*Interview* Daniel Zirilli – Part 1: The Beginning
AR:Thanks for taking the time to come chat with me Daniel.
DZ: No problem, thank you as well
AR:First off I’d like to ask how you got started in the business?
DZ: This is going to be a long answer, but some of this I have never shared and there were some amazing people on my path. I grew up in La Jolla California I never thought the film biz was viable, and did not know anyone in “Hollywood”. My plan was to become a lawyer, and I went to Pepperdine University in Malibu. Soon after I met Rob Low on the basketball courts and we used to shoot hoops in the Pepperdine gym, and he invited me to clubs in Hollywood. I started dating girls in the biz and taking screenwriting courses at Pepperdine, and randomly I was invited to a Party in Bel Aire an actress and- being new to Hollywood, I actually showed up ON TIME instead of fashionably late. I rang the doorbell and Quincy Jones answered. Yes- the most famous music producer in the world. He invited me into his den, and we talked for hours and hours before anyone showed up. “Q” told me about his early life, eating Rats on the south side of Chicago as a child, and many classic stories- we hot it off. Later, he invited me to dinner with his wonderful daughter Martina, and another legend- Sammy Davis Jr. Quincy & Sammy talked to me about my scripts and treated me like a peer. They took my writing and creative ideas seriously. I’ve always been confident, but it was probably Quincy Jones who first made me believe my stories and making films could be viable. That my voice and writing were valid and important. He ended up giving me a book from his library, “Lateral Thinking” that I still have to this day. After I graduated from Pepperdine, I submitted a screenplay to a company on the Culver Studios lot (where they shot “Gone with the Wind” way back when). I used to have lunch in the commissary with Sandra Bullock and other up and coming talent. Sorry to name drop, but those early days were important to me, these celebs accepted me and validated my ideas. So I pursued this business – 100% all in. I worked my way up from scratch, as an intern, a production assistant, coordinator, and was the production manager on the music video for N.W.A. “Hundred Miles & Runnin’. Easy E and I used to talk shit to each other in a humorous way, and Dr. Dre sort of took me under his wing during the Ruthless Records days. He even gave me the denim jacket he wore in the video, invited me to a bunch of legendary NWA parties- and later.. Dre gave me a demo-tape of an artist he said was going to be huge. It was Eminem. I still have the tape. In 1990 I started my production company Popart Film Factory, and record producers such as Greg Jessie & Kevin Evans hired me to direct some of my first music videos, many became #1 on MTV back in the day. Two years later I was working with The Rolling Stones and shooting Choreography documentaries for Michael Jackson & Moonwalker Entertainment. Some of these people may not remember that they inspired me, but they did, and others. I focused all my efforts and hard work towards filmmaking, and my family has always had my back. Much love for these important people in my life, on my path into this crazy biz.
AR: Wow!! Do you ever find yourself listening back to the original Demo from Eminem? That’s quite surreal!
DZ: Its a cassette – so I don’t want to risk breaking the tape!
AR: Would you ever want to direct an urban movie starring Dre and Co?
DZ: Yes- I’m surprised I have not made more Urban films, as noted I got my start directing hundreds of rap and hip-hop music videos and the first movie I directed was WINNER TAKES ALL, staring platinum rappers RAPPIN 4-TAY, AMG, FLESH from BONES THUGS N HARMONY, DOMINO, and I play a mob boss in the film, and hire B-REAL from CYPRESS HILL as my Hit Man. It was picked up as a B.E.T. Movie of the week. The other Urban film I directed was CHOICES 2 – with Oscar winners THREE 6 MAFIA, with CLIFTON POWELL, TINY LISTER, DAMON WHITAKER and with a cameo by KATT WILLIAMS. I have so much footage of Katt Williams riffing and ad-libbing I recently sent DJ Paul a message that we should do an extended directors cut. Right now I’m writing an Urban action film called TRUCE with Darryl Harvey and working with MARK BROWN who wrote/produced the BARBERSHOP films that grossed half a billion dollars. So, Yes.. there are more Urban films in my future.
AR: What was the contrast like, going from music videos to directing featuring films?
DZ: I love music and directing music videos. however I also want to tell long form narrative stories. Last weekend I directed a music video by Shug Jackson, with a helicopter in Compton and Tiny Lister in the storyline. We may even make a short urban music film together as a creative endeavor. Before that I directed DVBBS “Not Going Home” with 15 million views on YouTube and counting. I love both music videos and film, but the music biz has changed so much, does MTV even play music videos anymore? I down to create in many mediums, and music videos gave me a kickstart but I only want to make them if the artist wants to do something special.
AR: Most people know you for action movies, you have directed family movies, dramas and horror. Do you have a preferred genre?
DZ: My favorite movies are dramatic films with action or adventure such as, Master & Commander, Goodfellas, Godfather 1&2, There Will Be Blood, Jaws, Untouchables, Man on Fire- and so on…. high stakes drama and action…. I have not yet had the the budgets and cast I want to truly make the types of films I am capable of, but that remains the goal. I would love to make more Family movies and even a Love Story/Drama, along the lines of Closer, and do literary adaptations. My favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Zane Grey & Jack London, I have movies I would like to make based on their works or about sequences in their lives. I have tracked down stories about them far and wide, and hope I can share them with the world someday and not get pigeonholed in one genre.
AR: Who are your biggest influences?
DZ: For certain Ernest Hemingway informs my writing and filmmaking the most. His ability to get to the point and feeling, in tight sentences with authenticity, heart and truth… is always the goal, in writing, shooting and editing. His theory about the tip of the Iceberg, supported by more below the depths. In films – its Francis Coppola who inspired me the most, from The Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, especially the behind the scenes risk-taking for his art, was incredible. I recommend any filmmaker to watch “Hearts of Darkness, a Filmmakers Apocalypse” documentary on Coppola while making Apocalypse. He put his career and house on the line when few believed in him. He was also so right about his quotes on the coming technology. I also love Martin Scorsese, Tony & Ridley Scott, Kathryn Bigalow, Michael Mann, and more. Creative people who go out in the world and love and conquer and tell the tales on film.
To Be Continued…
Please follow Daniel on instagram https://instagram.com/danielzirilli?igshid=1r3jce02xgo62