#002—Eliot Rausch on Turning Your Unique POV Into Your Superpower - Musicbed Blog
Podcast

#002—Eliot Rausch on Turning Your Unique POV Into Your Superpower

OVERVIEW

Eliot Rausch is one of the most in-demand directors in the industry. His rise to acclaim was quick and unconventional, and his outlook remains undeniably unique.

In episode #002 of the Musicbed Podcast, Eliot offers creatives a master class in navigating the intersection of vulnerability and vision. Topics include finding acceptance as an outsider, overcoming imposter syndrome, and how he uses difficult raw emotions to his advantage.


Show Notes

Eliot Rausch — http://www.eliotrausch.com

How to Win Friends and Influence People — https://en.wikipedia.org

Last Minutes With ODEN — https://vimeo.com/8191217

Alejandro Iñárritu — https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0327944/

The Revenant — https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1663202/

Unbreakable — https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0217869/

A World Unseen — https://youtu.be/pJfTfsXFbLk

Breathing Underwater — https://vimeo.com/94936857

Chad — https://vimeo.com/groups/686279/videos/187759429

Unique — https://vimeo.com/187759430

Musicbed Podcast — https://youtu.be/jQjiQZcL-R0



Eliot’s Musicbed Playlist

Looking for musical inspiration to write your next treatment? Need a song that brings emotion to your edit? Take a few minutes to listen to this playlist, personally curated by Eliot himself.

Hear Eliot’s Full Playlist



Episode #002 Transcript

Interviewing Elliot Rausch

Christian   

I feel like a lot of people would say that you have something that’s actually the hardest part.

Eliot   

I wouldn’t say it’s good taste. I would say it’s more like I have a non-neurotypical, slightly eccentric, divergent mind that operates way outside of normal conventional reality,

Christian   

Right. Maybe give us an introduction to where we are right now.

Eliot   

We are in The Man Cave. This is my garage here in the South Bay, Southern California. A converted space for the sake of efficient work. Where I can still have a door where my kids can knock on it, my wife can knock on it.

Christian   

You said earlier not to read all the books on the shelf here. Why was that? 

Eliot   

Every once in a while, like, if I have a friend over, I’ll notice them side-eyeing the kind of books, trying to figure out—who is this dude? Okay. He’s read that, he’s read that. Oh, no, he’s read that. Oh no, there’s a picture of this. Yeah. I collect the books because it’s like a gamut of my explorations of the last 25 years.

Christian  

Yeah. Eliot, do you remember the first time we ever met?

Eliot   

I want to say—are we talking Houston, Texas?

Christian  

No, Austin. It’s a funny story. Can I tell you? Can I remind you? So I was working at Musicbed at the time, which is funny, full circle. And we were interviewing you for some video. I can’t remember what, but we’re interviewing you and Philip Bloom and Shane Hurlbut. Everybody was at Masters in Motion. Remember? You did a talk that was very beautiful at Masters in Motion. Made Daniel cry, which is another story.

Eliot   

I didn’t know that.

Christian  

We had this interview, and I had really admired your work, obviously, as a young filmmaker just starting out. So I was really looking forward to this interview. And we got some warehouse space or something. And right before we went to set up, we had this Thai food that was—and Thai food does not agree with me. So I went to the bathroom right before our interview.

Eliot   

Did it seep out into the interview?

Christian  

Well, you came in right when I was coming out. Like, door shuts. Bathroom. And then you’re standing there. You just came into the interview. And you’re, like, hey, man, my name is Eliot. And then you go right into the bathroom right after me. Very disgusting story to start this off, but you come out, and you sit down in the interview chair and whatever. And you just, like, look at me. You just  look at me. And you’re, like, did you just use that bathroom? 

Eliot   

No way! I called you out? Did you lie? 

Eliot   

No. I said, yeah, I’m sorry, dude. You’re, like, that was terrible.

Eliot   

Oh, no! I shamed you in front of your whole crew and everything? Oh, no! I could have been more discreet.

Christian   

No, it was funny, though. I think at the time, I was like, frick, man, like, no, I have to do a very serious interview with this guy. And he’s called me out. But it turned out to be funny.

