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Interview with Producer Steve Lee Jones for "Bigger" (2018) at 71st Cannes Film Festival

Interview with Producer Steve Lee Jones for "Bigger" (2018) at 71st Cannes Film Festival

Producer | Writer | Director Steve Lee Jones' latest film “Bigger” (2018) held market screenings at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. “Bigger” tells the story of brothers Joe and Ben Weider, founders of the modern fitness and work out gym phenomena. In this rags to riches story, with just a few dollars in their pocket and a fight against anti-Semitism and racism, the Weider brothers set out to revolutionize the world of physical fitness and build an empire.

 

I interviewed Steve during the festival at the Carlton Hotel about his film. Here is what he has to say:

 

Can you tell us about your film?

STEVE: We're screening for the first time to international buyers. Then we're screening back in the States in a few weeks. It's a very international film because the world of fitness could be a country in and of itself. It's a very passionate sect. We're receiving a couple of hundred emails a day from people all over asking when the film can be seen, also because there's a good amount of press on the film. It's a historic film because it's the first mainstream scripted feature about that world. It's a very layered and elegant looking movie about a couple of guys who gathered together $70 which ended up launching an industry and ended up changing the world. There's not many things the youth of the world care about as much as fitness; how they look, tennis shoes and cell phones are the top interests. Certainly it's not dating. I have a daughter and I know that first hand.

 

How did you come across this story and decide to get it made?

STEVE: I always had an interest in fitness myself. When I was younger, I was very into it. I still maintain a regular gym regiment though, not like I used to. When Joey the legend passed away, I called a friend of mine, Solomon who had a radio show. I called him the voice of body building. He is an announcer that handles Mr. Olympia; he's interviewed Schwarzenegger many times. I said to him, “I want to tell this story. It's a true rags to riches tale.” I think it's an important story for for the youth of today because these guys took no shortcuts. It took them many decades to create this empire. They were relentless. They went against social norms, conventional wisdom. Doctors in the 40s and 50s thought that working out was bad for your heart because the heart of the muscle and they believed that working out you would use up the beats of your heart. It's crazy. So our story is about these guys who literally spent decades doing everything they could to advance this notion of gymnasium, of working out and finding a way to balance the body and the mind. In Joe's words, “and then free the spirit.”

 

Can you tell me how you went about casting the film?

STEVE: We had a local casting director to cast all the secondary roles but I ended up casting all the leading roles myself. I just felt that I understood the story and what we were looking for, so I worked with our director George Gallo and he was very happy when I cast Tyler Hoechlin to play the lead and Julianne Hough to play the Betty; she was the famous pinup model at the time. We wanted someone who was very elegant that you would believe would have been a pinup model in the 50s and 60s. Julianne is just so lovely in this film. She's a platinum blonde and obviously a dancer. Fitness is a big part of her life so I think people are going to flip when they see her. She looks amazing and she really embodies this role. We also cast Aneurin Barnard from “Dunkirk”, which I loved, as Joe's brother. They really bonded, which made them really feel like brothers in the film. I just tried to stay true to the story.

 

You're also coming from producing for TV. Can you tell us what that was like?

STEVE: I did the film “You Don't Know Jack” for HBO. We brought them the story of Jack Kevorkian, a character complex and ahead of his time, just like Joe. Also he was very impactful to the world, and relentless like Joe. There are some similarities between those characters. I like characters from history, that whatever period they come from are also relatable today, because history is cyclical. What we're going through right now is reminiscent to other periods of history. The notion of class struggle, the haves and have nots. This is very relevant in a lot of things we're taking on. It's relevant today. What people are coming to realize is that no matter if you're the president of the US, a big celebrity, a major producer or a carpenter, the fact that how much money you have or how much power you weild really can only be reflected in the material things you own. But I don't think the human experience is really not that different in general. If you can't afford to eat, that's a different state of affairs and why some people should have billions of dollars and multiple homes and other people don't have one; the reality is that the human experience is not that different for people. It doesn't matter if you have money and power, people's peccadillos are very unique and people gravitate towards things that gratify them- sex, food, whatever it may be. People are human. That's what's coming to light I think.

 

Being an independent filmmaker yourself, what is your outlook on the state of indie films today?

STEVE: I think the thing that has changed more than anything is that a lot of the onus has shifted to TV. And whether it be streaming services or traditional TV series, I'm all for it. We have a couple of wonderful TV projects. TV is so great because you can really develop characters over a long arc and the richness of them is so great. When I was a kid, TV was so much more limited so it's ever changing. I think there's still room for great films and the venues are shifting where you see them. I think it's perfectly fine for people to see films streaming. There will always be those who prefer the theater experience. I personally love the theater experience, but I love binge watching series and movies at home as well. There's a ferocious appetite for entertainment and people have to balance their very hectic lives with it. I don't think that will ever change. I think the delivery of such services will change. There's movie pass now and so many other modern incarnations of delivering entertainment. That will always change but I think think the need for quality content will always be there.

 

How is it being at Cannes with your film?

STEVE: We're very excited to be here at Cannes. It's a beautiful place with beautiful people and lots of rich food. It's hard not to enjoy the experience. There's a lot of energy in the air, a lot of excitement. The film market is more international than ever. The third world market is international, giving filmmakers from every inch of the globe an opportunity to present things that maybe years ago wouldn't have made it into the market. I think it's pretty great!

 

Bigger” stars Julianne Hough (Footloose, Dirty Grandpa), Tyler Hoechlin (Road to Perdition, CW’s “Teen Wolf”), Tom Arnold, DJ Qualls (Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle,” Hustle & Flow), Robert Forster (London Has Fallen, Showtime’s “Twin Peaks”), Victoria Justice (Nickelodeon’s “Victorious”)

Director:

George Gallo (Middle Men, Bad Boys)

Writers:

Andy Weiss (upcoming White Boy Rick), George Gallo, Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) & Ellen Brown Furman (The Infiltrator)

Producers:

Steve Lee Jones (Emmy nominated producer of HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack”), Scott LaStaiti (The Infiltrator, Love in the Time of Cholera)


 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

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