about it.
CM: Wow. I’m, I’m flashing back to, what was it, Rebel with the Crew, Rodriguez’s first book.
BIK: One hundred percent, man, I love like Rodriguez’s mindset. I love, like, I worked in horror for like, uh, like five or six years. So like Roger Corman, uh, his whole way of like, they would have a castle set and they would be shooting one movie during the daytime and one movie all at night time. And it’d be two different movies shooting in the same castle set, you know, because he’s busting out these films or even like, um, what is it like Blumhouse, Blumhouse pictures. Like, I feel like they’re kind of the new Roger Corman. They bust things out and that’s kind of, my mentality is like, you know, don’t have ego with it, build the story in editing–we’re going to shift things anyways. I always say like budget, like three days of pickups just in case you’re editing and you find that you miss something, that’s the way we kind of go about it.
CM: That’s awesome. And, and visually speaking, I mean, let’s take the idea of a boxing film. Do you have what’s been done in the past, in your mind, are you thinking about things that you’ve seen like at Raging Bull or are you thinking about new ways to tell this story?
BIK: That was the thing is I feel like going into it, uh we’re like we don’t want to redo Rocky because Rocky has been done. Uh, we can’t redo Creed cause Creed was amazing. You know, it’s like, you kind of go through all these–Warrior, we really liked the tone of Warrior, but we didn’t want to copy that. Um, so we kinda like, our pitch was kind of like, I would say a mixture of, like, Good Time and probably Warrior was kind of the balance we were trying to create where there’s a little bit of like action thriller in there. Um, but then we had the Black Lives Matter protests happen, uh, you know, all throughout the country and the city and everything going on with that. And we had originally talked about, like, there are these characters from the south that are basically like hiding in L.A. after they did something bad. And uh, and so we developed like, how do we kind of, like with the things that we’re feeling and what we’re going through, put some of that into the story and discuss some of this racial stuff, especially with these characters coming from the south, you know, what can we, can we play with and discuss? And that, that we didn’t want to be like the racial boxing movie, but we’re like, Oh, Hey, if there could be some of these undertones that we’re all feeling right now because the film takes place during like Covid and everything that’s been going down last year, I was like, I feel like we need to mention it. And so we were able to develop some of these relationships and uh, in a way that revealed maybe some of these racist roots within their family and them trying to overcome some of that. So that’s kind of like a way that like, as we’re working on it, the actor, Sam and I, we had many phone calls where we’re just, like, dude, we’re feeling this, like we’re feeling what’s going on this year. And we want to like, you know, not that, like, our little boxing movie is going to change the world, but how do we, how do we address it in the art that we’re creating in a way that doesn’t feel forced or like, we’re, we’re trying to use it in any way, but just to have a little subtle conversation, I don’t know. Hopefully it speaks to people and doesn’t feel like, uh, like it’s forced, but yeah, as a being, a kind of growing thing as we’re going, that’s where I hope it kind of finds its own voice, I guess.
CM: I like how you described that, too, because that’s the power of movies is to speak into the times. So, you know, you mentioned Apocalypse Now, you know, and even, you know, Star Wars and those things, those are those in a way are commentaries on what was going on in the time that they were made and what they were railing against in terms of societal ills and studio things and, and all that stuff. So it’s like, that is the power of film beyond just making billions of dollars, you know, to allow us to escape into a whole nother realm of our imagination.
BIK: Or even feel it kind of have this, like I always go back to, was it, uh, George Romero and the Night of the Living Dead series where you had Night, Dawn and Day and you know, basically each decade and he’s commentating on what’s going on in the world, you know, through these films. Uh, and I feel like that’s kind of like, even, dude, we have a thriller we shot, uh, probably a year ago, two years ago, something like that, called Killer Prophet. And, uh, it’s basically this Black author that, uh, that is writing this book about the end of days and he starts having visions of it, you know? And, uh, and there’s these scenes where he’s kind of like, um, we filmed it in my garage, funny enough. And he’s like, he’s handcuffed and it’s black and white and kind of grimy and nasty. And, uh, and dude, after, uh, after some of the shootings that happened, I was working on the sound mix and I was watching through it and I’m just like, dude, this hurts, like this feels like a punch in the gut. And, and again, for me, I hope that that film, uh, it deals kind of with, I don’t want to spoil too much, but with people trying to take advantage of people with different gifts that happens to be this person with these gifts, you know, is a, is a Black character. And so something that like wasn’t intended to necessarily speak to that discussion now, all of a sudden it feels very relevant with what’s going on. So I, I hope that it speaks that even, dude, it’s crazy, like in the film, you know, it’s dealing with kind of this, this, uh, this outbreak that happens that takes down half of the world. No, seriously, it was, it was crazy. And I’m doing the score, you know, giving notes on score just at like in March when Covid is happening and then into Black Lives Matter happening. And you’re just like, this is crazy, that the fact that movie is about like a prophet seeing the future, and then all this is happening. I’m just like, this is bonkers, man. But, uh, but that’s where I hope that it can speak into some that without it exploiting those topics, you know what I’m saying?
