Roger Nygard Director, Writer, Editor, and Producer

Interview on the Jason Hennessey Podcast 02-16-2022 - Episode 18
Roger Nygard

Curb Your Enthusiasm Director shares his winning process

It’s our great pleasure today to welcome triple-time Emmy-nominated editor, filmmaker, and author, Roger Nygard, who is best-known for his documentary films, Trekkies, The Nature of Existence, and The Truth About Marriage.

Roger’s also directed popular TV series, such as The Office and The Bernie Mac Show, and co-produced and edited the docuseries, The Comedy Store.
His latest book, Cut to the Monkey, is about making and editing hit comedy series’, which shares invaluable wisdom from comedic luminaries such as Sacha Baron Cohen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Larry David.
Join us as we trace Roger’s exciting journey from growing up on the north arm of Lake Minnetonka, to mailing out 1,000 resumes, to eventually making it big as a Hollywood editor, cutting hit TV shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Grey’s Anatomy, Veep, Who Is America?, and more.
We also get deep as he spills the secret to having a happy relationship and what, according to him, is the meaning of life.
Please hit the play button near the top of the page and follow along below. Thank you for tuning in to today’s thought-provoking episode.

In this Episode

[01:37] Jason and Roger begin the show discussing the desire to leave a legacy when it’s time to depart this earth. Roger shares some words that his friend, Irvin Kershner, told him about the afterlife.

[03:31] Jason learns more about Roger’s early years growing up in Minnesota near Lake Minnetonka, his family life, picking up his dad’s 8mm video camera for the first time, and what he started filming.

[07:30] Jason is intrigued by Roger’s curiosity as a kid. Roger confirms that he was an inquisitive kid, but also skeptical, particularly about going to church. Jason also shares his church story, and the confusion and amazement that it stirred within him as a child.

[10:57] Roger tells us about his college years and his continued curiosity through the variety of courses he took ranging from physics, journalism, and cosmology.

[12:28] Roger details his journey to Hollywood after graduating from college. He recounts sending 1,000 resumes to production companies, fetching lunches for the crew at his first production job, and eventually getting promoted to talent scout while working on his own projects.

[16:35] Roger explains how saying, “No,” was one of the most important things he noticed while working at the production company he began with. They worked with stars like Martin Sheen and Billy Crystal, focusing on quality over quantity for the iconic actors.

[18:17] Roger recounts how he started editing, beginning with his first feature film, called High Strung.

[20:26] Jason and Roger discuss the importance of who you know, especially in media. Roger gives the example of being hired to edit promos for TNT Latin America because an executive there that he had worked with in the past heard he was editing.

[22:41] Jason is interested to know if there is a difference between editing dramas, comedies, and different genres. Roger highlights how editing styles can make a scene and actors appear funnier or more dramatic.

[25:08] Jason also wonders if there’s a difference when editing an actor whose primary skill is with a script versus an actor who‘s skilled at improvisation. Roger describes a major difference when working with a show like Grey’s Anatomy versus a show such as Curb Your Enthusiasm.

[26:23] Roger goes in-depth about how his incredible book Cut to the Monkey can help editors improve their comedic videos and editing techniques. He classifies his book as a “cookbook for editors.”

[30:20] Roger gives us the scoop that his next book is about documentaries. He also gives us some more info about how he teamed up with Denise Crosby to document Star Trek conventions in their film Trekkies.

[32:52] Jason asks Roger about the selling and distribution process for a documentary of that niche. Roger traces the film’s release and how Paramount and Universal ended up in a bidding war to license Trekkies.

[35:07] Roger evokes the documentary filmmaking process and the excitement that it brings to him with not having a script or expectations.

[36:55] Jason brings up one of Roger’s latest documentaries called The Nature of Existence. Roger’s motivation for making the film was trying to answer the seemingly unanswerable and difficult question: What is the purpose of life?

[39:09] Roger presents the one group that was the most philosophical when asked about life’s purpose. He and Jason also discuss the afterlife, the stigma connected to talking about death, and also the longing of wanting to be remembered.

[43:28] Roger stresses the importance of asking people how they feel and expressing how we feel too.

[45:00] Jason wants to know if Roger found the answer to the meaning of life in his journey of creating the film. Roger details how one can give meaning to their life and find happiness through the avenue of creation.

[49:34] Jason and Roger share stories relating the significance of the elderly in our communities and working at nursing homes. Roger and one of Jason’s son’s both worked at a nursing home at one point in their lives.

[53:51] Jason gets deep into Roger’s thoughts on his inspirations for wanting to be a better person, the thing he thinks would make the world a happier place, the most important aspects in a relationship, and other philosophical questions in our signature segment, “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart.”

[01:11:52] Roger tells us more ways we can keep in touch and updated on his latest projects. Jason and Roger say thanks and also set a date that Jason will go witness him in action creating his next documentary.

Transcript

Jason Hennessey: Roger Nygard, thank you so much for coming down to Hennessey Studios to be here on the show, man.

Roger Nygard: Happy to be here. Every day I wake up alive, I’m just happy to be here.

Yeah. It’s a good way of living, right?

So, I see you wear so many different hats, and we’re going to dissect them all: editor, director, author, speaker, producer, and then a documentarian. I didn’t even know that was a word.

Yeah. It’s not that I get bored. I like to alternate and switch it up because I find that doing one thing, whether it’s writing or producing or editing, informs the other discipline and I get better at the other things by becoming good at whatever it is that I’m doing.

I like to challenge myself and pick things that I am maybe not as good at. I get tired of doing the same thing over and over. That’s the long way of saying that.

Sure. Plus, you have a legacy to leave to this world, right, and you don’t want your legacy just to be that single myopic kind of thing, too.

That’s why I’m doing this podcast, to be honest with you. My legacy up until this point has been a digital marketer and I’m like, “I don’t know. I think I’ve got so much more to give to this world.”

That’s such an important point. When I interviewed Irvin Kershner, who directed Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, I asked him, “What is an afterlife? Do you believe in an afterlife? What are your thoughts on the afterlife?”

He said, “The afterlife is what you leave behind for people,” and so, for him it was his creativity and producing, writing, directing. The tangible effects of your existence are what you leave behind for other generations.

Yeah. Yeah. And then you’ve got sites like Wikipedia to prove it, right? That’s my goal, is, you got to have a Wikipedia page about you before you die, right?

Yeah. Well-

Otherwise, you probably just didn’t live your best life.

It’s kind of on you, though, I’ve noticed to fill it up with stuff, too.

It is. Yes, you’re right. Yep. And so, we’re going to be talking about how you’re been filling your Wikipedia page up.

So let’s go back, though, because you don’t just start out in Hollywood as, I think, an Emmy award-winning editor?

Only nominated so far.

Okay. Only nominated.

I’ve had to go and watch other people win three times.

Oh, no. That’s painful. But, hey, yeah, who can say they were even nominated? That’s-

No, I’ll take it. I’ll take that.

Yes.

Plus, you get a free dinner at every Emmy thing.

You got to love that, right? So going way back, where did you grow up?

I’m a country boy, I guess. I grew up in Minnesota, outside of Minneapolis, the Western suburbs, a little area called Orono, which is near Lake Minnetonka. I grew up specifically, for those in Minnesota, on the North Arm of Lake Minnetonka.

Okay. Got it.

Catching frogs and snakes and fishing, swimming, and canoeing, almost drowning multiple times, blowing things up. There’s not much else to do when you live out in the country except try and destroy things. I grew out of that, learned that creating things is a better use of my time. But I grew up having to learn how to amuse myself.

That turned into making films once I discovered my dad had an 8-millimeter camera. He left it sitting out one day, and if he left something sitting out, I would take it apart. They learned to put things up high or hide them after a while. But I got my hands on it, and these old 8-millimeter cameras were filled with 16-millimeter film that you would shoot one side of it, and then go in a dark room, turn it over, shoot the other side. You send it away to be developed, they’d cut it in half, and then splice it together, and you’d have 8-millimeter of movie to show.

Cool.

So, it was first, filming family stuff, but I found it and thought, “Oh, I want to make a movie like I saw on television.”

So I went and filmed this stop-motion animation of my Linus and Charlie Brown dolls because I was emulating Gumby, which I had seen on television, which was the stop-motion animation show for kids with really weird themes.

