The Jordan Vogt-Roberts Interview

Photo: Robyn Von SwankJust a reminder, friends: Funny Ha-Ha is tonight. Cheap fun in the AC--what more could you want?

Today's interviewee is one of those "local boy makes good" stories. Originally from Detroit, he became a popular filmmaker here in Chicago for his work doing comedy shorts called Blerds, amongst other projects. Fast forward to right now: he's riding high off his well-received comedy The Kings Of Summer, which, in addition to starring Alison Brie, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, also features many of the Chicago comics that he first filmed back here. He also directed and wrote Successful Alcoholics, which and wrote (along with T.J. Miller) and directed the Comedy Central series Mash Up.

What event/s in your career would you stay marked a definite turning point for you in terms of larger-scale success and recognition?
I wish I had a cool answer for this. Unfortunately it's all a nebulous blur. Things for me just kept snowballing. Selling a TV show, getting a short film into Sundance, being able to afford myself a life from filmmaking, making a feature film etc... These are all things that individually were huge mile markers for me and would make my 12 year old brain freak out, but I didn't have the experience where one thing hit and then EVERYTHING CHANGED. I just kept hustling, I think my work started getting better, the projects kept getting bigger and more "real". I think it's interesting because eventually your dreams just become your reality and sometimes it's hard to enjoy the weight of achieving your dreams because by the time you get it your already focused on the next thing. I would definitely say that the reception to my movie has opened up a lot of doors that I couldn't have imagined but beyond that it was just a case of constantly working eventually making enough noise where people started to pay attention... I think...

Aside from the actual work side of living in L.A., how has the process of settling into the industry been for you in terms of the business end of it (schmoozing, contracts, negotiations and so on?)
It's an ever evolving process. I usually pride myself on trying to understand people or situations and I think very early in LA I realized I wouldn't be happy there until I tried to stop figuring it all out. You go with it. You need to understand that film is commerce and art so the schmoozing, contracts and negotiations are all a part of it. You take the good with the bad and eventually I think you can learn to love the bad for what it is. LA is filled with some of the worst humans on the planet but it's also home to some of the greatest human beings I've ever met. It's all about your support group and who you choose to surround yourself with. There will always be geniuses who don't have to schmooze and there will always be untalented people who are exceptional at networking - I think the rest of the world falls in between those extremes. You just have to stop comparing yourself to anyone else and their trajectory and focus on creating the work you love. It's a tough business so you have to want it for the right reasons. You learn to find your community and suddenly things get much better. LA is like Las Vegas to me in the sense that it's a completely excessive and ridiculous un-reality and I think to enjoy it properly you need to be able to know when to deconstruct it and when to say "fuck it" and just go have a good time.

What do you miss (if anything) about Chicago?
I'm from the Detroit and LA is a very weird place so beyond missing the beauty of the midwest...

Sultan's Market has the best Falafel I've ever had. I miss it every day.

I miss drinking until 4 or 5am

I miss the fact that it's a real functioning city that isn't completely caught up in the entertainment business. People live normal lives and say hello to one another on the street.

I miss the ads for Chicago's Pizza.

I miss my friends still in the comedy scene.

Did you have any inkling while you were making Kings Of Summer that it was destined for the awards and positive feedback it received? When did you know (or did you ever know?)
Eh, honestly... I thought people were going to hate the movie at Sundance and I was going to have to sneak away and kill myself in the snow.

I loved the script and I loved what my vision for it was... but the response to the movie has really been beyond anything I could have fathomed. There were moments on set that were special. I knew the scene where the kids were banging on the pipe was raw and pure. But you just never know how something is going to turn out or be accepted. A big part of that uncertainty was I was trying to push things tonally so far in both directions and try and make what I lovingly refer to as "The dumbest Terrence Malick movie", which is something you need to finesse in the edit.

If budget and your reputation and everything else were completely irrelevant, just for the fun of it, what major motion picture/s would you love the chance to remake if you had the chance?
Hrrrrm... in this vaccuum why not swing for the fences and remake Citizen Kane? Haha, that's such an intense question because most movies that I love I wouldn't want to touch. I have a knee jerk reaction to say Leon The Professional but it's so perfect already. So it would have to be something that likely didn't work the first time that I thought I could actually improve instead of simply update. Maybe Super Mario Bros? That would be such a weird world to play with. Godfather III so it doesn't suck? Maybe I'd remake UP as a live action film. This is a good question. Oh you know what? There's a great lesser known Alec Guinness movies called The Horse's Mouth that could be amazing if remade properly.

What are one or two movies that everyone else you know pretty much hate but you unabashedly love?
Well, I'm pretty vocal about my love and admiration of Michael Bay. I think he's a fetishist and people give him $200 million to glorify his obsessions. I think there's a real earnestness to what he does and on a technical level he really is unmatched. *Bad Boys II *is one of my favorite movies of all time as I really think it is pure nihilism and about 400 different genres.

In general I'm a person who will geek out about Derrida but see's just as much value in output that people often write off as "low brow".

I've loved the last two Tom Cruise movies. I think *Jack Reacher* and *Oblivion* are fantastic. Oh, I also like *Cloud Atlas* which a lot of people hated.

I probably have suspect taste in general.

What TV are you watching now for fun?
I don't watch a lot of TV right now because it's a pretty big mental commitment for me. I'm still navigating the wake of wreckage this process of releasing an indie film has created around me and so TV is really daunting to me. I'm waiting for Breaking Bad to come back. Eventually I want to go and finally watch Twin Peaks and once they get another season in the can I might give Game of Thrones a chance. Oh and I really want to watch the original BBC version of The Prisoner because I've read a completely insane description of the ending. My tastes are pretty varied, I love Trailer Park Boys, LOST, Friday Night Lights, Deadwood and I recently went on a nostalgia trip and watched an episode of David the Gnome on Youtube. I like to binge watch my TV and I don't mean that in the way most responsible people "binge watch" TV... When I get into a show I'll plow through a full season in a day. It's all-consuming. It can get a little gnarly, not to mention musky.

What advice do you have for other filmmakers when it comes to making it through festivals both physically and emotionally?
Only stress about what is directly in front of you. Everyone around me kept saying "make sure you enjoy it!" and I was completely incapable of truly enjoying the ride because I was too caught up trying to process everything happening. It's surreal and exhausting. Don't get me wrong, I had a ton of fun and often was able to take a step back and think about how absolutely insane and wonderful it was, but I regularly found myself stressing about things that were out of my control. When we sold our movie I was too busy thinking "What if they make me cut it differently?" or various things that were warranted thoughts but I shouldn't have gotten so caught up in it because there wasn't anything I could do about it at the time. I spent so much time learning how I emotionally and intellectually responded to reviews or the weight of the experience so I kind of feel like I need to do it again so I can just focus on enjoying it. At a bigger festival bring a very small but very close group of friends with you so you can soak it all up together but don't ever be afraid to vanish into your own world. Doing the festival circuit is taxing in every possible way, especially when you're on a tour from city to city. You lose track of geographical space and often times you have handlers telling you where to be and when so it's easy for your brain to disengaged from everything happening around you It's a really weird sensation that I think I'm still recovering from. I had a short at Sundance years before the feature premiered and it's a completely different experience that I hope every filmmaker gets the chance to have. It's insane...but worth it.

How does it feel to be the 354th person interviewed for I have a weird thing with numbers so I'd say that I'm glad it's an even number and not an odd one. When I lived in Chicago I remember reading an interview you did with Chris Milk back in in day and because I was a music video nerd I thought that was a really big deal. Glad to be part of the club.