Director Jared Cohn has been through the Hollywood trenches and achieved his lifelong dream on the other side. With fifty films to his name and credits alongside greats like Bruce Willis and William Shatner, Jared has seen the good and bad of Hollywood, and he lays it all bare as he recounts his journey as a director. Fifty Movies Made is packed with stories of Jared’s behind-the-scenes adventures, his missteps, and the grit and determination it takes to make it in Hollywood.
For newcomers to the insanely competitive film industry, Jared shares hard-learned lessons that can help aspiring filmmakers find success. All facets of the moviemaking process—from screenwriting and preproduction to production, post-production and distribution—are discussed in this easy-to-read and digestible book.
Jared stopped by to chat with us about putting the book together and his thoughts on the film industry.
When did the whole idea for the book come about with you?
It was weird, I had directed around 40-something movies, and then at some point, I just started saying when people asked, that I made about 50 movies and I said that a few times. I love reading books about filmmakers and movie titles are always coming to me. I look at a street sign and I’ll be like “that could be cool”. So, 50 Movies Made actually just came to me as an interesting title and then I thought that would probably be a book. Then it just progressed into well, if I did write a book entitled 50 Movies Made about my experiences making all these movies, what would that look like? I’ll give a shout out to Alex Ferrari for his book called Rise of the Filmtrepreneur where he talks about why he wrote his book and led to his success doing other things. So yeah, I kind of took a play out of that book and I’m hopefully contributing something to the literary world of indie filmmaking,
Is the writing process for you different with a book compared to writing a script?
Yeah, it was a lot longer and had a lot more rewrites. I thought about it. At one point I had written so many pages of this monstrosity in an earlier draft and I remember looking at the word count. I also looked at the word count of a script that I was also writing and I was talking to my girlfriend and said “I think I wrote the equivalent of about 20 scripts in a row”. That’s how fried my brain is and it was true based on the word count and the time spent. It was basically like, “Okay, I’m gonna write 20 screenplays” but completely different, because I’m also writing non-fiction. I don’t have to worry about plot or character; I’m just writing stuff but I’m not outlining anything; it’s all coming from my brain.
It’s the opposite of script-writing. It’s tell don’t see, in this case where you can go into as much detail as you like…
Exactly! Actually, one of my editors said I need to write a little more descriptive because this isn’t a screenplay so I had to describe more things. One of the passes I made on the book was to make it read less like a screenplay just because my style of writing has been so affected by saying minimal stuff like “the walls are brown” or “the guy’s got holes in his clothes” and then dialogue.
You’ve got a nice foreword in your book from the founder of The Asylum, David Michael Latt. What is The Asylum like to work with?
Oh my god, shout out to The Asylum because they’re killing it right now; they are so successful as a film company and they’ve been doing it for 25 years. They just had their 25-year celebration; I wish I was there but I had to be somewhere. Not many film companies have been in business for 25 years making their own movies and selling their own movies acting like a full movie studio. The only thing I can say about them is that they’re geniuses and it’s great working for them. They put me on the map and I would be nowhere without them. The movie Born Bad, which was one of my first movies (my first with a real budget) that I directed, they did that and David Michael Latt wrote a great foreword in the book, and I’m super happy he was able to do that for me. He’s great to work with but I’ll say this, if you’re a first-time filmmaker, and you get an opportunity to direct a movie for The Asylum, he’s gonna be on you. It’s a different story when you’ve directed seven or eight movies and you know what not to do, but when you make the mistakes, David Latt is not afraid to email you in all caps and I’ve been on the receiving end of that, and it’s not fun, but it makes you a better filmmaker.
Speaking of which, you actually discussed in your book your approach to directing changing from an emotional approach with the actors to giving them step by step actions. Can tell us a bit about that and does it still change from film to film?
