Ira Sachs is an American filmmaker. His first film was the acclaimed short Lady. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, his films have included the Sundance Film Festival selection The Delta, the Sundance Film Festival Grand Prize winning Forty Shades of Blue, and Married Life, starring Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan. His film, Keep the Lights On, debuted at Sundance in 2012. His newest film, Love Is Strange, premiered at Sundance in 2014. Sachs is Jewish and openly gay. He lives and works in New York City.
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Hi, my name is Ira Sachs. I'm a filmmaker based in New York City, and I've been making independent films since 1989, including The Delta, Sundance Grand Jury-prize winning Forty Shades of Blue, and the highly autobiographical Keep the Lights On. My most recent film is LOVE IS STRANGE, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a long-term couple who get married after 39 years together, and as a result lose both a job, and their apartment. The film also stars Marisa Tomei, and a host of wonderful NYC stage actors, including Cheyenne Jackson, Harriet Harris, Christina Kirk, and Adriane Lenox.
I am also the founder of two arts programs in NYC, Queer/Art/Film and Queer/Art/Mentorship, both of which were created to foster dialogue and conversation between queer artists from different disciplines and generations.
Okay, thank you all for engaging. I've enjoyed the conversation, and my first visit to Reddit. Have a great day one and all!
Was there a couple in real life that inspired the characters?
My mother and stepfather, my great uncle and his partner, a wonderful man named Michael Zimmer, who lived in the West Village in a house with 2 gay cops on the top floor; and one gay couple we read about who lost a job with the Catholic Church after having gotten married.
Loved the film but I was shocked to see it was rated R. There was no sex or violence and barely any swearing. It's nuts that say Hunger Games gets a PG-13 by comparison.
I've heard people insinuate that it's because of the MPAA's discomfort with gay romance. Did you get any feedback from them about why it got that rating?
they claim it's for language -- there are a few F-words and 2 MF-words -- but there is enough precedent for them to decide that the film is still very suitable for family audiences. It's more of a shame than I knew, because I'm now hearing of friends not taking their children, and I am shocked that they follow the rating. It's about as family friendly a movie as Miracle on 34th St.
do you think we're getting better at movies about gay characters where their sexuality isn't the main focus ?
I get inspiration from so many filmmakers not working today, who actually seem more sophisticated in their presentation of gay characters than most working today, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Patrice Chereau, Chantal Akermann, Pier Paolo Passolini....what's challenging today is for queer filmmakers to sustain a career for years, which is what's necessary to get better and deeper.
Do you have any good Marisa Tomei stories?
We were shooting a scene where she has no dialogue -- she's alone in bed with her husband, played by actor Darren Burrows -- and I watched her on the monitor very closely. It was then, seeing how much she could express in her face (almost as if she was writing paragraphs for me, but without words), that I understand how brilliant an actress she really is, and why she has 3 Academy Award nominations (and one win!). She is extraordinarily committed to making each moment on screen meaningful and complex.
How hard is it in this day and age since we have come so far, is it for a gay artist to strive in NYC?
In truth, it's hard for any artist to survive, or at least most, and as a gay artist, almost everything economically is set up to discourage work in which gay lives and stories are told. Hollywood, for example, didn't put a dollar into this film, even though it had well known stars. That's why I created Queer/Art organization, to create a ballast against that force that encourages GLBT people to tell their stories. You can find out more at queerartfilm.com and queerartmentorship.org
Hi, Ira! Thank you for doing this AMA.
I have a couple of questions:
Do you think it's problematic that the media (and many audiences, it seems) views LOVE IS STRANGE as a film about a gay couple rather than just... as a film about a couple? To what extent does the focus on homosexuality hurt or help the film's ability to make an impact, do you think?
Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?
thank you for participating! I do think it's odd when people talk about the film with surprise that the characters aren't ONLY defined by their sexuality -- as if I would ever write a character that doesn't have many different elements of their personality. It's no great feat of mine, or an extra effort, to make gay people as human as other characters in my film!
Mauricio Zacharias and I are working on a third film in what we consider a trilogy of NYC stories, following Keep the Lights On, and Love is Strange. This time we are writing an intelligent film for kids and adults, about kids and adults. It's called THANK YOU FOR BEING HONEST (hearing it here first!), and it's about two boys who take an oath of silence and stop talking to their parents.
what inspired you to make the movie?
In 2012, when I started working with co-writer Mauricio Zacharias on the film, for the first time in my life I felt hopeful about love. I also went from living alone, to living with my husband, painter Boris Torres, our newborn twins, their mom, and various visiting in-laws....so I was inspired to make a film about many generations trying to get along in one cramped NYC apartment.