Eliot   

I probably did it to relieve my own anxiety. My wife recently told me I’ve got to stop doing that. Like, I sort of throw small little grenades into serious conversations. Because if I’m with people that are either taking themselves too seriously or it’s too sophisticated? I’ll just do something a little tricky.

Christian  

You feel like you’ve got to defuse it somehow?

Eliot   

Yeah, but I’m trying to work on it because it’s like sweeping someone’s leg. You know, it’s almost like passive-aggressive, sarcastic, something like taking a poke. But it’s always been my way of humanizing the exchange. Yeah, so it’s probably love.

Christian  

It was the highlight of my day, that I was waiting for it. 

Eliot   

Well, you’ve got to think I grew in greater intimacy with you. 

Christian   

I felt like we were better friends after that, for sure. 

Eliot   

A deeper connection. 

Christian  

Yeah. But we’ve gone on to hang out many times. Obviously, I’ve gotten to know you over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the story of where you started. I know you were an editor at an agency maybe? But could you go back and just give me the Cliff Notes version of your upbringing into the film industry?

Eliot   

Yeah. So, always an artist. Pen and ink in a sketchbook. Traumatized by life. Did not know vocationally how I would survive. Came from a lower working class family in the burbs. And they were both starving artists. Pops took a job with the refinery. And I think they were always, you know, in sort of financial turmoil, trying to just get me out the door. 

They knew I was gifted as an artist. I would do these incredible face renderings. Like, when I was very young, I would just draw people’s faces all day long. I remember my dad, my dad was a prolific artist, and so is my mom, still to this day. But they’re, like, oh, God—he’s touched.

In high school, I ended up taking—I went from, like, hypersensitive scared little artist kid, to like, around really tough, competitive culture. And so I think I resurrected some strange longing for, like, football and martial arts. 

And in high school I was still drawing privately in art classes. I was loved by the teachers, but it was kind of a private thing. This is a long winded way of getting to the story, but it was in college where I was just trying to survive financially. I was working at an assortment of different jobs. I was delivering food from a Mediterranean restaurant. I was doing this computer sales job and just failing miserably on the phones trying to sell laptops. 

I was a mumbling kid. I was eccentric. I was, like, you want to buy a laptop, you know? I was just failing. And I remember this guy, in this real weird fringe shop that we’re working in, handed me a book. It was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Christian   

Okay. Yeah, I know it.

Eliot   

And it was just, like, how to ask great questions. Get people talking about themselves. And I remember my typography teacher at Cal State Long Beach. Again, I’m an artist, I’m just figuring out, man, I gotta figure out how to make money. 

I got really interested in him. And, I’m like, hey, man, how do you balance art and commerce? Where do you work outside of here? Do you have a job? Just asking a ton of questions, and I remember him—I think he had felt really seen and known in a very unique way. 

And he’s like, Eliot—I love the questions you ask and how interested you are in my world. I’d love to give you an internship. So, the internship happened. I was in mid college. And it was at Ogilvy and Mather, which was an advertising agency, and they had a post-production facility there. And the internship was a three-month internship in their tape vault. So I was making three-quarter-inch tape dubs for different producers that were running around the agency trying to put together directors reels. 

And simultaneously Final Cut had just launched. And part of making these sizzle reels was, like, to learn Final Cut. So I was learning Final Cut on my own dime, working there for free. Learning from the AV department. And this whole other world is sort of opening up. 

And, at three months—three months after the internship started, they said hey, you know, you gotta go back to school and finish school. We can’t hire you. And I remember saying—I’m not gonna leave. I’m gonna stay here until you kick me out. And long story short, we ended up firing the gentleman that hired me, who had been there for ten years, and they gave me his position. And for about a year after, I was working there full time.

Christian  

Can you recognize now why they did that? 

Eliot   

Why they fired the gentleman?

Christian 

And gave you the job.

Eliot   

I think I was impassioned and really hungry. I think as a recovering alcoholic and addict, when I look back, I was almost like this—if you look at my life, I would wake up at 6AM in the morning. I would start at Santa Monica City College doing classes in the morning. I would go to Culver City to do this internship which turned into a job, then I would drive down to Long Beach, which is an hour drive in traffic, to finish night school, and then I would hit up to Glendora to be with this girl that I was dating, to sleep with her until 1am and then start start over the next day. And I think part of my—”ism,” what I call my “ism,” my spiritual malady—was an insatiable drive. I don’t know how to explain it.