If you go online and look up “Gumby,” Gumby goes into the oven one day and almost gets cooked. It’s so bizarre and weird, but that affected me, and I wanted to do it, emulate it, and that was the beginning of my desire to be a filmmaker, and I’ve never stopped since then.

Huh.

I mean, it’s gotten a little more- higher budgets and slightly more extravagant and complex but not much. It’s still the same goofy stuff that I did as a kid, just cloaked in a little bigger budget.

And so, what did your parents do for a living?

My dad was a grain buyer for General Mills. General Mills has their corporate headquarters in Minneapolis.

I see.

So, he would drive to General Mills every morning from our little house on the lake, and my mother was a housewife. They met in high school, actually, at high school. They met in high school at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis, which is still there.

The primary demographics of Northeast Minneapolis at the time were Polish and Scandinavian, and my dad was Norwegian, my mother was Polish. It was sort of a Romeo and Juliet thing, the different tribes. They met in high school, got married, and my mother only went to college for two years and then became a housewife because that’s what you did in those days.

Sure. Sure. And were you only a child or did you have brothers and-

Oldest of four, so I was the bossiest, of course, because that’s what you do when you’re the king. Everyone’s smaller than you, and you get your way. You’re used to it.

But probably the dumbest of the four, I think, because my brother Steve is a computer expert, Jay is a mechanical engineer, my sister Theresa can read a book and whatever’s in it, she can read the book and then she just knows how to do it, whatever it is. She needed to fix her plumbing once, so she read a book on plumbing…

Really?

…and then fixed her plumbing.

See, I wish I had that power. I’ll be looking at YouTube videos, rewinding the video, rewinding the video, like, “Yeah, that’s just me. Yep.”

So, were you always curious as a kid because you seem like a curious kind of guy?

Oh, yeah. About everything, and skeptical.

Skeptical, too?

My bullshit meter was highly attuned, I realized, at an early age, where I started to think, “That doesn’t make any sense.” So, I would start pushing back or asking questions, that typical thing where kids ask “why?” endlessly until you’re backed into a corner. That was me because I wanted to know why.

“Why do we have to go to church? I’m hungry.” We would go to church every Sunday, and we didn’t eat breakfast first. We’d go to church first because we were always running late, get the four kids to church and get dressed up with our suit and tie. So, we had to sit there and starve. Church for me was, “How long until pancakes, how many more minutes until pancakes,” until finally we could go eat.

Get your pancakes.

It made no sense to me. I didn’t understand the show they were putting on because church is a show.

Exactly right.

Going to church, temple, whatever, the good ones are really entertaining.

Sure. Sure.

Because they’ve got to keep your interest. With whatever fire and brimstone or whatever story they’re telling, you lose people’s…

I’ve learned this as a filmmaker. If you lose people’s attention for a second, it’s gone. You’ve got to grab them and hold them until you finish your point or the moral, you get to the moral or whatever the point is of what you’re trying to express.

So, really good preachers or ministers or rabbis know how to tell a story.

Sure they do.

They know how to be funny.

Yeah. Got to keep it entertaining.

And then get to the point, which is, “Okay, now get out your wallets.”

Yeah. Yeah. My church story that I remember, and I wasn’t- We didn’t go to church every Sunday or anything like that, but we would go occasionally.

So, I grew up Catholic, I guess, if you want to say Catholic, right, and so I remember sitting there, and I was maybe 6 years old and I’m in the pew with my grandfather, and the priest is up there speaking.

I asked my grandpa, I said, “Who’s that?” And he says, “Oh, that’s Jesus,” and I’m like, “Wow.” I’m like, “That’s really cool.” So, another week we go there and I look at my grandpa and I go, “Who’s that?” And he goes, “That’s Jesus.” I’m confused now. I’m like, “Boy, did Jesus get old.” It was a young priest versus a young- priest, and so, that was my view, right?

As a kid, we’re curious. We don’t know. But, anyway, that was my story that reminded me of church as a kid.

Well, yeah. In Catholic churches, they put the full on tortured Jesus sculpture on the cross.

Yeah, they do. Yeah, I know.

And they put it out there for you to, like, “Look at this guy suffering.” He’s been stabbed. He’s wearing a crown of thorns. He’s bleeding. I mean, it’s like a horror show.

I wonder why. Huh.

Like a horror movie, I guess, to scare you…

See.

…into behaving.

I guess so.

We grew up Episcopalian, where they eliminated that and you just would see the cross itself. I always call it “Catholic light.”

I see.

Same prayer books but not quite as demonic and scary.

[laughs]

So, all the edges were softened.

Yeah. So, you graduate high school. Did you go to college then?

Well, yeah. I mean, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, a director, any way I could get into the business. So, every step I took was to further that goal.

Okay. So you knew what you wanted to do early on in life?

The earlier you know, the better your chance of success because then you’re taking steps in that direction.

So, I went to college. I went to the University of Minnesota because it was right near where I lived and it was convenient. To me, I didn’t even think of, ” I’ve got to get into Harvard,” or, “I’ve got to get into Northwestern,” or something. It was just, “I’ve got to take these classes so that I can improve my knowledge,” because a good filmmaker needs to know a little bit about everything, whether it’s physics for the special effects or literature for the writing or journalism, biology, cosmology.

A good filmmaker needs to know a little bit about everything.

I took classes in everything because I was curious, again, about the universe. I wanted to learn about it and then focus that ultimately in filmmaking somehow. I didn’t know how I was going to do that, really. In hindsight, I’ve got regrets that I could have focused better and differently, if only I’d known, but no, you don’t know everything.

You don’t know. Yeah.

You got to figure it out as you go along, but at least I knew my goal was to somehow get to Hollywood and seek my fortune or die trying.

Hmm.

So I’m still here. I haven’t died. I’m still making a go of it.

Yeah. So you ended up graduating college, and then what took you to Hollywood?

Almost the day after I graduated, I packed up my brown Celica with whatever I could fit, toasters and spoons and the stuff I would need in an apartment, and drove it over the mountains. That little four-cylinder car barely made it. I’d never tried to drive over a mountain before, and I was like, “What’s wrong with my car?”

No job, probably not a lot of money in the bank, right? Yeah.

Didn’t know anybody, knew nothing, except I got an apartment at the- one of these corporate apartments. It was called the Oakwood Apartments.

Yeah, I know that.

Because that was the only place that would take me.

It’s still here. In Toluca Lake, there’s one there.

Yes. Right up here on Barham. That was where I stayed for my first month. The only way I could get some place was a hotel or a corporate apartment. You can’t book an apartment from another city. They want to meet you and fill out a form.

Of course.

So once I got here, then I found an apartment, booked that, which is cheaper than a hotel, and once I got here, I sat down at my desk in my little Oakwood apartment and stuffed envelopes. I sent out 1,000 resumes.

I got a book that listed every single production company in the business. I didn’t know anything or anyone.

Email would’ve been faster.

Yeah, it didn’t exist.

I’m just kidding.

So, had to do it by hand. Took me a week, and I wanted to send everyone an individual letter so it didn’t look like I was sending out spam. I wanted to sign each one. That’s why it took so long.

Even with that quantity, that shotgun approach, my response was only 1 out of 100, response rate. If you only send out 100 resumes, you might get no responses and think, “Oh, I’m never going to succeed.” Maybe you just didn’t send enough because it was all about timing.

That’s right.

The ones that responded were the ones who that day, typically, their production assistant had put in their notice. My resume arrives, “Oh, this one just arrived,” because otherwise it goes in the trash.

Sure.

And I got a call. Ultimately, I got 7 phone calls, which led to 3 interviews and 2 job offers, and so I took one where I ended up working for the next 5 years.

As a PA?

Started as a production assistant, runner, fetching the lunches, and I was the best lunch-fetcher they had ever seen.

You were going to excel at whatever you did, right?

Yes.

Yep. Mm-hmm.

I organized a chart. When everyone wanted a salad made at the salad bar, I made them fill out a little, “Okay, what do you want?” So, I knew exactly everyone’s likes and favorites and I delivered it just the way they liked it.

Then I got promoted eventually to an assistant, and I didn’t plan it that way, but what happened was when you’re there every day, you just have to show up. That’s one of the keys to success, is just show up.

That’s one of the keys to success, is just show up.

With a positive attitude.

Yes, can-do. You’re the person that they can count on. You’re reliable. You get there before everyone, and you leave after everyone. When that happens, sometimes an assistant calls in sick and, “Okay, well, Roger’s here. Put him in the chair.”

