Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The "Power" Within -- Interview with Ari Gold

by Jim Cirile

Who is Ari Gold? No, not that Ari Gold. This Ari Gold is a writer/filmmaker who, corny as it sounds, should be an inspiration to us all. Armed with little more than writing chops and a crazy premise, he cobbled together the hilarious ADVENTURES OF POWER, a delightfully daffy hero's journey about a dork who dreams of becoming a professional air drummer and pulls out all the stops to make it happen. Assembling a killer cast including Michael McKean ("This is Spinal Tap,") Adrian Grenier (who actually IS on "Entourage") and Jane Lynch ("Glee,") the film made it into Sundance, won a heap of awards on the festival circuit, and is now available on DVD and Netflix. It's charming, it's ridiculous, and it's brilliant. But most importantly, it shows what any of us can do if we seize the day and just decide we are going to make our movie, damn it, through sheer force of will. Visit the official web site and then play the game at airdrumbattle.com.

Jim Cirile (JC): Welcome, Ari. So wait, you don't look like the dude on "Entourage." I thought you were the dude on "Entourage." Who are you?

Ari Gold (AG): I was born in San Francisco and always wanted to be a writer. I did play air drums at a very young age and ultimately learned to play drums tolerably. I kind of saw my love of film and even my love of music as things that were out of reach or somehow other people were allowed to do but I wasn’t. (I started) writing stories and bits and pieces of a couple of different novels while I was growing up, (but) it took me awhile to realize that I didn’t like the solitary lifestyle and being alone, even though I liked telling stories. That’s what led me to start making short films and trying to get myself into filmmaking. I started making short films which took me to Sundance a bunch of times in a row, and then I kind of had enough credibility to try to put together a feature, and actually ADVENTURES OF POWER was the sixth feature that I tried to put together. I wrote a lot of screenplays before I had one that seemed to have a kind of, for me, a cross between crowd-pleasing storytelling and also ideas and emotions that I wanted to address in moviemaking. I (was) inspired by movies like BABE and REPO MAN because they take farfetched ideas and turn them into ways to look at spirituality and culture and love and everything that matters.

JC: Yeah, you even mention in your director's commentary that you sort of borrowed the structure of the film's third act from "Babe." They both do kind of have that blend of reality and fantasy.

AG: It’s a challenging thing to do that tonally, because some people walk into a comedy and they want it to be a bunch of jokes and increasing gross-out-ness, and maybe by the end one sentimental scene. I really wanted to ask the audience to buy into something that was absurd and fantastical but rooted in real emotion in a deeper way than a traditional comedy, or than a modern comedy. A traditional comedy – you go back to Chaplin and he was certainly doing that. I’m not saying that I’m doing it as well as Chaplin, but looking at the way that he would take comedy and make you cry by the end, and I thought, okay, I’m going to set the bar as high as I can and just try to do that.

JC: One thing I found kind of brave was that the main character, Power (portrayed by Gold,) well, we kind of snicker at him. He's a little bit of a doof. And yet despite that, we invest in him and his insane quest.

AG: Laughing gives you permission to do something deeper. I’ve actually written some far more serious stories, some of the things I wanted to make before I got Power off the ground, that were dealing with war, were dealing with violence, spiritual loss and homelessness. I wrote pretty serious, dark scripts in there, and telling a story about the underground railway of air drummers actually allowed me to address a bunch of these thingss -- even immigration and labor issues, family issues –- all this stuff that is very much a part of the story and yet it’s delivered in a package that’s completely absurd. For those that can go along for the ride and experience both, they love the movie, and for those who can’t, they’re either confused by it or they reject it because it doesn’t make sense to them.

JC: Talk about getting this film off the ground. You shot ADVENTURES OF POWER over the course of a year?

AG: Having had three short films at Sundance was very helpful because it gave me credibility. So I could say, whether it was to an investor or to an actor, okay, I know the summary says it’s about an air drummer/copper miner, but you should read a little further because I have some kind of a track record. But it still was a year of pounding the pavement before I started shooting. (This was made more difficult) because I wanted to shoot all over the country and really capture the feeling of the real America -- not do what one producer who we ended up parting ways with wanted to do, which was shoot it all in Los Angeles and the Valley. I really wanted to capture the southwestern copper town, a cross-country journey, (and) at least a version of Mexico. I wanted to capture downtrodden, post-industrial New Jersey as well on Power’s journey across the country, where he meets people who spiritually, politically, air-drummer-wise, who are on the same page as him, even if they may be an Indian immigrant in Newark, NJ, or a second-generation Italian-American. I finally had gotten clearance to shoot (the factory scenes) at a (Utah) coal plant after having looked for a long, long time, and having gotten rejected from a bunch of places because of political concerns of the owners of the various mines. I had enough money to shoot that section, and winter was coming in fast, so I thought okay, I’d better start this ball rolling now. I had no idea that I would be finishing the last shot thirteen months later. It was a really long year.

JC: So you kind of piecemealed the film together?

AG: There were four or five different shoots spread out over thirteen months. Generally I would shoot when I could with the actors that I had in the locations we had, and finish up a location – I shot everything I needed to shoot in the desert first, and then I shot everything I needed to shoot in Los Angeles, and then I shot in New Jersey, and then I shot in New York. I just made a few adjustments in the script to make sure that I would never have to bring an actor back for more than one shoot because when you’re shooting with a low budget and you don’t have money to really book an actor except by luck, and their schedule being free from real paying work – when there’s a window with Michael McKean or Jane Lynch where they have two weeks to shoot something, I knew I had to get everything all at once. Now, one of the advantages of playing Power in the movie myself is that because the shoot was stretched out over a long period of time and over this huge geographical area, I knew that the lead actor was always going to be there.

