JC Chandor earned his first Oscar nomination on Tuesday, getting a Best Original Screenplay nod for his star-studded, independent financial meltdown thriller, "Margin Call." The film stars Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore, Simon Baker and Paul Bettany as the employees of a hedge firm about to bust, making dramatic decisions that will ripple through the world economy.
Chandor joins a field that includes an all-time great, Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"), and the star of a smash hit comedy, Kristen Wiig ("Bridesmaids"), but as a first-time filmmaker, just being there is a thrill for him. Speaking to The Huffington Post on Tuesday, he discussed his excitement about the nomination, his film's timely message, and what his nomination means for the future of video on demand and independent filmmaking.
What does this mean to you, as a first-time filmmaker getting nominated?
From where this project started for us, for me personally, to have had it ended up here and frankly, we weren't the most touchy feely, feel good movie of the year, it takes a little bit for people to sit down and actually watch this movie. But the good news is, when people actually do watch it, it's usually a lot better than they thought it was going to be. So in this case, it's just so exciting for me, to actually realize that 350 or whatever it is people at the Academy, who are writers and my heroes, they sat down and thought this movie was worthy, it's pretty darn exciting.
It wasn't a big studio project; take me through the process of it being an idea to being an indie film to going to Oscar nomination.
Yeah! A little over three years ago, I sat down to write it and wrote it to originally shoot it for under a million bucks, because I wanted to direct it. It was written to be shot, it wasn't written to be a script. It was written to be a movie -- a little movie but a movie -- and it's been, after sitting around for 15 years, struggling, trying to do whatever the heck I can, to have had this project, it's been a bit of under a favored cloud, it's gotten kind of carried along. I think in a neat way, I hope this nomination reflects back on the performances, because this was an actors' driven piece from the minute I sat down to write it, I knew that's what I wanted to write.
I saw a number of For Your Consideration ads for the film, and this was your first go around in an Oscar campaign. What was that experience like?
It was a really interesting process. I think the cool thing for me, all of those ads and everything else, we certainly weren't going to have the money that a lot of those films that we're competing against did. As far as sort of independent, small distributors, we're even on the small end of that. So we knew that was never going to carry the day, so really all you're hoping for is for people to see the movie. I'm now a member of the Writers Guild, so I get a lot of those screeners that come in.
You now realize that studios aren't trying to buy the votes -- well I don't know, maybe some of them are -- they're trying to put the DVD into the player. Because you've got 50 films you've got to watch. So, I think just learning that this is about kind of drawing attention to the film and trying to get people to watch the film was pretty exhilarating, to then realize that it wasn't just some popularity contest, it was actually kind of meaningful. And when I look at our little category, the scripts that got nominated, those seem very well thought out and it's been reaffirming for me.
Do you think the timeliness of the film's message helped?
I don't know -- I think it could hurt it, too. Sometimes people, when something like that is going on in their world, don't want to go sit in a movie for it. The neat thing in our film is that it's entertaining enough so that word of mouth on is fairly good. But the other thing is I actually think there's a meaningful dialogue going on, with the way the Occupy movement sort of happened, where no one was throwing molotov cocktails, no one was being crazy, people were actively trying to engage in something that happened in their lives and they wanted to speak out about it. So for the film to come along at a time when that was going on, if someone had started throwing rocks through windows, people probably would have been like, I don't want to engage in this topic. But the fact that it was a fairly mature response, it was sort of Gandhi at his best, non-violent protest, the film got to be a part of that dialogue, which is pretty awesome.
It's really the only film that deals with it in this year's Oscars. Do you feel like you're representing the Occupy movement or people upset with the financial crisis?
A lot of Occupy people don't think I was critical enough. Some people in that movement think the film let these people off the hook a little bit. But I'm a big, big believer than dramatic performances and dramatic writing and fictional writing can shed a light and shed a truth on what's going on in our world. I'm a huge fan of the films of the '70s and even into the '80s, Sidney Lumet, all those films that used what was going on in people's lives as drama. And not only are you entertained, but hopefully have a greater understanding of your world coming out of it. That was clearly inspiration for me, not only in my life but as a filmmaker. Obviously this film is very unapologetic about the fact that it's about right now.
You're the first real Oscar contender to have had his or her film be seen mostly through video on demand, so you're also leading a charge in that way.
Obviously, for the majority of all of us, unless you're 22 years old and just directed a film, for most people that are making films, either as actors or filmmakers, going straight to video was a bad thing. Your film had not reached where it needed to be and was being dumped. And I think with the fact that there is this tremendous opportunity to access people on their couches, so that they're not watching the 50th version of some police drama that they've seen, but can actually sit there and watch an art film and pay $8 for it or something, it's a market place for us, and to say it doesn't exist and just put our heads in the sand is ridiculous.
So what was really interesting about our film is that it made $5.5 million in the theaters, only going out on 199 screens, and it made probably $5-6 million in first run VOD, not including DVD or anything else. And the theater owners would not allow us to go over 199 screens, they basically capped it because the film was over-performing and they don't want a film to show that that can be done, but if you talk to our distributors, their argument is there are two audiences and there always will be.