You’d be hard-pressed to find a guy with better stories than photographer/filmmaker Patrick Hoelck. The man behind some of Hollywood’s most iconic portraits, Hoelck’s lens has captured the likes of Dr. Dre, Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder, Emily Blunt, Clint Eastwood, Samuel L. Jackson, and Katie Holmes to name a few. In 2009, he dabbled in cinema for the first time with his directorial debut, Mercy, an indie-drama that earned him Best Director and the Best Film gong at the Savannah Film Festival.
These days, Hoelck’s stepped back into the filmmaking realm with a docu-style series, An Interview, which highlights some of the most compelling voices in the entertainment industry. Season one profiles the show’s co-creator Norman Reedus along with Parker Posey, Liv Tyler, Diane Kruger, Peter Sarsgaard, Zachary Quinto, and James Caan. In true Hoelck fashion, An Interview features atypical formula that challenges the traditional interview structure. Each 8-minute episode chronicles a day in the life of an actor while Patrick bobs and weaves in and out of frame, snapping stills, and inspiring a surprising amount of humanity from the conversation. Movement, location choice, background noise, long takes, and measured pauses help to subvert the typical Q+A format by drawing insightful anecdotes out of its subjects and inviting the audience to pull up a chair.
During an afternoon at the Duck Pond Films headquarters in Culver City, we linked up with Hoelck to discuss his foray in front of the camera through the documentary-adjacent format and what he described a “one of the most uncomfortable challenges I’ve had.”
Cinemathread: You’ve spent your time behind the camera up until now. Has it been an adjustment?
Patrick Hoelck: Yeah. I’m pretty camera shy.
Ct: How did you get comfortable?
PH: Norman and I had a good discussion about this— I said, “We were both 16 or 17 [when] I went behind the camera and you went in the front it, so I can tell you my tricks if you tell me yours.” He goes, “Well, what I do…I was scared maybe the first two weeks and I would always look at the other person and listen to them intently until I stopped noticing that there were cameras and things.” So that’s what you do— I started implanting that process and it works.
Ct: How did An Interview come to fruition?
PH: I pitched it for two years. I went to Vice with it for about a year and they wanted to do a director-centric [format], cause Shane [Smith] was running a directors-only interview show like an hour before they got their money infusion. It was his dream, so it was nice of him to give me what his dream was going to be, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
Ct: You started your career with still photographer, dabbled in film with Mercy, and then back to print until now. Does motion, in general, help to make the narrative more fluid when you’re conducting an interview?
PH: It’s a mixture, but it’s also him (points to director Dylan Mulick). [Dylan’s] got the eyes. His eyes are always watching. I feel like I’m on another planet [when we’re shooting]. I’m so new to the [being in front of the] camera thing that I don’t know what we’ve got, so I always ask him, “What did we get? Was it good? Was it there?” cause I was used to analyzing the monitor. I had to teach myself to not look.
I remember working with a lot of directors and they would watch the scene and watch the monitor and I thought that was kind of a dumb move, cause when I sit through the edit, nothing is outside the frame of the monitor. So, this emotional YEAH DOING THESE THINGS YEAH!! was kind of lame to me. I learned a thing from other filmmakers— you only get what’s on the monitor—you don’t get what you thought you had. So it’s all about trust [with Dylan].
Dylan Mulick: It’s interesting cause it’s a traditional interview, but you’re trying to make it poetic and cinematic, so we’ve kinda developed the techniques as we went along. At the end of the day—you’ve got Patrick and Liv Tyler, it’s raining, cameras are up, that’s your mark, you have to walk to there, and you have to do these questions—which is very Hollywood or traditional, so how do you make it feel authentic, have flow and vibe? Well, technically, we shoot with two cameras and we also try never to do a take more than once or twice. We’re shooting with one steady cam and with another handheld, so we can just keep it moving.
Ct: The visual and narrative flow is what stood out to me the most about the project. Your formula seems to encourage the subjects to open up. Aside from Norman, did you personally know any of the actors you profiled in season one?
PT: I didn’t know Diane, I didn’t know Liv, I didn’t know Zach, and I didn’t know [Peter] Sarsgaard. I started meeting Parker recently. Jimmy Caan, I knew, and that’s another dynamic. That was actually a very hard episode for me cause I’m close to his son and him— he was in Mercy. But Jimmy is like that guy that I’m still 9 years old around him. I’m still uncomfortable and we can tell stories, but it’s gnarly, he has a presence. He’s very sweet and loving, but he’s also very hard and rough.
Ct: He seems intimidating.
PH: He comes from this really loving place, which I try to tell him, because he’ll be hard on a person, but he loves you once he lets you in. He’s one of the best people. The Caan family is this ball of love, but it’s very layered and hidden in some compulsive areas. He’s from another time before the Clooneys and the Pits. There’s no documentation of him with naked Raquel Welch in a headlock with Muhammad Ali in a filthy bar doing lines on the table. His wall of fame is like whoa, you know? I feel bad for the new guys.
Ct: Is it hard to ask someone introductory questions in front of the camera when you know them so well? Like with him [James Caan] or Norman [Reedus]?
PH: The Norman [interview] was interesting, cause I knew nothing of the mother stuff—we had never gone into that. I didn’t know she worked at the funeral thing and I didn’t know that she was such a hippie— I have known him my whole life—talked about everything, you think, but that’s what’s cool about the show, I didn’t know that part of him. Jimmy had stories about his father trying to come to grips with the acting thing, I didn’t know that either, you know? When I made my movie, Jimmy said, “The only thing you want, and me and my son differ on it, is unpredictability. Unpredictability is the goal.”
Ct: You have such a history with filmmakers and filmmaking. Do you think you’ll get back into it? Is An Interview a transition back?
PF: Yeah. I’m itching all the time. Film, I’m obsessed with it. I love it, but I feel like the next one…there has to be something super special in order for me to change my life again, which I’m willing to do.
Ct: Which narratives speak to you the most?
PH: I don’t know. I mean, I like Michael Clayton. People ask, “What are you going to do next?” I’m like, that film! Or, like, I wanna do a 2018 version of Slacker, you know? This to me is the exercise towards [making another feature film].
Ct: That’s what it feels like, cause you’re totally fucking with the interview format. Did you have that goal in mind before you started this project?
PH: I’m obsessed with Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes, obsessed with Charlie Rose, and I enjoy the new model of, like, an [Anthony] Bourdain. I wrote on a piece of paper, “What do I like?” I like people I like motion, I like print and I like journalism. If it became one job—I think An interview honors all of that.
DM: It was always important to make something that had visual and cinematic tone. Which was why it had the style of two cameras, the steadicam, drones, the sound—the music specifically, and it also had a little visual poetry right? Cause otherwise, why do it? This, of course, became an ambitious project. The team at Duck Pond Films were invaluable in pulling this off. Josh, Jason and Rebakah went above and beyond.
PH: Even though I admire Andy Cohen’s model—I think he’s the shit, he’s great at what he does—but we don’t wanna do his thing, we wanna do something totally different. I’m more obsessed with like an Ed Bradley in 2020. What would that look like, you know?