Directed by Joseph Kahn, written by Alex Larsen (former rap battler Kid Twist) and produced by Eminem, the sure to be controversial flick Bodied is the satirical story of Adam Merkin (Calum Worthy), a grad student who interest in battle rap as a thesis subject leads to him becoming an accidental battle rapper himself. As his success sparks outrage, his competitive obsession puts him at odds with his family and friends.
At the Los Angeles press day for the film (which is in theaters on November 2nd and available to stream on YouTube Premium on November 28th), filmmaker Joseph Kahn talked about how his idea of what being a filmmaker is has changed over the last 30 years, the challenges of self-financing his movies, why he makes so few movies, juggling film with music videos and TV, why Bodied was difficult to get distribution for, how he lost his original lead just before filming began, what made Calum Worthy the perfect actor for the job, getting the rap battle aspect right, and whether he’d ever make a movie with Taylor Swift (they’ve done music videos together for “Delicate,” “End Game,” “Ready for It?,” “Look What You Made Me Do,” “Out of the Woods,” “Bad Blood” and “Blank Space”).
Collider: With everything you had to go through, in self-financing this movie, is this the vision that you always had for it? Is this the movie that you always wanted to make, from the second you thought about making this?
JOSEPH KAHN: Oh, yeah.
That must be really rewarding.
KAHN: Yeah, that’s actually the trick behind being a filmmaker, in this stage of my career. I remember when I first started trying to be a filmmaker, 30 years ago. You try to conceive what it’s like to be a filmmaker, and all the choices you have to make. I remember being in film school and they said, “For The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola dipped all of those wedding dresses you saw in coffee and tea to make them look older.” I was like, “Oh, my god, I will never be able to get my head wrapped around that and think about those details. How will I ever be a director?” Now, 30 years later, I’m like, “You know what? That’s my job.” My job is to preconceive things and execute what’s in my head. Now, I feel very comfortable with that. If I didn’t have confidence that it will come out like what I’m thinking, I would never spend millions of dollars the way that I do.
Did you get to a point where you just knew you’d have to self-finance to make what you wanted to make, and to do it without having to be in the studio system?
KAHN: No, I don’t mind dealing with the studio system. I just happen to have made a couple of things in a row where it’s impossible to get through the studio system. The way it’s changing, people don’t even see movies in theaters anymore, and the types of movies they’re willing to pay for in a theater have to have some guy that flies around, or something. I just have two people screaming bad words at each other. What’s the market for that movie?
You’ve made three movies in about 15 years. Why so few?
KAHN: It just works out that way. I truly want to be a filmmaker, but my definition of filmmaker has changed, over 30 years. I always wanted to be a music video director and a filmmaker and a short film guy, which is what I’m doing now. The problem is that I have such a busy career doing commercials and music videos that I literally sometimes recoil at the fact that there’s a interesting music track that comes across my desk. Once I engage with it, I’m reluctant about it because I realize that, as soon as I say yes to that, three months of my life will be gone. I will think about nothing but that, and then, three months later, I’ll have a new music video that I’m very proud of, but three months of my life just completely passed by. If you do a couple of those in a row, years fly by. That’s the story of my life. All of these years just fly by, doing all of these music videos and commercials, that I’m not even aware of. Then every five or seven years, I get to make a movie.
Typically, it seems like people want to use music videos as a stepping stone to what they can do next, but it seems like you enjoy doing both videos and films.
KAHN: That’s because I’m still fascinated by the quantum mechanics of filmmaking. I’m still interested in the tiniest detail of how an edit locks together, or what different colors do to your brain. When there’s a new musical beat that comes across that feels like it could be expressed in some interesting visual, what is that visual? I’m still fascinated by every tiny little detail about filmmaking that, regardless of whether it’s a two hour film or a 30 second commercial, it’s all gravy to me.
Do you see yourself getting to a point where you have to leave music videos behind to do more films?