So, I would sit in for Larry Brezner, who was a manager/producer I worked for, and Buddy Morra. When their assistant was out, I would sit in and answer the phones for them and make their return phone calls and send out packages and just deal with whatever had to be dealt with.

I was overwhelmed because I’d never really done that before, but I just put all my attention on it and did the best I could, and I felt like I was, like, running in quicksand. After that time, spending a week in someone else’s chair, Buddy Morra said he wanted to hire me for that. He fired his assistant and hired me instead.

Really?

I didn’t intend to get that person fired.

No, of course not.

But he looked at the qualitative difference in terms of how it affected his life because I was so much more organized.

Sure.

It made a difference in his life, and so then I got promoted, and eventually to a talent scout. My job was to go to comedy clubs and look for standup comedians, because they managed comedians, and bring them to their attention.

All the while, I was working on my own projects, trying to get a film made.

Interesting. Got it. And so, you worked with that organization for many years?

Almost 5 years, yeah. Virtually 5 years. It was one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had because it was like a family there. I got lucky.

It seems like you were learning everything about the behind-the-scenes of what happens in Hollywood, right?

You need to mentor somebody who’s already doing it because they can’t teach you in film school…

No.

…some of the nuances like how to say, “No.” There is a way to say, “No.” When people- Because when you’re an agent or a manager, you get a lot of phone calls for your client. “We want to book Billy Crystal or Robin Williams or Martin Short or David Letterman or Woody Allen.” These were their big clients.

Most of the time, they’ve got to say, “No,” and there’s a way to do it, that people go away happier than they arrived even though you said, “No,” because you put it to them- You said, “No,” in a nice way.

Of course.

You value them and their input because you want people to keep coming to you with offers.

Yeah, you do. Yeah.

Where the bad managers, I saw, were not good at sending people away happy.

I got it. Yeah. No, that’s a good way to put it, in life, in everything, right? There’s a way to communicate where you don’t burn bridges and things.

Yeah. A manager’s job is to say, “No.” That was what I noticed there. They rarely said, “Yes,” because they liked Billy Crystal to do one big movie per year. Otherwise, you get overexposed. The clients get overexposed, and you start to-

“Oh, I’ve seen them in three movies, I’m tired of that one.” As opposed to, “Oh, how exciting, a Billy Crystal movie, and I know it’s going to be good,” because you build up a reputation for being in a good product and they helped them pick a quality product to be in.

Yeah. Quality and not quantity. Yep.

Yeah.

Yeah. I would’ve never thought about that. But you kind of led down to the path of editing, right?

Yeah. I came to Hollywood wanting to be a filmmaker. “I want to make movies,” but I didn’t really know what that meant yet.

You all had visions of behind-the-camera, right?

Yeah. Calling the shots, being the next big filmmaker. Nothing ever goes the way you expect. It’s the old Woody Allen joke; “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” because nothing ever goes the way you expect, ever, right?

Yeah. Uh-huh.

But you need to be open to opportunities, and it turned out, I found I had a knack for editing. I didn’t know that. I had never really pursued editing specifically. I know that I had never really pursued editing specifically, or even when I started out, I had other people editing for me.

Like on my first feature, I hired an editor. It was this low-budget comedy called High Strung that starred a comedian named Steve Oedekerk, who later wrote Patch Adams and Jimmy Neutron.

Oh, cool.

And Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, I forget what it was, comedy. Lots of comedies.

Yeah.

And it also has Denise Crosby in it. We cast her, who became my partner in Trekkies later on. And Jim Carrey is in it with a brief cameo, unbilled cameo.

And doing that first film was- I didn’t expect that I would be editing it, I just thought I’d be directing it. But I sat in the editing room and I watched my editor, and by week five, looking over his shoulder, I realized I knew how to do it. So, I kind of pushed him out of the way and finished the movie.

Wow.

And because I thought, “It’s just so much faster if I do it than if I have to put it through him and then he’s got to do it, Then he’s got to try a variation.” So, ever since then I’ve been editing and people started offering me jobs to edit once they saw the product, and I say, “Yes,” to opportunity.

Sure, yeah.

And so, those were the greatest opportunities came from. I’ve also directed and produced and written, of course. But mostly I’ve been editing because that’s where the majority of my job offers come from.

Interesting. And so, as you are, I guess the connections that you’re making, that’s really kind of where the more exciting stuff kind of happens, right.

As you’re editing this piece and you’re meeting this person, they’re introducing that, that’s like Hollywood connections right. That’s where it takes ya, yeah.

It’s crucial who you know, because you don’t know what knowing that person is going to bring to you. It’s often surprising that someone I’ve worked with a year later or 6 months later, 5 years later turns up and says, “Hey, would you like to do this thing with me?”

When I was working at my job as a runner, as a messenger, I met somebody who was at my same level at Paramount, where our company was located. His name was Luis Estrada. And he was kind of a peon like me, but he was in the accounting department.

And we became friends, had lunch and tried to get films made together, kind of, on the side and never succeeded. And we went our separate ways and he ended up as, many years later, as an executive at TNT Latin America.

Oh, good.

So, I got a call from him one day, Luis said, “Hey, I’m at this- I’m now at TNT Latin America. And we need someone who can make promos for us.”

Okay.

“And I know you’ve been doing some, you’ve made a film and you’ve been doing some editing. Do you want to try producing and editing some promos?” And I said, “Yes,” because I was, at that point, $30,000 in debt. And so, I- anything sounded good.

Sure.

I spent 2 years writing and producing and editing promos for TNT for things like the Bette Davis movie marathon. So, I would have to edit a short encapsulation of her career. Then, we would hire a voice talent to replace my voiceovers. but what it taught me was editing commercials and promos, when it’s got to be fitting into a 15 second slot or a 30 second slot, every frame counts.

So, I spent 2 years- It’s like shooting layups, like practicing my craft and learning how to edit. And those are all the skills that I took forward into becoming an editor. Which is why, when people saw my work as a comedy editor, I think they started to notice that I had a knack for making things funnier by the way I edited because I practiced. I’d gotten in my 10,000 hours or whatever.

Yeah. Outliers. Right. Yeah. So is that really a thing? Is there a difference between like drama editors and sci-fi editors and comedy editors? That’s a thing, huh?

I had a knack for making things funnier by the way I edited.

Yeah. For sure.

Really?

Comedy editors-

I don’t think the ordinary person would even know that yeah.

A comedy editor gets paid more than a drama editor.

Okay.

Because there are fewer of them that are good. And the reason is that you can tell when something’s not funny, because you’re not laughing.

With drama, it’s harder to discern: is this dramatic or not? You know, you can slide more and get away with it. And what- You might be a little looser of an editor and get away with it.

But if you’re a comedy editor, you’ve got to be tight. You got to have it right. It’s got to be working. Or it shows.

Sure. And now, is the editor usually on set, watching this being filmed real time too?

Sometimes, but rarely. Most of the time you are in your little room sorting through mountains of footage. You get-

Because I would imagine that like, you’re taking in the reactions of the crew, right, of what is funny too, right, if you’re on set.

Sometimes I’ve done- I have been to the sets and observed, but I’ve found that to be just more of a lark. It’s just fun to do.

You don’t really know what you’ve got until you look at it on the screen in the editing room. The way something is shot, let’s take the tempo, for instance, it’s almost always too slow. The director, the way that he directs it, he or she, or the actors, the way they act it or the way it’s written, it’s always written or acted or directed too slow.

I see.

And in context, when you juxtapose shots and start building a scene, I always start speeding things up, especially in comedy.

I see.

In drama, you got to let it breathe more, so you can feel the emotion in the silences, but in comedy, there’s no time. You need to get from one joke to the next or you’re going to lose them.

I got it.

And you don’t know what timing to use until you get there in that room. And so, they don’t know on set. They have no idea really what I do.

I see.

They’re kind of oblivious. A lot of actors will watch themself on screen and go, “Well, I’m pretty good,” having no idea how much work I did behind-the-scenes to fix their performance and to fix their enunciation, and speed things up and drop mistakes or word stumbles or all the “ums” and “you knows” and the pauses.

I call it “word baggage.” I sweep all that away and clean it up so that they seem to flow effortlessly.

Interesting. So, when you, let’s just say Will Ferrell, right? I could imagine that there’s a way in which the script is written, but then all the improvised scripts as well, right, where he’s just kind of doing improv.

