Filmmaker Josh Mond On the Unshakable ‘JAMES WHITE’

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james-white-1Preston Barta // Editor

Growing up is not easy, especially when you lose someone you love so suddenly. For our titular character (a heartbreakingly good Christoper Abbott) in JAMES WHITE, he must overcome his self-destructive behavior to better himself and care for his ailing mother (a knockout Cynthia Nixon).

Josh Mond’s feature debut provides audiences with an unshakable glimpse into the struggles of the unfortunate, and it hits like a shot to the heart.

Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to speak with Mond about the film’s raw, yet honest story and experience in the director’s chair.

Filmmaker Josh Mond at the Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmaker Josh Mond at the Sundance Film Festival.

I’m really drawn to movies like this. JAMES WHITE is very gritty but moving film. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Josh Mond: “Thanks, man.”

Sure thing. What’s your writing process like? Did you have an end point in mind, or you just kind of let these characters take you on a journey?

Mond: “I started working on another project that kind of was my way in to make it more personal, what I really wanted to explore, or needed to to explore, which is the relationship between a mother and son. To be honest, it’s my connection to losing my mother myself. Luckily, I have two partners who are extremely experienced and prolific. I feel filmmakers that were basically like my teachers and my coaches, pushing me and helping me– even me trying the computers and saying, ‘I can’t do this, I need your help.’

Once I finally made a decision to make it personal, it was a lot of writing in a notebook, writing letters to people, remembering things, feeling anger and feeling sadness. Then, just writing my stream of consciousness constantly and who these people were to me. The characters, the people in my life, who they were to me– everybody’s a culmination, you know?”

Right.

Mond: “There was a lot of note-taking and multiple journals– just writing things out, then forcing myself in front of a computer to write these scenes and read them aloud. You know what I mean?”

Oh, for sure. How about directing what you’ve written? For instance, some of my favorite scenes in the film were the ones between [Abbott] and [Nixon], and it’s so devastating and heartbreaking to watch, but when you’re shooting and directing those scenes, how do you call cut when the mood’s like that?

Mond: “I kind of rest on experience from watching Sean Durkin (director of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE) and Antonio Campos (director of SIMON KILLER). One of the things I’ve learned from them is you let it roll out to as far as you can go, because you never know what’s going to happen at the end of a scene. You always want to leave yourself something in the editing room that you may need later. You just let the room and actors settle. It depends if you want to go right away or go again, or if that was it. It depends on the moment. You call cut quietly or you whisper it to the assistant director. It depends on the mood of the room.”

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Christopher Abbott and Mond on the set of James White. Photo courtesy of The Film Arcade.

Did you enjoy shooting it in the intimate way you did?

Mond: “I enjoyed shooting it that way, I felt connected. I really enjoyed it, and I also enjoyed it as an experience, you know?

Right. No one’s tricking you.

Mond: “You can’t hide.”

Speaking of Sean and Antonio, when you guys are on set with each other, whether you’re directing or they’re directing, do you all ever have a clash of ideas or anything like that? Do you all balance each other out very well?

Mond: “I think so. I think it’s very different on each film. The director is kind of always– it’s their vision, they have to make the choice, and I think we all work very differently. Like Antonio, he really knows what he wants and so does Sean. I definitely ask a lot about what their opinions are on shots, like, ‘Did I miss anything? Do you guys have any ideas?’

I mean, we’re all different. I also think it’s project-specific. For Antonio’s CHRISTINE, I wasn’t on set, I executive producer with Sean. It’s Tony’s third film, I watched dailies and I was there very briefly for prep. I watched templates of every cut, but we’re there for each other when we’re needed, on casting as well. I always ask them their opinions. I welcome it. At the end of the day we encourage each other to do what the other person wants.”

Do you have a capacity to cry at your own films?

Mond: “Oh yeah. I cried. I definitely cried on set, like in the hotel scene when I saw Chris do it for the first time, and all the stuff from the bedroom. All that stuff really– when I connected to stuff, I was able to, yeah. Then, in the editing room for sure. I remember the first time it kind of works, then also like towards the end of the editing process, there was tons of sappy moments.”

JAMES WHITE is playing in theaters today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.