Talking about music, let’s go to your soundtrack. I love how you tie in Biggie Smalls; it’s great watching Luke discover him.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Ready to Die. For me that was always in the script and very important. Biggie to me is like listening to Bob Dylan. It’s stuff you don’t hear in rap – he’s very vulnerable and very confessional. He’s got a song called Suicidal Thoughts – he’s not fucking around, he’s serious.
Which was unheard of. I don’t know if people today realize how big that was at the time -
Even today it’s unheard of. It’s so vulnerable and so much of rap is about bluster and about guns and hos and how much you’re getting laid and how great your rhymes are. And yes, that’s in Biggie too – if he was just Suicidal Thoughts it would be too depressing! But it’s really progressive. Nas does it to a certain extent. I really like Jay-Z – he’s not as lax as a lot of people are. Meth does it, Wu-Tang does it, but nobody did it like Biggie.
Who do you like today? I feel like hip hop today is like rock in the 70s – it’s a lot of new dudes who are still around, who are sort of doing it, there are a lot of new dudes who aren’t that great, and then there’s some interesting underground stuff that might go somewhere.
I don’t really have a good answer to that question that wouldn’t ruin my street cred because I just stopped listening. Lupe Fiasco I listen to once in a while, Jay-Z and Kanye West are good at what they do. It’s just been marginalized – the sophisticated stuff is different from the popular stuff, where it used to be one and the same. Now A Tribe Called Quest would be underground. It’s just like everything, as it becomes more influenced by money and corporations it all gets put in a box and it gets harder to do anything artful or creative.
Isn’t it kind of nutty that it’s been 30 years since hip hop was born and there are still people saying ‘That’s just noise,’ or ‘You’re a white guy who listens to hip hop?’ That seems to me the most insane…
But what if that’s me now? I’m complaining…
You’re the old man now.
‘Kids today! Their music isn’t like 1994!’ It’s come a long way and achieved a lot of credibility, but a lot of the music today undermines that credibility too, because it’s just not about anything. It’s like trying to make a case for Britney Spears. Which I have no intention of doing.
So your next film won’t be about your days in the dance clubs in the late 90s?
No, but I’d love to make a movie using all Britney Spears songs. Wouldn’t that be cool? As a joke I guess… Like I’m Not There but with Britney Spears.
You have the horror film, you have the coming of age film, you’re writing a psychedelic spy thriller – is this the career, jumping around from genre to genre?
I guess. The next decision I make I’m postponing because I’m not really there yet, and it’s much harder. Once I made Mandy I knew I wanted to do something from my heart. Now that I liked The Wackness so much and liked how it turned out, it makes the next decision so much harder. Hopefully I’ll write something that turns out good and just do it. But I don’t have any sort of plan.
So it’s just whatever catches your fancy?
I’ve started to realize I want to write something. I’ve been reading a lot of scripts – a lot of good scripts – but I think I want to write something. I’m just very disillusioned.
Is that how you want to be, always writing your own stuff?
Not necessarily. If I read something better than I can write, I’ll do it. It just depends. Right now I’m getting all coming of age movies. I’m just disillusioned. I want to go up more in budget, too – and who wouldn’t? You get more money, more days… But I did two in three years, so I’m kind of tired.
A little time off.
A little time off and then I get into writing. But even a day like this is totally exhausting.
A lot of our readers will, unfortunately, never have a chance to see The Wackness in theaters – we have a lot of people reading from outside of the major cities where the indie films play. So for them it’s all about the DVD. Do you have any plans for the DVD release?
We have a lot of deleted scenes, because I cut like an hour out of the fucking movie.
Really? What did you lose?
Unfortunately we lost a lot of good stuff, some good subplots. We cut a couple of things with Famke [Janssen], we lost a couple of Shapiro’s fantasies – there’s one orgy scene. That party scene at the beginning where he’s looking down at all his classmates, it turns into this Satyricon-like orgy. That’s cool. But hopefully they’ll get to see it [in theaters].
