SPECIAL GUEST Producer Frank Murray, First Reformed
This week we’ve got a treat as we’re looking at one of the best films of last year: Paul Schrader’s unnerving character study First Reformed. Guest host Cassandra Kane is back with the Junkies as we sit down with the film’s producer, Frank Murray.
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FILM First Reformed (2018) dir. Paul Schrader, USA
MUSIC “First Reformed” (Score) (2018), w & p: Lustmord “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” (1878), w: Elisha A. Hoffman “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?” [Orchestral Version] (2014), w & p: Neil Young
This week we were lucky enough to sit down with Frank Murray, who is the producer on Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Murray started in the industry as a production accountant, moved into production management and has more recently been working as a producer in his own right. His credits as producer include Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) and Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck (2017).
Frank talks to us about how he got into the industry, his previous roles and what he really enjoys doing; working intimately with one of Hollywood’s most revered filmmakers; the genesis of many of the decisions we see on-screen in First Reformed; the current state of the industry and the uphill battle to produce meaningful films; and why the best boy (and every other role on-set) is just as important as the producer.
Want to know how much Paul Schrader loved working with Frank? Check out Filmmaker Magazine’s interview with the director. Paul needed a “producer to protect [him]”, and that’s just what Frank did – in the end, Schrader described him as “indispensable”.
Filmmaker Magazine also posed five questions to the director soon after the film’s festival run. He talks about the inspiration for the film’s story, and his personal cinematic inspirations for the film’s look, among other things.
If you’re like us and you just want to keep learning about this movie, check out this series of brilliantly-written articles and reviews:
- Slant Magazine wrote a positive in-depth review of what they called “even by Paul Schrader’s standards, a bleak endeavor”.
- The Film School Rejects take a close look at the visual style of this very stylish movie.
- The British Film Institute look at Schrader’s past to explain his present. Did you realise that First Reformed had so much in common with Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist?!
- SFGate reviewed the movie upon release, noting that “the best artists don’t go soft as they get older; they become more intensely themselves, like there’s nothing to lose and no gain in lying”.
- RadioTimes interviewed lead actor Ethan Hawke on his career, and just how he side-steps the “stupid stuff”.
- Finally, Talkhouse takes a look at the reality of film distribution for movies made on low budgets with arthouse sensibilities, specifically looking at the case of First Reformed. The Netflix vs. cinema debate is alive, and sometimes it’s better that Netflix doesn’t win.
Let’s leave this week’s Show Notes with a quote from Schrader himself about the film’s distribution. When films are launching to more than a billion dollars in a week, where does that leave both the little guys & girls and the Hollywood legends who aren’t chasing the quick buck?
This was taken verbatim from Paul Schrader’s Facebook post on March 3rd, when the Netflix-at-the-Oscars debate was in full swing.
“Distribution models evolve. The notion of squeezing 200+ people into a dark unventilated space to see a flickering image was created by exhibition economics, not any notion of the ‘theatrical experience’. Netflix allows many financially marginal films to have a platform and that’s a good thing. But here’s my query: it involves First Reformed. “First Reformed was sold at a bargain price to A24 out of the Toronto FF. Netflix, which could have snapped it up as easily as it swats a fly on its ass, passed. As did Amazon. As did Sony Classics and Focus. But A24 saw a commercial path for this austere aesthetic film. As a result First Reformed found a life. A24 rolled it out through festivals and screenings from 2017 to 2018. And it survived. Not a big money maker but profitable for A24 and a jewel in their crown. Would First Reformed have found this public acceptance if Netflix [had] scooped it up (at say twice the price A24 payed) and dumped it into its larder? Perhaps Bird Box and Kissing Booth can fight their way through the vast sea of Netflix product to find popular acceptance, but First Reformed? Unlikely. Relegated to film esoterica.” Paul Schrader, March 3rd 2019
If you want to follow us on Letterboxd, we’re always logging and rating films we’ve been watching and occasionally Luke will do some pretty in-depth reviews, too.
Thanks again for checking out Celluloid Junkies. Join us again in a week’s time when we’ll both be your number-one-fans as we dissect one of the greatest screen adaptations of Stephen King’s writing. Until then, don’t forget to check out the archives, or hit up our website.