So as the editor, are you looking through multiple different takes, and sometimes maybe even using the improv version, not really what’s on the script if it’s funnier?

Often, but it depends on the performer. Most actors are not good at improv. It’s a specialized talent.

I see.

But when you’ve got Will Ferrell or you’ve got somebody-

Steve Carell, right.

Steve Carell is great at improv.

Yeah.

Yeah. Or Christopher Guest and his entire cast in one of his films are chosen for their improv abilities. That’s a completely different approach than cutting the scripts together.

Like when I was editing Grey’s Anatomy, I’m basically just cutting the performances into the way it was scripted.

I see.

There’s no-to-little improv on a show like that. They write the scripts, they like what they’ve written and they want it shot that way and edited that way. Whereas the exact opposite is Curb Your Enthusiasm, obviously where it’s entirely improvised.

And so, it’s on me to figure it out in the editing room, how to build a scene of every, all these, every take is different. So, they rely on me to become a partner and a storyteller.

That is interesting. And this had led you to write your first book, which is called Cut to the Monkey?

Yes. Well, that’s- Technically, it’s my second book.

That’s your second book. Okay.

But my first on the film industry.

My first book was about marriage. It’s called The Truth About Marriage and it’s a companion book to my documentary about marriage and I’m not married, so.

Well, we’ll talk about the first book second, right?

The second book, Cut to the Monkey, was me after meeting a lot of editors who I thought, “They’re doing it wrong.” I wrote, “Well, here’s the way to do it.”

When I was on Grey’s Anatomy, one of the editors came up to me and said, “Hey, how do you cut comedy?” Kind of feeling the same way you’re feeling when you’re asking me, “Is there a difference?” Because there are comedic moments on Grey’s Anatomy.

And that was one reason they, Krista Vernoff, hired me, is because they were going back towards their comedic roots and they wanted to try to make the show a little funnier like it used to be, because it got really serious for a while, for many seasons. And so, the editors who were already there were used to the very dramatic flow.

Sure.

So, he asked me for some pointers, and so, like, “Oh yeah, sure.” I wrote a list of like, I don’t know, 10 or 12 things to do.

This is to the editor of the show at the time?

Yeah. One of the editors, there’s four editors on Grey’s Anatomy. And so, I gave him a list and I just kept going after I wrote him that list. And I thought, “I got a lot of ideas about, yes, there’s a lot of things you can do to make things funnier and better.”

And, for example, I told him when he wanted it to be funnier, look to the wider shots because drama’s in the close-up, in the face. But if you want something to be funny, you want to see the body language. If someone’s standing awkwardly, there’s extra humor to be found in that. So, get away from the closeups. That’s one thing. And also, speed it up. Faster comedy is funnier comedy. As opposed to your dramatic scenes where you can slow it down.”

So, I gave him this list and then just kept going, and cut to 2 years later, I finished this book, finally.

And so, the book is- It’s such a- Is it like a micro niche where you’re really trying to reach out to Hollywood editors? Is that who the book was really written for?

Primarily, yeah. It’s like a cookbook for editors.

Huh.

Here’s how it’s done. From what I’ve learned, and I also interviewed all of the showrunners I was working with for their wisdom. So, I infuse it with all of the wisdom from Larry David and Judd Apatow and Sacha Baron Cohen and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Krista Vernoff, etcetera.

And laid out, this is the way editing- When you’re editing a scene, here’s how you break a scene down and put it back together again. Here’s how- What to look for and what to get rid of, follow these rules and your scene will be 15% funnier.

Hmm.

And most people don’t understand a lot of these things. You find out through trial and error, but I’ll get you there faster.

Faster comedy is funnier comedy.

Sure.

If you want to read this book. And for example, it’s amateur time when I look at- Somebody on-screen is speaking, and if the dialogue is from somebody who’s not on screen, like, you’re on a reaction shot or something other than the person speaking, and if I hear a pause or an “um” or “you know,” I know that’s an amateur.

I see.

Because there’s no reason to leave that in if you’re not on the person’s face. You have total control over the dialogue. So, you want to get rid of those, that word baggage that does nothing. It adds nothing to the story for someone to say, “you know.”

Yeah.

So, all of the “Looks” and the “Listens.” “Look,” people will start a sentence by saying, “Look, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” When they do that, it’s like an announcement, they’re saying, “I’m about to speak, pay attention to me.” Well, just say the line.

You don’t need to announce it. So, I cut the announcements, cut the word baggage, tighten it up, and it’s just funnier and flows better, and it’s more interesting to watch.

So, when I go to a movie, I don’t notice any of this stuff, right?

Well, a good editor’s gotten rid of it.

Right.

The bad editors left it in and you just come away thinking, “Eh, that movie was so-so, could have been funnier,” but you know, maybe you don’t put your finger on why.

You don’t realize why. Whereas you, when you’re watching a movie, you’re cringing in some cases, right?

Often, yes. Yeah.

That’s really fascinating.

It’s very self-serving for me to write this book so it reduces the amount of cringing I have to do on future projects.

See. I love that. So, as far as writing the book, it seems like you’re now writing another book, which would be, I guess your third book?

Third book is about making documentaries.

Okay.

Which is my other skill that I have. My first documentary is called Trekkies, about Star Trek fans. And I fell into that by accident kind of because Denise Crosby, who was in my first film, we stayed friends. And one day she said, “Oh, I’m going to these Star Trek conventions.”

Are you a big fan of Star Trek?

I’m a- No.

Okay.

I’m a fan. I grew up watching it, just like everything else that was in syndication.

Yeah.

I just loved science fiction. Like The Time Tunnel was on, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Immortal. Star Trek was just another sci-fi series from that time for me. So I- But I didn’t become one of these people who went to conventions, and I know people who are that way.

Sure.

And that’s how I knew, when Denise said, “Ah, someone should make a documentary about this world.” And it was like, “No one’s done that yet? Of course. It’s so obvious.”

And did you have any experience doing documentaries at all yet?

No, not at that point. No.

No. Okay. Huh.

So Denise and I, kind of, teamed up and we just rented some movies, some documentaries, and watched them. We watched My Brother’s Keeper, Hoop Dreams, Crumb, and started trying to absorb the language of documentaries.

Yeah.

And we found a producer at a company called NEO Motion Pictures. Keith Border, his company put up enough money, we pitched it to them. They put up enough money to shoot one weekend at a convention that Denise Crosby was invited to as a guest because she was an actress who was on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and we would see what the footage was like, if it was worth continuing.

So, we shot that weekend and we got interviews with six of the nine original cast members who were there at that convention, which was pretty good. We thought, “Wow, we did great. We got these six.”

But what was really amazing was the fans themselves. The footage was so colorful and so funny that once I had cut together this demo from that first shoot, it was, “Of course we’re going to finish this. We’re onto something.” You feel it when you’ve got something.

Of course.

It’s like, when you’re fishing, you know, you cast, you got something on the line. This is a fish, right. We knew we had something there.

You feel it when you’ve got something.

Sure.

So, we took it. We kept going until we had a finished product.

And how long did that take?

It was 9 months. It was the fastest documentary. They’ve taken longer every time for some reason. Partly because the subject matter was so colorful.

Sure.

We went to another six or seven conventions, and then we had a film.

And then where, like, did you sell it? Like how-

We started going to film festivals.

Okay.

We started doing screenings. It was hard to get distributors and studios to look at it because there’s so many films out there. We couldn’t.

Paramount seemed like the perfect home for it because they own Star Trek, the franchise, but we couldn’t get them to look at it. They couldn’t be bothered until Denise Crosby was friends with one of the principals at a company called Beacon Entertainment.

Okay.

And she got him to look at the film and he flipped and said, “This is fantastic.” And they had a deal at Universal. So, he made Universal look at it.

I see.

And they said, “Oh yeah, this looks like there’s money here.”

There goes the whole Hollywood connections again, right. Yep.

And once we had an offer on the table from Universal, suddenly Paramount was, “Oh, oh, wait a minute. We want to see it now.” And then, we ultimately- we had a bidding war between the two of them and they bid the film up.

The first offer from Universal was for $250,000 which we were thrilled.

Sure.

Wow. And then what this bidding war got, ultimately, we sold it for $1.25 million.

Is that right?

Paramount was- that was the final bid that- where it topped out. And eventually, you got to know when to fold and take your cards and take your chips off the table.