Christian   

Just hungry. 

Eliot   

Yeah, super hungry. Yeah, like scary hungry. And I think that knocked down a lot of doors.

Christian  

Do you think at that time, you even saw any version of what you’re doing now? 

Eliot   

Well, what’s crazy, you know, as that started developing—the love for editorial—I’m in Final Cut. I’m learning it. I’m starting to do friends’ music videos almost immediately because I was connected with a lot of the punk bands here in the South Bay. What I reflected on, and it hit me almost as a prophetic revelation, was that, early on, when I was very young, my father always had an RCA camera. And he was filming our childhood. But at some point, when I was like three or four, I started turning to him and telling him where to point the camera. So we have these videos that I ended up finding where we’d be in the backyard. And I was making films as a director, using him as a camera operator. 

So, it’s almost maybe written into the script of my life. And I had never even realized it to be an option. I assumed I would just be a graphic designer or a struggling artist. So it was always there. I just didn’t have the tools. I didn’t have the teachers, and I didn’t have the wherewithal.

Christian  

So that job got you basically to a point where you were just making a lot. Not financially, but just a lot of things at that point, right?

Eliot   

Yeah, I would just say experimenting as an editor opened up opportunities. It was like a new tool as an artist, to just play. And I was trying hard to get out of college to get further into that realm.

Christian  

Yeah. Did Last Minutes With Oden come within that time? Or was it coming out of that time? When did that happen?

Eliot   

No, the crazy thing is, I would say I had a very private filmmaker journey before Last Minutes With Oden because, gosh, thereafter, you know, as an editor, I started doing my own films. I remember working freelance editorial for Fuel TV, these action-sports networks. And I started getting opportunities to do documentary stuff and pick up a camera on my own. And it was a very happenstance situation where a friend was like, hey, I’ve got this DSLR camera that’s brand new to the market. Do you want to use it this weekend on anything? 

And then my friend Jason Wood called me, a beloved friend who’s saved my life. And he said, hey, I’m putting my dog down this weekend—can you come be with me? And I thought I can serve both of my friends here with this opportunity. Hey, Matt Taylor, do you want to come film this weekend? And, yeah, we went and filmed that Saturday in a couple of hours. I cut it together that night. Sent it to my mom. Sent it to Jason. You know, stole a Bon Iver track. And that was it. Then I woke up and it was, you know, it had been watched, like, 100,000 times.

Christian  

Did it feel like something when you woke up that morning? Obviously it’s a little bit of a shock, but I mean, what was your reaction to that?

Eliot   

Yeah, I cried hysterically. You know, I’m someone that I think—most of the time, when I’m making films or I’m investigating something, I’m trying to have a cathartic release for myself. Because most of the time I’m very numb and emotionally detached. So I remember just having this, like, intense cry that lasted. I finished the cut. It was a very transcendent experience. It did not feel like I was even editing the thing. It was complete. I watched it down, and I’m, like, this is way beyond me. I cried hysterically. It was super healing.

Christian  

Those are always—There’s very few times in my career that—but, I have experienced something like that where you finish something and you’re, like, I wasn’t even there. 

Eliot   

Yeah.

Christian   

Have you learned or tried to chase that dragon in some way? Like, are there things that you’ve implemented into your process to get closer to that in some way?

Eliot   

Yeah, I think so. I think the one thing that was, like, when I got sober, I crashed my car in a blackout. I was 23. Some friend recommended a therapist that recommended a 12-Step meeting. I was sitting in that 12-Step meeting, not realizing that that first 12-Step meeting for me was 10 feet away from where I crashed my car. Like, it was just very strange. You can call it synchronicity. I began to understand, life just worked that way, and I trusted it more than mastery or talent. So, I had enough intuition, and I think I had enough just natural ability as a filmmaker or as an artist, and then the rest of the opportunity I just believe came through happenstance. I just had to keep going after the things I intuitively felt connected to, and everything else would coalesce.

And that really worked. I mean, like, really worked for me. And I think what happened was this very strange season where many of my films were winning awards. It just came very easy, and there was a freedom to it. But then, you know, the masters of the art started knocking on my door. Alejandro Iñárritu calls my cell phone randomly one day and is, like, hey, I want to executive produce your first feature. Give me your script. Like, I’m going on one of these first meetings. I have an agent. People are asking—where’s the script? Where’s the mastery, you know? 

