Don’t be precious. When you’re trying to make your definitive masterpiece, you’re likely to psych yourself out, and your work is likely to be rigid and lifeless. Instead, just make stuff — and then make more. One of the best educations I ever went through was the “12 Films in 12 Weeks” project that I dreamed up with a few of my friends. By forcing ourselves to make a film every week for an entire summer, we removed the option of being perfectionists. We had to be loose and flexible, just to get the films done — and some of those films turned out to be pretty darn good.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Keith Boynton.
Filmmaker Keith Boynton, known for Seven Lovers (2014), The Now (2009) and Chasing Home (2012), tackles something different in THE SCOTTISH PLAY — out in December.
Starring Tina Benko (‘’Power Book III : Raising Canan’’), The Americans’ Peter Mark Kendall, Reacher’s Willie C. Carpenter, Geraint Wyn Davies (“Forever Knight”), Will Brill (“The Marvelous Mrs Maisell”), and Ali Ahn (“Billions”), comes the story of a young woman chasing love and the ghost of William Shakespeare. The film releases on digital December 6.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I had an idyllic childhood in small-town Connecticut, with a cartoonist mother, an Olympic-canoeist father, and three brilliant, hilarious siblings. I loved words and writing from a very young age, and much later (around ten years old) I fell in love with performing, too. A few years after that, I discovered the movies — and I’ve never looked back since!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was thirteen, I was staying with grandfather out in rural Maryland, and I was frankly kind of bored out of my mind. I picked up a book of Roger Ebert movie reviews, just looking for something to pass the time with — and I was instantly captivated by Ebert’s passion for movies, his knowledge of movies, and his belief that movies were art. I had never really taken the medium seriously before, and I suddenly realized that it could be taken very seriously — and still be a ton of fun. That, for me, was where it all started. It was another eight years before I made my first movie, but the seed was planted that day in Maryland.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
We were shooting at a motel in Evanston, Wyoming, and the owner of the motel pulled up on his tractor, clearly furious. We’d been shooting there for days, and we had the permission of the managers (his niece and her husband), but Uncle Gary had only just heard about it, and he was not happy. He wanted us off his property immediately.
I told him we only had one more short scene to do, and then we’d be gone. “How long do you need?” he asked — still in a very aggressive tone.
“About two hours,” I said.
“What?” he said.
“About two hours,” I said, more clearly.
“Come again?” he said.
“ABOUT TWO HOURS,” I told him, as loudly as I could.
He hesitated. “Well, you better make it a short two hours,” he said. And he climbed back on his tractor and left.
My friend Mike turned to me. “Holy shit, that was amazing! I can’t believe you got him to back down!”
“What do you mean?” I was honestly confused.
I had thought that Uncle Gary genuinely couldn’t hear me; that was why I’d repeated myself. It had never occurred to me that “What” and “Come again?” were macho challenges that were supposed to make me shake in my boots. It turned out I had just won an epic battle of wills — without actually realizing I was in one.
We finished the scene and hurried out of there.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
When I was working on my first movie, back in 2003, I met Paul Newman. He was scouting locations for Empire Falls, looking for an old mill by a river, and since my dad was the local river expert, he was enlisted to show Paul around. A couple of friends and I were allowed to come along, and we spent the afternoon with Paul and Joanne Woodward, driving around and showing them the sights. At the end of the day, he gave us $600 — on the explicit condition that $200 of it had to be spent on beer.
