Writing is Always the Most Excruciating Part of the Process, It’s Never Good Enough by Josh Folan of Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue
Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Josh Folan: Mostly in the outskirts of Oberlin, OH, a tiny Midwestern college town. Very blue collar, somewhere in the range of an upper lower-class to lower middle-class upbringing — not entirely sure what the constraints are on those labels? haha Not a ton of money, but we were never worried about having food on the table or clothes on our backs. As far as life at home goes, I saw quite a bit of sh*t going on around me as a kid that most wouldn’t classify as positive — domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, a messy divorce, mother dying of an overdose when I was fairly young — so I have no doubt that has an influence on my tendencies to tell darker stories like catch 22.
Film Courage: Did you go to film school?
Josh: I did not. Graduated from THE Ohio State University with a degree in finance.
Film Courage: What were your plans after high school?
Josh: Didn’t really have any until the guidance counselor in my high school suggested I go take the SAT and ACT tests, which I did alright on. When the scores came in, he pushed me to apply to a couple schools, Cincinnati and Ohio State. I happened to graduate a semester early because of a rather wild story I concocted about wanting to take college classes at the local community college, writing a letter to and interviewing with the superintendent about the matter, but it was really just so I could move out of my father’s house at 17 and in with an aunt and uncle who are very much like parents/mentors to me. I pulled that little scheme off, and a few months later while living with them I got into both schools, chose OSU and ended up the first college-bound Folan boy.
Film Courage: What is your biggest strength? What is your biggest weakness?
Josh: Strength is without a doubt work ethic. Will Smith says it better, and with fewer expletives, than I would (watch the video here on Youtube).
Weakness is probably pride and my apprehensions with asking for help. I have all these projects where I’m a multi-hyphenate many times over — writer, director, producer, editor, colortist, actor, crafty table coffee nazi…the list goes on an on. Most of the taking on all of those roles has been born out of an unwillingness to find more money (because asking for money is the worst) to pay someone else to do these things, or an unwillingness to ask for favors from people I could delegate those responsibilities to when there is not enough money. I’d rather take the time to teach myself how to do something than ask for help, luckily there are countless youtube tutorials on EVERYthing these days, and I’d have to think wearing all those hats has at least some adverse effect on the quality of the overall product.
“I also think writing, or the enjoyable kind anyhow, has an element of exploration of the thoughts in your own head…a way of understanding what you’ve experienced in other ways, or from different perspectives (often only your own) than you’ve thought of them from prior to.”
Josh Folan co-writer/director of Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue
Film Courage: Do you notice an East Coast versus West Coast mentality or approach to filmmaking?
Josh: There are the cookie-cutter stereotypes of East vs. West mentalities, which I (surely biased-ly) don’t entirely disagree with, of New Yorkers being more hustle-oriented in their approach to getting sh*t done in general. I don’t know if I subscribe to there being a difference in approach to the actual process of filmmaking though; we all have to have a story and point a camera at subjects telling that story just the same. I would say I think there’s a difference in approach to putting together the resources with which to tell our stories. Likely due in large part to there just being flat-out more money thrown around for content creation in general in LA, I feel as though I see more people looking for a “real” budget to shoot their film/series/whatever and letting that potentially endless hunt get in the way of just going out and making their thing in less than ideal conditions. I can make ANYthing for any amount of money. Obviously the correlation of diminishing quality and lack of money is strong, but I can figure out a way to back just about any script into any budget…but that is only because I’m willing to sacrifice just about any luxury to get a project done. As already mentioned, asking for money sucks so I do everything within my power to limit time spent doing it.
Film Courage: You’ve been involved in many independent film projects and have written the book ‘Filmmaking The Hard Way.‘ Before each project, what do you mentally tell yourself? How much do you sweat the small stuff or is no detail too small when it comes to making a film?
Josh: “I’m can’t believe I’m doing this sh*t to myself yet again.” haha
It’s said in a comedic, cynical artist context every time, as I really do enjoy what I do, but without a doubt say that countless times over the course of making every film I make.
While I am very detail oriented, and plan and replan every variable on a project down to the most minute of details, I have fortunately gotten to a place where freaking out about any of the endless possible (and inevitable) dumpster fires that crop up while you’re making a movie is just not going to happen. I’m relatively level-headed about everything in life…freaking out helps no one and accomplishes nothing. And it sure as hell does not inspire confidence in the troops if the fearless leader everyone is looking to for guidance on a shoot is flipping out.
Film Courage: How did you meet Seanie Sugrue?
Josh: I was assigned to train him when he was hired at a bar we bartended at for a couple of years together back in 2008–09. We drank an entire bottle of Jameson while this “training” took place.
Film Courage: What inspired the story for Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue?
Josh: Disclaimer — this a mildly rearranged cut and paste from our press kit:
My phone buzzed with an incoming text from Seanie on a day like any other in the summer of `13, which is not an uncommon occurrence. The message followed that run-of-the-mill suit, asking if I was not busy enough to go catch a movie together. I was, and we did…Fruitvale Station. We share an affinity for gritty, dark, real drama. Walking out of the Kips Bay AMC in New York afterwards, we were bullsh*tting about our take on the film (four thumbs up) and, as conversations between good friends do, that led to a number of other things. One of those things was a writing project I had on my plate at the time, which sparked Seanie flippantly mentioning having gave writing a try once a few years prior, but that he never really got past the title page in the process. Not knowing him to be a writer, my interest was piqued — “uhhh, ok Seanie…what’s the f*cking story? Pitch me.” What he rattled off was the foundation for what is now catch. During our long filmmaking walk, I would come to find out that the day my phone buzzed about going to see that movie, Seanie had ulterior motives that went far beyond scratching his cinephilia itch. He was six months sober at the time, having a weathered a decent alcohol and drug ride not unlike some of the antiheroes of our film, and what he actually needed was a distraction from an urge and a friend that wasn’t sitting in a bar at the time. Looking at the long process in retrospect now, I can see that catch 22 was born from the same thing it’s about — friendship. Gritty and dark, but also real, friendship. And having worked on a lot of projects in the past that didn’t have that caliber of fuel beneath them, I’ve learned over the course of this one what it means to really be proud of what you’ve created.
Film Courage: Seanie says he’s a self-taught writer and worked on other plays while making this movie with you. Can you share how this was to work together during this time?
Josh: We were friends for years before we even pondered a professional collaboration, so our working relationship is inherently stronger and more fun than your average coworkers’ usually would be. Other than arguing about how much I think the Jets suck, and how much he thinks the Bills suck, we can get through things and get sh*t done much faster, and be much more to the point, than you would with someone you only casually know from work settings. That’s particularly beneficial when writing together…being able to tell someone something sucks isn’t the easiest thing, but we have zero qualms with telling the other something they wrote isn’t up to snuff.