The problem is the small markets – if you’re living two hours outside of a big city, this will just never get to you. All they get is Iron Man.
It’s such a bummer. If you’re in LA, you don’t realize that the rest of the country…
I live in LA now and I grew up in New York City, so my whole life has been like this. Across the country, especially in these rural and suburban community, they only get the blockbusters. A lot of the smaller films I champion I don’t get responses on until they’re on DVD and people write to thank me for turning them on to a movie.
That’s cool too. Seeing it on DVD is cool too. Some of my best memories are in college coming home at night and popping in Reservoir Dogs.
You have a tough slot this year, as an indie film going up against the big guys in the summer.
I feel pretty good. I mean, I’m totally terrified, but I think myself as a filmgoer I’m aready sick of big films. The week we get to most people will be a week or two after July 4th, and I’m hoping there’s some blockbuster fatigue. As much as many movies this summer look pretty good, a couple more Indiana Joneses and we’ll be psyched for… I mean, I saw Once last year instead of Die Hard fucking 4.
That’s a good example of a movie that a lot of my readers ended up only being able to see on DVD.
I don’t know a lot about this stuff, but hopefully it’ll find an audience because, of our Sundance class, we’re the first ones out. As much as those other movies, like Choke and American Teen and Hamlet 2 are great, I like that we’re the first out of the box.
How was the Sundance experience?
I don’t know. It’s intense. That’s the only way to describe it. By the end, when we won the audience award and we found distribution and all that stuff, it was thrilling. But at the beginning, you’re in this condo – and everybody is sick, first of all.
I know. Every human being in Park City is sick that week.
Everyone is dying. You can’t just focus on ‘Do you people like my movie?’ you have to focus on ‘Will they buy it,’ ‘Did you get a call from this person?’ It’s intense, man. And to be honest, that whole time people were telling you why they’re not going to pay this much [for it]. You’re getting a lot of feedback that is negative. You don’t go to Sundance with a movie as a piece of commerce – that’s not what Sundance is for, it’s for independent spirit and independent films. The only time you can negate the commerce aspect is when you can talk to people who have seen your movie, or when you’re sitting in a theater with people seeing your movie. And unfortunately, 99 percent of the time when your movie screens, you’re dealing with other bullshit. But that’s my fault, too. I have to ignore that.
The Audience Award is like the coolest one, because it means it connected with people.
It’s awesome. It’s great. It’s what it’s all about. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would get it. I kept waiting for a shitty screening and it didn’t happen. The end of that experience was very cathartic and a release. By the end of the week, when I knew there was nothing else to worry about… The character in the movie is very similar to me, I’m very neurotic about stuff and I was very much focused on negative things, and once I realized there was nothing negative to focus on, we had fun.
Are you getting big budget directing offers or are you still in the Sundance group?
I don’t know. I think within a certain type of movie I could definitely make a big jump, which I don’t know if I want to do. But if it’s something similar to what I’ve done before, yes, I’d be able to go bigger.
Would you do a comic book movie?
What do you like?
That’s the thing, all the good ones are gone. I’m really into Marvel and most of the cool Marvel ones are done.
But they’re hiring cool people. They’re not just hiring action hacks, they’re hiring good people.
I think they’re doing really good. They have Matthew Vaughn on Thor -
He’s off. It’s open!
Thor is really boring to me. The most excited I was when I thought they were going to do Fantastic Four set in the sixties.
So who’s your favorite character?
Iron Man. My comic book phase ended right around Secret Wars II. It was all Marvel guys. Avengers I would love to do. When Sam Jackson came out at the end of Iron Man – I was so fucking excited!
At this point I had already eaten up almost 40 minutes of Levine’s day, so I bid adieu. I will say that after the tape recorder was off he mentioned that his agents wanted him to take meetings about a certain Marvel property that would be so up his alley it got me incredibly excited when he told me. He wasn’t familiar with the property, as it was after his time, but I told him to take that meeting. Who knows, maybe we’ll hear something about it some day.