And privately, I’m, like, oh, sh*t—I don’t even know what that is. I don’t know how to do that. My life is a big accident. And so there was a season where I think I, like, doubled down on—my gosh, I’m not really a filmmaker. I’m not a cinephile. And I have to prove to people that I am if I’m going to exist in this space. So, I got all the books. You know, all the master-classes. Just started teaching myself screenwriting, just trying so hard to ensure that I had a vernacular and I had a talent that would match the opportunity that I was experiencing.

Christian  

You regret that at all?

Eliot   

No, I think I think it was a hard season, because I think what it did was—it put me into a state of fear. Right? So I think it was essential, I had to kind of grow up and become an adult and realize that there are actually real fundamental skills and a toolset that I had to learn if I wanted a sustainable career. So I’m so thankful that I had the gumption to go after it and actually learn all of it. Looking back, though, I don’t think I did it from a place of love or freedom. It was more like—oh, sh*t, I have to catch up quick.

Christian  

Like, I’m an outsider.

Eliot   

I’m an outsider. Yes. You got it. 

Christian  

I feel like a lot of people would say that you have something that’s actually the hardest part. You know what I’m saying? Like, even early on, coming from your childhood, the technical stuff is almost the easier part to learn. Because it’s something that’s, you can write it down, you could get on a set and learn things. But the hardest thing is that real subtext—how do I present humanity without being contrived.

Eliot   

So, I think what I’ve been given is—I wouldn’t say it’s good taste. I would say it’s more like I have a non-neurotypical, slightly eccentric divergent mind that operates way outside of normal conventional reality. It’s what God gave me. It’s the way I see the world. And I think my process and my intuition is so foolish in the eyes of rational thinking. 

That piece of me is my art. It is my greatness. But I think pressed up against the expectations others have of me or pressed up against the rigidity of the craft or the rigidity of the specificity that’s required to accomplish things, many times I don’t have the capacity or the ability to honor that.  And that duality between some more, like, logical, rational, pragmatic mind and the more eccentric intuitive nature is always this crazy balance. 

Christian   

Do you feel like being an outsider has been a through-line through all of your work?

Eliot   

You know, it’s funny, in the rooms of recovery, that’s our main spiritual malady, that we feel like aliens on Earth, you know? Like we never belong, we don’t belong. I mean, I remember my earliest memories, always being the watcher. You know, all the kids were playing, right? But I had my headphones in. And I’d be listening to music. And I’d be watching them, observing them, and studying them. And I think, you know, the more I’ve become a writer—writers are the same way. 

They love to observe, and they love to watch. And I think it’s this crazy paradox because I longed to be on the inside. I longed to be connected. And there is work that I can do to actually feel, I think, more intimate with other people. It’s where I’m heading. I think, in my life now. I really do want to feel like I belong, and I’ve experienced a lot of that. I think I’ve done a lot of work to get to a place where I’m like, wow, in any given situation, I feel like I totally belong. I think where I’ve taken that sort of divergent outsider nature of mine, is now I know that I love to be the watcher and the observer. I love to be the one asking questions and the one studying other people’s lives.

Christian  

Why is that? Because I’m the exact same way—I felt like an outsider my whole life. And I think you put it the right way. I enjoy watching. I don’t like to be in the center of anything. I like to disappear.

Eliot   

Yeah. I mean, I think it’s—I mean, I’d be curious to see—do you feel like it’s a part of your spiritual malady? Like, are you trying to fix that? Or have you accepted that as just your nature?

Christian   

No, I’ve definitely accepted as eccentricness. Which I feel like does give me the other abilities to observe and, like you said, write or create sort of an impression of humanity that’s interesting. You know what I’m saying?

Eliot   

I see that in all your work. I think that’s why you’re a great filmmaker. Yeah, I think you ask wonderful questions, but I think also your essence, you hold a very compassionate, great grace-filled presence. If I were to therapize you, I’d probably say when you were young, you were very hypersensitive, and very gentle. And, you know, you’d easily cry and feel things immensely. 

Christian   

I would cry a lot. Very sensitive. Still am.

