Growing up in Maine (Portland, Yarmouth and Cumberland, to be precise), Oscar Boyson’s path as an aspiring filmmaker was, in some ways, typical.
“I grew up watching VHS tapes and going to the Movies on Exchange Street,” Boyson said from his home in New York City, where he’s doing publicity for the indie film “Good Time.”
The gritty crime drama about two loyal but disreputable brothers scrambling to survive after a botched bank robbery is already receiving outstanding reviews in its limited theatrical release (it opened at Portland’s Nickelodeon theater last Friday), not least because of the gripping lead performance by former “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson, whose latest attempt to break out of his teen-star persona may just net him an Oscar nomination.
Boyson, 33, one of the producers of the independent film directed by the sibling team of Benny and Josh Safdie (“Heaven Knows What,” “The Pleasure of Being Robbed”), spoke about his journey from Maine film fanatic to indie film success, and how sticking to your filmmaking principles sometimes actually pays off.
I meet a lot of aspiring Maine filmmakers, so how did your experiences lead you where you are now?
Final Cut Pro (Apple’s influential film editing software) came out when I was 14, and my mom worked at Bowdoin College and had the software, all of which made it easy for me to make videos. The fact is, I could just go and do it. In school (at Greely High in Cumberland), I made every single project a video if it were an option. I spent tons of hours on Final Cut before college and also attended student film workshops in Camden and Rockport. Plus, the internet – we had a cable modem, which wasn’t usual at the time.
Seeing people online, making DIY videos themselves, it reminds you that there’s a community, and it makes you want to participate in it. Also, in the early ’90s, there was the wave of indie films that, once I saw them, it made me want to become a filmmaker. The signature in those movies was that they were auteur films on a budget. They were accessible, but with a real point of view, clearly made by a real person.
You’ve worked with the Safdie Brothers as well as director Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha,” “Mistress America”), all of whom have reputations for both indie success and uncompromising personal styles.
After college, I moved to New York, even though I didn’t know anyone. I gave myself a week to find a film job and then figured I’d have to work in a restaurant. Honestly, I was a bit snobby. Wes Anderson, David Fincher – they were my dream jobs. But I met brothers Casey and Van Neistat, who were shifting out of making videos for art galleries and the internet and who wound up selling a show (“The Neistat Brothers”) to HBO. They were doing exactly what they wanted to do, and they threw me right into the middle of things. The show was more like an indie film – they’d tell me, “You’re smart. Figure it out.” It was extraordinary. Right in the same building were other young indie filmmakers like Lena Dunham, Greta Gerwig, the guys who made “Catfish.” It was shooting, editing, animating, doing design and carpentry. So many different paths, it was so empowering.
It sounds like your work with the Safdies continued that same path. (Aside from them being another pair of filmmaking brothers).
I’m just so proud of Josh and Benny. Indie films are really tough – really tough. Some young filmmakers are trying to make a calling card so they can direct the next “Spider-Man.” Others are making indie films that feel like television, or make one or two films before scrambling to get a Netflix deal, bending or conforming to be what they think those platforms want. The Safdies approach their work so unbendingly. They wait it out. You trust yourself enough to keep it yours and trust that your work will be validated, be rewarded. That’s just the best.
It must be gratifying to see the positive press for “Good Time” and to have attracted a huge star who believed in the film.
Anybody who does want to communicate on a grand scale, people will feel it. We were fortunate that Robert loves the movie, that he wants it to do well. Having him on board is terrific for the people who worked on it, because they worked so hard. And Robert, whose time is objectively more valuable, is working just as hard as everyone else.
What’s been your role as producer on “Good Time?”
I got to move up quicker, at least partly because no one wants to do it (laughs) – to be the bad guy. But since I started out making my own movies, I think I have more empathy for the filmmakers. I think I’m a good ally. Plus, going forward and making my own work, Benny and Josh’s example of pushing this thing three times as hard rather than trying to conform to somebody else’s standards is gratifying, and inspiring.
“Good Time” is in limited release in movie theaters. The 100-minute film is rated R and stars Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It was directed by Benny and Josh Safdie and co-produced by Oscar Boyson. For a look at some of Boyson’s work, check out his website at oscarboyson.com.