Over the past two decades, Adam Goldberg has turned in a slew of memorable performances from ‘Dazed and Confused, ‘Saving Private Ryan, ‘2 Days in Paris’ and ‘The Hebrew Hammer.’ His résumé outside the world of acting is just as diverse as the roles he has played. Goldberg has established himself as a prolific photographer, a force in social media and a remarkable director who continues to challenge himself creatively as a artist. Adam Goldberg’s focus over the past year and a half has been his third feature as director, ‘No Way Jose.’ The film follows the life of wayward, erstwhile indie rocker cum children’s musician Jose Stern (Goldberg), over the course of two weeks after being kicked to the curb by his fiancé. He is on the verge of turning 40, and at a crossroads in his relationship. When Jose’s fiancée discovers a dark secret, she kicks him to the curb and he finds himself on the couch of his married-with-children friend, who is in the throes of his own mid-life crisis. Jose reflects on his past as he seeks counsel from his burnt-out friends, dysfunctional family, and a troubled ex-girlfriend — all in an effort to find himself and perhaps the love of his life. In addition to co-writing and directing, Goldberg also contributed music to the soundtrack, which also features tracks from The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, Three Dog Night, and many others. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Adam Goldberg to discuss his journey as an artist, the challenges of bringing ‘No Way Jose’ to the screen, his evolution as both a filmmaker and a musician and where he sees himself headed in the future.
Let’s go back to the beginning. In your youth, what drew you to acting and filmmaking?
I think a few things had a big impact on me. I went to movies with my parents when I was young. Probably with my dad a little more than my mom. My parents split up when I was young. You can do an analysis of an only child whose parents divorce and how that kid might want some attention. I am sure it factors into it! Anyway, I remember going to movies with my dad and seeing “Rocky.” I remember leaving the theater shadowboxing. I wanted to become a boxer and an actor. I would do sketches for my dad when he would pick me up on the weekend. I would often included my my mom and her boyfriend. I would charge him some nominal fee to enter the house and watch the play I would put on. My dad also had Z Channel, there is a great documentary about it, which was a local cable station that was an extremely well-curated cinematheque. I became a fan immediately. I don’t know how I remember this but I remember waking up one day from a nap at my dad’s and Dustin Hoffman’s hand was on the breast of a naked woman in “Straight Time.” [laughs] I was exposed to a lot of interesting movies from Woody Allen to art films, all by watching this almost cinematheque, film festival driven cable station. I think all of those things combined forces to generate initial interest in being a performer. By the time I was 15, my passion really shifted in concurrence to filmmaking. I wouldn’t say it trumped my interest in acting. I began making short films on Super 8 and editing them. Eventually, I got a video camera but continued to shoot with both. I had a crude editing system to edit video. I went to USC on a summer program when I was a junior in high school. That was the first time I was mixing sounds and it helped to generate my interest in all aspects of filmmaking. Really, that was my plan. Through both my interest in acting and a certain amount of happenstance, I ended up becoming a professional actor. I feel that was partly as a function of wanting to make films but feeling acting was an accessible, yet competitive lane through the front door to filmmaking, while others work there way up through more conventional ranks to become a director. It wasn’t far into my career as an actor, about five years, when I wrote my first screenplay, “Scotch And Milk.” I was making my first film when I was 25. It was my goal but it was incredibly challenging, incredibly draining and often times maddening experience making these small movies. Sometimes you are left with a little bit more of the ass end of things … [laughs] or the impetus which drove you to invest so much of yourself in the film to begin with. It is easy to sort of forget some of the more artistically compelling reasons why you do these things. [laughs] It has been sort of a struggle for me to fight those demons off and continue to produce work as a filmmaker. Other things have sated some of the creative desires, whether it is an immersive passion for photography or making music, as I have made several records now. I guess that is the thumbnail! [laughs]
“No Way Jose” is your latest film. What sparked the idea for the story and ultimately made you know this was the project you wanted to pour your energy into?
I have never been a guy who has had a bunch of scripts sitting on the table but I have always been someone who has different ideas percolating. I have only written four features from beginning to end. There have been a couple of thwarted attempts at writing something but I have written four features which were all written to make. This one in particular was really written to make economically by using friends and family. There were several aspects at play. One was that I wanted to do something new. I wanted to do something that wasn’t going to be as structurally or narratively challenging as some of the other films I had made and perhaps would require less money. That isn’t to say that I made either one for very much money. The first movie I made was for $50,000 and then the second movie was made for roughly $1.5 million. I wanted to write for my friends, who I think are extremely talented and not primarily actors but writers, poets or figures in my life who I feel are interesting. I wanted to populate the film with these very real people that I am close with.