What was the financing process like to get Love is Strange made?
I never count on the film industry to support my work, so even as we were soliciting finances from film companies, I was developing another strategy, that relied on individuals who believed in the film's story, and also that it could be a commercially successful film. Ultimately, 26 individuals supported the films creation -- and they have all made their money back!
What was your process for communicating your ideas to your cinematographer Christos Voudouris during pre-production and on set?
I work the most before I start shooting with my cinematographer, more than my actors even (particularly because I don't believe in traditional rehearsals before we start shooting); Christos and I spent 3 weeks watching movies, and talking, and studying closely a few films that were very key to our visual strategy, most specifically two films by Maurice Pialat, A Nos Amours and Loulou. Those were our most important.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot and why?
Good question. I would say the wedding, because weddings no one really moves, and keeping the visuals compelling, without motion by the actors, was tougher than I expected.
Ira - what has been your favorite project to work on so far, and how was it working with John and Alfred on this film?
Each of the projects has certain pleasures, and certain challenges. I like all the films equally though, because they each represent me at that time and in that moment. That said, these last two Keep the Lights On and Love is Strange have been particularly good experiences, because I feel like I was most comfortable with myself, and also I didn't have a boss. I worked with a bunch of wonderful people, but the finances were created in a way that as a filmmaker I had the most independence and control. I like that way of making movies.
Were there moments on set where John or Alfred went to you for notes not as a director but as a gay man?
Good question! well maybe when we discussed their backstories, and how they met, I could shed some specific light, but in general I think they looked at the characters as people not unlike themselves -- both of whom have been in long term marriages, and I think those experiences, with their wives, and in terms of that intimacy and pattern, was where they got the most.
If you could make a book of your choice into a movie, what book would you choose?
I used to want to adapt A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes. I think it would make a great, but very dark, animated film. I'm unlikely to do that though.
Hi Ira I was lucky enough to see LOVE IS STRANGE at Sundance and was so touched by your modern definition of love. Did you always feel that way or has your feelings on love evolved?
oh it always evolves. thanks for the nice words about the film by the way. I really was quite miserable in love until I was in my late 30's, when things got so bad, I had to make changes, and that's when I started to respect and like myself in a new way, which made me open to love in a new way, and better ready for it.
How does it feel knowing that your movie is coming out during the dead months for theaters?
Doesn't seem to be a problem, and probably it's good for us, because we are a small movie, and we could get lost in the fray if we came out against the bigger films, with their bigger advertising budgets.
What is your view of the american independent scene? Is it mostly happening in New York? In what state it resides now according to you?
I think it's a good time for people to start making films, because they can do it cheaply; and the challenge is then for them to do it well; what's difficult, and unfortunate for the independent film scene, is that it's very hard for people to maintain and sustain careers, which is one thing that's very important for the quality of the work to grow. People are leaving cinema because it's not economically viable as a career.
I plan on seeing Love Is Strange sometime soon. I love that people are still making films like this amidst an industry rife with I.P. sludge.
In another question you mention you financed mostly independently. Can you speak more to the process of doing that? I'm a writer myself, and have been for a long time, but I've never even attempted to find financing because the business side of screen writing is such a foreign concept to me and I wouldn't even know where to begin.
Where did you begin? :)
Cheers! And thank you in advance!
EDIT: I also would love to ask how you found your first literary agent, if it's not too much trouble. :)
I don't have a literary agent, so I can't help with that, but I think in terms of writing screenplays, if you aren't a filmmaker yourself, the best thing to do would be to find someone you respect, someone you know, who is, and see if you two can collaborate on making a movie. With most art work I think looking close at hand is the best place to start.
Do you have a favorite (visual) artist (other than your husband of course...)? Do you guys have similar taste in art?
I have so many, but some that inspired me deeply now would be Joe Brainard, Angela Dusfrene, Alice Neel, Cindy Sherman. I like figurative, narrative work, though abstract painters like Louise Fishman also move and excite me deeply. My husband Boris Torres and I do like a lot of things similarly, though he loves horror movies, and I can't watch them.
You're obviously a die hard New Yorker - what's your favorite restaurant in town?
the Knickerbocker, on 9th St and University Place is a home away from home
What is your favourite drink?
i drink red wine and johnny walker black on the rocks on occassion.
Your film Forty Shades of Blue is said to be inspired by Satyajit Ray's Charulata. What is your connection to this filmmaker?
I love Ray's films, the beauty of both the stories, and the storytelling, the humanity, the interest in music and the comfortable poetry of his image making. He also has some films with really great plots, in which very simple tales resonate widely.
