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An Interview With Zen Noir Director Marc Rosenbush

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Zen Noir follows a detective investigating a mysterious death at a Buddhist temple. Will his modern crime solving skills be up to par with that of these Zen masters? Director Marc Rosenbush was kind enough to give Toxic Shock TV an exclusive interview.

Marc Rosenbush Director

BC: Tell us a little about your background — where are you from and when did you decide that you wanted to become a filmmaker?
MARC: I was a theatre director in Chicago for most of my career. I've directed around 60 plays and run a couple of theatre companies. I moved to L.A. in 2001 to start making films, mostly because I got tired of spending a year or more of my life on a project, and then having it disappear after just a few weeks of performances, with only a few people having seen it. The cool thing about film is that it has a shelf life — I love the idea that someone in China can be watching my film 100 years from now.

BC: Who inspired you to become a filmmaker?

MARC: I've got a lot of director-heroes: David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Woody Allen, Francis Coppola, Stephen Soderbergh, Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, Jean-Pierre Jeunet… I could go on all day.

BC: Tell us about your latest film Zen Noir starring Duane Sharp and Kim Chan. Tell us about your experience writing, directing, and producing it.

MARC: Zen Noir is a strange, dark, funny Buddhist murder mystery. At first it seems to be a parody of hard-boiled film noir detective movies, but eventually it evolves into a dark, surreal exploration of some pretty heavy Buddhist ideas, in particular the question of how we deal with death and the fact that the only constant in the universe is change. That's my pretentious answer. My other answer is: if David Lynch, the Buddha and the Marx Brothers all took acid and made a low-budget movie together, this would be it.

The budget was tight, so we had to shoot the whole thing in 12 days. It was hectic, but a lot of fun. Working with Kim Chan was one of the high points of my life. Apart from giving a great performance, he's just one of the sweetest, most fun people you'll ever meet, and he tells the greatest, dirtiest stories on the set!

Zen Noir Monk

BC: How about editing the film? Any interesting behind the scenes stories?

MARC: That's what your readers really want to know: what's it like to be cooped up in an editing room with Camden Toy twelve hours a day for months at a time? Well, first of all, we spent so much time laughing and goofing off, that the other people in the post-production facility kept having to pop in and ask us to shut up.

That said, Camden's actually a great editor. He's really good at getting me to let go of my preconceived ideas about how a scene should work and just try something new. There was a real improvisational feel to the editing process. Some of the most interesting moments in the film came from our just experimenting, superimposing images on top of each other or running footage backwards or adding weird sounds.

Of course, once in while Camden would come in sheepishly and say he couldn't work for the next three days because the Buffy or Angel people needed him to come in and try on a new latex mask or a new pair of fake eyeballs. It's not always easy having America's favorite demon-du-jour as your editor.

BC: Along with directing for film, you're also an acclaimed theatre director. Can you tell us about that?

MARC: I directed some pretty cool projects in my day: an adaptation of a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, the Chicago premiere of a great David Mamet play called Bobby Gould in Hell, a strange one-woman show called Adult Child/Dead Child. I also produced a huge festival for Samuel Beckett's 90th birthday: 18 existentialist plays in four weeks!

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BC: From your experience, what do you think is the most important thing for a Director to bring to a set?

MARC: A bottle of water, some aspirin and an open mind.

BC: Any other future projects in the works? Give us the scoop!

MARC: I'm working with a writing partner on an adaptation of a cool satirical novel by James Morrow called City of Truth. It takes place in a totalitarian society where people can only tell the truth, but the main character has to learn how to lie in order to save his son. It's about the difference between the subjective truths the world tries to impose on us and the deeper, more personal truths we discover for ourselves. And it's got flying pigs!

BC: What is the biggest problem with Hollywood today?

MARC: Too many cooks. Good stories get homogenized during the development process because so many producers and studio execs and marketing people are all telling the writers what to write. In the end, you lose any sense of what might have been original or unique, any sense of an actual point of view. With the exception of a very few writers, like Charlie Kaufman, there aren't very many scripts that survive with the writer's voice intact.

BC: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

MARC: Still making movies. Bigger budgets than this one, I hope, but within reason. I don't really want or need to be James Cameron or George Lucas or Spielberg. I mean, if it happens, that's cool. But I'd be very happy just having a consistent, low-to-medium budget career like Woody Allen or David Lynch. It's still a hell of a good living.

BC: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

MARC: I like to pass on the advice that David Mamet gave to me: Don't waste your time trying to break into the monolithic front door of Hollywood. Talented writers waste years of their lives trying to get approval from a system that's designed to reject them. What Mamet said to me was, "If you're serious about being a filmmaker, then con someone out of some money and make a &#@% film!"

BC: When all is said and done, what three things would you like for people to remember about you?

MARC: Apart from my friends and loved ones, I don't really care if anyone remembers me. I just hope people will still want to watch my films.

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BC: Here's where we give you a word or phrase and you give us the first thoughts that pop into your mind.

Hollywood:

MARC: Crap.

Toxic Shock TV:

MARC: Zombies Rule!

Favorite Genre:

MARC: I don't like to limit myself to one genre. I like everything from flat-out weird indie movies like Schizopolis to stylized sci-fi movies like Dark City to Lovecraftian horror movies like Alien, where you hardly even see the monster, so your imagination does most of the work.

Biggest Regrets:

MARC: None.

Biggest Prick:

MARC: In order to maintain my sense of ego-less Buddhist modesty, I must refrain from answering.

The funniest thing that has ever happened to you on a set:

MARC: When the guy playing the corpse fell asleep and started snoring just when everyone on camera turned to look at him!

Your biggest "break-through" moment:

MARC: Call me in six months and I'll let you know.

You can only watch three movies for the rest of your life, which three:

MARC: Dead Man, Brazil, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.

You can only listen to three ALBUMS for the rest of your life, which three:

MARC: Echoes by Pink Floyd, Up by Peter Gabriel, Decade by Neil Young.

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