Monday, June 22, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Director Princeton Holt

TCWreviews’s Administrator and Editor in chief Clifford Kiyabu sits down with Cookies & Cream director Princeton Holt for an exclusive interview. Princeton E. Holt has worked on several projects since graduating from the New York Film Academy in 2000 and launching his own film company called One Way or Another Productions LLC. He wrote and directed a 20 minute short called Phish in 2006 which gained him an “Official Selection" at film festivals including the National Black Media Conference Film Festival in Philadelphia, he is the writer, producer, and director of the upcoming flick Cookies & Cream, a film that I personally had the pleasure of reviewing not so long ago, but with all that I have already said about him, there is still much more to be said from the man himself.

CK: First off let me say thank you for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to have this little interview session with me, you must be very busy with the film’s premiere just around the corner?

PH: Well first of all, I dig your interviews so thank you for having me. We are getting a little busier for the Cookies premiere on the 5th of July at the Anthology Film Archives in NYC as part of the NewFilmmakers Film Festival Summer Series. For those in the in the NY area, make sure you come see it while it’s still in NY before it heads to LA. Ryan Balas, who co-produced the movie, is the one doing most of the work. He says he just wants me to be able to enjoy the screening as a dText Colorirector this time, and not have to do the producing part of it when it comes to preparing for the screening. That’s a huge luxury, one I don’t get enough, and I’m grateful to Ryan for handling everything.

CK: Alright, before for we go into talking about your film, I think its best my readers get a chance to learn, just who is Princeton Holt?

PH: I'm the 34 year old son of a non-denominational, Brooklyn pastor/playwright/author with an honorary PHD, and an English professor/book editor/author with an academic PHD. My younger sister is a professional top model. Growing up with a family like that, ambition isn't a thought or even something we even consider an attribute. For us, constant ambition is like breathing. It’s something that also isn’t all positive at times, because when you realize you don’t know what it’s like to quit or slow down, you still aren't able to do much to change or alter it. So while the ambition "curse" of my family has been rewarding and you get a ton of things accomplished, you look around and realize that people around you may be living life a little more than you are. I'm also a professional unicyclist that fights crime on weekends.

CK: WOW, so you come from a family of hardworking career people?

PH: Yes Sir.

CK: So how does your family feel about you getting into filmmaking?

PH: They've been pretty supportive. My father and sister at times have helped me finance some projects including this one. I guess they are happy because I'm happy. My father is the "voice of purpose" you hear in the scene where Jodie comforts Jonathan after their breakup, and my sister plays a cameo as the woman who sets up the whole online webcam business. She's in another film I have coming up. My mother still hasn’t seen it, and I'm curious as to whether or not she will be able to appreciate my determination to not judge any of the characters.

CK: What is a typical day for you?

PH: I get up really early, and by noon have done more than people in a lot of other industries will do in an entire day. By 1pm, I have already had 2 conference calls, approved something on at least one project whether it’s an edit, a script, or a promotional trailer or something, have spoken at length with my brilliant and sometimes motor-mouthed lawyer Greg, and have talked to investors or signed some form of contract or agreement. Then 3 pm hits and I stop to take a half an hour for lunch. After that, the rest of the day is basically solving problems - production problems, or anxieties in other directors or actors I work with. When my Lakers are doing well in the playoffs as they are now, three nights a week end early so that I can scream at my flatscreen like a psycho. But most times, the day doesn’t end usually until 10 pm, and then the next day it’s time to do it all over again.

CK: How do you manage to keep a cool head with such a daily schedule?

PH: I make sure to try to have some fun with it all.

CK: What influenced you into wanting to become a filmmaker?

PH: Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson. I saw it the first time, and didn’t really understand what I had just seen. But it stayed with me for a week. So I drove all the way down to NYC from Massachusetts where I was living at the time and saw it again. And it changed my life. That night I immediately went home and enrolled in film school.

CK: So was opening your own production company part of the equation when starting out in the business or did it just simply happen?

