Michael Rosenbaum talks about his directorial debut “Back in the Day”

For nearly a decade, Superman fans came to love Michael Rosenbaum for his portrayal of Lex Luthor on “Smallville”. During that time Michael also found time to act in other TV shows and movies as well as voicing the Flash for DC’s animated universe. For the past two years though, Michael has been working on something near and dear to his heart. His first movie, “Back in the Day”, details a lot of his experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana. Some of those experiences are hilarious as well as very touching. Media Mikes was able to talk with Michael about his labor of love as well as the trials and tribulations with working on his first film.

Jeremy Werner: When watching “Back in the Day”, you really get this vibe that this is a love letter to the people and town that you spent your best years in.
Michael Rosenbaum: Oh yeah…I go back twice a year for whiffle ball. I really embrace the city. I really love where I grew up…cutting backyards, drinking out of firehoses, catching fireflies and playing baseball as a kid…It was a little bit of a love letter. I wanted it to be authentic and I wanted people to see how beautiful it can be instead of a stereotypical, ‘Oh I hate the small town and these people are rednecks’. It’s just the opposite of that. I’m very proud of where I grew up.

JW: I assume that every character in this movie is based off someone that you knew growing up.
MR: (laughs) Oh yeah, it is. Skunk is a real character played by Harland Williams…A lot of these things happened. I’ve known these guys for a long time, so it’s an exaggeration and loosely based on a lot of these guys, but definitely. There’s kind of a lot of characters all rolled up in one…I was kind of a nerd in high school and couldn’t get laid. So the girl in the movie is the one I had my first time with mixed in with the most beautiful girl in the world I could never get. They’re all based on the idea or of people that I knew.

JW: I’m almost afraid to ask, (laughs) but there’s a mom who drinks and smokes in the movie…did you know someone like that?
MR: (laughs)…You see some of those things every once and a while and you’ve seen it. That girl was a little bit of an exaggeration, but I hope that people find that funny…that was an exaggeration of someone I sort of knew, who when I go back home, I kind of still see every once and a while and it’s a big exaggeration…I thought she was just a larger than life character and people do that. They actually smoke light cigarettes and they’re smoking occasionally. They think it’s OK. They occasionally drink…an occasional shot of whiskey. So I think there are people out there.

JW: So have your friends watched this movie yet?
MR: They love it…they thought they were gonna see something shot on an iPhone and we had the budget to about do that (laughs). The laughs were loud, it’s great to see it with an audience…so far everyone has really enjoyed it. Obviously there’s some offensive moments and I’m sure somebody will say this isn’t for me, but it’s not for everybody. There is heart…so there’s a little bit of something for everybody. It’s what I wanted to make. I’m happy with that.

JW: How much of yourself did you put into the movie’s main character, Jim Owens?
MR: I obviously have a lot to be thankful for and I’ve done it all for myself and God bless, but there’s always a part of me that longs to be back home. I miss that side, that part of my life. Jim left someone behind, a girl he was in love with. I think that we all wanna find that, that love and he remembers that she was probably the best thing to ever happen to him and even though it happened years ago, he’s seeing what happens. I think there’s a big part of Jim in me or me in Jim because I think a lot of people long to go home and they miss home. Sometimes when they’re home, they realize: I do love home. But maybe I was destined to be an actor. I was destined to be a doctor somewhere or was destined to be…whatever it was. To each his own. I miss my friends back home. I miss the simplicity of being in a small town and living in a neighborhood and having seasons. I’m in Los Angeles and as beautiful as it is and you go to the beach and you have all these great things in life…everybody will sit there and go, “Oh my God. I’d love to have your life”. It’s funny because I’d like to have their life in a lot of ways too…It’s kind of mixing it. I think you can have the best of both worlds.