Of course.

And it just made sense. And we took that deal and Paramount had a 20-year license. They essentially- They didn’t buy it, they licensed it.

And so, it just recently returned to us and we’re re-releasing it this year.

Oh cool.

On Blu-ray and streaming, and we just did a restoration and re-scanned it in 4K, and it’s the first time it’ll be available again in- First time it’ll be available ever in high definition.

Oh cool. Congratulations.

Company called Shout! Factory picked it up. Once again, Paramount, they just, they let it go.

I see.

But I get it because the big studios, they play for home runs every time at bat, they want a home run.

Sure.

So a little documentary, we’re a bunt.

Yeah.

We got on base, but we’re a bunt. And so, it’s just kind of beneath their radar. It’s not what they do. Whereas Shout! Factory, they specialize in films like this. And so, they were excited to license the rights.

And that’s who you want. Because they’re going to put more behind it, right?

Exactly.

Yeah.

Yeah. It’s a good home.

Yeah. And so, that kind of led you down this new path of now, it seems like you had a passion for creating documentaries, right?

Once- Yeah, people have asked me like, “Why do you make documentaries?” Or, “How did you get started?” You do it once. It’s like doing heroin. “Oh, just try it once. What’s the big deal?” You do it once and you’re hooked.

Sure.

Because making a documentary is so exciting. It’s so much fun. It’s so different than writing a script and shooting a movie. I’ve done both.

When you write a script, you’re always trying to reach what you imagined that script would be in your mind and falling short and being disappointed. It’s never quite what I hoped it would be, but it’s good. You know, it turns out good, because your imagination, you have just, high hopes.

With a documentary, you don’t know where it’s going to end up. It’s such an unknown journey. And so, life is- You’re supposed to experience the journey in life anyway, that’s where the greatest happiness is, is to experience the journey, not the arrival. It’s-

Experience the journey, not the arrival.

The destination.

The documentary puts you on a journey. And we went on this amazing journey meeting amazing people. And I had no expectations. I didn’t know what to expect. And I was completely blown away. Every time we stopped and interviewed people, and in the editing room, working together as a team, until we finally arrived somewhere and screened it for an audience, and found out we were- Our instinct was right. People are liking, they’re enjoying what we created.

Yeah.

There’s no greater feeling than we- Now, like, I still get emails sometimes from people who have seen one of my films and they tell me how it affected them, and it makes you feel- It’s like you were saying, it’s what you leave behind that matters.

Sure does.

If you make something that touches people or changes them in some way or affects them in some way, it’s incredible.

It really is.

That’s the goal.

Sure. And so, the documentary I see here, it was called The Nature of Existence?

Yeah. I took on existentialism as a topic.

Okay.

Which is impossible. How do you make a documentary about existentialism? What does it even mean? But I’ve been obsessed, I realized one day, with existentialism, since I was a kid.

For those that don’t know what that means in English, go ahead.

What is it?

Yeah.

It’s asking the question: Why do I exist?

Why do I exist?

What is the purpose of life? What is my purpose?

And for me, that first experience was when my father died at a young age. I was 13 when my dad died from multiple sclerosis. And that- When someone who was close to you dies or has a near death experience, it forces you to face your own mortality.

Sure.

Which is not what we like doing. We try to shove that under the rug and live in denial as much as we can, of the fact that we’re not going to be here one day, because it creates anxiety in the brain and depression, that we’re transitory, the idea that “the self that I feel will not be here someday” is hard to deal with, and that creates great existential philosophers who’ve been asking these questions for eons. I’m not the first by any stretch, but why are we here?

Sure.

So I set out to answer that question, which is unanswerable.

Yeah. It’s so subjective, right?

Right, but the challenge of doing that was what was exciting to me, to take on an impossible task. I didn’t know where it would lead, and I took my cameras, went on the road, sought out experts from every major religion around the world and asked them these questions: Why are we here? What are we supposed to do? Is there an afterlife? What is sin? Is it okay to masturbate?

And I took all their answers and juxtaposed them, intercut, and it became hilarious.

Huh.

When you watch people trying to answer the unanswerable and they all have answers that they’re cock sure are absolutely right, but it’s diametrically opposed to what someone else is saying.

Yeah.

It’s naturally funny to watch them…

It is.

…try to answer these questions.

Uh-huh.

The ones who admitted they don’t have the answers were the scientists, and I found them to be the most philosophical.

For example, there was a particle physicist I interviewed at Oxford when I asked him, “What is the soul?” He said, “The soul is a type of wishful thinking that resides in the frontal lobe.” So succinct and to the point, which he’s basically saying, “It’s hard to cope with the fact we’re going to die some day. It’s much easier to know that we’re going to go somewhere else.”

Sure, yeah.

That’s the modification, the brain added at some point to deal with the fact. We had so much intelligence that it led to a consciousness and a self-awareness, and to an understanding of time. And the fact that, “I was here, you didn’t used to be here, someday I won’t be here. How do I deal with that?”

Well, one way is to believe in an afterlife.

Sure, sure.

Whether there is one or not, I’m not saying there is or isn’t. I’m saying the belief in it helps you feel better about it.

Yeah. You brought back a memory. So 2021 was a tough year. Lost two grandpas- two grandfathers and my father. And so, my first grandfather died around January 2021, pandemic time of COVID.

Mm-hmm.

And so, we fly out, it’s snowing, it’s New York, and as he’s sitting in the casket or laying in the casket, all the family comes in, people are crying. People get up, say words, there’s all these photos. And there’s a video playing photos in the background on.

And then all I could think about was like, “This is how it ends.” And it kind of inspired me to possibly want to write a book at some point called “Glimpse.”

Mm-hmm.

And so, you have the power, you’re laying there. Now you don’t have the power, but now I do, being here witnessing this, getting a glimpse. I have the power to kind of control the photos and the memories, and all of that. It kind of gave me an interesting perspective on life from that.

It brought you back into the moment.

It did.

Which is, that’s where happiness lies, is living in the moment.

Yep.

And that’s what death- Death gives us a chance to come back to the moment, and then you can start thinking about those quite- “Well, how am I going to use my time better?”

Sure.

“I’ve been wasting so much time. I’ve got to make some changes.”

Yeah.

There’s a moment in my documentary, The Nature of Existence, where I asked a comedian friend of mine, Bobby Gaylor, who is a writer now about this topic. And he said- He had a similar answer, experience to what you had, where he said he was working on a script once about a coroner.

So to do research, he went to the morgue to just kind of get a feeling for the morgue. And he walked into a room and he walked in.

In Los Angeles, a lot of people die. And so, there was 50 dead bodies on tables spread around the room and in different stages of the process that the coroner goes through, bringing in bodies, and sending them out to where they’re going.

Sure.

And he was struck by this thought, which is exactly what you said, basically, that these people have lost their agency. They have no more choices to make in life.

Mm-hmm.

Their choices are over.

Yeah.

And he started thinking, “Well, I gotta start making choices. I gotta call my brother. I gotta call my mother. I gotta start writing that book I was thinking about. I gotta do this. I gotta do that.”

And it overwhelmed him with, “I need to get busy and start using this time I’m wasting.”

Yep.

But he had to be reminded physically of death, again and again. And it’s a disservice when our society tries to help us deny that, live in denial of death, which is generally what happens.

Yeah. Again, I remember when I was a kid, talking to my dad and my mom. “I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to talk about that.”

Yeah. But you should. We need to. Many cultures do. Like in Mexico, they have the Day of the Dead where the dead-

Yeah. That’s a big day.

Reexperience is part of who they are, and you’ve got to remember them.

That’s right.

It’s important to remember the dead because we want to be remembered, right?

Mm-hmm.

And so, now we know that when we are gone, people will remember us on the Day of the Dead and it makes us feel better.

Sure.

And it’s good to talk about these things. And I found in making documentaries with hard questions, people love talking about these hard questions.

Yeah.

Where they’re just waiting for someone who’s willing to talk about it, and open up and listen, and I just provide a listening ear. It’s what you’re doing with your podcast. It’s an amazing service that society needs. We need people who listen, who are willing to listen.

Yeah. And capturing a moment in time, and the stories that you’re sharing now will be listened to by other family members later on, right? Yeah.

Maybe they’ll find a nugget of something helpful in there. Maybe they’ll learn something. Maybe it’ll inspire them to do something.

We need people who listen.

Yeah.

