Tell us about your first shoot. How did you come to write A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints?

I didn’t dream of doing this in a million years. My father was a typewriter mechanic. He wanted me to be a token booth clerk and I really wanted to be one, ya know, sit in a booth all day and retire in twenty years! I always wrote dumb little things on napkins like everyone does. I used to have this book when I was a kid called The Book Of Saints. It was very simple. There was a picture of a saint and then their story under the picture. And I thought that’s a pretty good way to write a book! So I had a picture of a kid I grew up with named Antonio and wrote “this is is who Antonio is.” under his picture. I didnt have the attention span to tell a long story, so I figured I could just tell a bunch of short stories. And then I got to like thirty people, thirty pages, and I looked at a book and said “hey books are like two-hundred pages… man if I can figure out a hundred and sixty more people I have a book!”

Robert Downey Jr. obviously liked the book, but how on earth did you come to write/direct the movie? Who gave you your first shot?

[Laughs] I had no schooling, I never wrote a script before. I went to Hollywood boulevard to a place that sold scripts and I copied the way they looked. I thought “INT” meant “introducing” and “EXT” meant “exit.” Because it made sense to me “oh they’re exiting and now they’re on the street.” So I wrote this crazy long, hundred and sixty page script that was nuts. I thought this is dumb, no one’s ever gonna give me a shot. But then Robert said “I thinkyou should direct it.” He had read the book, liked it, and thought we could do a movie. Trudie Styler [the producer] called me up and said “I’m gonna give you a shot. I’ll let you shoot a short film that you think is the flavor of the movie and if I like it you can make the movie.” I knew I’d never get a chance like this in life ever again. So I went to Astoria, where I grew up in Queens, and I said find every lunatic you know! So these kids came down and they were just incredible, and Robert was kind enough to sit in a studio and recite some wacky stuff that I wrote. And then I brought it to Jake who was my editor who put it in his iMovie and we cut it up. When Trudy saw it she said “okay you can make the movie.” It was just insane.

What do you think helped you get to where you are today?

A whole lot of incredible luck. But I also had a lot of incredible teachers along the way that took chances on me. Look I know you don’t get these kinds of opportunities in life. First with Robert and Trudie and then being invited to the Sundance Labs, which I originally thought was a learning annex kinda scam [laughs]. It was all too good to be true I guess. I didn’t aspire to do this, I loved to write and I just aspired to live. When I won best director at Sundance, I thought people would say,”he is probably Robert Redford’s nephew” [laughs]. I was just lucky and got plucked out of oblivion. I still write in that little crappy book and sometimes it gets to be seen.

Do you have any advice for new directors?

To me directing is the most humiliating job in the world. You have to embarrass yourself in front of the crew all day long. You say so many stupid ideas. And you know, you might say twenty dumb ideas in a row but one time out of those twenty might be special. So it’s worth humiliating yourself those twenty times because man, that one time… that might have been the good one. So I would suggest if you’re going to do a film, you should try every crazy idea you have. Because when you get to the editing room it’s too late.

What is your process for working with actors?

If I have a gift it’s that I have a good bullshit detector. I enjoy talking to an actor and knowing what they would do in their real life. It isn’t about what I wrote. I’m not gonna tell you to cry because I wrote that your mother died. I ask, what would you do? I’m curious. I’m sitting with you as a human now and let’s talk about this role. I know in the movies people always cry when somebody dies but what would you do? And actors, when they’re smart, they’ll think about it and they’ll say “I don’t know I probably just… I wouldn’t even know what to say” and I’ll say okay let’s shoot that. I want to know what an actor would do in his real life. You know, like what would Channing Tatum do in this situation?

You are on a roll – first directing Shia LaBeouf and Channing Tatum, then Ray Liotta, Juliette Binoche and recently Robin Williams & Al Pacino.

With [Pacino] it was crazy. The first day that he came to set he had to do a five-page scene, just him talking and a little boy listening. That’s it. Just him talking, straight through. And I thought “Oh man, we don’t have any time for this. We’ve got like two hours for this scene and haven’t even rehearsed it.” And he comes, he’s such a nice guy, sits down on the bench and says “You wanna film the rehearsal?” and I’m like “Yea.” So we rolled and I swear to god the he didn’t miss a word. I couldn’t believe it, and the script supervisor is like “he got every word.” And then [Pacino] comes to me and he’s like “I think I missed two words. An ‘uh’ and a ‘the’ right?” He was doing our shoot and then leaving to do Shakespeare in the Park and he is 70! He is a rare breed.

What is your favorite movie?

Carlitos Way is my favorite movie of all time.

It was great talking with you. Any parting words?

I hope someone reads this and says, “Wow, this is the perfect guy to direct Transformers 4”.


Orlandito (Dito) Montiel

Place of Birth

Queens, New York


Director / William Morris Endeavor