The Talk Show

21: Looper, with Rian Johnson and Adam Lisagor


00:00:00   My favorite sentence I saw written about it was Anthony Lane's review in The New Yorker.

00:00:04   And just what, just the sentence that got me. It just said, "What happens if you hit you in the face and take off?"

00:00:09   I'd be pissed.

00:00:11   I think I would, yeah. I can't really land a punch, I think.

00:00:16   I've never really tried, so I guess I'd be okay.

00:00:19   I am here in, what do we call it, Sandwich Studios?

00:00:24   Sure, well, yeah, I've never, I've never come up with a name for it.

00:00:27   Well, I'm, I...

00:00:28   I am Lee studios here in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

00:00:33   It is a 24th of October and I've got two very special guests with me.

00:00:38   Um, I have Ryan Johnson, writer and director of looper, smash hit time,

00:00:45   travel, sci-fi movie, uh, and friend of the show, longtime friend of the show.

00:00:51   Adam Lee score.

00:00:52   I will, I should point out, I think also upfront is that I've warned all of you on

00:00:56   previous episodes that you were to have seen Looper by now. The show will be very spoilerific.

00:01:02   You should queue it up on your iPod to listen to later if you haven't seen the movie.

00:01:07   And shame on you for not having seen it already.

00:01:08   Alan: Who has an iPod anymore?

00:01:10   Steve: Well, iPhone, I don't know.

00:01:11   Steve (off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera,

00:01:12   off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera,

00:01:13   off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera,

00:01:14   off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera,

00:01:15   off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera, off camera,

00:01:16   that's got that much capacity.

00:01:21   So, boom.

00:01:24   Oh, okay.

00:01:25   I didn't, all right.

00:01:26   Well, what are you going to say?

00:01:28   What are you going to say to that?

00:01:30   What are you going to say?

00:01:31   I have nothing to say except iCloud.

00:01:32   Well, but that's what I say.

00:01:35   That's my retort.

00:01:37   You know, finally, now.

00:01:38   iCloud has a 25,000 song limit,

00:01:38   and for someone with the music collection

00:01:40   as studly as mine, that actually presents a problem.

00:01:42   You do love music, and this is something

00:01:45   I wanted to actually ask about as well

00:01:44   in relation to the... So it's been how long now since the movie came out?

00:01:49   It's been like three, four weeks now.

00:01:56   And you've done quite a number of interviews and press for it.

00:01:58   And I've tried to absorb all of it.

00:02:03   I mean, just because I wanted to not talk about stuff that you've talked about.

00:02:07   It's impossible though. That's the thing.

00:02:10   there's only so many things you can ask about a movie.

00:02:13   It's true, but there are a million facets of the process of making the movie.

00:02:18   I think.

00:02:19   Do you like talking about that?

00:02:21   I would love this.

00:02:21   I gather you do because I listened to your commentary.

00:02:24   And I can get a sense for what you like talking about because you didn't have

00:02:29   anybody prompting you.

00:02:31   You just had your movie to respond to.

00:02:33   You're so naked before you.

00:02:35   I'm excited about this.

00:02:36   To be fair, we are naked right now.

00:02:38   That is true.

00:02:40   as one of the advantages.

00:02:41   - Pre-requisite of sandwich studios.

00:02:44   - It's kind of where it gets its name.

00:02:45   - Yeah, it's like--

00:02:46   - I don't know what that means.

00:02:48   - Yeah.

00:02:48   Well, that's a good place to start though,

00:02:52   is one of the things that you've done.

00:02:53   And I don't know if it is unprecedented.

00:02:56   I don't know if you've stolen the idea from somebody else,

00:02:58   but you have issued a, what would you call it?

00:03:02   A commentary track.

00:03:03   Standalone, and the intention is,

00:03:05   the movie is obviously it's still in theaters.

00:03:06   It's not out, it's not for the DVD,

00:03:08   it's not for the Blu-ray.

00:03:10   intention is you load it up on your iPod, Adam, take it in the theater for the second

00:03:16   time you watch the movie, you sit there with your headphones on and you've got writer/director

00:03:20   Rian Johnson talking to you throughout the movie like you're watching a DVD with commentary.

00:03:26   Adam: It's pretty great and I listen to it without the movie.

00:03:31   Thanks man. No, I mean like as I saw...

00:03:35   This is a battle.

00:03:38   Okay, I have to explain myself. I went back and saw the movie a second

00:03:43   time and I wanted to take notes during it so I didn't want two sources of

00:03:47   information

00:03:48   competing. And then I went home after I watched the movie and I put

00:03:53   the commentary on by itself without the movie.

00:03:56   And it challenged me to do something I didn't expect I would be

00:04:01   doing which is trying to recreate the movie in my head as you talk through it.

00:04:05   Which with a visually strong movie like this is easier to do because it's not wall-to-wall

00:04:12   dialogue and long takes and everything.

00:04:15   It's like a lot of really well composed stuff which is what you do.

00:04:22   So I want to get back to the commentary stuff as well but I wanted to first, I wanted to

00:04:30   out by congratulating you on something I thought was even more impressive by than the in theater

00:04:37   commentary which is that on opening night of the movie you did something that was I

00:04:47   found so impressive and it was that in LA here we have a theater, a movie theater that's

00:04:54   the best theater in town is called the Arc Light.

00:04:56   It's got stadium seating and you can reserve your seat and everything and always go for

00:05:00   row, Jay.

00:05:02   Fred Johnson.

00:05:04   Yeah.

00:05:05   Yeah.

00:05:06   And the ushers are, they all wear these kind of embarrassing purple banded collar, short

00:05:13   sleeve button-up shirts.

00:05:18   And I've always wanted to find one of these shirts to be at Halloween.

00:05:22   I now have one in my closet.

00:05:24   Okay.

00:05:25   I would love to borrow it.

00:05:26   Thank you for offering.

00:05:28   And so what you did is you, without giving up the gag, you posed, oh, and these ushers

00:05:37   introduced the movie.

00:05:38   Every single screening of a movie, they go out in front of the audience and say, "Thank

00:05:41   you for coming to the ArcLight.

00:05:42   You're going to be watching such and such movie.

00:05:45   Please silence your cell phones."

00:05:46   And Ryan did this in front of an unexpected audience and one of your friends got in on

00:05:52   video and it was amazing.

00:05:53   amazing. It was a pretty impressive and I don't know how many people knew that it

00:05:57   was you.

00:05:58   Not many, I don't think. That's one of the nice things. Nobody knows what directors

00:06:01   look like. So there were a couple of people who snickered, but I, yeah.

00:06:05   Well, it was such a, I feel like it was just, um, it's a perfect emblem of your,

00:06:09   the spirit of the love of movies that you have and what you put,

00:06:13   what you put into, um, that experience.

00:06:18   Now you've gone through it three times of releasing a feature film.

00:06:21   This is always so kind of giving that you want to put everything you have into the audience's enjoyment of the movie.

00:06:27   That's that.

00:06:28   That's what that that's what struck me about that.

00:06:31   Am I kissing your ass too much?

00:06:32   No, it's a very kind way of putting that.

00:06:34   I appreciate that.

00:06:35   It was a fun thing for me to do, but that's why that's a very kind and flattering way of putting it.

00:06:39   Another thing that the ushers do is they wear a tag around their neck on a lanyard that says the name of their favorite movie.

00:06:46   Yeah.

00:06:46   No, I borrowed one from somebody.

00:06:48   I forget what his favorite movie was.

00:06:50   It was not my favorite movie.

00:06:51   So maybe Terminator three, the rise of the machine.

00:06:57   Yeah.

00:07:01   So that, that was fun.

00:07:02   Um, I, uh, I learned a lot about, uh, stuff that I, the, the technical stuff

00:07:10   behind the process of making the movie from your commentary, um, just like things

00:07:17   like, I mean, you talked a bit about your choice in lens flare and your lens choice

00:07:21   and shooting out in a more anamorphic format and everything. Yeah. Here's a question. Why,

00:07:29   why do anamorphic lens flares work for you? What do you mean? Like why? Aesthetically,

00:07:35   what do you think it says about, about the frame? Well, if you get that purple, blue,

00:07:41   Yeah. Well, I mean, it's really distinct to anamorphic lenses.

00:07:45   It's something that doesn't look like anything else.

00:07:48   And I like it when it feels organic in the frame, usually when there's a light source in the shot that you can see that it's actually coming from.

00:08:00   So when there's a lot of the instances in the movie, there's like a helicopter with the light coming right in the camera.

00:08:08   There's a scene between Joe and Paul Dano's character where they're in the kitchen and

00:08:13   the whole thing is designed to be lit by this refrigerator that's open and the bare refrigerator

00:08:18   bulb in there.

00:08:19   And there's a really distinct flair that's coming off of that.

00:08:22   In one shot it crosses Joe's eyes.

00:08:24   Yeah, we lined it up just right so that you could kind of, so because the whole thing

00:08:29   is he's, Paul is spilling his guts out and Joe's kind of sitting and you're trying to

00:08:33   read what, how Joe's reacting to what he's going to do and what he's going to do.

00:08:37   and that idea of like a mask across his eyes.

00:08:40   But yeah, I don't know, for me,

00:08:42   I think it looks cool first and foremost.

00:08:44   I think it also has a very comforting sort of,

00:08:48   it reminds me of early Spielberg movies

00:08:52   and "Close Encounters" and "E.T."

00:08:55   and there's something about it

00:08:57   that just feels like a movie to me.

00:09:01   It's interesting that it's become something

00:09:04   that people are familiar with, you know, from,

00:09:07   I know JJ Abrams uses it quite a bit.

00:09:12   Just a little.

00:09:15   I'm curious, is it something that you talk in the commentary as well

00:09:17   about a couple of effects shots that you actually used fake lens flare

00:09:21   in order to mask some sort of artifacts or whatever?

00:09:27   Well, now what we did was for the helicopters,

00:09:29   which were CG helicopters,

00:09:33   I had had a bad experience with CG helicopters on the Brothers Bloom.

00:09:38   We had had a full daylight shot where helicopters had to go through.

00:09:43   We couldn't afford real helicopters.

00:09:44   We had to create cartoon helicopters.

00:09:46   To me, no matter how hard we worked on them, they always looked like cartoon helicopters.

00:09:51   So I had been very frustrated.

00:09:52   I knew there were a lot of flying vehicles in this one.

00:09:54   Our advantage was they were all going to be at night.

00:09:58   I remember I had seen the extras on the Blade Runner box set, where they showed the development

00:10:05   of the flying cars and they showed a pass of the effects pass before they added in those

00:10:09   really distinct flares, those lights that are coming off the cars.

00:10:14   And it looked terrible.

00:10:15   It looked like what it was, an optical comp.

00:10:18   But then when they put those flaring lights on, suddenly it forgave all the ills and it

00:10:23   looked awesome.

00:10:24   And so that's what we did with these.

00:10:26   So those are CG.

00:10:28   But then there were a couple of instances where we had to--

00:10:33   we shot something that had a lens flare,

00:10:36   but then we had to paint out a wire or something that

00:10:38   crossed the lens flare.

00:10:39   And then the FX guys had to repaint the lens flare.

00:10:41   But I think the trick is you try and keep it organic, I guess.

00:10:46   That kind of work sucks.

00:10:46   I used to work in FX when I've painted back lens flares.

00:10:51   It's not fun.

00:10:53   So what I was going to maybe get at was,

00:10:58   well, okay, so you wouldn't add lens flares

00:11:02   necessarily that weren't organic, which is a good thing.

