INTERVIEW BY: CHRISTINE THOMPSON
In one of the more interesting performances from Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood and Jerry Lewis, THE TRUST is a film about a pair of cops investigating a drug invasion stumble who upon a mysterious bank vault. Pairing an unlikely cop duo of Cage and Wood (with Jerry Lewis giving a cameo as Cage’s father), first time filmmakers Alex and Benjamin Brewer tell us how the film came about after a lunch meeting with Nicolas Cage, the initial script, how the project snowballed, and what it was like working with high-caliber actors. THE TRUST releases April 14th exclusively on DirecTV, in theaters and VOD on May 13th
AMFM: NICOLAS CAGE, ELIJAH WOOD, AND JERRY LEWIS. THAT IS A COUP!
ALEX: It was one thing led to another. Our producer friend Braxton Pope, who produced a number of our music videos, got our script to Nicolas Cage. The connection there was Braxton produced a film called THE CANYONS, directed by Paul Schrader who was interested in Nic for his next film DYING OF THE LIGHT. While Braxton was facilitating that connection, he passed our script to Nicolas Cage.
Nic really liked it, and wanted to meet with us, which was mind-blowing. We met him for lunch, really hit it off, and once he signed on the wheels really got into motion.
AMFM: THAT WAS 2014?
We wanted the film to accommodate Nic’s schedule and film slate. So we had a bit of time between him signing on and when we actually shot it. To cast the other actor opposite of him, actors schedules are constantly shifting – we had to wait to figure out exactly when we were going to shoot before we cast the other part.
AMFM: SO HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH ELIJAH?
He was perfect for the part, we wanted somebody you wouldn’t necessarily expect but would really shine. I think the part allows him to do things he doesn’t get to do in any other films.
AMFM: SAME WITH NICOLAS CAGE TOO.
ALEX: We wanted to do something that would play to their talents, but also be brand new and fresh. Actors always want a challenge, something new.
BEN: Nic has a great sense of humor, he’s incredibly smart. A true artist, and I liked the idea that this film shows it. It’s been a while since he’s done something with this much comedic material. And he nails it.
Alex. We were always cracking up at the monitor, it was great to see. What inspired it is we were looking behind the scenes at one of the national treasure movies. In between the takes, he’d start laughing and smiling, and we thought “oh that’s something we want to see on-screen.” It feels like we haven’t seen it in a long time, a character that allows him to really have fun.
BEN: that’s when this power of positive thinking character emerged, the idea that this guy was going to be fearless, and have no self-consciousness, and be a little unhinged.
AMFM: WHEN YOU WROTE THE SCRIPT IN THE BEGINNING WITH ADAM HIRSH, DID YOU CHANGE THE SCRIPT A LITTLE FOR NICOLAS CAGE WHEN HE SIGNED ON, OR DID YOU STICK TO THE SCRIPT?
BEN: Since we’re first time filmmakers, we’ve been talking about our careers a lot, but its obviously a little silly because…
AMFM: HOW OLD ARE YOU GUYS? (yes, I was rude enough to ask that question)
BEN: I’m 28 and Alex is 29.
AMFM: SO YOU GUYS ARE JUST STARTING, REALLY.
BEN: Yes, we’ve done a lot of music videos and a couple of commercials, but what needs to be said is that it’s rare that two guys like Nic and Elijah would sign on to be in a first-time feature film.
AMFM: SO CONGRATULATIONS!
ALEX: yeah, a coup! So already that puts them in a place in your mind, that they have a character to them that is rare in Hollywood. That’s a sign that you’re going to be dealing with two really great guys.
BEN: So our initial design of it, because we didn’t know how big it was going to be, was more straight story, more thinking of the modes of production, how would we do it south of a million dollars, that kind of thing.
Then once Nic got involved, we thought “well, now we have an Oscar-winning actor who’s played a lot of different roles – how can we develop this character in a way that is a good use of his talent?
We studied everything he’d done, all the different characters he’s played. We sat in a room and thought how can we make our character become something he would bite into?
We did that with Elijah too, we though how can we give him an opportunity to do something we’d like to see him do, as fans. I think everyone should do that for their actors.
We had the luxury of time to think hard, because our shoot got pushed. I think all movies should be like something is written, then it’s cast, then start digging in.
ALEX: Casting is everything. Whether you have a character and you scour the world to find someone who fits that perfectly, or you take a look at someone’s inherent talent and their body of work and try to craft a character that will be new and exciting and play to their strengths, I think that’s essential.