JC: Broken arm or not.

AG: Yes, I certainly wasn’t expecting to break my arm the night before what was going to be my last section of the shoot. That was really a tough experience. I had been putting together that last portion for months and months, finally had the money and finally had a crew together, and finally had clearances and the loading docks in New Jersey, and some pretty intense locations including one decommissioned factory in Brooklyn that was about to get torn down. I was ready to go... and then I broke my arm the night before the shoot. It was difficult. So what I had to do – I broke that shoot into two parts and because of this factory getting torn down that I already had booked for this week, while still on painkillers the morning after breaking my arm, went through what was going to be the final week’s shoot and cobbled together about three days that I could shoot even with a broken arm, and got all that stuff in the can, knowing that I would have to do one more short shoot when my arm healed and I had more money back together.

JC: The script is structurally solid and nails all the classical, mythological beats. Smartly done.

AG: Because I saw the epic hero tale told in the absurd (way), I really wanted to follow some of those rules. I’ve read a lot of Greek myths, a lot of Estonian and Latvian and Lithuanian myths. I like that structure and I think there’s a reason that human beings respond to it. The story led me to follow the model that’s been around for thousands of years. Even including several elements of what I guess you could call magical realism –- the Mexican guy who appears in two places, and leads Power to the underground railroad, he’s kind of a magical helper which appears a lot in mythology. A lot of stuff – Power’s call to action, which he rejects at first and then he’s forced to accept because he loses his job. Because I think the hero structure fit this story and because I knew it well enough that I didn’t have to refer to it while I was writing, I actually felt really free through it and I wrote the first draft very quickly. I spent many, many months editing it and revising it and strengthening the different beats after that, but that first draft really came out quickly and I let my brain go wherever it wanted to go.

This is one scene you've just gotta see.
JC: But seriously -- a movie about an air drummer?

AG: I really felt possessed when the idea came to me, like it had to come out, unlike the feeling that I'd had in some of my more sane scripts. I felt that I had something beautifully absurd and funny, and at the same time that there was this deeper metaphor inside the air drummer, making something out of nothing, and the spiritual and political story of that felt important to me. I really became kind of obsessed, where it was all I thought about. I had cooked around the idea of an air drummer, I had made a few little stunt videos, I had performed as Power at the air guitar competitions – there was a little cooking of the idea where I wasn’t taking it seriously, where I was just doing it for fun and it kind of happened in a flash where I suddenly thought, wait a minute, this character actually has something more and it’s not a Saturday Night Live skit. It all kind of happened quickly where I made these little short videos with the character that I’ve been putting on my YouTube channel now, actually, and I thought, okay, I think he’s from this copper mining town that I used to live in in my aunt’s basement. And that’s all I really drew, and I flew out to New Mexico to visit the town where I hadn’t really been in a few years thinking okay, well, maybe the copper mine is going on strike. When I got there, the day I arrived, the copper mine went on strike, and it was one of those incredibly strange experiences in life where seeing that happen, arriving in a tiny little town, and seeing people standing in the street with signs, families sleeping out in front of the mine with tents, which appears in the movie –- that image happening right before my eyes, it must have been 48 hours after I thought of it. It sort of felt like the universe saying this has to happen now, this is a story, this is something deeper, welcome to the next several years of my life.

JC: I have to mention for Rush fans, drummer Neal Peart not only appears as the judge in the final drum-off,  there is a terrific half-hour conversation with you two in the DVD extras, which by itself is worth the price of the DVD. So what's next for you, Ari? And where can people check out ADVENTURES OF POWER?

AG: I did a little job on United States of Tara, I’ve done music videos, and I’m having an alarming number of meetings with independent and more studio-connected producers about trying to get another movie off the ground. My hope is that whatever I do next will entertain what this film and all the shorts have, which is some respect for humanity and respect for the absurdity of life. That will probably be the common denominator, but hopefully I’ll have a salary, too. (laughs) The best thing people can do is go to adventuresofpower.com and click on the link and buy it on Amazon. There’s actually two hours of bonus features. It’s a very, very, packed-full-of-entertainment DVD. It is also available for rent on Netflix, although it’s not on streaming at this point. I think you can buy it on iTunes, but the DVD is awesome, and I hope people will buy it. At bare minimum, I hope people will go to adventuresofpower.com and check stuff out, look at the trailer, join my social media – I have all the usual social media. People can follow me, Facebook me, and all that stuff. Most importantly, this article you’re writing, probably 95% of the people who read it, this will be the only time they hear about this movie, so this is David vs. Goliath. Perhaps it beautifully matches the story that Power himself has nothing, and has to make do with nothing, so anyone curious enough to read it, I encourage you to check out the movie now, because you probably won’t be seeing it on a billboard anytime in the next couple of hundred years.

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Jery Rowan said...

Loved everything about the interview except AG's dvd pimpin'. Almost felt compelled to order one up to keep some little girl in France from starving.

Admin said...

Well hell, guy's gotta make a living...

Ari Gold said...

As the guy who was doing the pimping, I agree with the commenter. I do have to make a living. And that little girl in France will finally have some soup.