00:11:06   Yeah.

00:11:09   Oh, another thing I noticed about what helps sell

00:11:11   the CG vehicles or the Blade Runner type optically-comped

00:11:15   flying cars is that sound design that you add that makes it

00:11:19   all of a sudden a real object.

00:11:24   You used great automotive sound design quite liberally in this movie.

00:11:28   Even in the trailer early on, I think there was the first trailer I saw,

00:11:36   which was more of a teaser, had some future car stuff that sounded

00:11:41   unlike any automotive sound design we saw.

00:11:45   We had a great sound designer Jeremy Pearson who had worked.

00:11:50   Actually we found him because we first talked to Skip Leavsey who works with the

00:11:57   Coen brothers.

00:11:57   Who that's kind of, he's kind of like a, I kind of worship that guy.

00:12:05   His, his work in the Coen's movies was kind of the first time I started really

00:12:10   paying attention to how sound was used as a storytelling device, integral to the film.

00:12:18   And so we found Jeremy through Skip and Jeremy had worked a lot with Skip and Jeremy is a

00:12:25   tremendous sound designer and I think what he did was he took his cue from the visuals.

00:12:31   He took, you know, and from kind of the feel of the whole world we were creating, which

00:12:35   was a very grounded feel.

00:12:38   So you hear a lot of mechanical whirring and stuff that sounds like it's coming from a

00:12:47   real engine as opposed to space age, but I think that's because visually all the stuff

00:12:52   in our movie looks like real engines.

00:12:54   And so he was just going to take his cue off that.

00:12:56   The bike to me has a sort of Millennium Falcon starting up-ish sound.

00:13:00   Yeah.

00:13:01   Well, and that's what, I mean, the first Star Wars was kind of, you know, that was a big

00:13:05   touchstone in terms of, I still think in terms of sci-fi movies, that's one, you know, it's kind of the

00:13:09   one of the most convincing worlds that's ever been created, I think, because everything feels so lived in and so

00:13:16   mechanical and so... And I think they've, either they reused it or

00:13:21   I've lived the last 30 years of my life in a lie, but that Millennium Falcon

00:13:28   mechanical, starting up sound, was reused in Raiders for the airplane that Jock drives when he drives.

00:13:34   when he jumps in the river.

00:13:36   If they didn't reuse it, then it's,

00:13:37   I always thought it was an in-joke

00:13:39   because it sounds almost identical,

00:13:40   but it says how mechanical the Millennium Falcon was

00:13:42   as a spaceship that you could reuse the sound

00:13:44   for a 1937 prop plane.

00:13:46   - Right, right, right.

00:13:48   Well, it's funny too, I remember in film school at USC,

00:13:52   they showed like a breakdown of the sound effects

00:13:56   in the sequence where he was escaping from,

00:13:59   with the idol in the very beginning.

00:14:01   - That's the one where they reuse that Falcon sign

00:14:03   when he starts the plane.

00:14:04   - Yeah, and they talked about how when the boulder

00:14:07   was rolling down, they close-miked the wheels

00:14:11   of their VW van on the gravel driveway

00:14:15   and just got the mic right up close to it,

00:14:17   and that created that kind of rolling stone

00:14:20   against stone type feel.

00:14:23   Or when Indy is holding onto the pit

00:14:26   and the door is closing, he starts to like,

00:14:28   the vine kind of starts tearing loose.

00:14:33   You can hear the biting of an apple in there to hear that kind of "kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

00:15:03   So many of, there are so many mechanical elements in the music, in the score, that your composer, your cousin, correct, Nathan, uses in the score.

00:15:15   Does it go the other way at all? Are there any musical elements that are used in the sound design?

00:15:20   Um, not really because they're kind of working, they're more or less working separately.

00:15:27   And because of the way Nathan works, we actually ended up getting, oftentimes, in the mix to the point where we would have to choose between one or the other.

00:15:36   Because the music and the sound design were kind of doing the same thing.

00:15:39   And so, um, so no, there are, there are, but you know, there's stuff in the sound design that's very musical.

00:15:46   musical. Like there's tonal beds that Jeremy will lay in that will just be like the ambient sound in a room, but they'll have, they'll be performing the same function as music.

00:15:57   Where they'll be laying down a drone that gives like a feeling of uneasiness or tension or, you know.

00:16:03   Well, also there's like a lot of percussiveness in your editing style.

00:16:06   And it feels like over and over across the three movies, you see these moments

00:16:12   of impact that are just expertly achieved with cutting and sound.

00:16:17   Um, uh, I mean the bet, the probably the best example in this movie is just the

00:16:23   blunder, the, you know, the blunder bus going off.

00:16:26   Um, the first time you see it, it's so impactful and it's, and it's paired with

00:16:30   that frame of a cut where the figure appears and then...

00:16:35   - Yeah, yeah.

00:16:37   - Do you have a musical background at all?

00:16:40   - No, not really.

00:16:41   I tool around on a couple instruments, but I'm not really.

00:16:45   But my favorite editing is all the same way

00:16:50   that I was talking about sound design with the Coens.

00:16:52   For me, Scorsese is where it begins and ends

00:16:56   in terms of editing.

00:16:57   If you watch his editing, it's all musical.

00:16:59   It's not continuity, it's just purely jazz and based on rhythm.

00:17:07   And it's got its own kind of music to it.

00:17:12   So that's the places that I really learned editing from watching.

00:17:20   That's very integral to it.

00:17:22   Like if editing were a musical instrument, you'd be good at it.

00:17:24   Oh, yeah, that's very sweet of you to say.

00:17:27   We also, I should say, we have a very talented editor that I worked with, Bob Ducey, who

00:17:32   was just, you know, we ended up getting along really, really well and just having a good

00:17:38   working relationship.

00:17:39   It was your first time working with him?

00:17:40   Yeah, first time working with him, yeah.

00:17:42   Adam, you said you were talking, I love the adjective "percussive" for the sound design,

00:17:47   and the one that really stuck out to me that really just got me so unnerved was Sarah chopping

00:17:53   the wood and the sound of the axe hitting the woodblock and percussive is

00:18:00   exactly it was just over and over and over again and I was so...

00:18:04   You listen carefully you can hear some apple crunch.

00:18:06   Yeah but I was so unnerved at the diamond and nerve-wracking and then there's this horrible

00:18:12   horribly violent axe hitting the wood over and over again.

00:18:17   Yeah it makes you wince and it's that's something Jeremy built in at first I thought it was

00:18:22   too big, but then I realized now that actually, especially for a dialogue scene

00:18:27   like that, that's kind of just backstory that she's telling.

00:18:29   It's a really nice kind of violent way of keeping you on your teeth on edge during it.

00:18:34   And she really busted herself up during that.

00:18:36   She did actually.

00:18:37   She, it's hard to swing an axe and we, after a bunch of takes of that, her shoulder

00:18:42   was, was actually really messed up.

00:18:43   And, um, uh, for the rest of the shoot, she actually had a really hard time holding

00:18:48   stuff up, like anytime she had to hold a gun with that arm.

00:18:52   I remember we had our prop guy actually holding the end of the gun that was out of frame at

00:18:57   one point because she couldn't support it for long enough.

00:19:02   Let's see.

00:19:06   So I guess if we could go back to the automotive stuff.

00:19:11   You had constraints, budgetary constraints that led you to – and you talked about this

00:19:18   in your commentary a little bit, but that led you to go with a certain era of cars that

00:19:26   were just cars in the world in 2044.

00:19:32   But you're able to justify it other than budgetary ways.

00:19:37   Talk about that a little bit.

00:19:39   Yeah.

00:19:40   Well, anytime now I watch a science fiction movie that has not a huge budget, the first

00:19:46   thing I look at is how do they do the cars.

00:19:48   I mean anything that's new, that's in the future.

00:19:51   Because that's the expensive thing that you can't get around.

00:19:54   And that's the thing that is guaranteed to change.

00:19:57   No matter what your take on the future is,

00:19:59   the cars are going to be different 20 years from now

00:20:02   than they are now.

00:20:03   And it's always interesting.

00:20:07   give you a look at the approach that they took with the retro, but a very specific kind of retro car that you don't see very often. It was all specifically these European retro cars that are foreign to your eye.

00:20:29   And they--

00:20:30   Like an art deco.

00:20:31   Yeah.

00:20:31   Yeah, yeah, yeah.

00:20:33   So anyway, so yeah, the approach we took,

00:20:36   because we knew we were creating this grounded, broken down

00:20:39   society, was to say, OK, well, it's

00:20:42   like the Yank tanks in Cuba.

00:20:43   Like people have had to make their cars last for 20, 30

00:20:45   years.

00:20:46   And so yeah, in that way, we were

00:20:49   able to take cars from now and then just age them way down

00:20:53   and make them look like they've had new engines kind of put

00:20:57   into them.

00:20:58   But it seemed like not even just now, it was maybe 10 and 15 years ago.

00:21:03   Some of them, yeah.

00:21:08   It feels like the way you talk about Gattaca referring to that era, like the Art Deco era, to take its production design cues.

00:21:10   I kind of think that your movie kind of took a lot of cues from the 90s, like for a lot of the wardrobe choices.

00:21:18   And just like the hairstyles even.

00:21:27   And I like the idea, as the character,

00:21:32   Geoff DeAnel's character Abe talks about

00:21:35   when he's making fun of young Joe's tie,

00:21:37   his kravit, which I love.

00:21:41   But he calls it a kravit.

00:21:42   Never heard it that way.

00:21:44   I'm only going to say it that way from now on.

00:21:48   Is that these things are cyclical.

00:21:50   And so you kind of have to imagine

00:21:52   that this world of 2044 has already gone through

00:21:57   the whole back to the seventies and eighties and nineties and then back to the

00:22:00   forties, fifties, sixties.

00:22:01   Well, and there's also, there's, I mean, you know, if, uh, you know, if, if you

00:22:06   were in whatever, if you were in, uh, the sixties designing a film that was going

00:22:11   to be set in the far future of 2012, you know, and if you look at us right here in

00:22:17   2012, you know, we're in 2012 and my watch is from the fifties, you know, and, and

00:22:23   most of the stuff that we're wearing you could have seen on somebody 20, 30 years ago.

00:22:28   I think that it's a, I don't know, I wanted to, the same way that good period stuff,

00:22:35   good period design doesn't draw just front. Like if a movie is set in 1963,

00:22:41   a big mistake is to have everything in the person's bedroom be circa 1963.

00:22:46   You gotta find stuff from the 40s and from the, you know, stuff that would be handed down

00:22:50   and thrift shop stuff.

00:22:52   So, taking that approach to the future seemed to make a lot of sense.

00:22:56   Well, one thing I thought too with the choice of the cars, and aging them even too, is it

00:23:03   laid this backdrop of what the economics, the economy of the US in 2044, without anybody

00:23:12   ever talking about it or mentioning it, and it was this palpable sense of, wow, things

00:23:18   have not gone well in the next 30 years.

00:23:21   the Miata is the hottest car. And the only successful people seem to be

00:23:27   gangsters. Right, seems in the criminal world. Yeah, there you go. My dad drove a

00:23:34   Miata in 1990 and it was the most futuristic thing you'd ever seen. Yeah,

00:23:37   well I like the idea of it being. It's funny though, I realized, I forget if I

00:23:41   talked about this in the commentary, I talked about MacGruber. Yeah, yeah, and they did the exact same joke as

00:23:47   MacGruber where they like, you think it's gonna be a hot sports car and they

00:23:50   reveal it's a Miata.