Eliot   

I would say the first chance I had to create some kind of buffer or numbness between myself and the world, I just started working it. Because I just feel way too much all the time. It’s overwhelming. I hear too much. I see too much. And, you know, I think when I was young, like, my suicidal ideation, or, you know, my massive panic attacks, were always related to this experience of just being overwhelmed by life. Other kids were like, oh, hey, we’re gonna go to [unintelligible]. And the questions and the feelings and everything that would just wash over me, it was just so intense all the time. 

Christian   

The more I grow into who I am—I’m only 31 now, so I’m not there yet, I don’t feel like—but the more I’m starting to cherish how hard I feel things.

Eliot   

Yes!

Christian   

You know what I mean? But now it’s like I cherish it more. Because I think it is sort of a superpower sometimes if you can keep it under some wraps, you know?

Eliot   

I always have these crazy moments where I’ve been in such a dissociated state, because I’ve had to get through some real gnarly trauma or something, or, like, get through a really heavy, intense season. And I’ll go numb, and I’ll lose some of my hearing, and I’ll lose my smell and taste. Physiologically, my body’s going numb. Yeah, my lower back is kind of going out. And what will happen is, I’ll have something come across my periphery in a very unexpected way. And I’ll have a cathartic release. And I’ll just start weeping, for all the tears I haven’t cried six months previous. And what will happen is my ears will actually pop open and all my sense of smell will come back. And it’s as if I go from a one-dimensional reality to everything being Technicolor. And feeling connected to everything all at once. 

You know, I remember when our child was born with special needs, and it just ripped me down the center, like, completely broke me open. My wife included. I remember looking at her as we were both crying through it and thinking, I told her, this is the closest I’ve ever felt to you. And she said, I feel the same. Like, I’ve never been more in love with you. 

And I went to Starbucks to get her coffee one morning, and I remember I was so cracked open that I was sitting in that Starbucks line. And there were twelve people and I knew every single individual’s pain that they were carrying into that Starbucks. Now, this is, like, weird paranormal stuff. But it was almost like a sixth sense. Because I had no ego guard. I was one with other people’s suffering. I don’t know if that’s woo woo.

Christian  

Just to make a movie analogy—you know in Unbreakable, Bruce Willis is bumping into people, and he sees these flashes of crimes that they’ve committed.

Eliot   

Yeah. And I think this is the cursing and blessing of an empath, or someone that’s deeply intuitive.

Christian  

What was it like—and we don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to—managing work while your son was being born and discovering what was going on with him?

Eliot   

For a year before my son was born, I worked with a woman who took me to the depths of all of that. And I had a mental breakdown that lasted, I would say, like, four months, I had a panic attack that kicked off at the core of the work we were doing, and it lasted four months. I lost, like, thirty pounds.

Christian  

Like, a single panic attack?

Eliot   

Imagine being in a state of panic for three months. I understand why people commit suicide, I really do, because it’s, like—oh, this is never going to change. But what she was able to frame, which was the most powerful thing, is she’s, like, you’ve always been running from your fear. Your panic is the fear of fear. And until you get to the center of this—and a lot of it also was, like, I had a disordered attachment with my mother, a real codependent relationship with my mother. I had to leave from that relationship and be with myself for the first time without having external codependent dynamics. But walking through it with her, she was like, we can medicate you. Or you can walk through this, get to the other side, and be completely transformed. 

And what happened was, it felt like I was in a freefall, like, dying every day. Like, such a hard thing to comprehend, but rooted in the sense that I was doing it for the sake of going all the way through the fear that I had never fully been with. Getting as close to it as I possibly can to know that I wouldn’t die. And, I came out of that really healed. And I think for me, it was a lot of traumas; I shared a lot of stuff in my childhood that I never touched. A lot of fear that I just always ran from. My workaholism, everything was sort of, like, if I ever got into a meditative state, there was always this buzz underneath, which was, like, I’m too scared to fully surrender or like let go. And at the end of that, I was able to fully let go, and I remember laying on my back in the backyard, and having this big exhale. And I was praying through it, but I said, God, I’m done. I’m good. I completely surrender. And it was as if I was reborn. I think a lot of people are doing that through DMT or Ayahuasca, trying different, like, quick ways, you know? I’s the excavation of the terror that lies in the heart, you know?

Christian   

Yeah, it’s terrifying. 

