JEFF PROBST’S INDEPENDENT PURSUIT (part 5)

Did the film change much in the editing phase? ^ The film did not change significantly, because we shot what was on the page, BUT the film came alive in the editing room because of our editor, Brian Berdan. Again, look at his credits, “Natural Born Killers,” “Nixon,” “Grosse Pointe Blank.” This guy is a major player. He had relocated to Bainbridge Island in Seattle and become friends with another friend of mine, BC Smith who did the music for Finder’s Fee. Brian wanted a simpler life he left LA but was still working in the business. That made him perfect prey for us. We agreed to a deal where he could cut the film in Bainbridge and I would go live in Seattle and commute to Bainbridge everyday while we were cutting. So instead of him having to come to us, I went to him. He could stay at home with his wife and son and we had the benefit of an editor we couldn’t afford otherwise. Brian made so many fantastic decisions in cutting the movie. He is a true storyteller. And working with him was a delight. We became friends as a result. The best part of this whole experience is that I have so many new friends, that tells you how much fun it was to be a part of.
What are some of the scenes you had to cut? ^ As I said earlier, they were some small scenes that we combined with other scenes. We didn’t actually cut any significant content from the story.
How do you explain the ending, which could be interpreted several different ways? ^ I don’t offer any explanations for the ending. As the writer, I know what happened in my mind and it’s very clear to me. But I have been at Q/A’s where audience members have offered up other scenarios that were equally plausible and equally interesting. The thing that delights me the most is the assumptions people make that lead them to their conclusion about the ending. As I have learned from “Survivor,” assumptions will kill you every time. I could have easily added one simple line of dialogue that would have neatly tied up the ending. I discussed it over and over with Jim Gulian and we both agreed that you just didn’t need it. As a result, I think the ending is a bit more layered.
How have audiences reacted during your whirlwind film festival tour? ^ We have attended only two festivals so far. We premiered at Seattle and won the Audience Award for BEST PICTURE and I picked up a Directing Award. We then played at The Method Fest in Los Angeles where we won BEST SCREENPLAY. Then we went into negotiations with a distributor, that are still ongoing, and we were pulled from the festival circuit. I am not allowed to talk about the distributor and I have no idea why we’re not entering more festivals, it’s a bit frustrating, but not my call so I don’t waste my time worrying about it.
You initially began your career as a television host, have you been in anything we might have heard of? ^ Survivor. Biggest break of my TV career. Like that’s a newsflash.
How does filmmaking differ (or not) from television hosting? ^ They really are just completely different worlds. Survivor is one of the rare exceptions, in my opinion. Survivor is storytelling. From the creation of the “world”, to the language, to the casting of characters, to the story arcs, cliffhangers and finally the climax of the vote. Survivor is steeped in the fundamentals of great story telling. That’s what attracted me to it and why I went after it with everything I had.
Is there anything you may have brought from your “Survivor” experience into directing? ^ I have learned tons from Survivor and specifically from Mark Burnett. I could go on and on but a few things stand out. From a story telling point of view, Mark really understands heroes and villains, highs and lows, underdogs and all of the elements that go into making good stories with good characters. This show is most definitely “cast”. The people are real, but they aren’t selected willnilly. It is a process. We know we need good characters and we spend months and months finding the 16 to invest in. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, but it is definitely a major consideration. Mark also has “limitless thinking”. He never considers whether something is possible. He is only concerned with what will best serve the show or a story point. It’s up to his team to execute. At first it was a bit overwhelming because he really does employ LIMITLEss thinking. But I have totally changed my way of thinking and it is amazing what is possible if you believe. Now, when I find myself saying “wouldn’t it be great if” – I know that is the goal – screw the “if you can do it” and turn it into a “how can you do it”. I have also now experienced first hand, commercial success combined with critical success, and that has made me see that it is possible to do good work and have it connect with an audience. It’s one thing to have someone tell you that, it’s another thing to experience it yourself. Everything I have ever done has contributed to who I am today and that all comes into play as a director.
How were you able to balance doing “Survivor” and this film? ^ It was hectic, but the kind of hectic you wish you could be lucky enough to have your entire life. Shot Survivor one for seven weeks in Malaysia while prepping Finder’s Fee in my tent at night. Return home to the states, go into pre-production the very next day. Shoot on July 3rd in Vancouver and wrap 17 days later. Fly to Seattle and put a basic rough cut together over next 5 weeks, then leave for Australia for Survivor 2, without finishing directors cut. Spend 7 weeks in Australia, viewing tapes during down time, making edit notes, listening to music cuts from our composer BC Smith. Return home and immediately return to Seattle to complete editing. Complete the cut, post, do the music, time the print and premiere at Seattle. Win Best Picture at Seattle, go to Method Fest, and then leave two weeks later for Africa. Tied in with all of that was press/promotion for Survivor that was almost a daily consideration. THAT was a whirlwind period in my life and I loved it.
Has your newfound fame from “Survivor” been a help or a hindrance? ^ Survivor played no part in getting Finder’s Fee made, because it hadn’t even happened yet when we got the greenlight. And prior to Survivor being a hit, the last thing ANYONE wanted to hear was that the director was a TV host, so I never ever brought up that other “career.” How Survivor has helped is in promotion. I’m sure that some press we got was more about Survivor than Finder’s Fee – but any mention helps keep your movie out there, so it’s all good by me. I was very pleased to win Seattle because I think it gave the film it’s own identity aside from Survivor.
Okay, we know the host, the director, but what does Jeff Probst do when he wants to kick back? ^ After Africa I had two months before leaving for the Marquesas Islands for Survivor 4. I kicked back way too much just hanging with friends. It’s time to start writing again. I return home in January and plan to begin writing right away. I enjoy writing. I enjoy storytelling. I enjoy working. But in terms of your actual question – it’s always about friends and family. Just hanging out. ^ The only other thing worth mentioning is what has happened to my writing/directing career as a result of Finder’s Fee getting made. Here’s the lowdown. As a television host, I was already repped at William Morris, but I couldn’t get the William Morris film department to even consider repping me as a writer/director at any stage in the making of Finder’s Fee. Not even after we were financed and had assembled a cast that included a William Morris client, Matthew Lillard. They just weren’t interested. That was very surprising to me, especially since I was already a client. It wasn’t until after the movie first screened that I started getting any interest. We had a screening in LA and invited every industry person we knew. Once again, an angel came into my life in the form of Erik Paquette. He is a producer who saw the movie and the next day he started calling agents and saying “you gotta meet this guy, Probst”. I had all the top agencies calling me by the end of the week. Including, William Morris. The truth is, I wanted to go with another agency, but because I was repped in TV at William Morris that made it very difficult, so I went with William Morris. I’m not gonna lie, it’s still a probationary period for both me and them I think. It took a lot of work to get to this point and I don’t want to lose the momentum. Where it stands now, I am officially repped as a writer/director and I’ve had a couple of meetings, but they were basically just “bullshit meet and greets.” There are a zillion directors out there looking for work. My “in” is gonna be as a writer/director which means I HAVE TO WRITE. I now have a calling card. That’s how I view Finder’s Fee. A calling card. It’s amazing to think that after all that work, you’re really right back where you started from in many ways, but it’s true. You’re always starting over if you’re a writer. You have to have the material. He who owns the material has the power. That’s my thought. So I intend to write something kick ass and attach myself as director and use Finder’s Fee as my calling card. The key this time is to write a story that lends itself a bit more to a commercial theatrical release. I have to think bigger. ^ The one thing I desperately try to remind myself every day is “it’s all part of the journey.” Talk about ending on a corny note.
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Posted on January 4, 2002 in Interviews by
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