AMFM: CAN WE TALK ABOUT DIRECTING JERRY LEWIS? AND HOW DID YOU GET HIM ON BOARD?
ALEX: So we had another lunch with Nic, and he said there’s a scene with a father character, and (imitates Nicolas Cage’s voice – perfectly) “you know I’ve always wanted Jerry Lewis to play my father in a film.” They both live in Las Vegas, they’ve had lunch together. Nic approached him about it and Jerry was game.
AMFM: DID YOU EVER TRY TO STOP AND PINCH YOURSELF?
ALEX: Totally, it was snowballing. When we were writing the script, we trying to be realistic about what two first time filmmakers could work with it. But yes, it was like you said, pinch yourself.
BEN: Jerry was really nice to us. He carries a reputation, but in his later years he’s mellowed out a bit. But he’s still just as funny and quick. Maybe it’s because we were just two normal young guys…
AMFM: PLUS IT WASN’T LIKE A FILM SET IN A STUDIO SYSTEM, I’M GUESSING.
BEN: yeah right… and he gave us tons of advice.
AMFM: LIKE WHAT?
BEN: well, he walked into the set, and it was dark, because it was a dark scene. He said “What kind of movie are we shooting? Why is it this dark? Everyone laughed, but later that day he said “don’t keep your set dark like that, it depresses people. Your crew is going to be depressed, and when you show it in movie theaters, the crowd is going to be depressed. People like light, you’ve got to shoot in light.”
ALEX: His philosophy as a director and filmmaker in his own right is “keep the crew happy, treat everyone with respect.” And it’s true. We thought of his words throughout shooting. Also, your actors? It’s easy to get caught up on set and get it done, get through the day and problem solve. But we’re nice guys, we appreciate the work everyone’s doing, but it’s easy to forget to thank an actor after they give an incredible performance or do something physically grueling, like a long series of takes for a complicated shot. Just never take that for granted.
AMFM: LET’S GET BACK TO THE WRITING OF THE SCRIPT.
BEN: We taught ourselves writing on this movie. We had written scripts before, but never gotten as deep into the nitty gritty and structure, theme and character as you need to in order to pull off a proper film. But we discovered this really incredible series of essays and videos by a teacher and story consultant named Jennine Lanoutte. She did this one on the Road Warrior that blew our mind.
We had a version of the script. That we’d been tinkering with that we had tried to make thematically rich and structurally more sound. We thought it was our shooting draft, and we sent it to her. She said she like it, but then she sat us down and she really helped us see things we hadn’t seen before.
Her first question was “Why are you making this? What are you trying to say?”
AMFM: WHAT, ALL THE COPS IN LAS VEGAS ARE CORRUPT?
ALEX: Not all of them, but a lot of them are. The go to theme here is that crime doesn’t pay. The universal message of most crime genre movies is that you’ve got to see the bad guys get their just desserts, that’s the society that we want to live in. Jennine totally made us put our entire attention towards theme, and not character and structure. Character and structure was gonna happen, but it needed to happen around theme. From the first to the final draft it did transform massively.
AMFM: CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT ONE SCENE WHERE NICOLAS CAGE’S CHARACTER DOES LOSE IT? (SPOILER ALERT) WAS THAT NICOLAS CAGE OR ALL YOU GUYS?
BEN: Yeah, Elijah’s character had to really be scared. We needed to have it..that’s maybe our favorite moment in the film. The whole sequence of them starting in the apartment, walking down the stairs, and finally getting to the vault, you see the whole transformation as Nic is trying to convince him. Moving forward, finally hitting a wall he can’t get past and being at that most desperate moment.
It was incredible on set. Nic stayed in that mode, and we tried to go up for the next take as quickly as possible, to keep that energy.
ALEX: I think it’s interesting to see where an actor digs deep, and goes method – and when they choose to not. It’s almost like marathon runners, they choose to pace a 26 mile run. Actors it’s the same way. They know how to pace their day. They know what scenes they can handle without getting into dark stuff. Newer actors are like tennis players that don’t know how to put spin on the ball. They’re gonna be exhausted at the end of the day, cause they’re trying to get so deep.
Like Elijah. There’s a disturbing scene with a shakedown in a bakery. I’m scared watching it. And in between takes I can hear Elijah talking about a restaurant he wants to go to. He can turn on an incredible performance and then at cut, he’s not…
But back to Nic, that scene, he had to take a minute, go get himself together, and we were just rolling takes, scared to direct him, dark bakery, red light.