00:23:51   And I saw that while we were editing for the first time.

00:23:54   I was like,

00:23:55   And you guys, but you didn't have any Mazda or Miata signage on the car.

00:23:59   No, we didn't.

00:24:00   Well, we didn't get any.

00:24:00   I didn't.

00:24:01   No, we didn't.

00:24:02   Yeah.

00:24:02   I don't know if we got clearance cause we actually, um, there was a futuristic car

00:24:08   that, uh, Bruce drove in a sequence that got cut actually, that was a, this crazy

00:24:15   concept Mazda.

00:24:17   So I think we, we were working with

00:24:19   in 2044 or in 2070?

00:24:21   - In 2070, whatever, yeah.

00:24:23   - Yeah. - Yeah, yeah.

00:24:24   - My favorite future car of all time

00:24:26   is probably a Woody Allen sleeper.

00:24:28   - Oh, yeah. (laughs)

00:24:29   - You can tell it's plywood held together with string

00:24:31   and it might as well be an Oscar Mayer Wiener mobile.

00:24:33   - Yeah. (laughs)

00:24:36   - Let me take one quick break.

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00:25:29   - Okay, can we go back to like just going through period,

00:25:32   cyclical period and culture and anachronism,

00:25:36   and you are a person who,

00:25:40   I feel like you're sort of planted

00:25:43   in a lot of different periods in time,

00:25:45   through your storytelling.

00:25:50   There's tons of it in Brothers Bloom.

00:25:54   Obviously, in Brick,

00:25:56   all of the style of the storytelling

00:26:00   and the dialogue and everything,

00:26:02   it all comes from a period of storytelling

00:26:05   from what, would you say the '40s?

00:26:08   Well, it's been Hammet, so it's earlier.

00:26:11   Oh, okay, '30s.

00:26:12   Do you feel like you're, and your watch is from the 50s, do you ever feel like you're

00:26:19   of a different time and place?

00:26:20   I mean, do you, I'm not to say an old soul or something stupid like that, but do you

00:26:24   ever feel like, you know?

00:26:26   No, no, I don't.

00:26:28   No, I feel like this is the moment that we're in.

00:26:32   This is the time that we're living in.

00:26:34   And I feel like one of the things that's exciting about right now is especially,

00:26:39   um, I don't know, especially the fact that culture has become so, uh, I don't

00:26:47   know how to exactly phrase this.

00:26:48   Uh, you know, it feels right now like the idea of, um, like everything from the past

00:26:58   is up on the surface right now and instantly accessible and remixable.

00:27:03   And taking the best from every period of and every culture and absolutely,

00:27:08   absolutely.

00:27:09   It's more accessible than ever.

00:27:10   And so, uh, for me, that's, that's not of the, that's entirely of this moment.

00:27:14   You know, the fact that, uh, we're drawing from all over the place, uh, you know,

00:27:20   in mixing styles and arrows completely indiscriminately, you know, even the,

00:27:24   you look at the furniture in this room, you know, look at that next to that next

00:27:28   to that, you know, look at the, you know, the, the, the design is kind of just

00:27:32   taking whatever works. And for me, with filmmaking, it's the same thing. Really, it's all about

00:27:40   whatever's going to serve the story best. It's all about what's going to get at the

00:27:44   heart of what I'm trying to talk about the best. And for each of these movies, there's

00:27:50   a different reason that they have those kind of anachronistic things in them. But it's

00:27:56   never because out of a sense of nostalgia for an era or a sense of want pining for an

00:28:00   era it's always because that specific thing makes me feel a certain way and so

00:28:07   that's that communicates something that's very important to me right now in

00:28:11   this moment.

00:28:11   I look at Wes Anderson's movies in that light.

00:28:14   Yeah.

00:28:15   The way he just assigned you know does his production design and chooses his

00:28:19   artifacts, his objects.

00:28:20   Yeah.

00:28:21   So carefully from all throughout time you know through all throughout the 20th

00:28:25   century anyway. In a movie like Royal Tannenbaum's you see Ben Stiller's character Chaz running

00:28:32   his whole investment operation with like circa 1983 Apple II next to late 90s cinema display

00:28:40   or whatever. But just from a tech standpoint if you're a tech nerd or an Apple nerd you

00:28:49   kind of geek out over that stuff. But I feel like I've heard him talk about that before

00:28:53   And he said exactly what you have which is he just responds to the objects that make the most sense exactly about being

00:29:00   necessarily

00:29:02   You know specific to period yeah, because he's creating a modern world like you you know like you are but it's a world where

00:29:09   The people in that world have taste and there's an immediacy and it like Moonrise Kingdom

00:29:15   Which I think is you know a masterpiece. I think it's absolutely

00:29:18   You know

00:29:20   one of my very favorite movies of the year, definitely.

00:29:23   But, you know, he-- I don't know, he--

00:29:26   so many of the stuff in the-- so many of the individual objects

00:29:33   in there could be considered anachronistic,

00:29:35   but the whole thing is built to--

00:29:38   I don't know, with such a sincerity

00:29:40   that it busts through that wall and takes it

00:29:44   so far in that direction that suddenly everything in it

00:29:46   incredibly vital and hits you with an immediacy.

00:29:51   - Every object you see is an object that you had as a child.

00:29:54   - Yeah, and it evokes something that gets you right there

00:29:58   in the moment where you're standing.

00:29:59   It doesn't smack of nostalgia at all.

00:30:01   It has a vitalness to it that, yeah, that's extraordinary.

00:30:06   - Oh, sorry, go ahead.

00:30:08   - No, I was gonna say the other, I mean, I don't know,

00:30:09   the other interesting thing with,

00:30:11   I guess this is kind of a tangent, but I don't know.

00:30:16   I think that there's talking about Wes Anderson specifically makes me think of the idea of

00:30:26   I think in a lot of cases people tend to think that a director premeditates his style the

00:30:34   way that you would choose an outfit to put on in the morning.

00:30:41   Because it's specifically directors who have very distinct styles like Tim Burton or Wes

00:30:46   Anderson.

00:30:47   It's very easy to look at their movies and think, or I guess to a lesser degree with

00:30:52   what you're saying with the period stuff with the films that I've done, it's easy

00:30:55   to look at them and think, "Well, why did you make that choice?

00:30:59   Obviously you made this set of choices in order to…"

00:31:02   And the truth is, I don't know, I can only speak for myself, but I'd be very surprised

00:31:08   If you talk to Wes Anderson, if he wasn't just that, it's really the

00:31:13   equivalent of speaking in your voice.

00:31:15   You know, it's not, it's very little that's premeditated.

00:31:18   It's, it's almost like when you're talking to somebody, your natural

00:31:22   accent of your voice is not something you're consciously controlling.

00:31:25   You're just trying to communicate as clearly as possible what's on your mind.

00:31:28   And you're speaking in a way that's natural to you.

00:31:30   And it's insulting when somebody suggests otherwise, because it's almost like if

00:31:34   you're speaking in your natural voice and they say, why are you doing that

00:31:37   dumb voice right now.

00:31:38   Why are you doing a dumb idiot impression of somebody else?

00:31:42   And also that you can see though how it's, I don't know, you can see that it's, I

00:31:47   don't know if I call it, it's insulting if someone's being insulting and calling

00:31:50   you dumb, but it's also something that's very, it's almost counter instinctual to

00:31:55   look at a film and talk about it in a quick, you know, it's hard to communicate the degree

00:32:02   to which the some feeling of a film is the process of a thousand tiny little decisions

00:32:09   to the point where there is something very weirdly, you know, cumulative about it and

00:32:16   weirdly the direct product of what's inside the person who made it.

00:32:22   Yeah, it's a holistic process.

00:32:23   Yeah, completely, as opposed to a determined one in that way.

00:32:30   So if we could go back to you feeling like you're a man of this time and place, and this

00:32:37   is really exciting.

00:32:38   A man of this time and place.

00:32:43   What you said was you're a tiny little girl of this time and place.

00:32:50   And it's exciting that we have access through whatever archival technology or whatever it

00:32:56   We have access to all the best of all times and cultures and everything.

00:33:01   If you were to extrapolate that and project into the future,

00:33:06   you're going to be making movies and telling stories for 10, 20, 30 years.

00:33:09   God bless you, sir.

00:33:13   So do you ever think about what it's going to be like to make these kinds of movies

00:33:15   or whatever stories we're going to be telling in the future?

00:33:21   You mean, how do you mean?

00:33:23   I mean like in the way that you feel like we've used, like if you could call it like a singularity or something, or unity right now.

00:33:30   Yeah.

00:33:31   Do you think that, like I kind of look at that in a sort of a relative sense and think that maybe 20 years ago they thought they had reached some sort of a unity.

00:33:41   I'm sure they did, yeah, absolutely.

00:33:44   I think it's important though to always feel like you know what I mean? I think that it's

00:33:49   I don't know, I think it's incredibly important to feel like the moment you're in is the most

00:33:56   exciting moment in all of human history. I think that I hope that in the future I'll

00:34:04   still feel that way I guess. Maybe I'm not understanding your question.

00:34:06   No, you answered it. To what degree do you think the tools that you use or that we use,

00:34:14   and everybody, all of the thousands of people that help you make your movies,

00:34:17   to what extent do you embrace those tools and think that they influence how

00:34:24   the final product comes out? Oh yeah, no, they're a product. I mean it's really to the

00:34:28   point where what you create is inseparable from the tools that you use

00:34:33   to create it, at least from my perspective as a

00:34:37   director. But my experience of a film is very different than, you know, for me,

00:34:41   For me, Looper is, to take an example of the most recent movie, for me, you know, when

00:34:47   I look at Looper, so much of it, it's not, my experience of it has so much to do with

00:34:54   my memory of making it and the experience I had with the people around it.

00:34:59   That means the camera that we use, that means the type of equipment we use, the rigs that

00:35:03   we use, the lights that we use, just that all that is baked into that film.

00:35:08   me, but that's that, you know, not for the audience, obviously.

00:35:11   So maybe sometimes, even on an unconscious level.

00:35:15   Yeah, maybe.

00:35:16   Yeah.

00:35:17   I guess I did about that stuff about how the audience responds to technological

00:35:21   choices that they're never, ever going to be thinking about consciously.

00:35:24   You hope that they do.

00:35:25   Yeah.

00:35:26   There there's a, you know, yeah, I guess you hope that they do all you can do is,

00:35:32   Obviously, you're also choosing your tools based on what feels good for you in terms

00:35:40   of how it's going to look with the end product.

00:35:41   For example, for me, that's the reason that I shoot on film.

00:35:44   I think it looks like a movie to me.

00:35:48   It looks good and it feels the way that I want my stuff to feel.

00:35:53   I guess all you can do is make that for yourself and hope that connects with at least some

00:35:59   people in the audience the same way.

00:36:00   And it gives something even for argument's sake if there was absolutely no visual difference between digital and film.

00:36:07   I'm not saying that's true but for argument's sake the fact that you are shooting film and you get a sense internally that there's a film rolling through the camera

00:36:18   that probably makes your experience of directing it different and that it would impact the final outcome as well.

00:36:25   Yeah, yeah I would guess so. It also looks a lot better.

00:36:27   [Quacking]

00:36:29   I don't think I'm ever going to shoot on film, honestly.

00:36:34   Really?

00:36:36   The last time I did was in school.

00:36:36   Not that I have access to shoot on film.

00:36:38   I mean, maybe.

00:36:40   I don't know who.

00:36:41   Have access to it.

00:36:42   Why do you say that?

