Roadside Attractions releases Emily the Criminal nationwide on August 12th, 2022.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide how to introduce Emily to the audience?
John Patton Ford: The movie is pretty swift, and I wanted to do it quickly. It just felt appropriate that we should start with a job interview scene where we learn very quickly what she wants. I wanted to tell the audience "This is who the central character is. This is what she wants. This is why she wants it, and this is why she's having a hard time getting it." It felt like that interview scene would, kind of, check all of those boxes in a dramatic and, hopefully, entertaining way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you figure out how much exposition to incorporate and how to incorporate it?
JPF: Exposition is a dirty word. The least amount of it that you can have, the better, in my experience. I just want a movie that starts. I don't want some backstory like, "The legend of whatever..." I've got no time for that crap. Usually, I think to myself, "Okay, what's the least amount of information that I can possibly give an audience where it's still enough?" I start from there. Also, I ask myself, "Can I deliberately not answer some questions about the central character in order to make the audience, kind of, lean in a little bit and be curious?" So, as answers come around, it feels like a payoff and not just an expository dump. One of the exhausting things is that when were are kids, we have to go to school and we're sitting in a classroom where someone tells us things, and it's exhausting to the child because we naturally resist being taught things and told things; we want to discover them on our own and then they have meaning. So, a movie is, kind of, the same. We want to let audiences discover information on their own and not just tell them. I try to keep exposition to a minimum.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How introspective do you think Emily is?
JPF: I feel like she is someone of depth who questions themselves, but I think that the big, underlying issue is just that she really doesn't have much time to be introspective about much of anything. She's working non-stop, constantly behind the ball and constantly moving just to survive. She'd probably love more time to sit around and to think about life, but she doesn't really have the privilege to do so. When you're still trying to build that massive pyramid of basic needs, there's not a lot of introspection going on.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Emily crosses legal boundaries because of her nature more or because of her nurture more?
JPF: It's hard to draw a line. I think that there are a lot of people who would do the same thing as Emily or a similar thing that she does under those circumstances. In that sense, it's nurture, but I don't think that there's anyone in the world who would do it in exactly the same way that she does it with her level of ferocity and determination because that's just who she is. In a lot of ways, I think that Emily the Criminal is like a coming-of-age story about someone realising who they are, realising the nature of their personality, and, kind of, embracing it and allowing themselves to be that person. That's what I think that the movie is. I guess that it's in her nature, at the end of the day, to answer your question.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you manage to keep Emily the Criminal so lean and focused without veering into many subplots and tangents?
JPF: I think that that just comes out of taste. The kinds of movies that I love, and, certainly, a lot of the references that we have, are movies that are really tightly, tightly focused. I agree with you. We don't see a lot of these kinds of movies now. So many movies, especially big movies, are about "world-building"---creating a world where we can then make sequels and TV shows out of instead of just making a stand-alone story that works on its own accord. That's really a sad modern phenomenon. There's an old filmmaker named Jean-Pierre Melville who made Le Samourai, The Red Circle and all of these classic French thrillers that people have forgotten about. They're so laser-focused and there's not an ounce of fat on those films. They're so efficient. They make you lean forward because, 5 minutes in, you go like, "I can't afford to miss a certain detail because they're not going to tell me twice." Do you know what that's like? Do you know when you have a conversation with someone who assumes that you're smart enough to keep up with their conversation and it's kind of flattering? I like dealing with this person who thinks that I'm smarter than maybe I really am. I wanted the audience to feel like, "Oh, this movie assumes that I can keep up with it. Isn't that flattering?"
NYC MOVIE GURU: How and why did you pick the name of "Emily" in particular?
JPF: I don't even remember how I arrived at that name. I think it was just the most mundane, normcore name that I could think of at the time. I knew that I wanted her name to be really not special, so when it's "Emily the Criminal", there's a dichotomy there that's hopefully engaging and makes people curious about what that could possibly mean. I think that, also, she's not an extraordinary person; she's a normal person up against things that so many of us are. She's incredibly relatable. She could be a Ryan or a Jennifer. I wanted her to be accessible.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which other fictional characters do you think Emily would get along with? Who are her kindred spirits?
JPF: Wow. Louis Bloom from Nightcrawler, the central character, and John Wojtowicz from Dog Day Afternoon, the guy who holds up the bank. I think that she would have a pretty good lunch with either of those people. Either that or they'd just kill each other, I don't know. One or the other. [laughs]
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which fictional character do you think would be a good role model for her or someone who could guide her?
JPF: I think a good role model for Emily would be just a more experienced criminal. It would be someone who sees the value of who she is, the value of what she does, would be able to not judge her and be like, "Here's what you can improve upon." Neil McCauley, Robert De Niro's character from Heat, who's such a proficient criminal and who's so full of knowledge because he's survived for so long doing incredibly risky things. I feel like he'd be able to see Emily and be like, "You got something, but here's what you have to improve on."
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn a crime thriller into a classic?
JPF: The stupid answer is: "Just being a really good movie. Just being the best version of what it is." But, also, in my experience, classics are movies that didn't bother with any kind of trend and that didn't lean into anything current. They're more concerned with their characters and their characters' desires. Usually, those desires would be pretty universal, understandable things. That's what makes it easy for us, as an audience, to go back and watch old movies and be able to relate to them and go like, "Oh, this is not about whatever dance craze was sweeping the nation in 1958; this is about some human being who has wants, needs and desires that are endemic to people regardless of time period." That's, typically, what makes a movie into a classic for me. I hope that we got somewhere close to that. That's the hope, that's the dream.
NYC MOVIE GURU: As a filmmaker, how do you feel about the concept of plot and genre?
JPF: Plot makes me feel like, "I wish I could get away from it." I wish I didn't have to worry about plot. I don't want the audience to be like, "Oooo, what a great plot!"; I want the audience to be engaged with the characters and the emotional part of it without thinking about the nuts and bolts of the plot. I think that that's the goal. In terms of genre, I love genre. I'm not scared to go like, "Yeah, I made a genre movie!" I want to keep doing that because here's the thing: genre has conventions with things that audiences expect. They expect a certain thing to happen 23 minutes in a thriller and they expect this and expect that---even if they don't know that that's what they're expecting. Deep down, subconsciously, that's what they're expecting. You can't surprise people unless you know what they're expecting. So, thinking inside of a genre is really great because you can subvert people's expectations and surprise them because they're damn well expecting something. If you're making a free-form art film or a family drama that's not so rigid in its conventions, it's much harder, in my opinion, to surprise the audience with anything because the whole thing is amorphous and irregular.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Who do you think is ultimately responsible for brining a fictional character to life?
JPF: The actor. At the end of the day, it's on their shoulders. That's why acting is a hard job and, kind of, humiliating at times. You're really putting yourself out there. The movie is them. It's their face. So, it's really on the actor. That said, it's a whole team of people working together, like the wardrobe person who's deciding what shoes they're going to wear or the person who's tracking how the character's hair might change throughout the entire course of the story. The production designer is figuring out what wallpaper this character will have in their bedroom. It's really a team collaboration, but when it comes to the actual day when we're making the movie and shooting scenes, it's ultimately in the actor's lap. It's a frightening responsibility to have and I can't imagine that. So, full props to actors! It's a hard job.