Meet Dan the Man

Exclusive Interview with Rising Filmmaker Dan Frank

I've been looking forward to this interview with acclaimed producer and director Dan Frank. We meet at the Veggie Grill in West Hollywood, and I'm immediately aware of a peacefulness that surrounds him. We order... I get the Hail Kale and he orders the Mock Chicken Burger, and as we talk, I begin to appreciate his sense of groundedness, as if nothing could shake him. I suppose that essence must be a pre-requisite for one who has created 16 film projects, with four more currently in production. This was someone you'd want to get to know, and I was anxious to hear his story.

Q. When and how did you take the first leap into filmmaking? 

A. When I attended Half Moon Bay High School, our teacher wanted us to write a paper on Greek Mythology. I jokingly told the teacher that I didn’t want to write a paper, so he said to make a movie. He said that I didn’t have to write the paper if I made a movie, so I got half the class out of writing the paper as long as we finished the movie. The movie was called “Clash of the Daisies”. I loved everything about the whole movie making process. In 1998, I decided that I wanted to become a filmmaker. I enrolled at the College of San Mateo and signed up for their Super 8 class. After the Super 8 classes ended, I wanted to learn more. I spent two summers in Los Angeles studying 16mm at the New York Film Academy at UCLA and Universal Studios. In 2002, I went to San Francisco State and really started studying film theory. In 2004, I made my first movie with Johnny Metheny in San Francisco called “It’s All In A Nights Work”.

Q.You made a film about your olympic gymnast grandparents ‘Frank & Chip: The Olympic Experience’. This project was a very important in both your personal life, and career. Can you tell us about it? 

A. “Frank & Chip: The Olympic Experience” was a movie I made for my family about my family. It was a movie I always wanted to make. My grandparents were one of the first married couples to compete together in the same Olympics in 1936. When I was 8, my sister made a photo album of my grandparents that I must of looked at a 100 times. I found out that my grandparents were in the Olympics and that my grandfather won 2 medals. He won a bronze and silver medal during the 1932 Olympics In Los Angeles. When I decided to become a filmmaker in 1998, the was one of the 2 movies that was on my list to make. After battling my own great depression from 2008 through 2010, I began “Frank & Chip: The Olympic Experience” in the fall of 2010. I said if my grandparents could make through the Great Depression with their talents as gymnasts, then why couldn’t I get through my own great depression with my talents as a filmmaker. This was really what drove me to make this movie.

Q. I understand you filmed ‘Frank & Chip’ and ‘Speed Dragon’ around the same time. What was like for you, and how did you manage?

A. I began production on “ Frank & Chip: The Olympic Experience”, I thought I would be done around February of 2012. I decided to make “Speed Dragon” in November of 2011. I realized that “Frank & Chip: The Olympic Experience” would not be finished before production started on “Speed Dragon”. There was really nothing I could do, but bite the bullet and make both movies at the same time. I didn’t want to lose the cast or the money for “Speed Dragon”. That was probably the most I have ever worked in my life. Five days a week, I worked on “Speed Dragon”. And the other two days, I went over what Jeremy Deneau, editor and writer, did on “Frank & Chip: The Olympic Experience”, which was completed on April 29th, 2012. I finished production on “Speed Dragon” on April 30th, 2012. 

Q. Most Filmmakers dream of screening their films at Festival De Cannes, and you have managed to screen five of your films over time at the festival. What was that experience like?

A. Festival de Cannes is an amazing experience. I have only screened my movies in the market, but that is fine by me. The first movie of mine to ever screen at Festival de Cannes was “Little Bruno”. With the help of Stuart Alson and ITN Distribution, they got “Little Bruno” to screen in 2007. I remember standing outside the theater and seeing a man sitting in the seat right out front, so I passed him a flyer, we talked for maybe 30 seconds, he wished me luck, and I walked away toward the theater. He kept my flyer and walked away. It was Harvey Weinstein. Everything was going so fast that year. But by the second year, everything really slowed down. I had movies screen at Festival de Cannes from 2007 through 2009, and then from 2012 through 2013. I had a total of 5 movies screen at Cannes, and I screened a cooking show in the short corner. I truly love the Cannes experience. I have met so many wonderful friends from all over the world. I also learned more about what the world likes in regards to cinema. My favorite movie company is the Wild Bunch. I will go see any movie put out by them at Cannes. I hope one day to have a movie distributed by them.

Q. Is it true you got distribution while in Cannes for ‘Frank & Chip’ and how did that come about?

A. Yes, I sold “Frank & Chip: The Olympic Experience” in 8 days. That movie was all about timing. The Olympics was in August, so I knew that I had to have this movie finished in time for the summer Olympics, or I had to wait until 2016. Eight days after Festival de Cannes ended, again Stuart Alson and ITN Distribution helped sell the DVD rights to Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. What was really cool about this movie release, was that it came out in Amsterdam first. In 1928, my grandfather first competed at the Olympics in Amsterdam.