00:36:44   Because if I weigh all of the pros and cons of choosing resources to go into production,

00:36:46   I don't prioritize that one very highly.

00:36:53   I would choose something else, I think.

00:36:55   That's a personal choice.

00:36:57   Right, right, right.

00:36:58   It's also where you're coming from now.

00:36:59   I mean, you're coming up where you're shooting digital all the way up.

00:37:03   Yeah, that's true.

00:37:05   And not that we're far separate in age or anything,

00:37:09   but probably my early formative experiences of cinema

00:37:15   are maybe a little bit different from yours.

00:37:17   And I'm always kind of personally jealous of people

00:37:22   who can feel the quality of celluloid because I can't.

00:37:27   - Really? - Yeah.

00:37:28   - You can't do when you see a film shot digitally?

00:37:30   - No. - Really?

00:37:31   - And I'm pretty, I'm generally kind of astute

00:37:33   about media stuff, but that's something

00:37:36   that I'm pretty blind to.

00:37:38   - That's interesting, huh?

00:37:39   - Maybe, I don't know, maybe you could teach me.

00:37:42   - No, I got nothing.

00:37:43   Yeah, no, to me it's night and day.

00:37:46   To me, I see a movie shot on digital

00:37:48   and it can be very well shot and it can, you know,

00:37:50   But I, you know, I don't know. It's very, it's very rare except for when, well, I don't know.

00:37:56   There, um, although a lot of times stuff that's shot on film these days is so baked and treated in the DI

00:38:04   and so messed with that it's hard to, you know, it can be hard to decipher sometimes.

00:38:09   But I don't know. Anyway, I'm, the point is not, I guess, to put down another medium.

00:38:16   The point is just to say that I like the way the film looks.

00:38:19   I think it's the best looking thing out there. Did you want maybe it is something that I'm specifically tuned into I don't know but

00:38:24   I don't know to me. It makes a difference. Did you did you see that documentary? No, I haven't seen it yet

00:38:31   I haven't seen it. Yeah

00:38:32   Yeah, I don't know I I

00:38:34   It's tough. It's I guess and to some degree I guess I

00:38:38   Don't know you could you can make the argument that it's like the audio file talking about

00:38:43   P3s versus AIFs and listening to them and what the difference is.

00:38:47   And I...

00:38:48   Steven: Well, it's like we were talking, we had permanently kicked around that maybe if

00:38:52   we had more time or whatever, we'd talk about the master too.

00:38:54   But that's the explanation that I've seen Pete Anderson give was that if I'm going to

00:38:57   shoot film, that's why he shot 65mm was then I might as well go all the way and really

00:39:04   shoot film.

00:39:05   Shoot the biggest film I can get my hands on.

00:39:08   Even if the camera's the size of a refrigerator.

00:39:10   refrigerator.

00:39:11   Yeah, film looks like a movie to me, digital looks like video to me.

00:39:14   It's just, you know, and I don't know, I don't know that that's anyone else's

00:39:17   experience, but I know it's mine and so I'm just going to make those choices for

00:39:20   my own films.

00:39:21   Yeah, it's kind of a belabored discussion at this point.

00:39:23   Yeah, it's kind of boring.

00:39:24   Boring.

00:39:25   Boring.

00:39:26   Sorry I brought it up.

00:39:28   Can we-

00:39:29   I just took a panorama picture of you guys.

00:39:32   Oh, excellent.

00:39:33   Digitally.

00:39:34   I haven't used that feature once on-

00:39:35   Oh, it's the best.

00:39:36   It's the best.

00:39:37   It is really fantastic.

00:39:38   Okay.

00:39:39   Look at that.

00:39:44   Oh, that is more CAD than what I took.

00:39:46   Yeah.

00:39:48   Okay.

00:39:48   Awesome.

00:39:49   So if we're triangulated right now, if we each take a panorama, we could pretty much get 360.

00:39:50   Oh, yeah.

00:39:55   So going back to the tools you use, this is a tech podcast.

00:39:57   I mean, generally speaking, you talk about other stuff.

00:40:02   Who knows?

00:40:04   But largely the people who listen to it are probably fascinated by the tools.

00:40:09   Tools of whatever trade.

00:40:14   But going back inside the movie, there's a lot of tech inside the movie.

00:40:19   In the world of the movie.

00:40:24   How much thought proportionally speaking did you put into imagining all this technology?

00:40:29   like imagining all these, this technology.

00:40:34   I know like for AI or Minority Report or Spielberg assembled the world's greatest

00:40:39   futurists and they came up with every gadget.

00:40:43   Did you do a lot of brainstorming research?

00:40:46   I did none of that.

00:40:48   No, it was interesting because I didn't write the movie from like a world building perspective.

00:40:50   I guess I was mostly just doing everything I could to make the story work.

00:40:56   And so I wasn't thinking really of how the world was going to look.

00:41:01   And so when it came time to actually design the world, it was less about

00:41:05   digging into what future tech will actually seem like.

00:41:12   It was more about, you're taking that picture.

00:41:15   It was more about what will work for the story.

00:41:18   And honestly, taking a very simplistic approach to the tech and the thought

00:41:24   simplistic approach to the tech in the film also seemed right, because I figured

00:41:29   there was so much else we were asking the audience to absorb and spend their brain power

00:41:33   figuring out with the time travel and the Looper stuff and the TK stuff.

00:41:38   The last thing we needed was a ton of tech that the audience had to wince at and say,

00:41:42   "Oh, what is that crazy thing doing? How does that work?" Even if that's fun for me, it just wasn't what the movie was about.

00:41:50   So, yeah, we got cell phones that kind of fold out and are cool, and we got hover bikes

00:41:55   that kind of look like Triumph motorcycles.

00:41:57   But there's not a ton of, you know, hopefully there's nothing that you can't glance at and

00:42:03   figure out what it is.

00:42:04   Sure.

00:42:05   It's an invisible keyboard.

00:42:06   Yeah, that actually, I like the controller.

00:42:07   The controller in the library.

00:42:08   The idea that you're actually manipulating something in 3D space.

00:42:13   Right.

00:42:14   That I did like.

00:42:15   And I liked that.

00:42:16   So it was kind of like in Children of Men, that game that the kid plays at the table.

00:42:19   Yeah, that's right.

00:42:20   - I also thought it stuck out to me

00:42:22   that unlike Minority Report,

00:42:24   which everybody, it looked super cool,

00:42:25   but everybody points out would be physically exhausting

00:42:28   'cause your arms are in front of you.

00:42:29   - Not if you're Tom Cruise.

00:42:31   - Not if you're Tom Cruise.

00:42:32   - Well, all right, not if you're Tom Cruise,

00:42:33   but if you're anybody else, your shoulders would fall off.

00:42:35   Whereas in Looper, the touch technology

00:42:39   looks like something you could sit there

00:42:40   and like I do, like work it 10 hours a day.

00:42:42   - Right, and ergonomically safe.

00:42:44   I like the one that Old Joe's,

00:42:48   I almost called him Old Bruce, that's not polite.

00:42:50   It's not polite.

00:42:51   It's rude.

00:42:52   - That old Joe's wife uses the display that she kind of slashes away with the--

00:42:55   - Oh, that actually slashes her finger through to turn it off.

00:42:57   - Yeah, that's pretty neat.

00:42:58   - Yeah, yeah.

00:42:59   - It wasn't even glass.

00:43:00   It was just a projection.

00:43:01   - No, it was just floating there.

00:43:02   Yeah, yeah.

00:43:03   - From a storytelling perspective, one of the things that I thought was interesting

00:43:04   is that in a lot of time travel movies, it's now, like today when the movie's being made,

00:43:11   versus where you're going.

00:43:12   So back to the future.

00:43:13   It was 1985 and 1955.

00:43:18   In Looper, there is no now.

00:43:21   The only two years, really, there's a little montage where you go through them, but you're

00:43:24   talking 2040s and the 2070s.

00:43:27   And 2040s are effectively now.

00:43:29   And you get into that mindset where now is 2044.

00:43:35   And the tech is a lot more grounded.

00:43:37   And we don't spend a lot of time in the 2070s, but when we do, that's where there's the way

00:43:43   more whiz-bang stuff.

00:43:47   Shanghai too, which is like a sort of a futuristic city to begin with.

00:43:51   Yeah.

00:43:52   I mean, it, it, I mean, it made sense to me to have our, uh, you know, to have our

00:43:58   present day be near future just cause I figured it was either that or we create

00:44:02   an alternate present day and that's a little more complicated.

00:44:04   To me, it was just easier to wrap your head around the notion that, okay, this

00:44:08   is 30 years from now, so some things are different.

00:44:10   The big thing being that time travel is used in this way with these guys, which

00:44:16   It would have been a pain in the ass if we had done the present day and had to have it be something that was like underground, but actually around today. Like that just would have required a lot of machinations that would have taken up screen time. So yeah, it made sense.

00:44:32   So you've, you've, you've talked a lot in other interviews about the, the, the theory of the, the way that time travel operates.

00:44:41   And, and, um, I found it interesting.

00:44:44   I was listening, I, when I saw the movie again, Oh, no, no, no.

00:44:48   When I, when I listened to your commentary again, you said something about how, when you were writing that scene between young and old Joe and the diner, how Bruce is so dismissive of that whole line of questioning.

00:44:59   It's so boring.

00:45:00   and you said something, you said, "I own words used against me." No, not at all

00:45:08   used against you. You said, "Bruce is more interested in what's happening inside

00:45:12   his head than in explaining the time travel stuff." Yeah. I feel a lot like

00:45:16   Bruce in that, right now, in that I, you know, I've kind of, I can't wrap my tiny

00:45:21   brain around a lot of the time travel stuff. I got confused when when we see

00:45:25   the two alternate realities unfolding.

00:45:29   So I'm way more interested in what's happening inside of Bruce's head,

00:45:32   and I'm way more interested in what's happening in your head,

00:45:34   like what we've been talking about, the process of making the movie.

00:45:40   So I feel like there's two types of people watching these kind of movies,

00:45:44   and there's the people that are so smart that they get caught up

00:45:46   in all those details in the machinery of the time travel.

00:45:50   And I'm one of the lucky people that's not smart enough to get caught up in it,

00:45:53   So I just let it all fall away and I enjoy the story.

00:45:55   Those are my people.

00:45:56   Yeah.

00:45:57   Well, you built the world.

00:45:58   Like you're the, you're the, you're the architect.

00:46:00   So you get, you kind of both.

00:46:02   Yeah.

00:46:02   Yeah.

00:46:03   But at the same time, that's, uh, I don't know, the, the, the, the, you know, the

00:46:09   mechanics of time travel or something that are kind of fun after the fact.

00:46:14   But I, I don't know, man, I'm, I'm frankly, I guess if it, you know, that, uh,

00:46:22   To me, that's almost like bonus content.

00:46:25   If I go see a time travel movie, I'm either going to enjoy it or not enjoy it

00:46:30   based on whether it was a good story and whether I was into it and whether it took

00:46:34   me someplace that I cared about, whether it was funny, whether it was entertaining

00:46:38   basically.

00:46:39   And then on a completely secondary level afterwards, I'll then think about, "Oh,

00:46:44   and the time travel, well, this made sense.

00:46:45   That didn't make sense.

00:46:46   And I'll try and pick it apart like that."

00:46:49   And so I guess that's the level on which it operates for me.

00:46:52   And the time travel, if it's ever a priority between keeping the momentum of the story

00:46:59   up and stopping for 20 seconds to explain something so that somebody won't wonder

00:47:05   about it in the car ride home, I'm going to keep the momentum of the story up.

