Saturday August 25, Director Christopher Neil and Producer Richard Arlook were at Cinémas Palme D’Or in Palm Desert to greet audience members following the showing of their new film “Goats.” The filmmakers joined Cinémas Palm D’Or host The Bulldog, Bill Feingold (The Bill Feingold Show on KNEWS FM 94.3) for an interview and an audience Q&A.
Director Christopher Neil states that he spent part of his childhood growing up in a goat farm. This may be a big factor for his love of the book “Goats,” his decision to buy the film rights and the journey of almost 10 years of his life to get the story on the silver screen. But it is most likely that it is the other part of his childhood that made this possible. As Neil is a nephew by marriage of famed director Frances Ford Coppola.
Neil spent many years as a young kid on the movie sets of his famous uncle. He loaded trucks, swept sound stage floors and basically just worked where work need to be done. He was a lover of great films remembering his favorite films from when he was young as being “Chariots of Fire” (1981) and “The Right Stuff” (1983), admitting that his 10 year old friends were not as interested in seeing a film that lasted over 3 hours.
When it came time for college, Neil studied Psychology – after all if you grow up on a sound stage – you really don’t need to get a degree in film also. And after graduation, it was his uncle that gave Neil his first real job in the industry.
He was hired as a dialogue coach for “The Rainmaker” (1997) and “The Virgin Suicides” (1999). He also worked in this capacity for the TV series “Jack” starring Robin Williams and for another famous director, George Lucus, for “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.”
Neil continued to work behind the scenes as a rehearsal advisor and acting coach on some of Hollywood’s most successful films, including “Adaptation” (2002), “Marie Antoinette” (2006), “Somewhere” (2010) and last year’s independent film hit “Beginners” – the film that won Christopher Plummer an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
With all the things Neil had going for him, he still faced the same hurdles as other young filmmakers are having today. Raising the $3 million dollars was difficult and took about 7 years. The film had to be cast twice due to financial delays. Initially Hopper Penn and his mother Robin Wright Penn were slated to play the leads, but as time stalled, Hopper grew too old for the part of a 14 year old.
When the film was cast a second time, things came easier and bigger stars: Vera Farmiga, David Duchovny, Ty Burrell, Keri Russell and Justin Kirk – all signed on quickly to make the film. Producer Richard Arlook, previously an agent in Hollywood, took to the duties of making sure all the talent could clear their schedules for the shoot, and the decision to cast Graham Phillips (“The Good Wife”) in the principal role was finally made.
“Goats” was shot in only 24 days and with all of Neil’s experience he admitted “Nothing really prepares you to direct your first film.”
All of Neil’s prior work and heritage finally seem to meet as he presented his first directorial effort “Goats” to the Sundance Film Festival last January along with producer Richard Arlook. “Goats” received some positive attention at Sundance, but was unable to get the attention of one of the desired distributors.
Arlook and Neil both admitted that the theatrical run for “Goats” has just about run its course and they are hoping that the film will take on a new life when it is released on DVD.
Neil’s next project is unclear at this time, but Arlook stated optimistically “This film will be a very good vehicle to advance the career of Christopher Neil.”
Please click here for my review: “Goats”
“Goats” is rated R for drug content including teen drug and alcohol use, language, sexuality and nudity and has a run-time of 1 hour and 34 minutes.
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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones & no texting, please don’t talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don’t forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work on SilentHollywood.com