Eliot   

It is. 

Christian   

I can’t imagine, dude, the four month version of that.

Eliot   

But getting back to your anxiety question—working when my son had special needs, what I can say is that for many years thereafter, and I’m still kind of coming out of it, he’s six years old, but I think it just clarified my purpose. It drew me to the details of my own life. I think I was making films and escaping the domestic realm of attention. You know, I was, like, making films about paying attention, or, you know, making films about love. But I think what it did was, I remember, there was a social psychologist that came over to work with our son, because he was pulling adults into different rooms. 

And she said—I know exactly what the problem already is. I know that it’s the fact that you’re in the room, but you’re not really in the room. You’re somewhere else. And the way you’re showing up is actually creating a feeling that your son believes you don’t want to be with him. And I turned to my wife, and I said—is that how I’m showing up? I’m here all the time physically. She said, yeah, most times you’re not fully present. You’re somewhere else in your head. And it’s a devastating feeling. And so the woman’s like, well, where are you? 

And I was, like, oh, that’s interesting. In my mind, as I’m attempting to be a good dad and be present with my family, I’m creating my films, right? I’m creating my films, or I’m studying the thing that ultimately is going to help my film. But I’m never in total contact with people that I actually love. And this goes back to the question about being an outsider. So she came I think from a more secular standpoint. She’s like, you know, you just need to be with your son for fifteen minutes a day. Go where he goes, be with him, watch his breathing, watch his eyes, be fully mindful with him. 

And that will satiate him and make him feel like his father is actually seeing him and wanting to be with him, that he won’t be doing this weird sort of thing. And that changed the behavior completely. But I think what it did more than anything for me was, in regard to my filmmaking and my career, I realized I wanted to do a lot more living than creating. 

You know, I wanted to get into the details of my family’s life. I wanted to double down on the relationships that I had and get much closer in attention and in presence with people that I love. And so I would say filmmaking took a secondary sort of place in my life, whereas before it was always kind of a primary thing.

I think I’m still probably there, you know, where I would say surely relationships are more important than achievements, you know? But also that, like, if somehow my career and my filmmaking begins to disrupt the interpersonal relationships I have that are really essential for me, that I need to pause that and ensure that my community—my relationships are healthy.

Christian  

Yeah, totally, man. What’s something that you learned from Iñárritu? Give me something from your experience with him. I know you did A World Unseen and stuff like that, but what was it like working with him?

Eliot   

Yeah. One thing is, I always pronounce his last name wrong. And I think I do it on purpose.

Christian   

Did I say it wrong?

Eliot   

No. You said it right. I always say it wrong.

Christian  

How do you say it?

Eliot   

 Iñárritu. You got it. I think I do it on purpose, just to take him down a notch.

Christian   

It’s one of those sweeps. 

Eliot   

Yeah, one of those sweeps. Exactly.  I think that’s why he likes me, too, when we hang out or in conversation. I think there were a lot of “yes men” around him. And I would just be really frank, even giving comments on The Revenant before it was finished. And it opened up, which was crazy. Because I think it’s a weird thing with fame. I’ve been around so much of it, my heart actually breaks for people that are uber-famous, I don’t feel like I’m in any kind of trance when I’m in their presence. It’s almost like, oh, gosh, what a burden. What a curse. I’ve tasted a little bit of that myself. 

I think they crave real feedback. Real conversation. And, I think because maybe I earned a little bit of that with him, I remember him turning to me before The Revenant was finished, and they’re about ready to head to Argentina to finish the film, and Alejandro asked me—Eliot, how do you think that we should finish the film? 

And I said, what do you mean? I read the script. I know how it finishes, What do you think? And again, back to this very non-neurotypical, divergent way of thinking—very intuitive way—things kind of come up out of my mouth. And I remember I had interviewed Arthur Redcloud, the medicine man in the film, out in Texas, and Arthur was a first time actor. I think he was driving gasoline trucks for a living, and Alejandro just plucked him out of nowhere. And I remember asking him, what is the film about? What’s the core through-line? And Arthur was like, oh, revenge doesn’t belong to man. It belongs to God. And I’m, like, wow, that’s beautiful. 

