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The Brothers Kornbluth: Getting Their Systems Down

Making a successful independent film on a shoestring budget is a tough proposition for anybody. But for brothers Josh and Jacob Kornbluth, the challenge was made greater because they had no real filmmaking experience. Armed with a bunch of pizza and cheap wine, they pooled their skills together, and, assisted by a network of friends, the two turned a monologue based on Josh’s experiences as a temp secretary into a film success. Haiku Tunnel is an amusing take on the perils of an office temp faced with new challenges when his employer asks him to go ‘perm.’ Watching the film, you would have never guessed that Josh and Jacob were just going perm themselves as filmmakers with their first feature.

filmcritic.com recently spoke to the Kornbluth brothers about the DVD release of Haiku Tunnel, the complexities of independent filmmaking, and the unique synergies formed by the two brothers that helped get the film made.

filmcritic.com: Neither of you had any real filmmaking experience prior to Haiku Tunnel. So how do you make a movie?

Jacob Kornbluth: I had been working as a production assistant on other people’s productions for years and had the sense that it would be cool to make a film. Josh had been trying to get this [Haiku Tunnel] and one other monologue turned into a film. I thought Haiku Tunnel would be feasible to do because he could play the main character and it was set in San Francisco where we lived. Fundraising-wise, we had pizza parties with cheap wine where we pitched to people how great it would be if they gave us money for the film. Usually, they said that it wouldn’t be so great (laughs).

Obviously they’re saying something different now.

Jacob: No one expected it to make money – people are pleased. It was really amazing just getting the film made, then it got into Sundance, and then they were amazed Sony Classics wanted to buy it. Every step of it was pretty gratifying.

Josh, your first film role was in Searching for Bobby Fischer, where you played a ‘Chess Club Regular.’ How were you able to land that small role?

Josh Kornbluth: The first off-Broadway monologue I did, Red Diaper Baby, was directed by Josh Mostel, and one of the people who saw the show was the casting director for Fischer. She cast both of us [the two Joshes] in the film with equal parts but the way they cut it, you could only see the back of my head… even though I think I’m prettier. I wouldn’t say that about too many other people, but I think they could have easily gone with my face.

Could it be because you knew how to play chess?

Josh: Mostel is a really good chess player – we played between takes. He is like a ranked chess player, where I am just rank.

You’ve had some other interesting credits. In Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack, you were a ‘Pack of Cigarettes.’ Did watching the Godfather of directors work turn you onto to film directing?

Josh: Coppola clearly coasted through the first two Godfathers without any real emotional attachment, where with Jack, you could see where the passion was… and I think that was what turned me on to directing.

Speaking of directing, Jacob, how well did Josh take your direction?

Jacob: In theater, we had collaborated on some of Josh’s monologues and with my expertise in film, Josh relied on me to make sure his performance was translating to film. One of the things we did that helped was videotaping Josh performing in rehearsals. The best scenario you could have is that the actors own their performances rather than being dependant on a director to tell them what’s good and what’s bad. The key was that, because we were brothers and because he trusted my sensibility, it made him more comfortable with his performance than if I were just some director dude.

Josh: During the whole process from pre-production to post-production, we agreed a huge amount of the time and then when we had our disagreements, it was cool too because we would hash it out until we figured out what we both wanted. Jacob really drove pre-production and production. Looking back on it now, if we didn’t have that kind of preparation, it would have been impossible [to make the film].

Jacob: If you meet us, we’re very different people. Working together with my brother, we ended up having the same sense of comedy, knew what made things funny and how to make the film work. It’s unbelievable the amount of decisions you have to make and to have us in synch with each other was hugely important. We had talked so much about every scene before we shot it – we had a sense for what was happening. Thank God we did because you get to the set of an independent film, you don’t have any money, everyone is running around nuts, everything is falling to pieces and yet you have some security in knowing how the shot should be.

Some of the film’s funniest moments were left on the cutting room floor (i.e. ‘Fatelets’ and ‘Neurotic Adventurer’) though fortunately rescued on this great DVD. Why were these scenes left out?

Josh: There were so many considerations in terms of telling the story and how everything fits together and flows. All of the cuts were tremendously painful.

Jacob: I feel they were the right ones. There’s the cliché that you kill your babies in the editing room. These were our babies.

Josh: But God bless the DVD because you can have it both ways. As a DVD watcher, it’s a big part of the experience for me when you get the commentaries and deleted scenes, because you can see the filmmaker’s decision-making in progress.

What did you learn from making Haiku Tunnel that you will take with you to the next project?

Jacob: I really believe good films are made when you trust your instincts. I had the belief that if this film wasn’t going to work, I’d rather it be our own mistakes that made it go down, rather than feeling like we didn’t trust ourselves. It now gives me the confidence we can make more films.

We certainly hope to see more. Now that you both have gone ‘perm,’ what do you have your sights set on next?

Josh: Jacob has written a really fantastic script called The Best Thief in the World, which is a drama that takes place in New York, a fictionalized story based on his childhood.

Jacob: The script won a couple of awards at Sundance this year and now begins the incredibly tenuous process of pre-production. I hope to begin shooting this summer. There’s a possibility we are doing a concert film of one of Josh’s monologues coming up for the Sundance Channel, and we are also talking about adapting another one of his monologues into a movie.

Josh, will you be starring in this film?

Josh: No I won’t be in it at all. I am working with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which is a political comedy theater group that I have always loved since I was a kid and just received a grant to write a show with them this summer.

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