An Interview With Joseph Kahn - Page Three

A: I’d start it off like an Infiniti commercial and have like, Jonathan Price. He’d introduce this Infiniti, and go through of all of its features, like walnut interior paneling, natural leather seats, airbags, etc. Then it’s driving down the road, and he says ‘it can go from 0 to 60 in 0.03 seconds’ and it takes off. ‘It has turbo, titanium rocket boosters’ and suddenly you see these rocket boosters transform off the back, and it turns into a robot and starts running down the road, and then it turns into a plane and shoots off. Then it would say, ‘Transformers: the relentless pursuit of deception’. That would be my first commercial. I would do all these car commercials and plane commercials that look like other commercials but turn into Transformers commercials. I’ve already written a treatment for the film, I have the whole story mapped out. I have the whole G1 story…let me tell you about it.

Editor's Note: Mr. Kahn proceeds to share some very confidential plot information that Njs4ever will keep confidential until the movie is made.

Q: At 27 years old, do you ever get star struck working with the artists?

A: I was star struck on Janet for sure, because that was the first time that I really dealt with someone that was in my youth. I studied Janet Jackson videos growing up. So to finally see myself face to face with her and working with her and her calling me on a first name basis and calling my home and tracking me down on my cell phone…

Q: She specifically sought you out to direct her video?

A: Yeah. Like her leaving messages, it was the weirdest thing. Because in Texas when I had no access to the industry whatsoever, you look at these people on television and it’s like, you know this world exists, but you have no idea what’s it’s like. And now I’m in this world and it’s the craziest feeling. The other people I think I had it with was New Edition. That was my first time of really tasting fame…seeing Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill…that was pretty trippy.

Q: What were they like in person?

A: You know, the funniest thing is that they are exactly as you think they are. For the most part, every celebrity that I’ve ever met is their persona that they are on TV in some way. Like, Bobby Brown really is Bobby Brown. He really acts that way. Ronnie Devoe is so cool, like just so smooth. Johnny Gill is that stud dude. And Michael Bivins is really that short funky guy. And Janet, she really is elegant, she’s like royalty. Even though she’s talking to you and trying to be normal, she’s not – she’s Janet Jackson – and you can never get that out of your head. You realize that she’s a real person and she’s got just the same emotions as everyone else, but you can never get around the fact that she’s special.

Other than those two acts, I haven’t been really starstruck because I get so many things on my plate when I do my own camera work and editing – there’s nobody else involved with that. If you can imagine, my plate is very, very full so I’m thinking more about lighting, and editing and camera work so I have a lot of things on my mind before I can get starstruck. I don’t have the time to do it. Sometimes I might feel it afterwards and go, “whoa, what the hell did I just do?”

Q: So you’ve never felt extra pressure with certain artists?

A: I always put a lot of pressure on myself every time. On every job I make sure it’s the best thing I can possibly do. Janet though…there was a problem on the set where the set they built just sucked, and that just put even more pressure on me, because I didn’t want to be the director that made the bad Janet Jackson video.

Q: Any words of wisdom for those wanting to get into making music videos or feature films?

A: Well, I think that the most important thing is it takes a lot of hard work, focus, and to know your camera work and things like that. But I’m starting to believe that that’s just a given in anything you do. You shouldn’t applaud yourself for hard work; that’s just required. Know your politics too – know how to be friendly and nice to people so that they don’t come back to you five years down the road and think you’re a [jerk] and try and crush you in some way. That’s a standard thing.

What makes succeeding in this business more special than any other business outside of the obvious? It comes down to creativity – you just gotta be creative. How do you get creative? I think a lot of it has to do with keeping an open mind. The problem with film schools is they teach you not to be creative and it’s the worst thing that I’ve ever been through. You go to film school and they teach you how to think a certain way and as soon as you think a certain way like everybody else, then you’re creativity is over because you’ll never have the inkling inside your head to do something different. You’ll be thinking like other people.

I think the best way to make it in this business is to think unlike other people and be a contrarian. The biggest thing is to keep an open mind. There’s no reason why you can’t love Truffaut and Spielberg at the same time. There’s no reason why you can’t love “Raiders of The Lost Ark” and some crazy, Jim Jarmusch movie or something. Keep your options open – for instance I can go read any marvel comic and I totally love it and I can read Raymond Carver and love it just as much. That way, you have complete accessibility to all the ideas in the world. It’s like, I keep myself completely informed on many levels…I can go read a book on superstring theory and the next minute read Joe Esterhaus “American Rhapsody”. If you have that sensibility then suddenly your options are so much wider because you know so much more.

The worst thing I see is when people “poo-poo” different ideas because it doesn’t fit their schematic. I think that’s what makes people lame, not creative, and not experimental. I find that a lot of people that call themselves experimental are really more close-minded than me, because their experimental in that they hate popular culture so much they have to be so radically left field that it’s just boring. It’s generic experimentalism.

Q: And so you were at NYU Film School?

A: And I dropped out after a year and a half.

Q: And you were doing music videos while you were in film school?

A: Yeah. Actually, right after I graduated from high school in 1990 I did three music videos, went to NYU for a year, dropped out for a semester to make more money to go back to NYU. Then I did one more semester and decided I was never going to afford it. I hated it anyway – they weren’t teaching me anything. So I took the last $3000 that I had, made a music video, dropped out, went back to Texas and started building my career.

Q: And now you’re out on the West Coast.

A: I’ve been out here for six years and I think I’ve been doing pretty well…

Q: Thank you so much for this interview. You’ve given me a lot of your time.

A: Alright man, later.

Q: You too.