Hopefully, that’s all you can hope for.

That’s really it, yeah.

I’ve got this vision, I guess, if you will, that when we die, that you get to meet the person that you were destined to become, and you want to try to line up as much as you can, so that when you shake the hand of that person or fist bump, or whatever you do, right?

Yeah.

That you are as closely aligned to who you were destined to become.

Yeah. If you got off track, what happened, right?

Yeah. Yep.

You probably forgot to live in the moment and to be grateful.

That’s it.

And to thank people and to tell people-

Take chances, risk.

Tell people how you feel.

Mm-hmm.

And ask people how they feel.

Sure.

That’s the most important thing that we don’t do enough of, is ask people, “Hey, how are you feeling?”

Sure.

And then, listen.

Yeah. That is key. So then you- Well, I’m not sure of this one. So, I love your documentaries, because you’re trying to kind of answer questions that are almost impossible to answer, like why are we here?

The harder the answer the better.

Right? And is there an answer, why we’re here?

Yes.

There is?

You want to hear the answer?

I do.

Yes. This is what I learned, this is my answer. Everybody has to find their own answer. Why do we exist? What is your purpose? That’s up to each and every one of us to decide for ourselves. No one can give you your purpose.

Mm-hmm.

People try to find people who will give them a purpose.

Yeah.

Go to the priest, “What am I supposed to do?” “Well, you’re supposed to do this according to this old ancient text.”

Yep.

Okay. Well, that’s one way to do it. The best way is to find a purpose that’s immersed in what it is you love to do. And you said this to me when I walked in here this morning, right? You ideally want to get paid to do something you love to do.

Find a purpose that’s immersed in what it is you love to do.

That’s right.

Then you can live a happy life and get paid for it.

Mm-hmm.

But to answer your question, when I got to the end of the process of making, of shooting, filming The Nature of Existence, after I’d asked all these experts about it, my realization was that the universe is vast, right?

And it’s filled with stars that are being born, or dying, exploding stars and coalescing stars. There are star nurseries, and it’s filled with creation and destruction. They’re opposites. The universe is filled with opposites, matter and antimatter.

Sure.

Yin and yang, light and dark, creation and destruction. If you want to be happier in your life, this was what I learned, you can align yourself with either of those poles, creation or destruction, but you’ll be happier if you align yourself with creation.

What does that mean? That means you behave creatively, not destructively, in your life in general.

Sure.

So, how do you act creatively? Well, you could sketch, you could make pottery, you could take a dance class, you could write a poem. It doesn’t really matter. As long as you’re expressing yourself in some way, how you’re feeling.

An architect expresses how they’re feeling through the lines of a house or a building. Writing a business proposal can be done in a very creative way that is successful.

Sure.

Whatever you do, you want to be creative daily for a few minutes every day, if you want to increase your happiness, and that’s your purpose, to find a way to be creative.

Now, for most people, the default is to create a new, younger version of themself and try to raise it up to be as better than you were.

Mm-hmm.

People have babies, and suddenly, that becomes the focus of their life for the next 18 years, or however long it takes to kick them out of the basement. Sometimes it’s 30 years, but having a baby, I read a statistic somewhere, adds 30 hours of caregiving to your life every week. And so, essentially, that monopolizes all your time and your focus.

Once that is over, once that baby leaves the nest, it becomes an adult, now you’re back to where you started.

There’s a sense of emptiness. Sure.

What do you do now?

Mm-hmm.

Now you’re back to asking that same question, “What is my point in life? What is my purpose?” And then people at that point, take up hobbies.

Yeah.

They take a pottery class or a dancing class, and start to realize, “Oh, this is what I was missing. And part of what was missing in my life was creative expression.”

Sure.

There was a study once, where in a nursing home, there was 100 people, and they gave everyone a plant.

They told 50 of them, 50 of the residents, “Don’t worry about the plant. We’ll take care of it. Here’s a plant for you, but you have no responsibility. We’ll water it, take care of it.” The other 50, they said, “Here’s a plant. You need to water it and take care of it. It’s your responsibility.”

The ones who had the responsibility lived longer. Just that little responsibility of caring for a plant because growing a plant, that’s creation, like planting a garden.

Yeah.

If you want to have a purpose in life, plant a garden and you’ll find a happiness you didn’t know was within you because you’re watching life come forth from something you did.

Wow.

And it’s programmed into who we are, to want to create.

That is powerful.

That was my lesson, what I came- And I create by making documentaries, by editing, by writing.

Yeah.

On a daily basis, I express myself in some way.

Yeah. In this sense, it’s funny you referenced nursing homes. The other vision that I have is when it comes time, I’ll probably end up in a nursing home, right?

A lot of people do.

Right. My goal in life is to be the coolest guy in the nursing home. I want to have all the cool stories. I want to have photos to prove it. That’s my goal, so I’ve got to find a nursing home where there’s not as many cool people, right?

I worked in a nursing home all through college, and I loved it. A lot of people found it very depressing.

So many stories, right?

Well, there are different wings. There’s the wing with the dementia wing where they’re essentially gone because their memories are gone.

Sure.

But they’re still people, they’re still human beings, and they’re still cared for, and they’re still entertaining. I loved interacting with them.

Oh yeah.

Because you never knew what was going to come out of their mouths.

You don’t.

And then there was the wing where they still had- they fully have had their faculties, but they’re physically not as strong anymore, and so, they couldn’t care for themselves.

And I loved joking around with them. I would treat them like my friends and just give them shit, and they loved it because most people would treat them like furniture, or like they are very fragile, or very cautiously. And I would just come in and make jokes.

Yeah.

And they couldn’t wait for me. I was the maintenance man. They couldn’t wait for me to come through and empty their basket, or change the light bulb, and they would play jokes on me.

There was a guy named Burger Person, and he was an old Swedish man. And I went into his room once to empty his garbage. And he said, “Hey, there’s a problem with my window.”

Mm-hmm.

I said, “Oh, what is it?” He said “Over here. Go over there and check it out.”

So I went over, looked at the window, it seemed fine to me. I said, “What’s wrong? It looks fine.” He said, “Feel it, put your hand on it.” I put my hand on the window and I said, “What?” He said, “Do you feel the problem?” I said, “No, what’s wrong?” He said, “Do you feel the pane?” I said, “No, I don’t feel the pain.”

And he’s laughing and said, “Are you sure you don’t feel the pane?” He’s laughing and laughing. “No, I don’t feel the pain.” Pretty soon, I realized, “Oh, ah, Burger.”

That’s great. Yeah.

They couldn’t get away with that with a lot of people, but me, I just treated them like friends.

That’s the way to do it. It’s funny you say that because my son’s first job, he was like 17 years old and his first job was working in a nursing home, right?

Yeah.

Because my wife helped him find the job. “Let’s use hiring clothes-“

It’s a great job.

And so, he got a job there and he was working in the dementia department as well, and he would come home with the most interesting stories. And I think it gave him a good perspective on life, right?

He’s like, “Oh, there’s a lady. We call her the Cookie Lady, because she always wants cookies, and sometimes they’ll sneak and get her a cookie. And then there’s this guy, Frank, and he’s from New York, and he misses his wife, and he always asks me, ‘Where’s, whatever, Daisy?'” And he doesn’t know how to answer. He’s like, “I don’t know. What do you mean?” And I’m like, “Just say she’s here, she loves you.” You know what I mean?

And so, just kind of giving advice on how to kind of deal with situations, but boy, what a great first job for him to kind of do that. Totally great.

Yeah, awesome. I highly recommend anyone, work at a nursing home sometime.

Yeah.

Because you’re surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by centuries worth of wisdom, also.

Yeah.

The same guy, Burger, we became pals. And one day, I was there on a Sunday and the water pump broke. I don’t know how to fix a water pump.

Uh-huh.

But they needed water and there was no way to get a plumber in there on that Sunday. So Burger said, “Come here, I’ll talk you through it.”

So, Burger walked in there into this utility room with me and he said, “Okay, take the ratchet, undo this, undo that,” because we had spare parts, and he talked me through putting a new water pump in.

See?

Because he knew how to do it.

He’s done it, yeah.

The wisdom was there.

There is a lot of wisdom there.

And they loved to share it.

Yeah.

Now, the Native Americans used to put all the old timers in charge of the very youngest people.

Sure.