CM: I do. And it reminds me, I love it when art that is produced before a moment in time happens ends up speaking into that moment. I’m thinking of the concert film by the band, Muse, it’s called Simulation Theory. And it’s, it’s all about this virus in a sense. And it’s in 2019 that they did this and I’m, we’re watching, uh, my wife and I, we were watching this film and we’re just like, wow, you know, like how, you know, it’s affecting the world and how people are responding. I’m like, when did this come out? And it’s, it’s just amazing what art can do.
BIK: A hundred percent man. And I think even like for me, a big thing for us, like as we’ve been seeing all this stuff happen is it’s a very simple thing, but trying to tell stories of people of color and just being intentional about, you know, a character, you don’t need to write it as like a Black character or a white character or a Hispanic character. It’s like, write characters how you write characters and then just open up instead of saying, Oh, this character has to be a white dude or this dude, it’s like open it up and find who is the most talented and be seeking people that, you know, people of color to be in, in your projects and films. Because I guess for me, I feel like representation is such a huge thing. Like my son’s favorite superhero is Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and I’m just, like, it took way too long to get us like a Spider-Man of color. It took way too long for Black Panther to come out. And the small role, I feel like I can play, I’m not going to change the world, but the small role that I can play is just being intentional about like, Oh my gosh, I’ve, I’ve had so many, like, Hispanic actor friends say the only roles I get offered are the gang member, you know, or, you know, the same with like a Black character is, you know, the basketball guy, you know, it’s just like all these, like, very, um, I don’t know, cliche roles for these actors. And it’s like, well, how do we, how do we be intentional about just creating diversity within our films? So it’s, I just think it’s a very simple thing that can be done. That makes a big impact when a kid or someone can sit and watch a movie and see someone that looks like them.
CM: For sure. And one of the things that I appreciate about that is like, I think recently I read, instead of trying to change the world, start with yourself. And I think when, when you’re able to bring in these characters and, and show even like your son a different way, and your son sees these things, you’re creating that new world in, in your family, in yourself.
BIK: Dude, right, a hundred percent. I, and I go back to, like, I was adding it up and I’m, like, my son, my white blonde haired, blue eyed son, right, he’s got Han solo, he’s got Luke Skywalker, he’s got Batman, he’s got Superman, he’s got Woody, he’s got Buzz, he’s got the Incredibles, you know? It’s like, you can list off all of these characters that he can look up to and see himself on the screen and it just is sad. I feel like when you look at the opposites, um, that there just isn’t as much like where, and not that you need to make the Black Indiana Jones, but I’m just saying like where are those characters that how I was inspired by Indiana Jones, why are we not just making an effort to try to diversify in again, in a very simple, subtle way. I think it can make a lot of, a lot of difference.
CM: Diversity is interesting because I’ve been watching a lot of 80s and 90s films and it, it seems like you go back and you watch 80s and 90s films and like the diversity is striking.
CM: There’s so much diversity then. I mean, what do you think happened?
BIK: I have no idea. Dude, I was watching, uh, when I edit sometimes, I just put on movies in the background, I watched through Mighty Ducks, all three of the old movies. And, dude, the diversity within that cast, or even like, uh, like Heavyweights back in the day. It’s like, there were these movies that like, as a kid, I was looking up to these, like these Black and Hispanic characters in these, like, sports movies, you know what I mean? Um, even, like, what is it that, there’s the Asian kid in the second one who was like the really fast skater and I don’t know, he does the twirls and all that stuff and I thought he was like the coolest kid in the entire world. Uh, I don’t know, man. I don’t know. It’s, it’s kinda sad to see, like, I feel like it’s gotten worse in, what, the early 2000s to now it’s, it’s become this thing where instead of it just being normal to have a diverse cast, it’s either not diverse or like really pushing like that side of an agenda in some way instead of, like, I don’t know, like even talking to our lead actor on Killer Prophet, it’s like, you don’t need to write a Black character, like, speaking, this is gonna sound really silly, but like speaking, like, Ebonics or whatever it’s like or saying in a certain way. You can write a Black character how you would write any character. You can write a Hispanic character how you would write any character. I don’t know, as a white writer and as a white person, even just talking to other friends of mine who are white that are in the industry, I think there’s this fear of, like, well, if I write a character of color, I don’t want to offend that group by messing it up so I’m just not going to do it, I’m not going to touch it instead of trying to, like, educate yourself or simply just say, I’m going to leave the race blank and whoever’s the best actor will fit into that because it doesn’t have to matter in this case.