He was a great man.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It would have to be my parents, who have always been incredibly supportive and encouraging. My dad had an acting role in my first movie, and I asked him to grow out his beard for it, because he was playing kind of a scruffy paddler type. When we finished shooting his scenes, he asked me if he could shave off the beard — but I was reluctant to let him, in case we needed to do reshoots. So my dad wore a heavy beard for most of a long, hot summer, just because he was trying to help me. I’ll never forget that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.” — Goethe
Every project I’ve ever undertaken has been at best impetuous — and at worst, a really bad idea. But you’ve got to just do stuff; you can’t wait till you’re certain, or till you’re ready. You’ve got to throw yourself off the diving board and trust that you’ll figure out how to dive on the way down.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I mean, it’s a diverse world. People come from different backgrounds, they have different interests, they have different tastes, they like different kinds of stories. The more variety is out there, the more likely it is that you’ll find something that resonates with you. The good news is, there’s more content out there than ever, and it’s more accessible than ever. Whatever you’re looking for, you can probably find it — and if not, then you just have to make it yourself!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve just finished a draft of a horror screenplay called The Haunted Forest, based on an idea of my brother’s. I’ve also just started work on a new romantic fantasy novel, with the working title Woods and Wickedness. And my new feature film, The Winter House, starring Lili Taylor and François Arnaud, should be coming out sometime next year!
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
When it connects with people; when you can see it make an impact. During the sound mix for my movie Seven Lovers, the sound mixer’s mother wandered in and sat down. She had no knowledge of the movie, she had imperfect English, she had missed the first half — and the movie has an eccentric non-chronological structure, so it’s not the easiest thing to just walk in on. But about five minutes after she arrived, she started chuckling. And that’s when I knew that the movie would work.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It takes forever. Every movie I’ve made, I thought, “This is the one! This one will get into Sundance! This one will make my name!” And honestly, the first three or four weren’t even good enough — in retrospect — for me to want them to be widely seen. It’s good to have high hopes, but you can’t be too disappointed when things don’t pan out the way you expected. You’ve got to keep on trucking, on to the next project, and then the next. You have to be in it for the long haul.
- Making the movie is only the beginning. Filmmaking is hard, but the business of filmmaking is harder. Finding a place in the world for your movie is an enormous challenge, and it’s one I’m still struggling with. As much as I would love to just make the movie and trust that it’ll find its audience, that’s rarely the way it works.
- A good team is everything — but it doesn’t have to be the same team. I used to dream of having a core group of collaborators who would come with me from project to project — and for a while, I actually did work that way. But people change, and their needs change, and you can’t always have your “dream team” — and you’d be amazed how competent and inspiring the people you don’t know can be.
- Don’t be precious. When you’re trying to make your definitive masterpiece, you’re likely to psych yourself out, and your work is likely to be rigid and lifeless. Instead, just make stuff — and then make more. One of the best educations I ever went through was the “12 Films in 12 Weeks” project that I dreamed up with a few of my friends. By forcing ourselves to make a film every week for an entire summer, we removed the option of being perfectionists. We had to be loose and flexible, just to get the films done — and some of those films turned out to be pretty darn good.
- Enjoy the process.It’s easy to forget, but this stuff is supposed to be fun. Filmmaking can be stressful, sometimes agonizingly so — but if you’re not having more fun than not, you’re doing something wrong.
When you work on a film or music project, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
It’s gotta be the audience. Personal artistic vision is great, but if it’s not a vision that includes the audience, and the reactions you want from them, then you’re not really making a movie.
My fifth movie, Seven Lovers, was a real learning moment for me. It had this whole elaborate conceit: seven storylines, all with the same protagonist, all told in radically different filmmaking styles — including an animated segment and a black-and-white movie musical. It was such a great metaphor for the way we become different people in different relationships! It would show my mastery of the medium! It would be a tour de force of filmmaking!
But the audience doesn’t care if it’s a tour de force. They don’t care about your mastery of the medium — and they shouldn’t. They want to be told a story. The movie ended up working, but only because the fundamentals were there: a likable and slightly neurotic young woman has to choose between two charming, but different, men. The audience didn’t stay for all my artistic pyrotechnics; they stayed to see which of the two guys would “get the girl.”
The audience is always right. I believe that firmly. If they don’t get what you’re up to, that’s on you — and if they tell you what your work is really about, you should probably believe them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think a collaborative theater program for people in small towns could do wonders. Try to get participants of all ages, from all walks of life, and guide them through the process of creating something that feels personal for them.
People want hope, and they want to feel their voices matter. Art can help feed those needs — and it’s a great engine for empathy, too.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Keith Boynton: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.