We are launching a new series on The Miramax Blog where we’ll be inviting industry players to talk about their involvement on some aspect of filmmaking. Today, we are so happy to introduce Joshua Zeman, co-producer of the indie gem The Station Agent.
On set of The Station Agent: L-R, cinematographer Oliver Bokelberg, director Tom McCarthy, co-producer Joshua Zeman.
Zeman has produced over fifteen films and has been creating and collaborating in independent film for many years. Some of Zeman’s other past co-producer/producer credits include Mysterious Skin, The Hawk is Dying, Choking Man, and Against The Current starring Joseph Fiennes. He was also an Executive Producer on Ceremony directed by Max Winkler starring Uma Thurman. Zeman is the director of a new documentary, Finding 52, which profiles the search for the loneliest whale in the world, a whale that has been calling out for his entire life and never receiving a response. His past films as a director include the horror-doc, Cropsey.
Guest Blogger – Joshua Zeman
I’m so honored to blog for Miramax about my time working as co-producer on The Station Agent. Working on a film like this was a wonderful experience, and one I hope every filmmaker gets to have in his or her career.
Back in 2002, I was just transitioning into producing when I received a call from [producer] Mary Jane Skalski to work on the film. I had met Mary Jane numerous times before, and I was very eager to learn as much as I could from her. Mary Jane’s reputation, coming from the legendary production, distribution and foreign sales company, Good Machine, was stellar. And if you don’t know Good Machine, check them out on Wiki – a groundbreaking company that fostered some of the best indie producers in the business today.
I remember the moment when I read the last page and closed the script for The Station Agent. From intern to producer, we’ve all read so many screenplays, and most of them are, sadly, horrible. Of course, a very small portion of them are good. Often, however, even with those few promising scripts, there’s something that just doesn’t quite work; a weak third act, dialogue that feels stilted, a story line that isn’t very original. [Director] Tom McCarthy’s script was to say the least, magic. I knew this was going to be a special film. Mary Jane said to me soon after, there are three things that make a good movie; a good script, good actors and a good director. That’s not to say all the rest aren’t important, but rather if you’re missing one of these crucial elements, you’re in trouble.
So, armed with a great script we jumped into production. Of course, with an extremely tight 21-day schedule and a lot of dialogue, its was going to be a hard fought battle. Thankfully Tom had the second key to making a good film wrapped up as well. Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams and Bobby Cannavale; who could ask for a better trio of amazingly talented and hardworking actors. Tom had rehearsed extensively and that preparation revealed itself on set everyday. Actors, like everyone else on a movie set, need time to prepare and work their craft. Finding that time on a 21-day schedule is extremely difficult, so it all came down to the preparation beforehand. For me, the preparation and the talent were evident in every take – not that there were a lot of them!
There are so many things that can go wrong when making a low-budget movie. Big budget films can throw money at problems, low budget films can’t. You’re at the mercy of everything, and for a director that’s a difficult pill to swallow. Everyday, your expectations are compromised in so many unfathomable ways. What made Tom such a competent director on The Station Agent was not only his excellent writing, and an eye for talent, but his ability to adapt. The one story that exemplifies this for me…
We were losing light during a critical scene that called for Peter to get jostled during a pushing match. We had storyboarded out the fight and there were numerous pieces of coverage we needed to get. With the sun setting, it was obvious we weren’t going to make it, and with such a tight schedule there was “no picking it up the next day.” Tom and our DP, Oliver Bokelberg came up with the brilliant idea of just holding on Peter’s face as the pushing match happened above him – outside the camera’s eye. The specific beats of the fight didn’t need to be covered because we couldn’t see them anyway – and, emotionally, none of it mattered. The point was to show the audience what the scene felt like from Peter’s point of view. One shot, one piece of coverage, in the can. I’ve worked with directors since who probably couldn’t have adapted so well. Thinking on your feet and knowing that the scene on the page may not be the one that ends up on screen – that’s the sign of a good director.
So there you have it – the the three things that make a good movie, and sometimes if you’re lucky, a great movie. Thankfully we had all three and then some. With movies like Winter’s Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild being nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, I’m continually reminded of the little films that could, and smile about my time working on The Station Agent.