PH: Well I went to the NYFA in Manhattan and my favorite professor (Dylan Kidd who went on to direct Roger Dodger and P.S.) mentioned something about having a credit placed in your thesis film. He didn’t demand it, but he mentioned something to the affect of making your thesis film the first official project by your production company on their dime or something like that. One Way or Another Productions sounded right because he said that if you do go that route then to choose a name that would be like a mantra for you, something that would drive the mentality of the company and something that would constantly remind you of something. That name was where I was mentally at the time, and maybe consequently, have been able to maintain to this day. I started doing music videos and commercials to get my feet wet as a director. Then when my brilliant partners Monica, Jenny, Crystal, and now Cassandra came along, that’s when real progress began to take place. Let me preface all of this with this revelation: the goal for me is, and will always be to be able to just write and direct feature films - whether independently or for studios. The company's producing part, came out of a survival tactic, almost by accident. Producing, from my personal experience, is nowhere near as fun as writing a script and directing it. But ironically, producing became the thing that made the phrase "full time filmmaker" a reality. Producing multiple works for people allows you to direct when you have free time away from your full time producing work. Either way, you are making films full-time. For me producing is the day job between directing movies. I wanted to direct so bad, that I became a producer to make sure I could.

CK: Where you always a fan of the cinema?

PH: I was a fan of good films but not as young as I have heard others say they were. Mine started mostly in my teen years being fans of films like Forrest Gump and Boomerang, and gorging on Spike Lee films. I grew up in a religious home. My father and mother could not have been more different parents; my dad was always a fan of mass media, my mother not so much. He brought home the laser disk for Superman when I was like 7 or 8, and of course it blew me away and opened up my imagination. But later when they divorced, we spent the first half of our teenage years with her. And she was such a stickler for education above all else, that she didn’t want us spending precious years in front of the television rotting away. And thank god she did that, because the movies, and TV world became this forbidden fascination that my sister and I developed, and when the TV was locked up (literally I might add), instead of looking at it as simply an alternative form of entertainment like most kids, we began to wonder what was inside of it, and the world itself. So when we did get those occasions where we would see movies, or watch a good TV show, our appreciation of the art of it was tenfold - much more than the average kids our age who had unlimited access to TV and movies. When it was denied to us, we would then go into our own imaginations in our separate rooms and write stuff. Hence, my sister's a full time model and musician, and I grew up to make movies for a living. We owe some of that to my dear mother, even though at the time we couldn’t see the "things happen for a reason" way of thinking. We certainly understand it now. So I appreciate all of the critical accolades the film has gotten, because according to the religion I came up under, I will have to use it to soothe me while we are burning in eternal hell-fire.

CK: You know what you just said reminded me of an old saying, people always want what they’re denied, and in your case it’s quite true. [Laughs]

PH: Absolutely.

CK: What are your favorite films?

PH: My favorite film of all time is a foreign film - Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. That film is like the secret to what I actually see, live, and think like. Also in my top 10 is the hilarious Being John Malkovich, Le Goût Des Autres by Agnes Jaoui is absolutely incredible, Malcolm X, La Dolce Vita, Breathless, and an experimental narrative film few people have seen called Carter that I actually produced. It was directed by Ryan Andrew Balas, and I'm not doing some strange self-promotion thing. I truly think it’s one of the most original pieces of work I have seen in cinema in nearly a decade. And the fact that few people have gotten it or understood it so far makes me feel very superior and smarter than everyone else (smile).

CK: Who are your favorite filmmakers and actors?