It changes actor to actor. It’s so weird, maybe I’ll create a fill-out form to give to an actor before I even speak to them and just say do you prefer that I A) speak to you about everything and go into detail? B) speak to you a little bit, but mostly let you do what you want? or C) completely leave you alone?
I need to know how that actor likes to be worked with because they’re not necessarily going to tell you that and you’re just gonna have to introduce yourself and sometimes that can even be a thing because anything can be a thing because they’re actors. The bigger the star, the bigger the ego so sometimes the thing could be weird especially when I’m dealing with a star; if I’m dealing with someone that’s not a star, I’ll feel a little more comfortable saying “Hey, I’m Jared, I’m the director of this film” and so on. But if it’s a big star, and they’re like, “Alright Jared, we’re gonna walk you to the trailer and we’re going to open the door on the trailer, and they’re gonna open it and I’m just giving you a heads up on what they might say, or how they might react”.
The rules of basic human interaction now are discussed because this person is a star and that’s just how it has to be. That’s a little weird, but I get it, a star is a star and not all of them are like that. Some of them are super cool but yeah, I’ve been through it. I’ve been through the crazies, but I can manage the crazy, it’s not difficult. You just have to be pretty understanding and just be like “Okay, this guy may be clearly bonkers” but that doesn’t matter; they’re still a great actor and they still have value especially with foreign sales. So, you need them to be in the movie; my job as director is to get a performance, to get something out of it. That’s it. I’m not here to make friends and go to a horse race with him the day after. We’re here to do this job together. I know, I’m gonna be cool about it. That’s another thing. Be cool with me, some people do and some people will be uncool for no reason because that’s who they are. They don’t like me, I’m directing the movie and they don’t want to do the movie. They need the money, or whatever the case is and just hypothetically, it’s a job for them. This is a job for them and it’s no longer fun for them. Maybe their star has faded on this kind of person and they show up a little grumpy, disgruntled or whatever.
For me, maybe I’m excited because, “oh, it’s this person. Yeah, I love this person!” then you meet them and they disappoint you. They say “don’t meet your heroes” and that’s happened to me so many times. At this stage I’m like let’s rock and roll; we want to get in, we want to get out, we want to get paid, and we want to go home. As long they feel that you understand and respect that it’ll make life easy. It’s all about making life easier otherwise, you’re gonna be dealing with a lot of problems. You also want to like doing the work and make sure it’s good but you’re not going to be able to get the good work out if someone’s in a grumpy mood. You may get lucky and they might take it out on their performance. You might get some volatile performance that otherwise you might not get. That’s usually not the case, but at the same time, you can still achieve that being nice and cool.
You also mentioned about incorporating yourself and your lived experience into writing scripts. Do you still like to incorporate yourself today when writing or was that more when you were starting out?
It’s just a great little screenwriter hack and you should do it. I think even if you’re not an actor, if you’re writing the lead or maybe it’s not the lead role, because the lead role is usually the straight and narrow. We’re all complicated people so maybe make it the friend or the bad guy. I like to be the bad guy sometimes; I’ll write my name, where I’m Detective Cohn or Jaren Cohn and it feels weird. When you’re writing a script, and you start to write a role, and you put your name as a placeholder thinking “I want to play this role”. I did that because I really wanted to play this role. Then you start coming up with cooler dialogue and you start using more of your brain for that character. It’s almost like a little hack I use. I certainly am not going to say I invented it but you’d be surprised because it’s now this great role and now I want to play the role. Then you realize that you wrote a better role and that what has happened is other actors will respond to that role. Additionally, people want to play that role and I guess I wrote it more interesting, because I wanted originally to play it. I’ve used that device before multiple times and it always works because I want to do cool stuff.