Q. While in Cannes, you had a rare opportunity to visit a monk sanctuary which was on a private island. How did you get invited to such a sacred place, and how did you feel being there?

A. While attending the Thailand party at Festival de Cannes in 2013, I became friends with Yubai Zhang. She introduced me to her manger Pierre-Marcel Blanchot who then invited me to the Festival of Silence. The Festival of Silence was held on an island  that was run by monks. It was 15 kilometers by boat. I was the only American invited in 2013. I was completely honored, and an experience that I will never forget. It was really a life changing experience for me. Here I am screening a crazy movie about drug addicted rockers one day, and the next day I am having lunch, listening to scripture, meditating, and sitting inside a room with a flying dove. I don’t understand a word of French, so I just sat there and watched the dove fly around the room. After, Pierre told me I should have sat next to him. He would have translated. The monk asked everyone to guess what he watches on TV on Saturdays. A famous French director blurted out porn. Everyone laughed. I had no idea why they were laughing until Pierre told me what was said. 

Q. Bai Ling was cast by you in ‘Speed Dragon’ what was it like working with her? 

A. I learned a lot by working together with Bai Ling on “Speed Dragon”. I had to step up the level of my production. Everyone did. Together Bai Ling and I rewrote the entire B story to “Speed Dragon”. Her professionalism left a lasting mark on my life. I look forward to working with her again one day.

Q. It seems you have a lot of adventures and good luck on your journey in filmmaking. I heard while you where going to Cannes to screen ‘Speed Dragon’ with Bai Ling, her luggage was lost. How did you manage to get her a new wardrobe in time for screening? 

A. I flew Bai Ling to Festival De Cannes for the “Speed Dragon” premiere as part of our deal. When she got to Nice, her luggage never arrived because the Brussels airport was on strike. Bai Ling had a ticket to the Gatsby premiere that night. She would not be able to attend without a dress, so she and I walked from Chanel (who would have given her a dress, but they didn’t have her size) down the line until we got to Dior. Dior sent her to their own private room inside the Carlton where they gave a lovely dress.  I figured it was Bai Ling and someone would give her a dress. And they did. And boy did she look great! I had 3 hours to get her a dress, find a salon, and get her to the red carpet. 

Q. Over 4,000 actors where reviewed by yourself in casting for Speed Dragon, how did you finally choose the right cast?

A. I built the band for “Speed Dragon” around Noel DeMello and Stacey Dee. The first person I cast was Marky Midnite, and then I cast Carlos Ramirez. The last person that I cast was DJ Parker. It came down to two people, and DJ was the overwhelming choice by everyone. I liked DJ right away. Even though he had no real acting experience, I truly believed he was perfect for the role. And he was.  When it comes to casting, I really know exactly what I am looking for.

Q.‘Speed Dragon’ is an intriguing film, based on your earlier life. It is a bit autobiographical in nature, can you tell us a bit about the original story?

A. I wrote “Speed Dragon” when I was 22 years old. This gritty drugged out rock and roll drama was loosely based around my life from the age of 19 to 22. I was a much different person back then. This was the second movie I wanted to make when I began my education towards becoming a filmmaker. It was a very surreal feeling as this movie was being made. At times, things just fell in to place. It seemed like I was suppose to make this movie.

In life, no matter what you want to do, you must really give yourself a fair chance if you want to fulfill your dreams. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and time. Yes, some are lucky enough to catch a break right away. For the rest of us, we have to work for it. Don’t give your dreams up because someone told you that you could not do it. 

Q. You are receiving ‘Best Film’ award for ‘Speed Dragon’ in Beverly Hills this week. Bai Ling is receiving ‘Best Actress’ as well. How does that make you feel?

A. This is the first time an actor or actress won an award for their performance in one of my movies. I am very proud to have won best feature, but it's so cool to see Bai Ling win an award for her role as Jackie in "Speed Dragon". I hope more actors and actresses win awards for their performances in my movies.

Q.Out of all the awards and accolades you have received thus far, what are you most proud of? 

A. I loved winning best director for a "Little Bruno" and best new director for "Devil's Canyon", but the award that sticks out the most was winning best feature at the Big Damn Film Festival in Madison, Wisconsin. The Big Damn Film Festival was a festival that traveled from city to city. In February 2007, "Little Bruno" premiered at this festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My screening was at 10 AM, and it was 9° outside. I had not one person attend, but I set up a table outside and sold every one of the DVDs I brought to sell. I told the guys that organized the festival that if they put my movie on at 7 o'clock the next month that I would show them how well it would do. With the help of Renzo Lewis, we won first place that following month. The momentum lasted for a total of three months and I won a total of six awards at the Big Damn Film Festival.

Q. There is an exciting new project you are currently working on called ‘The Green Fairy’, please share a little about it. 

A. The Green Fairy is a movie that I started a year ago while I was living in Paris. I started out by traveling to Switzerland and drinking from the absinthe fountain. I then traveled to England and also New Orleans to interview people and learn about the history of absinthe. I hope to have this movie finished by the start of Mardi Gras in 2016.

The Green Fairy

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