00:47:08   To me, that's just where my priorities lie as a storyteller.

00:47:14   Yeah.

00:47:14   It probably creates some like little bit of tension that propels the movie forward

00:47:18   anyway, if there's an, you know, just like the right amount of mystery, not too much.

00:47:22   I hope so. And it, you know, uh, yeah, you always hope so. And you always, the other

00:47:27   answer is you just, you try your best, you know, you just try your best and you don't,

00:47:31   you don't always get it right. I'm sure there's stuff that I probably should have

00:47:34   explained more deeply in the thing and more stuff that I've explained too much, but all

00:47:38   you can do is kind of trust your instincts and, um, ride that line between keeping things

00:47:44   moving and keeping things explained.

00:47:46   It's like I think it's almost more important to make it feel like it makes

00:47:51   sense than that it thinks like it makes sense.

00:47:54   Absolutely.

00:47:55   That's all that's important.

00:47:56   And that was, you know, watching time travel movies, preparing to write this,

00:48:00   that was a really liberating thing that I realized is you're, it really is like

00:48:05   doing a magician doing a trick, you know, you're not creating something that's...

00:48:10   And the other thing is, I mean, that, you know, time travel is, uh, time travel is,

00:48:15   is put in the genre of science fiction. The truth is time travel, and this irks some people

00:48:22   to hear this, but time travel is not a science fiction. Time travel is a fantasy element.

00:48:26   Time travel is like Harry Potter stuff. It's magic and unicorns and dragons. You have to

00:48:31   treat it storytelling-wise on that level, where you create a little box that exists

00:48:37   and it makes sense inside that little box. You're never going to be able to explain

00:48:42   it or ground it to an extent to where somebody can actually analyze it with real-world logic

00:48:47   and say, "Yes, that was airtight.

00:48:49   That makes sense."

00:48:50   - Miniclorians.

00:48:51   - Miniclorians, yeah, there you go.

00:48:55   - What, I mean, you've answered this question 100,000 times too, in terms of all of the

00:49:00   long list of time travel movies that you appreciate or watched as research for writing this.

00:49:08   somebody says to you, back to the future, well, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,

00:49:13   blah, blah, terminator, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, back to the future. But does

00:49:16   that does that ignite a positive response in you? Like the Yeah, this is good that all

00:49:20   these reference points came out in the movie? Or is it? Is it like, what man, I made my

00:49:24   own movie?

00:49:25   Jared Ranere: Screw you old man. Yeah, that was tremendously good, because they're, you

00:49:30   know, because those are great movies. And so people are seeing that in there. You know,

00:49:36   That's a huge, tremendous compliment.

00:49:39   As opposed to, "Blah, blah, blah, insert bad time travel movie name here, blah, blah,

00:49:44   blah."

00:49:45   That would be bad.

00:49:47   I did think that because the story was not about time travel, because the story was about

00:49:54   the characters dealing with this situation, I absolutely was not above using an audience's

00:50:01   knowledge of the genre in order to shortcut over as much as I possibly could.

00:50:06   And, and so, uh, and so far from it in terms of, you know, saying I built my own

00:50:12   thing, I didn't, I stood on, you know, I took anything I could, and not only in

00:50:17   terms of using them as storytelling things, but using them as, uh, things I

00:50:22   knew the audience would be familiar with so that I could, uh, you know, so that I

00:50:27   could shortcut over not having to explain it like like the fingers

00:50:31   disappearing you know that's exactly where I was going to jump to and the way

00:50:34   that you can pass a message to your future self which is by writing it

00:50:38   scarring them you know taking a blade and yeah writing a message into your

00:50:42   skin so that the scar shows up on their future self yeah see young Joe I love

00:50:46   that you see young Joe with a bloody bandage yeah I don't want to text it

00:50:52   there's a gag there too that I know I said I warned everybody about spoilers

00:50:56   but it's too good of a gag.

00:50:57   We're so deep into it now.

00:50:58   It's too good of a gag to ruin now.

00:51:01   But yeah, that's just a really gruesome version of the Back to the Future Polaroid.

00:51:06   And I think that's a conceptual thing that we're all just culturally aware of because

00:51:11   we grew up watching that movie and that's absolutely the same way that old Joe trying

00:51:17   to change things by finding this problem and eliminating it.

00:51:21   Instinctively, we know that from watching Terminator movies growing up.

00:51:24   And that's, I wanted to absolutely use that.

00:51:27   And I wonder, and this is like, this is stretching pretty far, but by putting Bruce Willis in your movie, is that its own cultural reference point?

00:51:37   I mean, naturally it is.

00:51:40   But like, I watched your movie the first time, the first time I saw it, and I see Bruce and I've seen 12 monkeys and I'm, and without, I caught myself thinking, is Bruce Willis from the future?

00:51:51   Yeah.

00:51:51   Like he very well, you know, he may be.

00:51:54   I mean you spent time with him. It's very possible. Yeah. Yeah, it's very possible.

00:51:58   But his watch is from the 50s. Go figure. Oh, is it? No, I don't know.

00:52:04   Yeah, which is your favorite Back to the Future movie?

00:52:10   Let's get right down to it. Let's get to brass tacks. There's one question.

00:52:14   There's only one rational answer to that question. Oh, God, I think I know what you're going to say, but it's probably a different answer than mine.

00:52:20   - You're kidding. - No, I don't.

00:52:21   I think it's an easy answer.

00:52:23   - There's only one answer.

00:52:25   How can you say anything but one?

00:52:26   Are you a two apologist?

00:52:28   - I'm a two apologist. - You go for two?

00:52:29   - Wow. - Wow.

00:52:30   - No, not that I don't like two.

00:52:31   I think two is a great movie, but--

00:52:32   - Number one. - Number one.

00:52:34   What are you talking about? - Yeah, of course.

00:52:35   - Yeah, number one. - He kisses his mom.

00:52:37   - Oh my God.

00:52:39   Well, it's also number one is--

00:52:40   - Or his mom kisses him, but either way.

00:52:42   - Yeah.

00:52:43   Number one is, you know,

00:52:45   to make a really ham-fisted dumb analogy,

00:52:48   If number one is a, you know, if number one is like a great tune, like "Someday My Prince

00:52:57   Will Come," number two is kind of a riff on that.

00:53:01   Yeah, exactly.

00:53:02   Yeah, yeah, yeah.

00:53:03   But there's something about, I don't know, one that's just like a perfect movie.

00:53:06   I mean, it's just perfectly constructed.

00:53:09   For me, I just got so excited about the world that it created, the future world that it

00:53:13   created.

00:53:14   that almost single-handedly made me want to make movies.

00:53:19   - Yeah, yeah, yeah.

00:53:21   My cinematographer, Steve Yedlin,

00:53:23   is also one of my best friends too.

00:53:26   When I first met him, he was still a senior in high school

00:53:29   and he had shot, I knew we were gonna be friends

00:53:33   because he had, just with a video camera,

00:53:34   and his little brother and his friends

00:53:36   had shot "Back to the Future" too.

00:53:39   Like he had recreated it, just like in his kitchen,

00:53:41   the whole thing, yeah.

00:53:43   the way that those kids did with Raiders, Steve had done somehow at Back to the Future

00:53:47   too.

00:53:48   And so he loves that film.

00:53:49   Yeah, I don't know if he still does.

00:53:51   He'll probably kill me when he hears this.

00:53:52   When you were a kid, did you recreate any of your favorites?

00:53:54   Yeah, I actually, I've told this story before in some interviews, but I actually almost

00:54:00   burned down my parents' garage trying to recreate the DeLorean fire tracks from Back

00:54:06   to the Future.

00:54:07   It was, I was really stupid.

00:54:09   It was because I tried to do them by I figured I would soak little strips of toilet paper and gasoline

00:54:15   Obviously and lay them out behind the car, but to soak the strips of paper and gasoline

00:54:20   I poured gasoline into a styrofoam plate and

00:54:24   Soak them and of course the styrofoam dissolves and basically becomes napalm

00:54:28   Yeah, and so when I lit these things up they look great

00:54:30   but then I stamped on them to put them out and I accidentally stepped back into the napalm and that

00:54:35   Ignited and was stuck to my foot and meanwhile the garage which somehow is filming this inside the garage was was filling with black smoke

00:54:43   And it was it was a big mess

00:54:45   Yeah, when when childhood love of moviemaking combines with our natural pyrotechnics

00:54:51   For a class project. I definitely blew up

00:54:54   The US Embassy in Beirut like to reach you know to react to reenact that disastrous

00:55:01   Wow, it's going a truck full of explosives into a model. Holy crap. You were you're on another level. Oh, I look dumb

00:55:07   So the John and I were talking about this a little bit earlier

00:55:16   How that the

00:55:20   Looper had this additional element that sort of took it and turned it like added on top of the what you thought

00:55:27   Whatever you thought the movie was gonna be and that was the TK element, right?

00:55:31   The supernatural.

00:55:36   And you include that element in a very organic way.

00:55:39   It doesn't seem supernatural until shit gets real.

00:55:43   And what I think of as the third level.

00:55:49   I don't normally think about movies in act structure or whatever, but I felt two different

00:55:52   plateaus.

00:55:59   Two different kicking it up a notch.

00:55:58   The first one was the montage of Joe becoming old Joe.

00:56:03   And the second one was the first time that Sid loses his shit.

00:56:07   And the sound design, that piercing scream,

00:56:13   that supernatural element was very exciting and unexpected.

00:56:17   So you're like, "What just happened?"

00:56:22   I love how there's the extreme telekinetic supernatural element,

00:56:26   and then like the most base stupid side of it,

00:56:29   which is that it's mostly guys floating quarters

00:56:31   above their hands.

00:56:32   - Introduced like an hour earlier in a film

00:56:35   and it's just there, right?

00:56:37   - And it's there for one reason,

00:56:38   and it's to pick up chicks.

00:56:40   It's like they all read it in the same book.

00:56:41   - I think of, like I've played poker in casinos a lot,

00:56:45   and then like there's two types of poker players.

00:56:46   There's the kind who learn to like do fancy stuff with the--

00:56:49   - Roll over the knuckles.

00:56:50   - Yeah, they roll the chips with their knuckles.

00:56:52   And I've played enough that I probably could have learned it,

00:56:55   But I always thought that was a terrible thing to learn, because then you sit down and you

00:56:58   realize, "Well, this guy plays poker."

00:57:01   But that's what it seemed like the quarter thing was with the TKs, was that they're not

00:57:05   even thinking about it.

00:57:07   The people who can do it just sit there and they rotate a quarter to three inches above

00:57:11   their palm and they're not even thinking about it.

00:57:13   But yeah, they're just using it to try to pick up chicks.

00:57:16   Well, there's a somewhat arbitrary and I think rather stupid rule of thumb in screenwriting

00:57:21   that you're not supposed to ask the audience

00:57:26   to buy more than one big thing.

00:57:28   There's probably a name for it or something.

00:57:31   But just from a screenwriting class point of view,

00:57:33   it's something that's probably,

00:57:39   and it is something that is tricky, it's problematic.

00:57:40   I think that I tried to attempt it, obviously.

00:57:42   And I think that there are people

00:57:48   I've talked to or heard from

00:57:46   way they were, it didn't work for that reason where they're like, "That's more

00:57:49   than one thing you're asking me to buy.

00:57:51   Why is that in there?"

00:57:52   But for me, it was, first of all, it was really necessary just because I wanted

00:57:57   Sid to not just be a theoretical threat.