And to- Now, we put them in separate houses, where it makes much more sense to combine them so they can share their wisdom, while the people who are the middle-range ages are out hunting, or doing what they have to do to support the tribe.

Sure, sure. Yeah. No, it’s a good point. Good point.

All right, so we have this thing, we call it “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart,” where we just ask questions, simple questions, and then whatever first comes to mind, you just respond with.

Okay.

So the first question here is: what inspires you to be a better yourself?

Every time I’m terrible, every time I’m horrible, every time I do a terrible thing or I make a huge mistake. It’s like, “Oh, you should do so much better.”

Usually, it’s when I hurt someone emotionally, inadvertently, and sometimes it comes naturally because I feel hurt myself, in an argument or something. I’m constantly disappointed in myself.

Yeah.

But I’m a human being and we’re not perfect. And so, you’ve got to forgive yourself and others, and just try to do better.

Yeah. Good answer. Where are you the happiest?

Away from people, out in the middle of nowhere, or maybe with one or two people. Fishing in Northern Canada.

Okay.

Away from the internet.

Yeah.

I’m never so joyful as when I’m out in the middle of Ontario, on Lake of the Woods, and there’s no access to Instagram.

Got it. What book most greatly changed your perspective?

Well, for the film industry, it would probably be What Makes Sammy Run?

Okay.

Budd Schulberg wrote this book in the ’40s, and it’s about the inner workings of Hollywood, and it’s still accurate. Anyone who is contemplating the film business or in the film business should read What Makes Sammy Run?

Okay.

That inspired me. What inspired me probably in the direction I went to make The Nature of Existence, and a lot of the concept documentaries was a book by Carl Sagan called The Demon-Haunted World, where Carl Sagan essentially debunked everything, from demons to witches, to aliens, you name it. He explains why people have believed these things, the origins of these mythologies.

I have to check that book out. If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Thai food!

Thai food.

For sure.

Okay.

You knew I was going to say that. Yeah. I love Thai food, plus any East Asian, Southeast Asian food.

Got it. Most people, I think their go-to is Italian, right? Yeah. I love Thai food though.

I mean I love food, in general.

What I don’t like though, I guess, is what I grew up with, which is that Midwestern wheat-based B-cultural style of food.

Sure, sure, sure.

I’ve evolved out of that and into much more of a- world flavors.

Okay. Yeah. I discovered Indian food for the first time in my life-

Oh, yeah. Love it.

When I was like 35 years old. I’m like, “How have I been missing this my whole life?”

You’ve got to try new things and try new foods.

And I never had sushi before I moved to Los Angeles. And I got here, I was working for the company I made Trekkies with, and I wanted to make my next film. And so, I went to lunch with a producer who had seen Trekkies, and he was considering helping me finance my next film, Six Days In Roswell, about UFO fanatics, and Suckers, my car salesman comedy.

And so, I had to be very respectful because I wanted him to put up the cash. He invited me to lunch at a sushi restaurant. I’d never been before.

Huh?

So, okay. I met him there and he said, ” Let’s sit here.” We sat at the counter with the chefs in front of us and he said, “I’ll order.” He’s Japanese, so he knows what to order better than I do. I don’t know a thing. So he just says to the sushi chef, “Just bring us whatever is fresh.”

So they started putting things down in front of us: Eggs, fish eggs

Fish eggs, yeah.

And mackerel and yellowtail, and I had never put anything like that in my mouth before. And where I grew up in Minnesota, you never eat raw fish. It’s not done. You cook fish because you’ll get parasites or-

That’s what they say.

It’s dangerous. Whatever. But I wanted his cash, so I put- Whatever they put in front of me, I put it in my mouth, and it was so delicious.

See?

I was converted. I have been loving and eating sushi ever since.

Interesting.

Because I was forced out of my comfort zone by other needs.

See me, I don’t explore much with food like that kind of stuff. I’ll try things, but I’m a picky eater, and I think it’s just- It’s all in my mind, you know what I mean? That’s where it all begins, so I have got to convince myself that it’s okay to do that. Yeah.

That’s the best thing about having a girlfriend. She forces you to improve your music collection and your tastes, the things you try. Or just meeting a new friend in general. Somebody, they bring a different experience into your life and force you to try things.

Sometimes accept it. What part of adulthood do you dread?

Oh, I hate doing my taxes. I hate numbers. I hate busy work. I mean, it has to be done, but when that time of the year comes, it’s just drudgery.

I hate following the stock market. I hate just watching numbers go up and down. I have no control over the numbers, and so, it’s just- I don’t like gambling because I don’t like losing. I guess that it’s a loss of control.

That’s a good way to put it. Yeah.

I hate loss of control, and it’s like ending up in the nursing home. You don’t want to end up in a nursing home having lost control of your life. That’s my biggest fear.

Yeah, interesting.

I hated renting an apartment because I was under the control of a landlord, right? So, I ended up buying my own place eventually, and I was still under the control of a bank, it turned out.

So, until you’re completely financially set, you’re always under somebody’s control, but I try to lessen it as much as I can, so that I can make the choices in my life that I want to make without being subjected to others’ needs or choices.

Got it. Is failing less than, equal to, or more important than succeeding?

Well, they go together, right? Failure teaches you how to succeed. I think it’s good to be a loser in high school.

I think it’s good to be a loser in high school.

[laughs] That’s a quote.

If you’re a big success in high school, you don’t learn the skills for dealing with all the failures and rejections that are going to come after high school.

Yup. I can see that being a weakness. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, in hindsight. Have you ever had a nickname?

Oh, boy. My name is Roger, and so the nickname I have often given myself is “Raja.”

Raja?

Yeah. But when I was shooting a pilot for TNT about this Renaissance bar, one of the main people that were- was in the group, he started calling me “Blade” because I was so incisive, I guess. And, “Okay, we’re doing this next. Got it. Next, we’re going on to do this. Now, we’re going to do this.”

He was like, “Wow. This guy cuts right through everything.”

How do you handle a high-stress situation?

The film industry is one high-stress situation after another when you’re on a production, and so you have to be able to withstand it. And part of being a loser when you’re young, it helps you build a strong enough shell so that you have the strength to get through it.

I remember when I was filming my second movie, it was an action film called American Yakuza 2; it was so stressful because there were far more people involved above me. The higher the budget gets, the more stress there is because there’s more cooks and more people you have to satisfy, and you can’t satisfy them all.

And I felt like some days it was a complete disaster, what we shot the day before, but I had to put forth a face to the crew that everything is going great. You don’t want them to ever get a whiff of desperation.

That you’re stressed?

Yeah. And so, you’re going to be stressed, and you- If you’re a leader, you have to manage it somehow. For me, it was jogging or hiking and physical activity, and I still hike every week. And that’s how I stayed alive, is through hiking.

Nice. What’s one thing that would make the world a happier place?

Well, first of all, there’s way too many people. We’re using up our resources. Overpopulation is the number one problem, which is leading to- We’re in the middle of the sixth great extinction.

There have been five great extinctions in the history of the planet. We are causing the fifth great extinction. And why is that? Because we’re programmed for selfishness. What can we do about it? A little bit of selflessness goes a long way. One of the five love languages is service, right?

Acts of service.

Service for others. The more that we can do that for other people, the better our world becomes.

Totally agree. Yup. I think about that a lot. What is your greatest fear as an adult?

I had a lot more fears when I was younger than I do now. But my greatest fear is that I will run out of ideas, maybe, because that’s what I do, is I come up with ideas and I develop them. Some blossom and some whither, but that my creativity will go away, I guess.

I mean, yeah. I am afraid of dying too. I don’t want to die. Who does? Because I’m having fun. Life gets better and better. Every year, it gets better. Even when it gets worse, it’s getting better because you’re still here and you’re still- I’m still experiencing the bad stuff.

My greatest fear is that I will run out of ideas.

Yeah. I think my greatest fear is losing my mind.

Right. Well, if you get dementia and you lose your memories, you’re gone. Who are you anymore?

Now you’re more of a burden on people in some sense, right? But you don’t even remember who you are, right? But people still love you.

There are little moments when that happens, though.

Imagine when you get really angry, you behave differently when you’re in a rage than when you do when you’re more in control. That’s not the same you. It’s a different you. You have lost control of who you are, and so we all have to learn to get along with each other to control our anger and not be hurtful, which is not easy. It’s hard.

Yeah, it is. So you have done a documentary on this, but according to you, what is the most important thing in a relationship?

