Playback: Aaron Katz on ‘Gemini’ and the Erosion of Mid-Budget Studio Filmmaking

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Filmmaker Aaron Katz has been making movies for 10 years in the independent space. He lived in New York for most of that time, cranking out projects like “Quiet City” and “Cold Weather” before the award-winning “Land Ho!” opened even more doors. His latest film is “Gemini,” a stylish, Hollywood-set neo-noir that, for Katz, was partly a way of wrangling with a love-hate relationship with the City of Angels.

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“One of the reasons to make this movie is to confront my conflicted feelings about it and sort of live in the tradition of movies and books that both celebrate and have a lot of trepidation about Hollywood,” he says. “But I think it’s much more in the tradition of Budd Schulberg’s ‘What Makes Sammy Run,’ which is very cynical about Hollywood but also very loving towards it as well.”

In establishing the look of the film, Katz and his cinematographer, Andrew Wood, were inspired by the unusual nighttime color palette of Los Angeles. But they didn’t shy away from immersing themselves in movies to help set the mood before launching into production.

“I really think of ‘Body Heat’ and ‘American Gigolo’ as kicking off a new era, a new style of thriller,” Katz says of some of the movie’s inspirations. “You look at stuff from the late-’70s and it has a really different vibe. We were just watching a ton of those movies. ‘Blow Out’ is another one. A lot of those movies have a very glossy aesthetic, so we wanted to have fun with that. And also I’d say [we were inspired] a little bit by Hong Kong action cinema, and especially ‘A Better Tomorrow.’ John Woo came to be known for such excess, and ‘A Better Tomorrow’ is definitely indulgent, but it’s very restrained and I think it’s just a great film about a city at night, so in some ways we wanted to make our own great film about a city at night and felt inspired to do that more than looking at an aesthetic and trying to recreate it.”

With a quintet of independent productions under his belt over the last decade and having even worked in the shoestring budget world (“Quiet City” was made for a mere $2,000), Katz is uniquely qualified to discuss the state of independent cinema. This leads to a whole tangent conversation about the current moviegoing status quo and mid-budget studio films like “Alien,” “Basic Instinct” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” that likely wouldn’t be made in today’s climate.

“It feels like people who are teenagers and in their early 20s, going to the movies in the same way that we went to movies, it’s a bigger step for them where not everyone is interested in that,” Katz says. “So I think one of the biggest missing pieces right now is how to let people know, who are under 25, that going to the movies is fun. I think there should and could be a very broad spectrum of what’s on offer at the theater, and there is, but it’s so heavily weighted toward the franchise part of it … I think of all the movies we aren’t seeing, people who don’t have an opportunity to express something still within the studio system, but beyond the scope of a world like Marvel or ‘Star Wars’ that has these finite parameters. Those are the kinds of movies I want to make — studio, elegant genre movies.”

For more, including talk of shooting Los Angeles in fresh ways and other inspirations behind “Gemini,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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