And when Alejandro asked me, I knew Alejandro’s methodology. Alejandro’s a very, very curious person and always asking questions to everyone in the room, I think, even like the waiter or the waitress, like, he’s very interested. And I remember, well, Arthur said the point of the film, maybe the way to end it would be landing on this idea that revenge doesn’t belong to man, it belongs to God. And I remember Alejandro going “interesting.”

Christian  

How was it originally written? Do you remember?

Eliot     

I don’t want to say, because that script was like, super confidential. And I might even get in trouble for saying this. But I’ll tell you how I approached Alejandro. We were at the friends-and-family viewing after they’d gone to Argentina and finished the film as their sort of best cut, putting it forward to everyone. And I was with my wife. And I’m, like, I wonder how he finished it. And at the very end, you know, Leonardo DiCaprio is holding Tom Hardy’s neck, and then he turns to the camera and says—revenge doesn’t belong to man. It belongs to God. 

And afterwards, I was walking out and the paparazzi and everyone was swarming Alejandro. And I was just trying not to be another thirsty individual. And he ran toward me and grabbed me. He’s like—did it work? Do you think it worked? And I said, yeah, but you gotta give Arthur a writing credit now, you know? And he’s, like, oh, I know. I know. It just was just so perfect. 

And what I realized—it’s a long way of saying what I realized is—even Alejandro, you might believe that he is Fincher-esque in his mastery. But he comes at it from almost a more Malick way. You know, where I think he has a very strong vision in place, but allows for so much spaciousness of exploration at the eleventh hour, you know, and is willing to actually interest the normal layman, you know, the little C- kid that’s in his periphery with an idea that might actually be better than his idea. And for me, that was an immense expression of humility and a practice of curiosity that inspired me,

Christian   

Just to go back a little bit to what we were talking about earlier, I almost feel like that’s it, man. I don’t know if I can really articulate this. But what we were talking about, sort of the way the universe feels like it just kind of creates something—I wonder if that’s it or some part of it, you know? Where it’s, like, not thinking that you are sort of the God of the thing, and letting it sort of create itself through the people and the energy around you. But as directors, we’re told the opposite, that you need to have the answers. What are we doing here? 

Eliot   

Yeah, and I think it’s both. I think it’s co-creation, you know? I think it’s doing your part. Showing up. Being in the details, as we were talking about earlier, you know? Absolutely giving it your all, and in some ways staying out of the expectation, or staying out of the results in a certain way. And being open to where that goes. And also being surprised by where that goes. And being open to changing course. 

I think there’s something in that symbiotic dance. I mean, I can remember countless experiences in my own films where—I remember Chase Irvin and I were doing this film Breathing Underwater together as a short, but I could not figure out how to end the film. I was like, God, how do we end this? I just need a more concrete, symbolic, metaphoric way of expressing death and rebirth. And the young girl kind of comes over in the rose bush, and Chase just starts filming her. And she picks up a dead bird, out of the rose bushes. And she just walks it over to the grandfather in the scene. And he looks at it and Chase is filming this thing, and they both choose to throw that dead bird over the cliff. And there’s no way I could have figured that out, you know, and yet—

Christian   

And you’re shooting on film and stuff—

Eliot   

I’m shooting on film! So I’m like, my gosh, was this moment written in time? Am I just showing up for this? It’s a very crazy out-of-the-box synchronistic interplay.

Christian   

The way that you could maybe justify things is, like, I’m going to attempt to create situations or things to surprise me. Which is very hard, especially in the commercial world. I do want to ask you that. Like, how do you keep that same intentionality or sort of randomness or, you know, finding universal synchronicities in the commercial space?

Eliot   

I would say there’s much less of an opportunity there.

Christian   

Sure. But then I feel like when I see your commercial work, it 100% feels like—maybe not a passion project, obviously. But it feels like you. It doesn’t feel like—oh, there’s Eliot doing a Nike commercial. It feels like, oh, that’s an Eliot film. I think this brand got lucky to do this thing with him. You know what I’m saying? 

Eliot   

I think I roll into the experiences with an almost gestalt method of directing, where I’m destabilizing everything even though there’s a plan, and I’ve spoken about it with the cinematographer, and there’s been an animatic, and everyone understands the way it’s gonna go. I think the essence of what I’m creating and the way I’m developing relationships with the cast or in any given moment, there’s this sense that suddenly everything’s happening. Everyone is outside of the personas they’ve brought in, and things are being captured. And no one really realizes it. And then suddenly, you know, it’s that single take that fits in perfectly for a 30 or something, you know?