00:58:00   I didn't want him to just be someone who could grow up to be evil because

00:58:05   he's super smart or something.

00:58:07   I wanted that threat of the future to be manifest in a very concrete and affecting

00:58:15   way in the present. So I wanted the danger of the future to be not just something intellectual,

00:58:22   but something actually right there threatening your life. And that seemed like a way of doing

00:58:28   that. But it did require, you know, planting this other big thing in the first act of a movie when

00:58:34   we're already setting up this one incredibly big thing. And so my approach to it was to throw it

00:58:39   away, to plant it by, at the beginning, when your head's wrapped up in the time travel stuff, to

00:58:44   to just toss this little thing out there.

00:58:45   And at the end of it, when the time travel stuff has gone away,

00:58:48   that's when we raise this thing back up.

00:58:51   That was the approach I took.

00:58:53   Very effective.

00:58:54   Yeah.

00:58:54   Oh, thank you.

00:58:55   Fun and effective.

00:58:58   I want to thank our other sponsor, Tonks, P-O-N-X, Coffee.

00:59:03   Adam, you're familiar with the guys at Tonks, right?

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00:59:17   - I am enjoying, here at Sandwich Studios,

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01:01:20   delicious

01:01:25   Here's here's one. Here's one more thing that I've been wanting to talk to you about since

01:01:29   Our mutual friend Ronan brought it up on Twitter

01:01:33   Yes, and that is he kind of challenged you a little bit and said Ryan you're doing all this generous stuff talking about all these

01:01:40   different parts of the movie that in

01:01:43   Maybe in in other time

01:01:46   An audience wouldn't have access right to the to the author's thoughts, right?

01:01:52   And let's make no mistake, it's very generous of you.

01:01:57   But being a movie maker of 2012 means you can give that to your audience.

01:02:03   Have you thought about metering how much you're giving to the audience?

01:02:14   I've thought a lot about it.

01:02:19   Let it loose, man.

01:02:20   No, I don't know.

01:02:21   I've thought a lot about it.

01:02:22   I don't have an opinion.

01:02:24   I should say I don't have like a conclusion about it.

01:02:30   It's something I've given a lot of thought to.

01:02:31   It's hard because I am very much out there on Twitter mostly these days and very present.

01:02:39   And I try and be like part of the conversation and respond to people.

01:02:42   And that's something that I do just because I enjoy doing it.

01:02:45   It's something I was doing before people were even really watching my movies.

01:02:48   I just like being part of that big conversation that's going on.

01:02:53   And it's hard because when people ask you questions about your movie, there are

01:02:58   several things that happen.

01:03:03   First of all, you don't want to seem like you're being an aloof jerk by saying, "I

01:03:09   don't know, what do you think?"

01:03:12   Yeah, exactly.

01:03:13   But there's also something that comes from a worse place than that where you think, "If I don't answer, people are going to think I didn't think about this and I don't have an answer, and the truth is I do.

01:03:24   So I want to respond so people know that I--because also when it's phrased in terms of it being a "plot hole" or even though we got some really great reviews where I can't complain at all in terms of the critical response.

01:03:47   You would occasionally read a review where it would kind of dismiss the logic as, "If you think too closely about this, it doesn't make sense."

01:03:56   But the thing is, I thought very closely about it for two years of my life and it all makes sense.

01:04:02   And it's hard to not, when somebody engages you in a forum where you can reply to it, it would require just a Herculean effort.

01:04:13   Not to, I think.

01:04:14   But it's something that I'm, I don't know, for the next one, I guess I'm, I don't know, I can really see the merit in not responding.

01:04:25   I can really see the merit in doing whatever I would need to do to kind of disengage a little bit, I guess.

01:04:32   What do you know?

01:04:33   What do you think?

01:04:33   I think of it as an editorial choice.

01:04:38   If you think about the whole world of your movie as one artifact to which you're contributing right now.

01:04:42   Then if you choose not to answer the questions, then you're editing them of that artifact.

01:04:50   That artifact is separate from Looper, the movie that has a start and a finish.

01:04:59   You can't ignore that right now.

01:05:00   The artifact takes on a different form.

01:05:04   Being, you know, having exposure to conversation.

01:05:08   The artifact being the mass of conversation that happens around the room.

01:05:12   Yeah, the massive conversation or the artifact being every release of, of the

01:05:17   original Star Wars trilogy that ever existed and every piece of packaging and

01:05:20   every toy being a part of the movie.

01:05:22   Right.

01:05:22   I kind of like thinking about it that way too.

01:05:25   Yeah, but is it, I don't know.

01:05:27   Is there value in letting it exist on its own,

01:05:32   letting it speak for itself?

01:05:37   And even if that means short term,

01:05:39   there are gonna be people who see it once,

01:05:43   don't give it much thought and say,

01:05:44   this didn't make sense 'cause of this or that,

01:05:46   but maybe they see it on DVD,

01:05:48   yeah, on Brainship 10 years from now

01:05:52   and say, oh, actually this and this,

01:05:53   yes, that's interesting.

01:05:55   Having the patience to let it take root

01:05:57   and let it do its own thing,

01:06:02   rather than trying to immediately patch it yourself.

01:06:05   Is there merit in that?

01:06:09   Absolutely, I think there is.

01:06:11   I mean, I'm speaking as somebody who reacts defensively

01:06:13   constantly throughout, to all things.

01:06:16   I see merit in not making decisions based on defensiveness.

01:06:19   Right, yeah, yeah, yeah.

01:06:23   Yeah, I don't know.

01:06:25   Honestly, I'm still figuring it out.

01:06:22   I can't think there's any doubt that a time travel movie invites that sort of feedback

01:06:27   to a much greater level.

01:06:29   Any movie, you're going to invite criticism of characters' decisions.

01:06:33   If the movie ends in a way that you didn't want, you're going to get complaints.

01:06:37   No doubt.

01:06:38   But a time travel movie invites this whole second level of, I don't know, fantasy metaphysics.

01:06:44   Yeah, yeah, yeah.

01:06:46   That's true.

01:06:47   you're operating in that tricky gray area of where science meets fiction,

01:06:52   and you're inviting all sorts of--

01:06:57   Yeah.

01:06:59   There's a small number of people who have very strong opinions about what would happen if you travel back in time and met yourself.

01:07:00   Regardless of those assholes, I think it's tremendously generous of you to have been contributing to the conversation, including coming and being with us today.

01:07:15   Yeah, thank you very much. I mean, this is a real thrill.

01:07:18   Is that it? Are we done?

01:07:20   The following podcast is brought to you by Field Notes Brand Notebooks.

01:07:26   In connection with their limited edition, made in the USA,

01:07:30   pocket memo books for fall, the traveling salesman edition.

01:07:33   For more information, please visit FieldNotesBrand.com.

01:07:40   My philosophy is that because I've been so tied in with traveling sales for so many years,

01:07:46   my dad and I and both my sons are traveling salesmen.

01:07:50   I really think that the traveling salesman is probably the inspiration for our country

01:07:57   the way it is now because they're industrious people, they work very hard, they don't take

01:08:02   no for an answer.

01:08:04   To me, that's what we are today in this country.

01:08:08   And the traveling salesmen are still there.

01:08:11   They're on television, they're on radio, they're on the internet, and they're still there.

01:08:15   They're traveling the airways.

01:08:16   They aren't traveling door to door much, but by gosh, they're still there.

01:08:20   And it's been a real trip to travel along with them these many years.

01:08:25   That's Ron Solberg, author of "The Whizbangs of Ooze and Oz, America's Salesmen, Their

01:08:30   Lore, Lives, and Laughs," which is an incredibly thorough guide and fascinating history of

01:08:34   traveling sales in this country.

01:08:36   We got the chance to sit down with Ron recently for an interview to talk to him about the

01:08:39   profession and some of the stories behind those who crisscrossed the nation before us.

01:08:47   So Ron, thanks so much for joining us.

01:08:49   You actually have a background in traveling sales yourself, you said.

01:08:52   Well, I really got started working for my father in southern Minnesota.

01:08:56   He was my boss.

01:08:57   And when I was attending college, I had to make a little bit of money to go to college.

01:09:01   And so he hired me as one of his traveling salesmen.

01:09:05   And I went door to door, both in communities and in farms, and was selling brushes and

01:09:11   waxes and insecticides during the summer months.

01:09:15   And actually I was making pretty good money.

01:09:17   A hundred dollar a day was considered to be pretty good, and I got about 50 percent of

01:09:21   that.

01:09:22   So I was making maybe 50 to 60 dollars a day on those hundred dollar days.

01:09:27   So you're currently a teacher, and I think I'd read in your book that your father was

01:09:30   also a teacher as well, wasn't he?

01:09:33   He was.

01:09:34   in Minnesota and this would be in the 1930s I guess and he actually started

01:09:41   selling these canning products where you can can pickles and things and he was

01:09:46   selling that door-to-door but he went into fuller brushes and he realized he

01:09:50   was making more money selling floor brushes in the summer than he was

01:09:53   teaching in the the other nine months of the year so he made the logical move to

01:09:57   switch back to two fuller brushes and he was he was a boss he had about 15 guys

01:10:03   working for him in southern Minnesota and I was one of those guys during the summers

01:10:08   at least.

01:10:09   He was terrific.

01:10:11   I'd get down and I couldn't make a sale for the life of me and I'd come back to him and

01:10:16   say, "Dad, I just, I really, I can't do it.

01:10:19   The doors are being slammed in my face."

01:10:21   He says, "Well, let me help you."

01:10:22   He'd come back with me and walk door to door and he was super.

01:10:26   He had a way and it's hard to even explain it, but he taught me to be a good salesman.

01:10:32   The trick really was volume is the number of stops you make.

01:10:37   If you make a certain number of stops, for instance, in a community, you're going to

01:10:41   make that $100 a day.

01:10:42   If you, and farmers, are bigger buyers, at least they were at that time because they

01:10:47   didn't get to the department stores and other places, and so you didn't have to make as

01:10:52   many stops as farmers.

01:10:53   But if you made those stops, let's say three to four stops in the country in an hour, you

01:10:58   probably would make a pretty good day for yourself.

01:11:02   Do you know approximately how many years he sold for?

01:11:06   I don't know.

01:11:07   He must have been selling fuller brushes and a field manager for maybe 30 years, 20 to

01:11:11   30 years.

01:11:12   When he finally retired down to Arizona, he couldn't get out of the sales business, so

01:11:17   he went to selling maps to schools.

01:11:20   So in a sense, he kind of was returning to his roots because he was going back to the

01:11:24   school but as a salesman.

01:11:26   I went along with him to kind of see how he did it, and he's a super salesman.

01:11:30   He just was.

01:11:32   Getting into the history of it, what are the origins of the traveling salesman?

01:11:37   The earliest salespeople in Europe, they called them "montabanks."

01:11:43   And a montabank actually translates into somebody who would stand on a platform and promote

01:11:50   a product, kind of like you see in a carnival barker or something to that effect.

01:11:55   And so it was stationary, it wasn't a traveling salesman, although they would travel as a

01:11:59   group from place to place, kind of like early patent medicine people would.

01:12:03   They'd have their patent medicine shows and bring their shows around just in America.

01:12:08   But they were doing that in Europe.

01:12:10   And it developed a little differently in the states because in Europe, the enterprises

01:12:15   themselves were selling.

01:12:17   They had rights to sell their products in particular areas.

01:12:21   In this country, the salesman went out and sold away from the enterprise.