CM: It’s almost like you’re able to trace the outline of what it can be and let the actor fill in the important details that you as a white writer never could.
BIK: Exactly, exactly. It’s just being open-handed with that. I think it goes back to that collaboration aspect is like, let them, exactly, let them fill in the blanks how they feel like they need to fill in the blanks. Like, what’s interesting too, is like with Killer Prophet, as I was writing it, the way we broke up the movie shooting was very, very interesting. It was, we shot like this post-apocalyptic kind of flash forward stuff. Um, my parents were looking at selling their house in Indiana, the house I was raised in and they had like an acre of woods in the back and they were talking about selling it. And so me and my family actually went back for Christmas and we stayed a month and I was like, well, if you guys are thinking about selling the house, I’ve always wanted to shoot a movie here so could I shoot a movie? And they said, yes and so, uh, so we, we cast some Indiana actors and shot this post-apocalyptic stuff, uh, kind of in our house and, you know, taped up the, you know, all the plastic hanging and all this stuff as if it was like a quarantined kind of home. And we basically shot all of these kind of flash forwards, uh, in the film that this, this, you know, prophet is basically seeing. And so we shot that stuff and then I edited those, then built the rest of the story around them ’cause I, I didn’t know what we were doing. And, and so we basically built a story around that. And then we shot for a week in Joshua Tree out here with just a handful of actors and basically filled in the rest of the pieces. But yeah, man, it was one of those things that like we had actors, the best actors that audition in Indiana happened to be Black actors and, uh, and so that set the tone for the rest of the film, um, because then you’re dealing with the younger versions of those characters essentially.
CM: Wow. That’s super cool.
BIK: Dude, it’s fun, man.
CM: One of the interesting things about you is that you produce films with your wife. What’s that like?
BIK: Dude, it’s one of those things it’s like, it’s pretty amazing. It’s, it’s pretty great. I feel like, uh, you know, we, we were in film school together and I used to get like, so, uh “attitudy” before a shoot, I used to get all like uptight and irritable and uh, and she basically just flat out, said like, Hey, if this, if this attitude doesn’t change, like I’m not going to be on your sets anymore. And I’m like, I’m like, Oh, okay. And so that was just really helpful in like, I feel like she is constantly like helping battle the ego and not worry about stuff. Like, even as far as like, you know, we shot a film, I say probably two years ago now that we’ve been, we’re wrapping up sound on at this point. But, uh, I was like, Aw, man, like if I could just get like three or four more shooting days, I feel like I could fix this little section. And she’s like, Nope, she’s like you get two days or a day and a half and then finish it up and get it out the door. She’s like do better on the next one. And I’m like, okay. And like, that’s it like, is this thing that’s like, because she is more of the like, uh, you know, kind of numbers person and very factual, she’s not the creative type. She’s able to be like, dude, we shot this. It is what it is. You had this amount of days, get it out the door, quit, quit griping about it. And, uh, it’s very helpful I think, to, to battle some of that, those insecurities, that pop up as a filmmaker. She co-wrote Pastor’s Kid with me. It’s a, uh, it’s a story of a female pastor’s kid. And, uh, and kind of her growing up with a lot of hypocrisy in her life, uh, basically alcoholic mother and then this little, you know, she had an alcoholic mother, she had to basically raise her little brother herself and her, her mom becomes a Christian and then becomes a pastor. And so everyone praises her mom as being this a redemption story, you know and, uh, and no one’s like seeing her pain and what she went through as a kid. So now you have this mom that, you know, was like out all hours of the night, coming home drunk telling their high school daughter, Hey, you can’t go out past six. You know? And just the struggle that happens is based on a true story of a friend of mine that actually I worked at a church with, and, uh, and just her struggle of, of kind of diving deep into pushing away family, pushing away God, pushing away everybody. And, uh, as you’re writing it, I am well aware that I am not a girl and I’m not a female that can speak into that voice, a woman, sorry, I’m not a woman. And so I would do a draft of the script and she’d go through and work on the dialogue with me. And she’s like, yeah, she sounds really mean here and this sounds like how a dude would talk and she would help, like, as we’d go, it was really developing the character and who this, who this lady was and what she was going through and what she was feeling. It honestly spoke so much into it even as like a producer on set, I love that she’ll come up to me ’cause I usually shoot my own films, I’m the cinematographer on my own films so she’ll be on the monitor and she’ll come up to me and be like, Hey, did you feel like you got this, maybe hit that one one more time. And she’s just kind of a, a great second pair of eyes that I can trust that she’s going to be. She’s going to be critical, but also help find solutions.
CM: I like the way that you described her as almost the counterbalance to you and, and what you would naturally do. And she kind of provides the limits that you need imposed upon you.
