James Ponsoldt Says ‘I Want My MTV’ Will Cover the First Few Years of Network’s History

     April 28, 2017

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Filmmaker James Ponsoldt has made a habit of making involving, character-centric dramas with films like Smashed, The Spectacular Now, and The End of the Tour, and while his latest film The Circle finds him working on a larger canvas, the director has ambitious plans for a future project. We learned last spring that Ponsoldt had signed on to write, direct, and produce an adaptation of the non-fiction Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks book I Want My MTV, which chronicles the rise and evolution of the groundbreaking network, and with The Circle hitting theaters this weekend, Ponsoldt is diving back into this wildly interesting project.

When Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with Ponsoldt for an interview in anticipation of The Circle’s release, he asked about I Want My MTV and what audiences can expect from the adaptation. The filmmaker revealed that the script he’s working on now will mainly cover the formative years of the network:

“I really tried to focus on the first handful of years. How the network was created, how something that would change pop culture, change the way we relate to music, the way our attention spans shifted—you could actually argue on that level, literally our attention spans shifted because of this network. How it all began was some former radio DJs and advertising guys and $25 million in American Express money, how they created something and then worked together—because working together is really hard—and how they changed culture. They had a good time but were really trying to create something that didn’t have a precedent; they were flying blind and broke a lot of eggs along the way. I obviously experienced it, like most people, from the other end as someone who just worshipped MTV and watched it all the time. It’s been really amazing to figure out how all these guys did this at such a young age.”

i-want-my-mtvPonsoldt says the idea of his film is to basically tackle the early struggle just to get the network off the ground:

“[It covers] about the first four or five years… The arc really was—they went on the air in 1981 and it was kind of a mess initially, because MTV wasn’t even carried by cable carriers in New York. When it went on the air, all the people that created MTV had to go down to New Jersey to watch it in a bar. And the big thing was convincing regional cable carriers to carry MTV, because no one would watch it and if no one would watch it advertisers wouldn’t put commercials on and it wasn’t sustainable, so it was going to be a failure really quickly.”

But when the network finally took off, it was almost to the detriment to the men and women who created it:

“But then within about four or five years it wound up becoming a big success and they sold to Viacom for a half billion dollars, but it was kind of a Pyrrhic victory because they were sort of victims of their own success. The writing was on the wall, most of them were on their way out; the culture there would change. It had become part of culture as opposed to them—you know if you think of anyone trying to open a store or a restaurant or have a band, most of them live about a year, they fail within a year because people are complicated and it’s hard to make a living doing it. So I think it’s kind of a Pyrrhic victory story. Bittersweet. Then obviously in the long view it’s kind of a weird thing because now with YouTube, which is kind of the perfect format for videos, there’s a resurgence but in large part MTV has shifted to reality TV so so many young people don’t even know what it meant.”

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Image via A24

This actually sounds like it could be in the vein of something like The Wolf of Wall Street or Gold, where the quest to do something great takes a hefty toll on those involved (though in the case of Wolf, the toll was wholly deserved).

Ponsoldt says he’s nearly finished with the script:

“[The script’s not done yet], I’m still working on it. I’ll be diving in to try to finish it right after The Circle comes out—although we’ll see with the potential impending writers strike. But yeah it’s something I’ve been working on for a long time and I’m actually pretty close.”

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