01:12:27   They might sell clocks or tinware, but they could roam the country.

01:12:32   They didn't have any particular territory that they were locked into.

01:12:37   And so that was kind of a difference.

01:12:39   The traveling salesman in America were really traveling, and of course you had a different

01:12:43   situation here too with being a wide open country and people were locating in different

01:12:49   areas.

01:12:50   In fact, one author has called it the introduction of the everywhere community, because in a

01:12:55   sense the traveling salesman was bringing the goods and services from the cities out

01:13:02   east, Boston and other areas, to the farms and the settlements that were farther west.

01:13:09   They were several things.

01:13:10   They weren't just salespeople, they were also newspapers.

01:13:14   In fact, that was an important role that these traveling salesmen had in early times.

01:13:17   They were carrying news with them.

01:13:20   would, Johnny Appleseed for instance, was very much involved in warning settlers

01:13:24   as to maybe some Indians who were sort of on the warpath I guess you'd say.

01:13:30   And he would tell them, you know, you've got some problems coming down the road

01:13:33   here. So these early traveling salesman were carriers of news and advice, so they

01:13:39   had multiple functions.

01:13:41   And with those early salesmen, what were they selling

01:13:44   exactly, or rather what was the most like prevalent thing or things that they were

01:13:49   were selling. Book salesmen were probably the most common salesmen and saleswomen in

01:13:56   the 19th century. One of the finest book salesmen of all time was Parson Weems. His

01:14:04   primary product was Bibles, but actually he wrote his own things. Some say he's kind

01:14:12   of equivalent to current reporters for National Enquirer and some of the others because he

01:14:16   would tend to fictionalize the people of his day, like George Washington.

01:14:20   For instance, he wrote a story about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree and

01:14:24   telling his dad that it was -- he did it, and his dad complimented him for being honest.

01:14:31   And that's fiction.

01:14:32   It didn't really happen.

01:14:33   But actually what did happen is probably Wham's own son did something very much like that,

01:14:38   but I don't think he admitted to his dad that he had done it.

01:14:41   But he wrote a lot of books, and they were very popular.

01:14:45   really enjoy them. And what's kind of interesting about the the WEMS book, the

01:14:50   book about George Washington, about being honest, it was one of Abraham Lincoln's

01:14:55   favorite books. I believe that he liked the book so much that of

01:15:01   course his campaign theme was "Honest Abe" and he probably got it from Parson

01:15:07   Wems in the story about George Washington. So these things get kind of

01:15:10   passed on in strange ways. But book sales kind of evolved in another way. It's

01:15:16   called subscription sales. They would go door-to-door with a portion of a book

01:15:21   with some illustrations and text and there were a lot of blank pages and they

01:15:25   would go door-to-door and say we're selling this book, are you interested? And

01:15:30   they'd say yeah I'd like to buy that book and so they put their name in

01:15:34   the back of the book and they go to the neighbor and say you know your neighbor

01:15:38   down there said that they'd like to have this book, maybe you would too, and so the

01:15:42   neighbors said, "Oh my gosh, it's endorsed by my neighbors, so I'll sign for it." And of

01:15:46   course they didn't have to publish the book ahead of time because they knew

01:15:49   just how many books they were going to sell. Mark Twain got involved in that

01:15:53   kind of process. His early books were sold by subscription publishing. One of

01:15:58   the most successful subscription salesperson was a woman, and she was

01:16:04   criticized for doing this. Women shouldn't be doing that sort of thing. They shouldn't

01:16:09   be going out in public and knocking on doors. And she got so mad about it that she wrote

01:16:14   a book about that defending her position that she should be able to do that just like anybody

01:16:20   else just because she's a woman shouldn't restrict her from that profession. It was

01:16:25   a very important way of selling books in the 19th century.

01:16:30   There's that sort of stereotype there not to answer your door because they're going

01:16:34   to give you this hard sell and they're going to try and make you buy something.

01:16:37   But in those early days when these people were so kind of like rural and

01:16:40   way out in these distant areas, was it something like more positive because the

01:16:46   stranger is coming to your door and he's going to talk to you and he's also going

01:16:49   to bring interesting things from the outside world?

01:16:52   Yeah, it was for many different reasons. One of the kind of traveling salesmen

01:16:59   called the Arkansas Traveler. And the Arkansas Traveler, actually Parson

01:17:04   Whims was probably an Arkansas Traveler, not just because he sold books in

01:17:08   Arkansas, but the characteristic of the Arkansas Traveler was that he would

01:17:12   speak with people who were really out in the boonies and people who really didn't

01:17:18   want to talk to anybody. They were there to get away from life, I guess, or get

01:17:21   away from from other people. And so he had to ingratiate himself with these

01:17:26   people to sell his items. And so the way he did it is he brought his violin and instruments

01:17:31   with him. And he would invite these people to join him in music. And of course that really

01:17:39   attracted them and that was typical of the Arkansas traveler. Also, traveling salesmen

01:17:45   were collectors, collectors of music. You have a couple of traveling salesmen who were

01:17:51   selling nursery items, they were not out there to sell the items as much as they were collecting

01:17:57   the music of America.

01:17:59   And there are a couple of museums, one's in Missouri and the other one is down in North

01:18:04   Carolina that has a collection of massive amounts of music of the time.

01:18:10   This should be 19th century America.

01:18:11   And of course, in the case of the music, you kind of reverse the process.

01:18:16   The MMS was there to contribute his music, but these traveling sales people were there

01:18:22   to collect the music of the people.

01:18:25   Other people did other things.

01:18:27   Their storytelling was big.

01:18:29   I mean, the people knew that when the salesman came along, he had a lot of stories to tell

01:18:33   them, humor, jokes.

01:18:35   I can see why people were attracted to this.

01:18:37   They knew that this was sort of an entertainer who was coming around, and in the process,

01:18:42   they'd buy some things from that entertainer.

01:18:44   The traveling salesman would come in a lot of different colors and brands and purposes.

01:18:49   In fact, the one traveling salesman who was collecting the music, his boss said, "You're

01:18:54   not doing much selling, frankly.

01:18:56   You're trading your goods, in this case nursery items, for music.

01:19:01   You're not really bringing in much revenue."

01:19:02   But that wasn't his thing.

01:19:05   In your book, you've dedicated a whole section to Johnny Appleseed, and you said you consider

01:19:10   him a legendary traveling salesman.

01:19:13   That's not something you usually think of when you think of this iconic folk hero.

01:19:19   Why do you consider him a traveling salesman?

01:19:21   For several reasons.

01:19:22   Johnny Appleseed covered a lot of territory.

01:19:25   He started out in the East Coast and went all the way up to Indiana.

01:19:30   And he was spreading word about a very, very important product with the apple.

01:19:36   Today it's pretty common, but at the time people didn't have access to sweeteners and

01:19:41   certainly alcoholic beverages, apple jack, and it's also a preservative.

01:19:48   And perhaps the most important element of the apple was that it tended to serve as boundary,

01:19:53   the trees served as boundary to the property because these people were settlers and they

01:19:58   were just claiming their piece of land and they could claim land by ringing their territory

01:20:05   with these apple trees.

01:20:06   So Johnny Appleseed was really helping them settle as well.

01:20:09   But he's also a missionary.

01:20:13   So he was passing on information about the Swedenborgian religion, which is kind of really

01:20:20   equal to his interest in the people that he was talking to.

01:20:24   And the college there in Urbana is actually there because of Johnny Appleseed.

01:20:30   He was able to persuade a friend of his to donate property to the college so that they

01:20:35   could put that educational facility up and build it.

01:20:40   He's a very interesting person.

01:20:41   I think that the real story about Johnny Appleseed is far more interesting and really unusual

01:20:49   than the legends that have grown up around him.

01:20:51   Disney and others have tended to fictionalize much of what he was, but he was truly an inspiration.

01:21:00   There are certain sales techniques or things that we now consider like sales staples that

01:21:06   you write about that you were born from the heyday of traveling sales, like the warranty

01:21:11   and the money back guarantee.

01:21:13   Well, in terms of the warranty or the money back guarantee, Marshall Field was an early

01:21:20   innovator and of course it was very, very popular and that was the cornerstone of his

01:21:25   early business here in Chicago.

01:21:28   The title of my book has the words "Whizbang" in it, and of course that was a word that

01:21:32   he called his people whizbangs, his traveling salesman.

01:21:37   The other thing is giving away samples.

01:21:40   And of course a lot of this started as door openers.

01:21:42   I used samples when I was selling floor brushes.

01:21:44   I had pastry brushes and vegetable brushes and little bottles of perfume.

01:21:49   And I'd say if you talk with me for just a moment, I'll give you this pastry brush or

01:21:53   this vegetable brush.

01:21:54   And that doesn't sound like a big deal today, but it was a big deal.

01:21:59   And frequently these door openers became products.

01:22:04   One of the most amazing stories I think is with the SOS pad.

01:22:08   He was selling for the kitchen cookware.

01:22:11   He had trouble getting the door open, so he was talking to his wife and he said, "What

01:22:14   can I do to get the door open to sell my goods?"

01:22:17   And she said, "Well, why don't we do something with a pad that maybe a steel wool and maybe

01:22:24   it has soap in it and give that away and maybe the doors will open."

01:22:28   Well, of course they did.

01:22:30   But the kind of funny part of this was that he said, "Well, what are we going to call

01:22:35   this thing?"

01:22:36   And she said, "Why don't we call it SOS pads?"

01:22:38   And she said, "SOS pads?

01:22:40   Save our saucepans."

01:22:42   And so his wife in that case was his partner in putting that together.

01:22:46   Wrigley started out selling soaps, but he was giving away sticks of gum.

01:22:51   And of course, we now know that the gum was far more popular than his soaps.

01:22:56   And what's interesting about that, he took it a step further by mailing out samples to

01:23:05   people with telephones.

01:23:06   And of course, this was the early 20th century, so he used the addresses of people with telephones

01:23:12   as his potential customers.

01:23:16   Avon products started out as he was selling books and he needed a door opener and so he

01:23:24   worked with, I think he had a relative who was a pharmacist and he said, "Can I put something

01:23:29   together that maybe would open a door?"

01:23:31   And they concocted some perfumes and things.

01:23:34   And of course now we know that the perfumes, the cosmetics became far more interesting

01:23:38   to the customer than the things he was trying to sell.

01:23:42   And the name Avon is kind of interesting.

01:23:43   The reason it's called Avon is because he lived in New York and he lived near a river

01:23:47   that looked very much like Stratford and Avon in England, where Shakespeare is from.

01:23:53   So that's where they got the word Avon.

01:23:55   And it's serendipitous how things happen.

01:23:59   We have a traveling salesman, Lay, who of course we know him now as the potato chip

01:24:05   man, discovered that a chef, coincidentally his name was Crum, out in Saratoga.

01:24:13   The story goes that Vanderbilt came in, the very wealthy railroad man, came in and ordered

01:24:19   some potatoes and the chef delivered them and Vanderbilt said, "You know, this is not

01:24:25   good."

01:24:26   So Krome went back and invented the potato chip.

01:24:28   They called it the Saratoga chip initially.

01:24:31   It was just a regional thing.

01:24:32   He was discovered by Lay and he bought a bunch of this, bagged it up, put it in the trunk

01:24:38   of his car and went store to store saying, "I've got something here that I think you'll

01:24:41   be interested in."

01:24:42   We know today that Frito Lay is big in the potato chip business.

01:24:48   What's I think so important about these salespeople, the very best salespeople take advantage of

01:24:54   the moment.