The other people who were more conventionally cast, Ahna O’Reilly, Emily Osment and Gillian Jacobs, were people who were sort of paralleling people in my own life. The film was definitely a self-reflective exploration of what I was going through while pushing 40 and struggling with my ambivalence about commitment. It was also about trying to exercise this lighter comedic muscle that I felt I had been giving away for free in some independent fare in which I had contributed a great deal improvisation-ally and otherwise. I thought I should expand and do something along those lines and on my own terms. The project became more born out of these elliptical concepts more than, “Oh, I have this great idea for a movie.” Once I had this dogma that elicited my desire to make a movie, then I started exploring what was going on with myself in order to make this movie. That is the short answer! [laughs]
How did the script evolve when you started working with the talent you assembled for the project? What did they bring to the mix?
There were many iterations of this script. Some were so drastically different from the final script that you could almost make an entirely different movie using some of the same characters. That is really what the early scripts for this film were until I began to make it more of a personally reflective affair. I am a big believer that there is only so much rewriting one can do before you work with the actors. I like working with people who give a lot of themselves, sometimes personal aspects of themselves up, in order to fully flesh out a character. As much as this thing was meticulously written and rewritten, I also rehearsed it quite meticulously. We rehearsed nearly every scene and my DP shot the rehearsals with a Canon 5D (we shot the film itself on the Red camera system). I would shoot conventional coverage of these rehearsals, which I would edit later that day. In the end I had something like a rough pre-version of the film. Mark Putnam, my DP, and I were coming up with a shooting style for this film but it also helped me look at how scenes would run together and what the various actors were bringing to the table. My co-writeer, Sarah, and I were able to get a sense of what needed to be rewritten. It gave us an opportunity to incorporate improvisation prior for shooting, thought there was plenty of it on the day as well.
The music in the film adds an amazing layer and tone to the film. I am sure that was a beast unto itself. What can you tell us about pulling those elements together?
Yeah. There are two elements to it. The first is the music that my band in the movie performs. It was important for me to do some version of the music I make in real life but not necessarily in exactly the same style. I had a concept on what kind of music this band played. I don’t have a band per se but I have played with these guys in various iterations of recording some live stuff. For my last album, I did all the instrumentation myself but in this case I really wanted it to feel like a band. So, I got these guys together and we recorded this stuff live, which was kind of a ridiculous way of doing it, a kind of “Method” way of recording it. We could have easily just recorded it track by track but, like I said, I wanted us to kind of feel like a band. There is that element and then there is all the source tracks. I was insanely ambivalent about going down that road because it is an expensive road and it was not an expensive movie. I had gone down this road before and it had led to a very dark dead end on my first film, “Scotch and Milk,” which probably has the greatest soundtrack in the history of movies but a wide audience will never know this until I clear that music.
Twenty years later, I don’t know how promising that is looking but it was a movie as much about the music in the film than anything. It was all this jazz stuff that was really difficult to clear. My second film, “I Love Your Work,” I did most of the music and Steven Drozd from The Flaming Lips did some music and we also worked on some music together, so there was never going to be that issue. In this case, I thought it was really important to give the film a real frame of reference. There was a version of this that I was just going to score myself but I really wanted to have frames of reference and music that each of these characters would be listening to that would also ground the movie in reality. Otherwise, I feel these films can feel super-insulated. Having said that, it is an incredibly expensive road and a lot of negotiations have to go down to get these artists to sign on. You make one deal, a favored nations deal, where everyone has to agree. It is a jigsaw puzzle and without my music supervisor, Jonathan Zalben, there would have been absolutely no way that it would have ever gone down. I owe a lot to him.
I was curious to know, with working on the music for this film, where does that leave you in regards to your own music? Where do you see yourself headed musically?
There are two ways I have been thinking about approaching it. I have a backlog of partially recorded songs or fully fleshed out songs that go back to when I began making records or at least as far back as 2009. There is a record I could make pretty much right now and I have been grappling with the idea of doing something that is a little different. That would be to use the existing states of these recordings, which were recorded on tape recorders, in GarageBand, in a couple of instances of reel-to-reel 4-track, and more rarely, Pro Tools, and putting them out in their raw, existing form. Often times, although I am proud of my last record, I feel my desire to make a pure ‘70s style LP sounding record makes me lose some of the rawness, intimacy and emotion of these grittier recordings. Some part of me wonders if I shouldn’t just release the whole damn thing! It’s a hard drive’s worth of stuff! Maybe I would release it in a book form as an adjunct piece to a photography book I have also been wanting to do. In essence, it is taking my Tumblr blog which largely consists of the photography, peppered with these recordings, and putting it into book form, with the demos on CDS or download key. Honestly, it is kind of a zero sum gain monetarily but I think artistically it would solve my current dilemma. [laughs] It would be something I would love to own, even if only 100 other people owned it. That is probably what I would do is make 100 of them and take it from there. That is one version. The other version is to literally go back into my garage, take 10 of these things and make another record. I am trying to figure it all out! [laughs]
Jumping back to the making of “No Way Jose,” what is the biggest lesson learned you will take to future projects and where do you see yourself headed next?