The hardest part of this industry is getting a star actor to agree to your project because if you have the money, it’s a lot easier, let me just preface that then you can just make cash offers, and you don’t have to worry about this. It’s so basic, the higher the level the actor, the better the script has to be for them to be attracted to the role like that. That is like 101 but it’s actually true unless you can just pay an obscene amount of money. Just overpay which is fine and that’s it; that’s a strategy. You may have a script that you’re determined to shoot, and that script’s fine. Let’s say that script is a 6 out of 10. The superstars pass on it, the 9 out of 10 guys but if you overpay, if you come in with an offer for a guy that has the value, the agent is probably going to be a little bit more prickly particularly where you would think they would be nicer. But now, it’s a cash play and they’re trying to convince their client to do it. You’re basically telling the agent, “I’m willing to overpay to get your client into the movie”. They’ll be on your team and they’ll try to do it sometimes and sometimes they’re not. That’s part of the game and you have to overpay. Let’s say Scott Adkins, I love Scott and he’s done a lot of these action movies. I don’t know Scott Atkins, but he just did fucking John Wick so he’s on his way but I’m saying maybe Scott Adkins a year ago before he got John Wick thought “dammit, I’m tired of playing the same guy who beats people up and has a gun in the poster. I want to do something more”. He’s probably turned down a lot and if your script is a shoot ’em up you’re probably going to have to overpay him. It’s hard for actors to turn down a lot of money, in fact it’s hard for everybody to turn down a lot of money even if you don’t think it’s a great script.
You’ve also discussed the whole film school debate in the book as well. At this stage do you think it’s a good idea, or do you think it’s just really up to the individual?
Man, the answer is kind of fucked up, because I would say “if I knew what I knew now”, but I also went to film school so I’ll never really be able to know the true answer. If I came out to LA and I wanted to act, write and direct then maybe film school may have sped things up. I don’t know. I’ve been doing this shit for over 20 years, so I give that a lot of thought. I run these hypothetical situations like, was my goal met? I’m about 10 years off my goal. I made a 5–10-year plan. Let’s just say I’m talking about the 10-year plan of where I want to be. There are still things I want to be, like getting signed with one of the top five agencies like William Morris Endeavor, CAA, Gersh, UTA, ICM or Paradigm and that’s still not the case. 20 something years ago, I made that list. Here I am now 21 years later looking at the 10 year list and not all the boxes are checked. A lot of them are. Did Film School play a part? Hard to say.
Shout out to New York Institute of Technology, but I’ll tell you why I’m a little disappointed. They shut down the film program. My film school where I went to college pulled the plug which was not cool. I wish I was Michael Bay and I’d write a check. I’d reopen the film school and call it the Jared Cohn School (laughs) but right now we’re shutdown.
Do you ever sit back and think “I’ve done all right?” You’ve worked with some amazing people over the years…
I’ve done alright; there are a few things up in the air right now. You want to feel successful about the things you’ve done, and I’ve done a lot of things. I’ll tell you what, there’s a misconception, I’m very much in the grind and the book talks about that very much that I’m not over; I plan to do a lot more in the next few years. I want to impose my vision in regards to film and other things.
What would you like the readers to take away from your book?
They’re gonna get a sense of the reality of the industry, and I think people that are in the industry and have been and are living it will like it and appreciate it, because it’s actually talking about the reality. I think the people that aren’t in it are gonna be like, “Wow, this is really real, let me maybe think twice about donating my life and youth to the pursuit of the film business”. I’m not saying it’s glamorized, but it is a little bit. It might give pause and that’s not the intent. It’s like, if your friend comes to you and says they want to become a professional singer. They want to become a pop star and they’re saying that very seriously, you would look at them like, “you’re a little fucking nuts”. You realize that’s probably not gonna happen, so there’s a lot of people in the film business where that’s their business plan. So, this book is a little bit of reality on the page.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today and all the best with the book.
Yeah, I’m glad we spoke today, man. Thank you. Let me shout out to you and to the awesome Schwarzenegger poster behind you!
You can buy Jared’s new book at Amazon here: Amazon.com and Jared’s new film The Getback just premiered on TUBI, so be sure to check it out as it’s a fun throwback to classic old-school buddy pictures.