01:24:56   They see something and they say, "My gosh, this is something that will sell."

01:25:00   A favorite story I have is I learned about it when I was working with these really great

01:25:06   salespeople.

01:25:07   One of them had been out to Colorado and he was skiing with his wife.

01:25:12   They were going from one peak to another to go to another slope.

01:25:17   And they were going to be taking this cable car from one location to the next.

01:25:21   And while they were transversing this valley, a small plane came down and clipped the cable.

01:25:28   And two or three of the cable cars in front of this insurance salesman crashed into the

01:25:33   valley.

01:25:34   And of course, they were killed.

01:25:35   But he was left dangling up there above the valley with his wife and in the process sold

01:25:41   them insurance policies to the people who were in that car. Again, you know, these people

01:25:47   see the opportunity and they take advantage of it. They just, and they aren't necessarily

01:25:52   taking advantage of people. In most cases, I think they're giving people something that

01:25:58   they maybe didn't realize that they wanted in the first place. One of the favorite stories

01:26:03   that I have is the man who was actually from this particular area. He went to college in

01:26:08   in Aprilville, Gates. His name was Betamillion Gates. He wasn't born with Betamillion, but

01:26:14   that's what they called him later. Gates eventually would sell barbed wire for the people in DeKalb.

01:26:20   In fact, DeKalb University, Northern Illinois University is probably there because of the

01:26:25   barbed wire business, because that's where barbed wire was invented in DeKalb. But he

01:26:31   started selling barbed wire, and he was called Betamillion because he would bet on anything.

01:26:37   started his first sailing west and he saw some farmers who had cattle who were

01:26:44   roaming all over the place. Of course that's why he had the cowboys because

01:26:48   they had to continue to corral these cattle that didn't know where they were.

01:26:52   And he said, "I can keep this cattle right there. There's 30 very wild cattle but I

01:26:57   can keep them there." And they said, "No, you can't do that." He said, "I betcha I can."

01:27:01   And of course he strung the barbed wire around his cattle and they weren't ready

01:27:05   to go anywhere. Eventually he was so successful selling barbed wire that he went into the

01:27:10   steel business, Republic Steel, and probably his biggest venture was an oil company that

01:27:16   we now know as Texaco. That was his company. So very wealthy. In fact, he was so wealthy

01:27:22   that he actually bid for Carnegie's steel business. Of course, Carnegie we know is probably

01:27:29   one of the wealthiest people of all time in America, but that's how wealthy this guy was.

01:27:34   But Gates was something else.

01:27:36   I mean, he was very successful.

01:27:39   And he knew what he wanted to do.

01:27:40   And he took advantage of the moment,

01:27:42   just like so many of these very good salespeople do.

01:27:44   With those success stories, do you think there's a process of,

01:27:47   like, that process of learning to walk door to door

01:27:49   and kind of meet all kinds of mix of people?

01:27:52   Does that help?

01:27:53   And does it further their career in the end, ultimately?

01:27:58   And then does learning to sell have some sort of benefit

01:28:00   in general, do you think?

01:28:02   I've seen articles written about this that sales training can help people in almost any

01:28:08   vocation, except if you're a monk or somebody that's at a computer all day and you don't

01:28:13   need to talk to anybody.

01:28:14   But I think there are some basic principles that you learn just going door to door.

01:28:20   One of them is there's formulas.

01:28:22   The formula I mentioned to you that you have to make so many stops in an hour in town,

01:28:28   I think the formula was eight stops an hour.

01:28:32   If you go slower than that, you're not selling.

01:28:35   If you go faster than that, you're not selling.

01:28:37   So eight stops an hour.

01:28:38   In the country, it was four stops an hour.

01:28:41   So there's formulas that you learn.

01:28:43   And there's also the idea that optimism, persistence, is so important.

01:28:51   And I mean, that's kind of an intangible, but it is important.

01:28:55   And I think the very best salesmen are friends to the people that they sell to.

01:29:00   Johnny Appleseed was a friend to his people.

01:29:02   There's so many examples where they didn't see them just as salespeople, but they were

01:29:06   friends.

01:29:07   And I think it goes as far as to talk about some of the television personalities like

01:29:12   Ron Popiel.

01:29:14   He comes across to you as a friend.

01:29:15   I've got something I want to share with you.

01:29:17   Give me a moment and I'll tell you about it because it's really a pretty good bargain.

01:29:22   And we're only $9.99 a month for...and I'll give you something extra with that.

01:29:28   I'll give you a cookbook or whatever it is.

01:29:33   They know the people they're talking to and they're like friends.

01:29:37   And the moment.

01:29:38   As a teacher, I call it the teachable moment, but it's a sellable or the sales moment.

01:29:44   There's a moment when you say, "Yes, I know that this is something you could use."

01:29:49   One of the quotes is the last one to say something in a sell is the buyer.

01:29:55   So you wait until the customer says something.

01:30:00   You don't talk over the customer.

01:30:02   You let the customer finally say something.

01:30:04   And the person that says something last is probably the one who's winning, or I should

01:30:09   say is buying in this particular case.

01:30:13   There are techniques.

01:30:14   And some of it is more art than science, but a lot of it is things that you can tell people

01:30:22   you should be doing it this way.

01:30:24   For instance, one salesman, who was very successful, says you've got to have a gimmick.

01:30:30   His gimmick was jewelry.

01:30:32   He had some very fancy jewelry, watches and things, and people would say, really, that's

01:30:36   very interesting.

01:30:38   So they would become interested in him as an individual and say, that's what you got

01:30:43   there.

01:30:44   That's intriguing.

01:30:45   That was his thing.

01:30:46   How did your book wind up happening?

01:30:49   How did whiz-bangs get written and what was the process there?

01:30:52   I'm a history teacher and I was asked by the Newberry Library to put together some lesson

01:30:58   plans on a turn of the century sales activity or labor activity in Chicago.

01:31:05   And I decided to focus on merchandising and marketing.

01:31:09   And as I was doing that, I realized that this isn't just a lesson plan, it's a book.

01:31:15   So seven years later, I ended up completing this book about traveling salesmen.

01:31:22   It was some of the most rewarding times that I've ever had.

01:31:25   I combed the stacks of the Library of Congress and the Newberry Library.

01:31:29   In fact, that's where I found this journal of this Bible salesman, A.M. Jones.

01:31:33   It was a journal.

01:31:34   I don't know that anybody had ever seen it.

01:31:37   I had to handle it with gloves because it was very fragile.

01:31:42   Probably one of the first things I found, I said, "Well, this is unbelievable.

01:31:46   This is something that's written by a traveling salesman 100-plus years ago."

01:31:50   told me his techniques and everything else. And so one thing led to another and I

01:31:56   realized that such a wonderful, rich, rich field. And I had the opportunity to serve

01:32:02   as a researcher at the Library of Congress, comb their stacks for everything they had.

01:32:07   I visited museums. I visited Parson Wehm's museum in Virginia and I went through their stacks. They

01:32:16   had a lot of information about Parson Wehm's and out of went. It was just, there's just so many

01:32:20   Another wonderful resource is the patent medicine capital of the country, which is Marshall,

01:32:27   Michigan.

01:32:28   At the turn of the century, early 20th century, there were 100-plus patent medicine businesses

01:32:33   in Marshall, Michigan.

01:32:34   I talked to a lot of people there who knew a lot about the patent medicine business,

01:32:39   and that was thrilling to get in touch.

01:32:42   So there were just a number of resources, being able to talk to people, being able to

01:32:47   go to museums, libraries, and some have said, "Well, you became sort of a traveling salesman,

01:32:52   didn't you?" Again, by kind of traveling around and selling my ideas, or at least buying ideas,

01:32:59   I guess, from others. You have a whole section about humor that's

01:33:03   based around the traveling salesman in your book. How did that come about?

01:33:08   Some historians believe that you can tell more about the life of a salesman by reading

01:33:12   the humor of the day than almost anything else, because some of the humor that I have

01:33:18   collected goes back 150 years.

01:33:20   It's as funny today as I think it probably was the day that the salesman first uttered

01:33:25   it.

01:33:26   A lot of the jokes were about themselves.

01:33:27   They like to make fun of themselves.

01:33:31   So much of the humor is farmer salesman.

01:33:36   My favorite story is the traveling salesman came up to the door and as he was knocking

01:33:42   and the farmer's door. The wife comes to the door and he notices a three-legged pig or

01:33:48   a pig with a wooden leg running by. He said, "Before I sell you something, I've got to

01:33:52   ask you about this three-legged pig. What's with that?" And the woman said, "That pig

01:33:56   is very special." "Well, I can see that. It's got three legs and a wooden leg there." "Well,

01:34:02   there's more. That pig, our daughter was failing math and that pig tutored our daughter. Now

01:34:06   She's straight A's. Well that that's that's special, but what about the three legs?

01:34:12   There's more.

01:34:14   This house was on fire that pig comes in rescues us and today

01:34:17   We're here because that pig got us out of the house. Well, that's that's special. But what about the three legs? There's more

01:34:24   We were destitute. We didn't know where our next dollar was coming from the pig knows that goes in the back air digs a hole finds oil

01:34:30   Okay. All right. All right

01:34:32   special pig. Tell me about the three legs. Well, a pig like that you can't eat all at

01:34:37   once.

01:34:38   That's great.

01:34:40   You mentioned at the start that all of the historical traveling sales wound up coming

01:34:44   around and now kind of there are glimmers of it on TV and the internet. And specifically

01:34:51   you referenced that the grocery store chain JUUL here in Illinois, that that's sort of

01:34:56   a good example of what goes around, comes around, that kind of idea in sales.

01:35:02   So the Jule Tea Company started out in Chicago, actually, door to door.

01:35:08   He went door to door selling coffee and tea and things.

01:35:11   And it was an innovation at the time because at that point, if you wanted to get coffee

01:35:15   and tea, you go into a store and it probably was in a barrel.

01:35:18   It wasn't very fresh.

01:35:20   And so he was able to deliver some fresh food door to door out of his wagon.

01:35:26   And of course, one thing led to another and it became a grocery store.

01:35:31   actually the founders of GLT were relatives. They were eventually acquired

01:35:37   by the grocery store business. We moved fast forward to about perhaps 20 years

01:35:45   ago and the introduction of Peapod. And what happened was of course Peapod now

01:35:51   started going to the grocery stores, picking out the items for you and

01:35:56   delivering them to you so that you get the fresh products and you didn't have

01:36:00   to go to the store and get them yourself. You know where they got those items from Jewel

01:36:04   Tea? They actually shopped Jewel Tea to pick up the groceries to deliver to the people,

01:36:11   so it came full cycle. You know, you go from door to door to the grocery store and back

01:36:18   door to door. And that's so typical of the way this thing goes. It comes out in a different

01:36:27   but it's still door-to-door sales. It's still door-to-door sales. So it's a, it's a,

01:36:33   that's kind of the story of traveling sales.

01:36:37   The Priest Eating podcast was brought to you by Field Notes brand notebooks,

01:36:42   specifically in connection with their limited edition pocket memo books for

01:36:46   fall, the traveling salesman edition. This edition features a three-pack of made in

01:36:51   the USA Field Notes, each with a dark and rich French paper pop-tone cover and

01:36:56   an embossed logo and gold text. Inside the Traveling Salesman Edition

01:37:00   you'll find light cream paper with ledger lines, great for tracking expenses,

01:37:04   sales, mileage, or any other data you gather on the road.

01:37:07   For more information please visit dealnotesbrand.com

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