There were two lessons I learned. One is a lesson I unfortunately learn on every film, which is don’t make any deals at the beginning when people have ideas you know are going to somehow bite you in the ass in the end. Sometimes your desire to make something gets the better of your intuition. I made this film in kind of a come hell or high water mind frame. It was an emotional and extremely difficult year, a somewhat horrifying year actually. I wanted to make something out of this and not be mired in something quite tragic that happened to my wife and myself. It was weird because the film reflected elements of my life at the time. Basically, we lost a son at term and now we have a very healthy seven month old. “No Way Jose” was in many ways, and this sounds very melodramatic, a birth of sorts that gave us something we didn’t have. I think that was my way of dealing with it. Every time I make one of these things I learn some valuable business lesson. Whether it is through naivety or intentional blindness in wanting to get something made, you are always going to pay the piper at some point. That is one lesson. The other lesson is more of a Writing 101 thing, which is that if something isn’t working on the page, then it is also not going to work later on. There were a couple instances of that where it caught me! [laughs] Those are the two major lessons. As far as what I want to do, I have a few ideas and a potential new collaborator. I won’t say too much about that except to say that it is a very exciting prospect. Like I said, I hope to not let the ass end of these things discourage me from being creative. Ultimately, I want to keep producing stuff and people can hate it, like it, buy it or not but I need to create for my own sanity.
As someone who followed your career from its start, I’ve grown up alongside of you in a way. When you look back at your career, what is your biggest evolution as an artist?
I think there are things I have learned as an actor. For one, I think I was trying so desperately to put all of myself into my acting that sometimes I would lose sight of the bigger picture of that role, for instance. I got to a point where I would say, “Look, this is what this part is and it doesn’t matter what I want to experience.” You have to be faithful to what is necessary for a part. I think that is also how I managed to find so many creative instincts or muscles, whatever you want to call them, aided by these other passions of mine. I can think of two of the biggest artistic evolutions I have had. I was always a big picture taker but I think, frankly, the quality of my work has grown exponentially through the years. It’s not even just the quality but the formats have become much more interesting and advanced, arguably, than they ever have been. I would also say that musically I have gone from someone who has had a hard time finding my voice to being much more focused. I had a lot of discarded ideas, bands and demos in the ‘90s. Over the course of the last record, I think I became very secure in not just my technical ability, which will always be impeded by my autodidactic approach to music, but now have a much clearer sense of my voice.
You have seen the film and music industries, as we all have, change exponentially over the past two decades. What excites you the most about both of those industries in the current climate?
What excites me? [laughs]
Sorry! [laughs] I thought you were going to ask what disappoints me! [laughs]
I’m trying to keep it positive! [laughs]
Yeah, I know! I guess that is my own neuroses showing through. It’s funny because I got a lot of nice compliments through Twitter and on Instagram about “No Way Jose.” And I was like, “The movie isn’t out.” I googled it and was like, “I guess it’s out, alright.” It was out in this really low res, torrent download form. I found that to be insanely disheartening. I have a distribution deal, which in effect, pays back only when this film succeeds. Every deal is on the backend. You know, it is a hard time to make a living doing things, being filmmakers and musicians. I suppose what is potentially exciting is also the idea that there are more ways for people to be exposed to your work. When I did “I Love Your Work,” it had an incredibly limited release in theaters and it was incredibly important to me that people saw it in the theater. I got the best kind of press for that project. I was doing interviews with Terry Gross, who is a hero of mine. There was something about that and having a theatrical that really legitimized it for me. The legitimacy of something was measured through theatrical distribution and now that has sort of changed.
I definitely feel like sort of an old guy trying to understand this but, at the same time, I feel lucky to be able to create my own stuff, particularly music, and put it out there. “I Love Your Work,” in its proper aspect ratio is really hard to find and “Scotch and Milk” is impossible to find and “No Way Jose” won’t be. There is something about the accessibility of content and the accessibility to the means to make that content that is very exciting. It can also produce an over-influx of product and end up in the wrong hands. It can be argued that I am those wrong hands too! [laughs] Some people could be doing it for all the wrong reasons, to do it just because they can or something as superficial as attaining part-time celebrity status or something like that. With all that said, there is some incredibly interesting content in all kinds of new media and venues for media. I think it is a more exaggerated version of what has always been the case, which is that there is going to be good art and bad art and now there is more of each!
Very true! Thanks so much for your time today, Adam! I thought “No Way Jose” was a beautifully made film and we can’t wait to help spread the word. Most importantly, we can’t wait to see where your journey takes you next!
Thank you, it means a lot to me. I really appreciate the really thoughtful questions! Thank you!
“No Way Jose” is available on DVD, iTunes, and VOD. For the latest developments on his work in the realms of film, photography and music, visit Adam Goldberg’s official website at www.adamgoldberg.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.