Hollywood director talks movies, Maxinkuckee roots
Hollywood film director and producer J.B. Rogers shared a recurring piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers Saturday night: film school? Maybe, but the real ticket "in" is getting coffee for the important folks.
Rogers, an Indianapolis native and Park Tudor grad who spent childhood summers on Lake Maxinkuckee, had that to say and much more, to members of the Culver Club of Culver Saturday evening at the Dave and Ginny Gibson cottage on East Shore Drive.
An appearance from a successful Hollywood director is a rarity anywhere, but surely Culver is one of the few small, Indiana towns where it's not exactly a surprise -- which made the event no less a hit with the approximately 60 guests who enjoyed an array of hors d'oeuvres and beverages, as well as the spectacular view of the lake, before and after Rogers' talk.
His oft-referenced suggestion -- the coffee, that is -- grew from his own experiences. Originally intending a career in medicine, Rogers switched to law school, soon answering a friend's invitation to spend some time in Los Angeles. In the meantime, the experience of seeing the Arnold Schwarzenegger film "The Terminator" gave him the idea, he said, that "maybe I could make this."
This was followed by a stint in film school, still in LA., during which he interned with a movie studio, handling Xeroxes and -- you guessed it -- getting coffee for the people in charge, all of it unpaid.
He eventually found himself working on a movie set as production assistant -- which still meant getting people coffee, though he later graduated to "blood boy," cleaning up blood between takes as actors slew the undead. This led to work with Joe Dante, the man responsible for movies like "Gremlins" and "The Burbs," and "Inner Space," among others, now even for pay.
"Film school for me," Rogers told the audience, was working alongside Roger Corman, "King of the 'B' movies...we were making a movie every month. If you survive there, you're learning!"
At 24 years old, Rogers found himself in charge of stunt men blowing up cars and the like. And while the "film school" of Roger Corman during Rogers' days didn't produce any directors, it did produce various behind-the-scenes talent including Academy Award winners and a director of photography for Christopher Nolan's "Batman" film trilogy.
Rogers' big break, in many ways, came with a call from a producer friend who introduced him to Peter and Bob Farrelly.
"We all just gelled together and found common ground. Pete and Bob are really, really funny, but they could care less about technical filmmaking, (but) I care that things are done a certain way. We've been together since 1993."
With the Farrellys, Rogers worked on movies like "Dumb & Dumber," "Kingpin," "Me, Myself, and Irene, "There's Something About Mary," and more recently "The Three Stooges." They're at work on a sequel to "Dumb & Dumber" now.
Rogers earned a reputation as "that guy who can work with two directors," and so was called upon for both "American Pie" and its sequel. He said his first crack at full-blown directing came with "Say it Isn't So," and he more recently directed a movie currently out on DVD called "Demoted," which was shot in Michigan.
He's also forayed into television work, on an R.L. Stine book being turned into a TV series, as well as with Pete Farrelly doing commercials.
Another recurring theme in Rogers' talk was also perhaps surprising: not only is Hollywood not all glamour, but much of it behind the scenes is "blue collar."
"It's one of the last hand-made products in America," he noted. "We say we're making sausage!"
Asked if he found Hollywood culture surreal, Rogers said while moviemaking is "a different kind of business," the people behind movies "are not the ones on 'Entertainment Tonight.' They're people working really hard and for the most part, doing a great job."
In the wake of the recent recession, money has grown tighter for making movies, which has actually resulted in a tendency from (now mostly corporate-merged) studios to ignore any potential film property with a budget under $100 million. The result: more "bankable" hits like the "Batman" movies, than experimental films, regardless of quality. A movie like "The Godfather," said Rogers, though it's considered one of the greatest of all time, wouldn't be made today.
Another surprise was the presence of a second locally-connected individual working in Hollywood. 14-year-old Fritz Wurster, whose grandparents have a cottage on Lake Maxinkuckee as well, recently filmed a role as a teenage Seth Rogen in a movie due out next year. His entree into Hollywood came as a result of working his way through several auditions.
Rogers, answering audience questions, said he sees the future of movies in simultaneous at-home (delivered through the internet) and big-screen movie releases, rather than the current delay. The theatrical element will always remain, he emphasized, for those who wish to go on dates or experience some technically impressive movies as a big-screen spectacle.
Audience member Phyllis Munroe told Rogers his late father, Baxter Rogers, was very proud of him. Her husband, Bruce Munroe, recalled Baxter Rogers sharing dinner with J.B. and movie star Jim Carrey.
"Your dad said (to Carrey), 'You know, you're pretty funny,'" laughed Munroe in recollection.
Rogers also introduced his wife, Gwen, whom he married in 1995 at the Bradley cottage on Lake Maxinkuckee, and who noted she's just launched a bake shop in Indianapolis, The Cake Bake Shop.