The Good Stuff is about an exchange of goods between two men takes a dramatic turn when the gangsters pursuing one of them get too close. It is our pleasure to interview the director of The Good Stuff, James McVan.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film? Well, one of the themes of the film is family. More specifically, a dysfunctional one. In previous work, my first book for example, the beginning of the story served as catharsis. And there seemed to be a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders when I decided to publish it. Regarding The Good Stuff, I believe it was a subconscious attempt to release this expression out into the world somehow. Which, is common among creators. Sometimes we're making something that is so far deep within, we don't realize it until it's seen, heard or read, whichever the case may be. And ultimately, I tend to pull from my experiences in some form for this type of release. It could be through acting or writing. In this case, we just happened to be lucky enough to get it on film.
What is the most challenging aspect of working in this genre? Of this genre, which I suppose would be crime-drama, I think it's important to find a balance. And it can be difficult to achieve. If you have a story, whether it be a movie or book, there needs to be a relief for the audience to take a breather from it's serious tone. So, it's important to throw some lightheartedness into the mix. This could be comedy or a feel good moment. In the case of The Good Stuff, I tried to use Roman for this in the first scene and, of course, the Borscht on the bench.
When did you realize that you wanted to work in media and make films and what was the first film project that you created as a director? In college, I studied film as a minor. And it slowly crept up on me how much I really love cinema. So finally, in my last semester, I decided to ditch the plan of becoming a history teacher and move to LA in pursuit of acting. I've since moved on from Los Angeles, but it was certainly an interesting time in my life. Regarding my first film project as director, it was a short film entitled, The Color of Intelligence. It was the first time I had a real cinematographer(Maksim Melnyk) and professional actress(Alina Kostyukova). This story actually led to a much bigger one, which turned out to be my second book, A Spy Trip.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of the film and what was the most challenging aspect of production? Well, living in Eastern Europe at the moment, the opportunity for native English speaking actors is a rare occurrence. And since I wanted an authentically styled story, I needed at least one of the main characters to speak undeniable native English. I pondered using a fluent English speaker for the role of Anton, but I couldn't find the right look. So, ultimately I cast myself. For Phillipe, I knew who I wanted right off the bat. I needed someone older than Anton with fluent English. My choice was Oleg Karpenko, someone who I've worked with as an actor in the past and who I knew was a solid professional. For the remaining two roles, I put an ad on Facebook and received a huge response. Jwan Salvatore was actually the very first to respond, and after reviewing some of the others for the hitman role, I thought he fit extremely well. He's also half Italian. So, it worked well, historically, with our organized crime base. Roman Krasitskiy also responded to the add and sent me his reel. The only issue with Roman was his level of English, which was nonexistent. But his face is so dynamic, I thought he was perfect for the role. He ended up studying his a** off for those few lines, and ultimately it worked out. Regarding the crew, it was sort of an all Odessa crew, which was our shooting location. Oleg introduced me to Igor Ryabchuk, our cinematographer. And from there, we added two of Igor's contacts, Alexandr Samson (sound) and Alexandra Viazovskaya, our production assistant. Alexandr's wife, Julia, ended up taking the set photos we have and Maria Markevich, who I'd worked with in the past, took some additional photograpahy for promotional purposes. For editing, I needed someone who really loves that aspect of the film process. Because I certainly don't have the technical skills for it. Maryna Shawkat is someone I know from the Kyiv region of Ukraine and who is also passionate about film. So, she took the role of editor. The most challenging aspect of production was definitely the payphone scene. Alexandra and I scouted the day prior of shooting for a good location with a public phone. We found one that I really liked at the time - full of graffiti, missing the doors and side panels...just a real mess, but perfect for the shot. However, the next morning when we approached the street for the scene, the thing was gone! The city had decided the previous day to remove it after we left. It was an absolute mind bender. However, we found something more suitable near the Odessa train station. Which, I thought provided much more texture and movement than the original payphone. Ultimately, we decided to shoot the rest of the film and ended up rushing to shoot the scene before the sun went down.
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a director and which genres do you prefer to work on? Without a doubt, crime-dramas. These types of films have a raw and gritty feel most of the time. If we look back at some of the classic crime drama stories, there is almost an aura that secretes from their skin. Reservoir Dogs, Good Fellas, Heat, The Place Beyond the Pines, Le Deuxieme Souffle, even the original Point Break from 1991; they all seem to have similar ancestry. Although, comedy is something I would also like to explore. They are polar opposites, but it would be interesting. Perhaps, a Crime-Comedy. I don't think there are too many of those out there.
How can cinema change the world and have an impact on society? It's certainly a question to meditate on deeply. And I believe an entire thesis paper could be written on the subject. But in short answer, cinema is an outlet that reaches the minds of millions. And in some cases, can broaden perspectives, provoke new ways of thinking, and create psychological breakthroughs in individuals and groups that otherwise wouldn't have these experiences on their own. This, of course, is certainly the case if we're talking about issues that are lingering around today like racism and prejudice. But in general, cinema is one of the most powerful mediums on this planet.
What is your next film project as a director? To be honest, I'm not quite sure. I wrote a really cool short film script about the ongoing epidemic of homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse in America. But I would need to return to the US in order to do it justice. I've also thought about a very simple indie feature, which I have a few ideas for.