HOLLYWOOD—Hello America! For quite some time now, I have been scouting the film and TV industry and talking and interviewing new young actors, writers, musicians and producers. They will, no doubt, be the ones who will continue stirring up the cinematic magic that we all have grown to expect from Hollywood. John Rota, without a doubt, is one of the most exciting newcomers who is destined to be recognized and remembered as one of the most gifted of his generation. Talking with John is one of those moments that I will never forget.
- What film served as the genesis of your passion for film that ultimately led to writing or producing them?
- “There is not one specific film that completely influenced my enthusiasm for the art. I have always been a fan of all sorts of artists: painters, writers, singers, and of course, filmmakers. I grew up in a generation where the first ‘Star Wars’ trilogy premiered, I remember my mom taking me to see ‘Return of the Jedi’ and being beside myself in excitement. This was also the era when ‘Alien’ and ‘Terminator’ were enormous hits, and films like ‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Tootsie’ were putting the heart back into comedy”¦perhaps it was the beginnings of the genre we call ”˜dramedy’ today. The ’80s were a very important time for film and TV, which is apparent in all the re-makes we see presently: ‘Dukes of Hazzard’, ‘G.I. Joe’, ‘Transformers’, to name a few. Media began to infiltrate everything back then; we saw the inception Atari, the Commodore 64, and the VCR. All of them became household devices seemingly overnight. This changed the industry and the way we view media forever. It was really the first time gaming, movies and computing were a household event. So in essence, all forms of media were in our face constantly as kids, and the influence was not only impossible to ignore, it was the everyday norm.”
- What film-maker impacted your desire to create stories and ideas which might affect the thinking of those who might view them?
- “Again, there are too many to list. I respect and admire all filmmakers and artists who have a vision, and have the drive to make that vision a reality. But [if I have to choose] off the top of my head, I have to say Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, Stephen Spielberg, James L. Brooks, George Lucas, Michael Curtiz, James Cameron, Sydney Pollack and many others. I have to give credit to these big boys because their films and influence has stood the test of time; that to me is an important element of any art ”“ to create something that lasts.”
- What is the biggest challenge that one is faced with when pondering over an idea to be given life on film?
- “The first thing I think about is: will anyone want to watch this?
There are a plethora of other challenges that go along with taking an idea, book, or script from the page to the screen. It is an uphill battle more often than not, especially for independent films. But for many, it is a battle worth fighting, and as you win a few of them, the rest become a little easier as the path is forged. But beyond the packaging, the financing and all the pieces one must pull to get a project up and running, it’s a belief in what you are doing that matters the most. The film could be huge, or it could flop, the production may fall apart or [it will] never happen, but each experience is a lesson and ultimately helps one move forward to the next step with more data to bring to the next project. It’s a win-win situation because true success is all about exploring something new, expanding your comfort zone and improving. If you have these things, than the monetary reward is inevitable.”
- What kind of film excites you the most ”“ adventure, physical contests, romance or survival challenges, ones that pushes man close to the edge?And why?
- “I enjoy films that are character driven. I love all genres, but the one common thread that each of the films that impact me the most have, is a strong character base. If you are telling a story about a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, or a used car salesman, it does not matter much if the person is not realistic or interesting. If that character is relatable to the audience and has an authenticity to them that people will identify with, then that is half the battle. Whether it be the dialogue, the relevant time period, or the obvious social parallels, when we care about a character, we are emotionally attached, when our emotions are involved, we take the ride without any questions, and when that happens, we engross ourselves in the story and think about the film long after it is over, which in my humble opinion, is a telltale sign of a successful film.”
- When growing up, what actors stimulated your interest in creating or producing great stories? Which one has influenced you most and why?
- “Steve McQueen. I love his work, his rebellious nature, his coolness; he is a fascinating personality with likability and a dark side, an original that will never be duplicated. To achieve his level of success after going through his crazy upbringing and overcome all that dysfunction is astounding; it’s like a film unto itself.”
- What is your opinion of the industry today? Is it producing the kind of entertainment and stories that make us feel better about ourselves or are they exposing us to the most depressing side of life ”“ polarizing cultures and the young from the old? Are there films of hope, as was the case during the ’40s and ’50s that made you believe in a positive future?
- “Society is extremely different than it was during the Hollywood heyday of the ’40s and ’50s. The innocence has been lost; people are much more informed, much more desensitized than ever before. Sex, drugs, violence is easily accessible to any age group.