BIK: No, a hundred percent dude. That’s I feel like her role, even in preproduction, she handles all the sag stuff. She handles all the budgeting. And so, you know, I go out with these crazy ideas and she’ll be like, we need to whittle these areas down to fit into what we’re doing.
CM: Oh, that’s cool.
BIK: It’s just so helpful as a collaborator, man. It’s I always talk about like, and I think, you know, early on, I struggled with this, I think every creative does is they’re trying to find their voice, but it’s, you’ve got to really protect the creative team that you allow into your process because everyone has an agenda and everybody has their own ego and everyone has a goal of what they want to do. And so that can sometimes like taint the project a bit if you’re allowing voices into the project and listening to them, because sometimes you don’t know who to listen to, right? Sometimes you don’t know like, Hey, am I seeing this wrong? Is my gut incorrect? Or do I fight this battle and continue in this direction? Um, and so you want to trust the people that you allow into that creative circle. And she’s one of those that like, you know, the, the way that Pastor’s Kid happened is essentially like, I’ve been so tired of Christian movies sucking and I’m so tired, like, and you know, some are okay, I know they have a place just how everything has a place, but I’m so tired of any story of faith feels be so cliche. Um, it just feels kind of hokey, it’s usually the Christian is the hero and the atheist is the evil villain, you know, that looks like the devil. And, uh, and it just, isn’t honest and true. And, and so my whole life I’ve really wrestled with that because I’ve been a Christian for essentially my whole life. And not that movies need to be blunt, but I, I don’t know. I look back to even movies like Signs back in the day or Chariots of Fire or these movies that had elements of faith that, like, it wasn’t about trying to convert or push an agenda. It would just, Oh, character happened to have faith and that was part of the story. I remember my wife and I, we sat down and we watched the movie Moonlight, the best picture winner a few years ago. And what I loved about Moonlight was it’s the story of this gay Black kid from Florida that couldn’t be any more, you know, poor kid that couldn’t be any more different than me, right, as like a white kid, middle-class kid raised in the Midwest, like very different. And yet, somehow I connected with that character. I felt everything they were feeling and I never felt like, you know, it’s him coming to terms with his sexuality or learning his sexuality and owning it in a way. And I was like, this is a film about a homosexual kid finding a sexual identity. And in no way, did I feel like it was propaganda. No way did I ever feel like it was pushing an agenda or trying to convert anyone’s way of thinking. It was simply, this is this kid’s story and we’re in it. And we’re following him through, through his journey and it’s going to be as honest as possible. And when I saw that, I was like, this is what we need to do for a film about faith, is like, we need to take this as a blueprint is it’s not about converting people. It’s not about, you know, trying to push an agenda. It’s about telling it in this honest way. And we actually met with some Christian producers that had done some, some pretty decent stuff and I pitched it to them and, uh, and they go, Oh, that’ll never work. That’ll never work. They’re like, you need to sell a book with it, it needs to be PG, it needs to have, like, every, basically everything against what I just said, it needs to be, you know, have a movement behind it, whether it’s like anti-abortion or pro-marriage or whatever–they had all these things they listed off. And I walked away so discouraged. And, uh, and I called up my wife actually right after the meeting and I said, what do we do? Like, do we just sell out and like, make one of these films because they wanted to work with me as a director. And she goes, no, she’s like, no, we’re gonna do it our way. We’re not, we’re not gonna worry about them. We’re gonna forget about them and we’re going to do it our way. And, uh, and that’s been something that this whole project to kind of making just an honest film about faith. I don’t even like to call it a Christian film, but you know, you could label that if that’s how you want to do it. Um, but just something honest about faith the whole time she has spearheaded, like do it your way and if it fails that at least we did the way we felt like we need to do it. And yeah, I call it the Christian film nobody wants. Dude, it’s crazy because my whole, my whole pitch an idea is like everyone in this country, I would argue has had a bad run in with a Christian in some regards, you know? And that’s, that’s the truth. And so, uh, at least I believe it is. And so I think our film can hopefully speak into that, of this girl who has, you know, kind of this hypocritical upbringing and faith and her trying to find what she believes on her own.
CM: That’s awesome.
BIKL: It was a long winded answer. Sorry, buddy.
CM: Long-winded answers are the best, but uh, where can people learn more about your films, what you’re working on, find links to buy them?
BIK: Ironside films. What are we? Ironside films.tv, I believe is our website. And then if you just look up, uh, Ironside films on Facebook, that’s where we post a lot of our stuff. We have four films, uh, that we’re in final sound mix on right now. And so my hope is to release them all this year. But, uh, but we’ll see. It’s, it’s crazy. It’s a crazy world we live in so we’ll see what gets done.