Marc Levin, genre-busting director has a bold and effective business model: what goes around comes around. Learn about how you, too, can start breaking out of your own mold and come up with something original and meaningful.
Hometown: Born in NYC, grew up in Elizabeth and Maplewood, NJ
Current Residence: NYC
Areas of Focus: Documentaries, features, and tv series that are genre busting
You graduated from Wesleyan University. How did this shape you for your career in film?
I started making films in high school. Wesleyan was key because I met fellow students who became collegues. I met Jeanine Basinger who is one of the most respected film historians in Acadamia and Prof. Richard Slotkin who wrote “Regeneration Through Violence” and helped create a field of American study that used popular culture as a way of looking at contemporary history.
I dropped out of Wesleyan to work as an apprentice editor on “Gimme Shelter”. This was a formative experience because the film captured the death of the 60s and the convergence of 60s culture (sex, drugs and rock and roll) with racism, politics and violence. The imprint that this left has been a part of my work ever since.
Your film SLAM (1998) was critically acclaimed. Not only did it receive the Sundance Film Festival’s Dramatic Feature Grand Jury Prize but also the Cannes Film Festival Camera d’Or as well. What was it like for you to have your work recognised in this fashion?
SLAM was a high point. It was like riding a wave because not only was the film acclaimed, but it was the vanguard of the spoken word and poetry movement and allowed it to be discovered by a whole new generation. It was tremendously gratifying to not only be recognized but to be with the whole SLAM family there. A lasting bond was formed and it was a once in a lifetime experience.
You directed the film Whiteboyz, which featured some of the world’s greatest rappers and hip hop artists: Dr Dre, Fat Joe, Snoop Dogg, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Dead Prez and Big Pun. What was it like working with these guys? Are there any anecdotes about their behavior? Did they behave outrageously?
I half remember what it was like. Snoop and the other guys from the Dogg Pound needed a seperate game trailer where they could play video games and smoke. Going in there was like sticking your head in a hookah. When it was time to film he was really accomodating. He knew my work from Gang War. To get him to freestyle at the end of the film with Danny he lit up a huge blunt and passed it to me and by the time we were finished I barely knew what planet we were on.
You’re Jewish. What was it like for you to film “Protocols of Zion,,” considering the harrowing focal point – the resurgence of Anti-Semitism after 9/11?
Looking back, like others, I think I was suffering from post-traumatic stress. It’s hard to believe that I threw myself both in front of the camera (it was the first and last time that I did that) and into the lion’s den of anti-semitic zealots. Shooting Protocols was very moving because it was the last film that I made with my father. He passed away a few years later. He was actually buried in the same plot that he and I stand in at the end of the film.
Your latest documentary mini series, ‘Brick City,’ focuses on the city of Newark, New Jersey and its people. It was nominated for an Emmy and also was described as a “verite version of The Wire, one of TV’s finest series ever.” When you started filming it did you expect it would take off like it has?
Brick City was the culmination of three decades of filmmaking experience and a dream of trying to do a docu-series that played like scripted television. After my show Street Time, which aired on Showtime, I was bit by the series bug – how immediate it is and how much ground you can cover in regards to stories and characters. But it was a tough sell.
Academy Award winner Forest Whittaker was an executive producer on ‘Brick City.’ What was it like working with him?
Forest and I were developing a scripted project when he saw the trailer for Brick City and asked how he could get involved. I joked that he was West Coast and this was the East Coast. He laughed and said that LA, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Hartford – it’s all the same story and wanted to know what he could do to help. I said “Call Robert Redford.” And he did.
You now own your own production company – Blowback Productions – which you run with Daphne Pinkerton. What are the goals and messages you try to get across?
Blowback means what goes around, comes around. It’s about karma, but it’s also a term from CIA intelligence. Daphne and I have been lucky enough to make films with meat and meaning and build a community of independent filmmakers. We stay involved with many of the people we work with and the constant struggle is to convince people in the business that you can make things with substance and that are compelling and that people will watch.
For anyone trying to get into the film industry, what would you say would is the best way?
Intern at Blowback.
Did you have technical difficulties during any of your films? How did you overcome these problems to get the desired results?