To your question, here is an odd example that stood out to me: When I was living in New York, there was a three-year period where every film included a crazy, chaotic destruction of the city in some way. Either an Alien ship blowing up the Empire State Building or a giant monster wrecking everything in its path, the city was the focus of much destruction. Then on 9/11, it was like the films came to life. Beyond the shock, disbelief and sadness, I remember thinking: this is like Independence Day or something, except it was all too real.
Of course the films were not responsible, but the more you put something destructive out there, over and over, the chances of it manifesting become greater. Just like your thoughts, keep thinking the same thing and eventually, it will become real. Even on smaller levels, whatever the media permeates society with, will become the perception, and our collective belief in that perception makes it ”˜factual.’
This is most prevalent in television news; a particular network’s angle of a story can influence the average person’s opinion. What becomes ‘common knowledge’ may in fact be completely false. There is no denying the power of media. Life does imitate art just as art imitates life. If you see the media saturated with an energy that promotes a prosperous future, a flowing economy, a harmonious people and an overall peaceful vibration, reality will reflect the vibe. I am not saying we should do away with big explosive blockbuster films, that will never happen anyway. But within that proven entertaining context, we can try to be mindful of what we create, and realize that it does have a deep impact on everyone. The world needs positive influence now more than ever. If we can be an example, the rest will follow. Or we [can] at least blow up another city on film”¦ leave NYC alone for a little while.”
- In your opinion, what actor or actress, currently, will go down in history, representing this generation, if any?
- “This is a difficult question, but the one actor that stands out head-and-shoulders above everyone else, not only for her longevity, but for her immense talent as a chameleon is Meryl Streep. She is perhaps the greatest female actor of all time and is arguably the best actor of our generation.She’s prolific and each portrayal, every year, every film, is different than the next. In films like ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’, ‘Sophie’s Choice’, ‘Silkwood’, ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Adaptation’, ‘Doubt’, ‘Julie and Julia’, Ms. Streep is like an artist at play, doing things she wants to do, exploring possibilities, bringer herself to new limits. It’s an impressive run, she’s [an] inspiration to so many people and is a living example of a person who is doing what she is meant to do in this world.”
- How has the industry changed your perception of yourself and the business, in relationship to your position as a businessman, creator and producer?
- “The industry is going through many changes ”“ more than ever before. There’s been a strike, a recession, a quasi-depression, things are transforming and being reinvented everywhere from Main Street to Wall Street to Hollywood Boulevard. With the dawn of New Media, Transmedia, and every other type of social network, virtual community, or video game, there are new rules being written and re-written every day, and telling a story across multiple platforms is now becoming imperative to success.
In the past few years, I’ve diversified and expanded. In my career, I’ve done mostly TV development and production [and] lately I’ve delved into website consulting, developed a Twitter application, writing online columns, and have taken my long-form skills into the branded entertainment arena.
Within the branding realm, we’ve started a multi-media production company called Alexandria. Branding and Digital Marketing has a proven effectiveness that is continuing to get more important and necessary for market survival. It is economical and can reach a vast audience on an interactive level. Today it is about consumer engagement, people want to engage; no one wants to be given the hard sell [rather] they want connect and socialize with a brand.
I also recognize the importance of transmedia; it is extremely fascinating.Multi-platform storytelling across multiple outlets is where technology and entertainment combine. When you take a TV show or film, and successfully tell ancillary stories based off the same, consistent world, you enhance the experience of the primary show. It works as a circular system where each area of the brand can benefit from one another and with all the conduits for programming out there; it is optimal to tap each outlet and maximize potential revenue streams.”
- What are your thoughts on the future of the business?
- “This is one of the most exciting times in the history of entertainment. The business and the art of storytelling are morphing before our eyes. It’s like the smaller the device, the shorter the attention span, so one of the challenges is being able to convert each program in an entertaining way in order to fit the mechanism to which it is being viewed. I think it is all pretty cool. It is definitely going to be fun to see where this all leads. My guess is that in the future, there will be more interactive programming where audiences will play a role in choosing [the] outcomes, much like what Take180 is doing already, but on a larger network level.
Entertainment and technology are making it easier for people’s voices to be heard louder and more instantaneous than ever. I think in a modern-day democracy, where freedom of speech is of the utmost importance, that can only be a good thing.”