Well, yeah. The documentary is The Truth About Marriage, and the book, The Truth About Marriage. If I had to boil it down to the one thing I learned after spending- I spent 7 years traveling around finding relationship experts and interrogating them about why are relationships so hard for people? If 50% of relationships are ending in divorce, there is something wrong with this plan. And so, what is it?

And well, first of all, the problem was that we have expectations that are out of sync with who we are as a species. Our culture, our society, gives us expectations for how we should behave: You should get married by a certain date, you should have X number of children, you should do this, you should do that. All these shoulds, which may not align with what you’re feeling you want to do, and that creates anxiety and then anger and then arguments.

But knowing that, knowing- Look, we live in the society we live in, so that’s not going to change. It’s a monogamous culture and we have to live within it. No matter what you feel, we want to fit within this culture in some way. I mean, there are polygamous- You can find your groups, whether it’s polygamy, maybe, or a gay community or lesbian community, or whatever it is that’s within you, you can find that group somewhere. But we have a culture overall of: we all want to fit in, fit within.

And the thing I learned, if I was going to boil it down, if you want to have a happier relationship, whatever relationship you’re in, if you’re married, you have got a boyfriend or girlfriend, gay or straight, the number-one thing you can do is check in with your partner emotionally daily. And we don’t do that, because we come home and we turn on the TV and we don’t look at each other. We look past each other. We look sideways. We watch TV.

The way to fix this, to fix your relationship, to give your relationship a chance to be fixed is- And I’m going to speak first to the masculine side of the brain. We all have both masculine and feminine. We all have more of one than the other, and we typically end up with a person who has the opposite that we have.

If you’re the more masculine person in the relationship, go home, try this experiment for a week. You have got nothing to lose. It costs you nothing. Go home, put your phone- Put your iPhone on airplane mode, turn off the TV and the computer, make eye contact with your spouse and say, “Honey, how was your day?” Or, “Honey, are you feeling?” And then shut up.

The instinct for the masculine is to try to fix things or offer solutions or ask. Let’s say your wife or girlfriend says, “Oh my, my boss. He was so mean,” or, “He was so terrible today,” and your instinct is to say, “Oh, you should quit that job. I don’t know why you stay there,” which makes her feel like she has made a mistake or she feels- It makes her feel worse. When you should just say, “Oh, I’m so sorry that happened.” Express empathy. How was your day? And then express empathy, nothing else.

And what does it mean to express empathy? It’s to show that you understand how they’re feeling by simply saying, “Oh. Oh.”

And obviously being authentic, right? Yeah. [laughs]

That helps. Not a requirement, but it helps if-

A lot of men have compartmentalized and are able to continue thinking about the game while they’re sitting there making eye contact and doing their- Because it’s really the feminine partner just needs to express and download emotionally the events of the day and have someone who will just listen.

That’s right.

And it’s for about 10 to 20 minutes per day. It’s like this emotional vitamin that the feminine part of the brain needs. We all need it to some degree, but the feminine partner needs it the most.

So, if your sex life isn’t going where you like or you’re arguing a lot or you’re not connecting, just try this experiment. I guarantee after a week or so, things are going to get so much better because now that person is getting the vitamin that they weren’t getting and were feeling anxious and then unhappy, and then arguments and-

It’s building up, right? They have to breathe out. And you’re just the way to get them to breathe out. Yeah.

That’s the most important thing that the masculine can do. And then there’s a counterpoint I should add though, for the- What the feminine should do for the masculine person in the relationship.

The masculine side of the brain, and we all have it, like I said, some more than others have one more than the other, is the masculine needs to disconnect occasionally. We all want to connect. We all want to connect. We all want to be together, right?

But once the masculine connects, there is- The countervailing instinct is to disconnect, to- “I want freedom. Now I need freedom.” And so, the masculine person connects and then orbits, goes through this orbit of connection and disconnection. The more you try to get in the way of that, the more it causes frustration and anger and arguments, and that’s one reason that there is the Elks Club or going fishing, going golfing. “Honey, I’m going golfing.” Right? Just going to the cave. John Gray calls it “going to the cave.”

There is a way, though, to disconnect. And according to the experts, the best way is to announce your disconnection. “Honey, I’m going golfing with my friends.” Now you have announced, and so she knows, “Oh, he’s disconnecting.” No need to be insecure about it. It’s expected, it’s normal, it happens once a week. But when you announce the disconnection, also announce when you’re going to reconnect. “Honey, I’m going golfing with so-and-so, with Timmy and John, and I can’t wait to see you for dinner at 7 o’clock.”

There you go.

So now she knows when you’re going to reconnect. And it’s crucial, though, if you say 7 o’clock, that you are home at 7 o’clock, or call, because your word is important. Your reputation is all tied up into this.

But the feminine should not ask for- Don’t get greedy. Don’t ask for more than 20 minutes of relationship talk because the masculine brain, side of the brain, it floods. John Gottman, Dr. Gottman, calls “flooding.” The masculine brain can only handle about 20 minutes before it overwhelms and starts getting frustrated and then angry.

Interesting. Okay.

So, limit yourself to those 20 minutes, and it’s best to make an appointment. If you want to argue about something or if there is a disagreement, argue by appointment.

Got it.

“Honey. I would like to talk to you about the garage, because it’s a big mess,” right? “When is a good time, that would be convenient for you? As opposed to, “Honey, the garage is a mess and you’re a slob.” That gets you nowhere. But if you set a time, an appointment, that the masculine side of the brain has time to adjust. They don’t like the ambush discussions.

Like it. Yup.

So, those are some of the most important things I learned. I learned many, many things about relationships that I had no clue about, but those- If I had to boil it down, those are some of the top pieces of information or advice I learned.

Good advice. And then I’ll end with this. What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?

Oh, boy. Can you imagine going back as a kid, if you knew everything?

Could you imagine? Yeah.

So many things I would do differently, but then I wouldn’t have become the person I am today.

That’s right. Yup.

You need to suffer a little bit. You need to make mistakes and trip and fall.

My parents used to say, “Go out. Get out of the house and don’t come back until it’s dinner time.” And we would go out and we would step on rusty nails and fall out of tree forts, and get in all… Fall in the lake. And it sounds like bad parenting, but it taught us how to survive life because the world isn’t full of pillows and soft corners.

You can’t protect a child from the future. The best way you can protect a child from the future is to let them…

Experience life.

…have troubles. Yeah.

Mm-hmm. I totally agree.

I mean, if I went back in time, I wish I knew what the stock market was going to do.

Right? Yeah. With this Bitcoin thing. Yeah.

Yeah. Buy Apple.

Uh-huh. I think I would probably go back in time and tell myself, my younger self, that, “Hey, there is this thing called energy, right? And there is negative energy and positive energy, and always try to carry positive energy.” I think I just did that mostly naturally, but when you think that, I think it’s powerful.

Well, something drove you to where you are today. How did you get there, right? Just the power of positive thinking.

That’s right. Yeah. Abundance mindset, I guess. Yeah. And not really coming from much, right? That’s a big part.

That’s a good motivator.

Yeah. You can take risks and if you end up failing, it’s okay because I have been at the bottom before, right? So, I know what that looks like.

Well, Roger, this has been awesome. I appreciate you coming in. I know that you’re a man that values your time. You’re very efficient.

Thank you. Thanks for letting me come in and blather on.

Yeah. And so, for those that want to maybe follow you or buy your books or follow some new documentaries that you’re working on, how can they get in touch?

Yeah. Check on all my documentaries and my books, RogerNygard.com will lead you to everything, but the books and the documentaries are on Amazon.

Great.

The Truth About Marriage, The Nature of Existence. My film about car salesmen, Suckers.

Cool.

And Trekkies is coming out again. Trekkies 2 is still out, is currently out. The Six Days in Roswell is also on Amazon, and watch for the new book about making documentaries in the coming year or so.

Awesome. Well, when you start to create that documentary, let me know. I would love to come, maybe witness it.

Oh, yeah. That would be great.

For sure.

You have got a date.

All right, let’s do it. Thank you again.

You’re welcome.

Important Links

Roger Nygard’s IMDb Page

Roger Nygard’s Website

Roger Nygard on Instagram

Roger Nygard on Twitter

Roger Nygard on LinkedIn

Buy The Truth About Marriage book on Amazon

Buy Cut to the Monkey on Amazon

American Cinema Editors Website