PH: Hmm. When you imagine being in this business you have this answer all prepared. But for reason it always stomps me. I find it odd when directors get asked this question and don’t mention the people that made their film possible to begin with. I feel very fortunate to have now what I used to always dream of having and that was a repository of talent to work with on a continual basis - whether it’s my film or one I'm producing for someone else. But if Jace Nicole wasn't a favorite actor of mine, then I don't think I would have even made Cookies & Cream to begin with. I owe all of the love the film has gotten to her, because if she didn't pull it off, no one would have cared. The same for Naama Kates who I love. She played Jodie. Naama has told me some very nice things about her experience working with me, but I gotta say that working with her was just as awesome. Brian Ackley is an amazing talent I think. He fought me some of the way during production because I was intentionally more vague about his character than he would have liked me to be. Brian likes to have a certain amount of cognitive preparation on things, and it makes sense. But for some people it can be a crutch, and I wanted his first instincts to inform me, not the other way around. One of the lessons I was trying to get across to Brian during Cookies was the Woody Allen line in Manhattan. "The brain is the most overrated organ in the human body." And I think he did a great job. My favorite challenge on the film was directing comedian Ardie Fuqua in a strictly dramatic role. It was a challenge for me, not for him. He slipped right into it when he played Jonathan, and it’s one of my favorite performances in the movie. I have the same love for Danny Doherty, Chris Riquinha, Kent Sutton, Rick Borgia, Thyais Walsh, and Derek McAllister. How’s that for self-promotion? Also, I owe Chris Riquinha from Uptown 10 bucks from the other night, so he is my favorite actor overall.

CK: So Aside from directing Cookies & Cream you also wrote it?

PH: Yeah. I went away for 7 days to a hotel that even I can't remember the location of now. I struggled for two of those days not being able to write a word because there were so many places I could go with a subject matter like this. Ultimately I chose pure honesty above all else, and wrote it in 5 or 6 nights.

CK: What influenced you into writing it?

PH: I wanted to make my first film right away. I also wanted to do something with Jace that would challenge her as well as myself. I wanted to take away her ability to be aggressive in a way, and see what she would be like to watch if she had to keep all of her emotions bottled up. We came up with this idea of a character that society frowns on - this porn star who is a single mother, and we both wanted to challenge ourselves to make that character human no matter what. We worked very hard at doing that. Also at the time I was pissed about how long funding was taking for another film I am doing, and was watching a lot of DIY digitally shot films like Quiet City, The Puffy Chair, and Hannah Takes the Stairs. I even took Jace and Brian to see it at the IFC when it opened here in NY to show them what we were getting into. I also made sure to write something I felt could be done whether we had some money, or none at all. Luckily we had billions and billions of dollars.

CK: Your lead star of the film Jace Nicole told me in her interview that you picked her after watching an addition tape she sent you; could you tell us what you saw in her that made you pick her for the leading role?

PH: I saw her throw a table clear across the room in an improve exercise, that’s what. Cookies & Cream wasn’t even thought of at that point, but I wanted to use her in as much as I could. She was like a secret weapon. I had never seen an actor that dedicated - no matter what you put them through. I put her in Phish, a short film I did in 2005. Then it came time to make Cookies and we worked on the story together, so the plan was to make Cookies for her in a sense. Plus, she paid me $700 to choose her and at the time I had to pay rent.

CK: How many days did filming go on for?

PH: We scheduled it for I think 12 days. We shot exactly double that amount of time.

CK: Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I heard that making this film was an uphill battle for you, the cast, and the production crew?

PH: Oh my goodness, you must have been watching the "Making 'Cookies & Cream'" series, huh? That’s more than a shameless plug (we can’t make money off the web-series anyway), it’s a testament to how much went wrong while we made it. So much so, a documentary was made by Omar Hernandez the co-producer about it. You name it, it went wrong, and things you wouldn’t even think of went wrong too. It was literally a nightmare to get that thing made, that you don’t have enough space to print here. Seriously. That's what makes the reception to the film that much more gratifying for all of us involved. The website for the film has a section called "See It" and in there you will see all the episodes that are up (I think 6 so far). You will see for yourself why there was too much drama to begin to list here. The President is having an easier time fixing the United States economy than we had making Cookies & Cream.

CK: Are there any memorable moments in making the film you’d like to share with us?

PH: Having my girlfriend hold a stick with a microphone taped to it for several twelve minute scenes pretty much takes the cake, don’t you think?

CK: Yeah, I guess so [Laughs]

CK: What type of problems, if any, did you encounter while filming?

PH: The entire shoot was a problem that would not have been fixable had it not been for Damon my sound designer/composer, and Hector, my editor. The fact that you were even able to see it is a miracle.

CK: I may have said some harsh things about the acting in the film with my review, I will say that after allowing the film to maul over in my mind I kind of see what you mean about the cast giving a realistic performance.