JW: So with so many memories, when did you start work on this script?
MR: Well, it’s one of those things where it was one of the first scripts I’d written and then I kind of let it go because it’s too small for a studio to buy and go, “Yes! It’s gonna be a big blockbuster comedy.” They consider it not high concept enough, I would say. I was trying to say, “I know these characters, wait until you see them.” It’s funny, I wrote it so long ago that I started working on all these other projects and then when another movie that I was suppose to make fell through…I was asked, “Do you have anything you wrote on growing up in Indiana?” I said, “Holy shit, I do.” I kind of switched gears and within three months I was prepping this movie and I pulled it out of the woodwork. I updated it a bit and I asked my friends to be in it. It’s a passion project. I can’t believe this movie is my first. Honestly, it was my first step in directing and it was the best first step. I hope people look at it and go, “Wow! For a million bucks, this is friggin’ funny. It looks great.”…You hope that people appreciate it and you hope you can get your second shot and that’s what I’m aiming towards.

JW: Was there a lot of pressure going into this?
MR: Yeah, I didn’t know how much work it was until I started doing it and then I realized…how am I gonna do this scene in one day? I don’t have enough money for this stunt, how am I gonna do that? How am I gonna get these actors from LA…and why would they do some independent movie in the middle of Indiana for no money in the dead of winter? So there’s a lot of obstacles. Then you finally make it happen and then you’re shooting and you start to have more problems. It’s raining…a snowstorm is coming in…whatever’s happening. Oh my God, it can’t be a Christmas movie anymore, it’s getting warm now. And then how do we finish the movie…and then post-production. How can we afford sound design? How can we afford a composer? How can we afford getting the songs that I really wanted to be in this movie? And then all of sudden we’re trying to screen the movie and we only have ‘x’ amount of weeks to edit it and now we’re trying to sell it. On a studio movie, once you’re done directing and cut, you’re done. Studio takes over and they have an infrastructure. With an independent movie there’s multitasking and I’ve been doing a ton of jobs with my amazing producer, Kim Waltrip and my post supervisor Aaron Peak, for no money. I haven’t taken a job for a year and a half because I’ve become so invested in this.

JW: Is there another script you have in mind after this?
MR: Yeah, I can’t really name it. There’s a camp movie that I’m considering directing that I wrote. I also wrote a TV show that we’re probably gonna shoot digitally for a studio. So that’s in negotiations…a lot of good stuff on the horizon.

JW: Now finally…as a nerd, I gotta ask…
MR: Do it!

JW: (laughs)…have you gotten any calls to be Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie?
MR: The fans have been unbelievable. They’ve tweeted me, I’ve tweeted back…I’ve been to conventions and they always ask me, “Would you do it?” And I’m not an idiot, of course I’d do it. I’d love to do it. But I think Joaquin Phoenix is probably gonna do it or somebody. I’m a big Zack Snyder fan. Obviously, I think I could play the role. I would do it in a heartbeat, but I don’t hold my breath because I know there’s the stigma, “He was the TV Smallville Lex Luthor.” I say that sarcastically, but I think it’s a shame. If people like the role and what I did with it, then they should consider it. But I’m not the director. I’m not the producer. Long story short, I’d do it in a fucking heartbeat.


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Interview with Scott Rosenbaum

Scott Rosenbaum is the writing and director of the new film “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. The music road trip film and stars Kevin Zegers, Jason Ritter and legend Peter Fonda.  Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Scott about working on his first film and also what he has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about when was “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” was shot and about its road to release?
Scott Rosenbaum: We shot in the summer in 2008 and finished post production in spring of 2009. So it has been a little over two years ago that we finished. It is interesting because people see that and it is not necessarily count as a strike against the film but they become suspect. I find that strange. It is my first feature film and independent film work is so challenging right now because everything has dried up. It was challenging in the first place to get the film made but then once we finished it, it was right around the beginning of the economic crisis and it made everything more difficult to get it released, especially for a first time filmmaker. We persevered and did what we had to do to finally get it out.

MG: What did you like most about working on “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll”?
SR: It was really a labor of love for me. I grew up in Long Island and playing in bands since I was 12 years old. So I have a love of music and the history of music. I have always been involved and around filmmaking but I didn’t go to school for that. I went to school for journalism. I finally committed to complete a screenplay and to just go for it. The whole process is gratifying just being able to shoot the film and get that kind of a cast to come out and work with me on my first feature. Also to be able to put all that music in the film that I grew up loving and wanted to be apart of this film to tell the story. The whole process was really fantastic for me.