Christian   

Has it ever—without naming names—has it ever not worked out with a group of people or an agency or a brand or something? 

Eliot   

Oh, sure. Yeah. And I think I’ve had to become better at clarifying process. I think when I was young, I just expected people to give free reign to that. But now, you know, like in a casting session, I don’t work with an individual at a time. I’ll bring ten people in at a time, and I’ll actually workshop something that’s almost, like—you could call it like a coaching exercise. Or, like, a gestalt therapy session, where I’m creating chaos and destabilizing the entire room and then watching the way everyone is responding in their small, nuanced ways to figure out what I can actually work with.

Christian   

Yeah, I see. It’s almost like you’re not even casting for the role—you’re casting for collaboration.

Eliot   

Yeah, and again, because commercial making is primarily visual, what I’m looking for is the essence of someone. Are they going to show up on my set and stiffen up and suddenly become, you know, someone that sees the cameras that knows the jig and plays to the light? Or are they going to remain imperfect and vulnerable and a little bit scared and a little bit curious? And I think what I’m always looking for is the rigidity in someone. And I usually stray away from the rigidity of someone. An actor or actress, if they’re—I can feel it. Like I try to talk about their diarrhea experience in the bathroom. To see if they laugh about it or where they go with it. But if they’re taking it very seriously, there’s something there, I’m, like—ah, it’s going to be difficult to play with them. 

Christian   

That’s a good point. When are we going to see a feature from you, man?

Eliot   

Yeah, I wrote a screenplay. I wrote the screenplay. It’s low budget, probably 250,000.

Christian   

Love that, by the way. You wouldn’t be surprised. You probably talk to a number of commercial directors—who work on high-level sets where it’s an intense amount of money for a short amount of days—that can’t even think about making a movie for $250,000. It’s so hard for them to even comprehend. But I love that you’re doing that.

Eliot   

Yeah, I think, honestly, if I ever do features, it’ll be the only way I want to make them.

Christian   

I love that so much.

Eliot   

Yeah. Because—what I can say is that when I was writing this screenplay, it’s a true story, and what ended up happening—again, this is a very divergent way of making a film, but I was taking real stories that I was very close to and writing them into a singular story. And then what I’ll start doing is probably working with a very, very small [UNINTELLIGABLE].

It’s narrative. And I think if you were to watch it, the blur between fiction and reality will, you know, be impossible to decipher. That was Last Minutes With Oden. I did this PSA with Benjamin Loeb, these two PSAs were, they’re full docs. But I wrote both of the films and use actors. It’s for childhood trauma. You know, everyone in my circle was like— that’s the most amazing documentary I’ve ever seen. No one realized it was completely fictional. 

Christian   

Which one was that?

Eliot   

Chad and Unique. That’s what the names of the films are, and they’re like six-minute shorts.

Christian   

Is Chad the one where he meets, like, his high school?

Eliot   

Yes, that’s the one. 

Christian   

Are you—hold on—that was, like, scripted?

Eliot   

Completely scripted. I wrote that as a short film.

Christian   

I feel like you’re playing with my f*cking mind.  watch that thing all the time. Like, just bawling my eyes out.

Eliot   

Yeah. Chad was a beloved friend of mine for a while. Hhe was an actor in something I had originally done. I said, Chad, I know you have some of this trauma in your own life that you’re trying to work through with your past. Here’s this PSA I want to create. Would you mind workshopping, you know? And so I presented the script to him.

Christian   

That’s interesting. I’m just still trying to grasp—because, I mean, you would never know. Obviously that was the goal, right? Golly. Like I would still call it a documentary. Like no part of me would be, like, yeah, that’s scripted.

Eliot   

Yeah. And I would say that in that situation, I see myself as a writer, you know?

Christian   

Wow, dude. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, Eliot. I always feel like I can leave a little bit lifted up. So I appreciate you sitting down with us. And—was this fun for you? Hopefully it was fun.

Eliot   

Like I said, brother, more than the conversation, your presence is a healing presence, and just being able to be with you, I know you’re working, but that’s a real gift. 

Christian   

Yeah, I appreciate that, man.

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