PH: Well Cliff, you keep saying you were harsh on the actors but I don’t think you were at all. Harsh is saying they sucked. Mentioning that a few of them did "okay" is not half as bad. Overall, I thought your review was great. And I do appreciate you still having it on your mind even now. A director's job is to look thru the lens or at the monitor or the editing screen and constantly ask themselves, "Do I believe him?" "Do I believe her?" For nearly every frame of the film you see, the answer for me was "Yes."

CK: Well you’re right now that I think of it, after all if you’d really like to see me being harsh to a film than just check out every review I’ve done on Uwe Boll films.

PH: Now I can't wait to read it!

CK: I was kind of curious about something regarding your film C&C and the other two films in the Naked Series: do all three films co-exist in the same reality?

PH: Wow. You stomped me again. Now that I have a moment to think about it, the films do not co-exist in the same reality. They are the sole interpretations of each filmmaker's sensibility. We do share things as artists. But besides some shot-types we may all have an affection for, they were just really human stories about everyday people who fascinate us. Where some people may love extraordinary people that always look great, think fast, and are super strong or super smart, we happen to be fascinated by the true story of a lonely guy who falls for a married woman, or a girl whose boyfriend decides to commit suicide in the midst of their happiness, and in this case, a single mother who accepts an adult film gig to take care of her daughterj and herself. Besides the fact that we stole each other’s actors (Chris Riquinha is in Cookies and Uptown, Deirdre Herlihy is in Uptown and Carter, and Derek McAllister is in Cookies and Uptown), the main thing they all share is they are all produced by 3 at-times neurotic young men that happen to hang out off the set as much as we do on it. But just in case you wanted to know, Brian's the wild one, Ryan is the nervous one, and I'm the black one.

CK: This next question I’m about to ask you has become somewhat of a tradition for interviews here at, so don’t worry, you’re not the only one I’ve asked this question to. [Laughs]

PH: No I'm not going to get naked.

CK: Darn it, you know how much my readers were looking forward to it? [Laughs]

PH: Of course! Sorry to disappoint so many people.

CK: As a filmmaker how far are you willing to go for the sake or art?

PH: As far as the source material says we should go. I may even go further. For instance, from here on out, could you please refer to me as "the director formerly known as Princeton?"

CK: Whatever floats your boat buddy [Laughs]

CK: Are there any actors you’d like to work with one day?

PH: Catalina Sandino Moreno. Mos Def. Rochelle Aytes. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Zoe Saldana. Shia Labeouf. And of course, Sandra Bullock. Right after Brian's done making out with her, I'd like to ask her why she's been in so many crappy movies.

CK: Well if you ever get an answer out of Sandra Bullock please send it my way. [Laughs]

PH: I'll tell her you said 'hello.'

CK: Last question; can you tell us what the next project you’ll be working on will be?

PH: My next film as a director is an alternate reality comedy called American Woman, which features nearly the entire One Way or Another Productions repository of actors we like to work with. Then a relationship comedy called The Butterfly Chasers, the one that Cookies was made out of frustration because of. Hopefully after that, I can finally get the chance to direct a script I wrote called, "I Wish My Lawyer Would Stop Calling Me During My TcwReviews Interview."

CK: Well it seems you’re going to be busy for quite a while then. Plus that last one you mention sounds like it’ll be a real award winner for you, but I’ve got to ask, who would play me in the film? [Laughs]

PH: Probably Brian Ackley.

CK: Good choice!

And that concludes the interview with Director Princeton Holt. I enjoyed doing this interview with Holt as he showed to have a level head throughout the entire interview as well as off the record afterwards. But this of course is all due to the fact he puts a 110% of himself into everything he’s doing including the very interview we did. I welcomed him to come back for a second interview in the possible near future. Holt’s film Cookies & Cream will be premiering on the 5th of July at the Anthology Film Archives in NYC as part of the NewFilmmakers Film Festival Summer Series. More information about the Festival can be found HERE. If you’re not in the NY area or are unable to make it out to the Festival than you can purchase a DVD copy of Cookies & Cream HERE. More information about Director Princeton Holt and his production company can be found HERE

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