I think everyone (or mostly everyone) living in NYC can relate to housing / apartment issues. Do you live in NYC and, if so, for how long?
I first lived in NYC the summer of 1984, following my Freshman year of college, and then I moved here full-time, to Carroll Gardens Brooklyn, in January, 1988. So that's over 25 years now.
hey ira! what is your go-to movie theater snack & drink combo?? i think it says a lot about you...
small popcorn, no butter, diet coke. What's that say about me, do you think?
What was it like to work with Sony Pictures Classics again?
even better the second time around, because over the years, I think I've learned a lot about the business, so I can participate with more depth in the process; the movie is also finding a wide audience, so that always makes the experience and collaboration more fun -- when the film is working.
With your connections to Memphis, can we expect any future projects based and/or filmed here?
I've been away for so long that at the moment I don't feel like I have any close stories to tell there, but you never know.
What can you tell us about your next project??
It's a film for kids and adults, about kids and adults, and specifically about two boys, best friends, who take an oath of silence and stop talking to their parents. It's also about NYC and real estate and families and growing up, so all the themes that were rolling around in Love is Strange also. It's called THANK YOU FOR BEING HONEST.
What are your thoughts regarding IMDB and how they deal with smaller productions and profiles?
I don't really know about how they deal with smaller productions and profiles. I'm always surprised and impressed by how much information you can find there.
While researching for this film, did you come across any long-term couples that inspired you? what was the best advice you received about marriage?
John Lithgow has said it well, each marriage is made up of many small marriages, and chapters. One folds into the next, but it's good to be ready for the "new" even with someone you've been in a relationship with for many years. My own personal feeling is that they most important thing in a marriage is honesty, and being strong enough in yourself to not take the small things too seriously.
Do you watch Game of Thrones? There's a hint in Love Is Strange for that...
I don't actually watch Game of Thrones, but I have many friends who do, including the gay policeman on which Cheyenne Jackson's character is based.
How were you able to come up with character of Joey and make him so relatable to teenagers?
well I have known a lot of teenagers, and also I was a teenager, kind of like Joey (I stole French books from my high school, for example), but I also cast an extraordinary young actor, Charlie Tahan, who brought the character alive in such an organic, open way. I think he's one of the best young actors -- best actors period -- I've ever worked with.
Why did you think that John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, out of all of the actors, were the right people to play a believable long term couple?
It's instinct. Also, I cast Alfred early, and when I learned that he and John knew each other previously, I thought that would be a good base. I had a sense they would bring out very authentic, naturalistic, human performances from each other, and I wasn't wrong!
Any upcoming projects planned?
My co-writer Mauricio Zacharias and I are finishing a new script, THANK YOU FOR BEING HONEST, about two boys, best friends, who take an oath of silence, and stop talking to their parents. It's a film for kids and adults, about kids and adults. I think it's amazing how few intelligent films -- non-animated, and cinematic -- are made for young people.
How was your cooperation with Pierce Brosnan?
Pierce was wonderful to work with. He's a natural, and very easy on set, and he nails it in almost the first take. It comes very easily to him, and he has a brilliant sense of humor.
How was working with Eric Tabach?
Wonderful. Eric is a very astute, and very funny, young actor, who fits comfortably into any scene, and can make your dialogue sing!
What are some of your favorite underrated places in NYC?
Good question, and I really should get out more! Now that I have kids, Im discovering new places that were right in front of my nose, including playgrounds I'd never noticed, the NYC Fire Museum on Spring Street; the Children's Museum for the Arts on Charlton; and the zoo in Central Park.
In a fight to the death, who would reign as supreme Ira : you , Ira Glass or Ira flatow?
There can be only one.
I think we would likely all go out to dinner instead.
Have you ever become frustrated by how close your name is to being an anagram for Sriracha?
no I haven't.
Neither John nor Alfred have ever played characters like Ben and George. When directing someone who is new to a characters way of life, do you find it difficult if they don't feel the bond with who they are playing?
I think these two characters were probably closer to them than any they had yet played, and that's partially due to how I like to work, in that I'm looking for actors to reveal themselves, more than transform. They aren't playing John and Alfred, but they can bring as much of their real selves to the role. After that, it's their brilliance as actors which gives the characters depth and shape (not to mention humor).
You've clearly followed your own path just wondering what your top note for an aspiring director?
write about the world you know about most; that's what you have to offer that's unique. Your community, your friends, your thoughts, your personal experience and challenges. Then my other advice would be to watch as many different kinds of movies as possible, and read novels too! You have to invest in the history of the medium, and storytelling, to have the depth. So start now!
Ketchup or catsup?
i guess both. I would look it up before writing either probably.