MG: Tell us about the working with Kevin Zegers and Jason Ritter and legend Peter Fonda?
SR: Each of them brought some much to their character and to the creative process. The directing background that I have is from New York based theater. One of the consistent themes that I focused on was experimentation. All of these actors were so giving and into their roles. They each elevated the writing to a better place. Fonda, of course, is a Hollywood legend and it is clear that “Easy Rider” is a big influence on the film and probably every road trip film. He was very generous with the “Easy Rider” legacy” and letting us toy with it and utilize it within our film. As far as Kevin and Jason, I cannot say enough about those guys. It is hard enough to act as a musician, that was definitely a challenge from casting. They pulled it off beautifully. Kevin sang all of his own vocals and Jason was a musician already. Most of the songs were done by Steve Conte who is the lead guitarist for the New York Dolls. Jason was able to follow the notes, strumming patterns and makes it look great. Those guys definitely nailed it.

MG: How do you feel that this film relates or differs from other music films?
SR: There has been a lot of criticism and it is a little frustrating for me. Some critics are saying it is a knock off of “Almost Famous” and it is like they didn’t even watch the film. I do not think that is the case at all. Anytime you make a rock and roll film, there is a set path you need to walk. What I think is different about this film is that it is focused on the evolution of them music and the relationships within the music business. I think we struck out on our own and laid some new trials that I do not think have ever been touched on. I wanted to make a really gritty real feeling film for what it feels like to be on the road and in a band. I hope that comes through.

MG: Who are some of your favorite artists and where they influential in the movie?
SR: That is another one of the things I wanted to portray in this film that I do not feel is touched on at all in a narrative feature is the evolution of rock and roll from the blues. There has always been talk about how the rockers stole the blues from the blues men. It is interesting but no one has really picked up on it yet but I tried to make this film very layered with a deep story. Things like putting the blues music behind the flashback Spyder scenes.  All of those blues songs were chosen because they were either done by bands like Led Zepplin, The Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton. All songs that were made famous by rock band that are household names but were from blues artists, who were more or less obscure. I tried to layer the narrative between Eric and Spyder in that way by portraying all the great blues music I grew up loving thinking it was initially The Rolling Stones or Led Zepplin or The Doors when it was actually Muddy Waters or Willie Nixon and other great blues artists. That is definitely one way that this film sets itself apart. I came to the blues the way that many from the white audience came and that is through rock and roll. Blues are really one of the great art forms given to us along with rock and jazz.

MG: Was the concert footage more difficult for you to shoot then the rest of the film?
SR: Yes for sure, it was something I was very conscious of. There was some definite reference that I wanted to go over with my cinematographer before we shot. One thing to note, I was very fortunate to work with Tom Richmond and I believe it was his 40th feature film. He also did everything from Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” video to many of the 90’s Foo Fighters videos. We went through a lot things I wanted to evoke in those music scenes. The small roadhouse bar has one particular feel to it. The big concert scene was very much influenced from 90’s rock band like Guns ‘n Roses, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. I think we did a very good job capturing the essence of what those moments would have looked and felt like.

MG: What do you have planned next?
SR: Good question, well in that blues bar scene, all of those musicians are veteran blues men from Delta and Chicago. They are a dying breed and I look at them as a natural treasure. They are just the most beautiful guys you will ever meet. We set out while we were in post to make a documentary about these blues men and the rock stars I just mentioned. We had a concert in LA and had band members from Jefferson Starship, The Doors and Dave Matthews Band. Our plan is once we get the balance of the financing is to put on another concert and bring out the real heavy hitters of blues rock to highlight the fact that they blues-men represent the legacy of American root music which in turn become rock and roll. My goal is to make a modern day version of “The Last Waltz”. Then I am also writing my follow up script which will be my second feature film as well.


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