An Exclusive Interview with Zachary Quinto, Producer


Of course, we all know Zachary Quinto from his role playing Spock in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” movies or maybe you’ll remember him as super-villain Sylar from NBC’s “Heroes” or more recently, his multiple roles on the FX show “American Horror Story,” but these days, Quinto has other things going on in his career and one of them is his production company Before the Door Pictures, a company with an impressive slate of projects for films, television and even graphic novels.

The real turning point for the company came about when he came on board as actor-producer on J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut Margin Call, a movie that made waves at festivals before being released theatrically. It even received an Oscar nomination for Chandor’s screenplay.

Quinto continues to produce films with the latest movie from the company being Breakup at a Wedding, a found footage wedding comedy from Victor Quinaz, who writes, directs, produces and stars in the movie under the identity of “Vic James.” spoke to Quinto back when Margin Call came out as Before the Door was just flourishing and it’s already been an exciting year for them with rave reviews for Robert Redford’s almost wordless performance in All is Lost, Chandor’s follow-up to Margin Call, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and will be released by Roadside Attractions in the fall.

With that in mind, got on the phone with Quinto to see what’s been going on with Before the Door and what they’ve been up to. Last time we spoke, you were just launching your production company and it’s been interesting to watch you evolve into a full-fledged producer on all these different projects. So how did you go from “Margin Call” to working with “Vic James,” who’s a very different type of animal?
Zachary Quinto:
(Laughs) A very different kind of guy, yeah. Well, Victor Quinaz is a longtime friend that we went to college with, so true to our ethos and wanting to work with people we’ve known a long time, and were inspired by for a long time, Victor and his wife Anna, we were really excited to get to give them the opportunity to make this movie and to make it with them. We made this movie the summer after we finished “Margin Call,” or the summer between. We shot it in 2010 and 2011, the summer right before that. It was a very on the fly, guerilla style, literally a family affair, as I said with Victor’s wife and his brother and his parents and Anna’s Mom, so it was a real on the fly experience and a really great one and we’re really thrilled that it’s coming out now.

CS: So you were involved very early on? Did he have a script and handed it to you and it was at that point you were kind of really involved? It seemed like he’s very much a guy who does everything – I mean, his name is pretty much every credit in the opening.
(Laughs) Yeah, he’s a very self sufficient guy, really resourceful, really talented, Victor, in a lot of ways… We had collaborated with his sort of collective of improv, I guess, for their series that they did called “PERIODS,” and we had worked with them producing some of their shorts and lending them support, and I’ve appeared in a couple of them. This film was actually out of a conversation that came out of that group and all of the actors that are in it for the most part are members of that group, the “PERIODS” films crew. It was a very organic evolution from the time that the idea got presented to the time that we were shooting was not very long at all. This was a different kind of movie than “Margin Call” in a lot of ways. This budget was significantly less on this film, and allowed us a little bit more sort of flexibility or freedom because we were really just doing what it took to get the shots and Victor did a great job.

CS: It’s funny because the publicist told me about the movie and the publicist will always say that their movie is funny, but this is actually a very funny movie.
(Laughs) It’s nice because I agree and I remember seeing it for the first time and really feeling like they nailed the tone and they were really able to deploy… One of the things that drew me to this film was the idea of the style of found footage, which tends to be reserved for more horror, thriller, genre movies, but applied to a pretty traditional event, a comedy, and part of what we try to strive for at Before the Door is that sometimes innovation in storytelling, whether it’s the story itself or the style in which the story’s told or the technology used to tell the story, we’re interested in being innovative in that way. I thought this movie and its approach to it made all that really clear, to see how it fell into that ethos.

CS: As far as your role as producer, how has that evolved since “Margin Call?” As a producer, are you able to evolve your style depending on who you’re working with? Has it been very natural for you to be able to do that?
Yeah, I mean, the structure of my company is such that we all really worked together on films. “Margin Call,” I would say, is probably the film that I was most hands-on with, and then it also has to do with the fact that I was in it, so naturally, I was on set every day anyway. It allowed me to be much more actively involved as a producer and involved in decisions. When we were making “All is Lost,” the movie that just premiered at Cannes, it was a lot more difficult for me because I was working on another project. There’s a lot of flexibility between myself and Neal Dodson and Corey Moosa, my two business partners. We have expanded somewhat within the company and in the infrastructure a little bit, so we have other people as hands on deck. We do what we can, and Neal was on the set every single day of “All is Lost.” Corey was on the set every single day of “The Banshee Chapter,” which is the next film we have coming out in October. All of us were on set for this movie because it was an extension of our relationship with Victor and the collaborations that we’ve done before. This was one that had all of us really there and helping out, then with other movies, depending on the scale and timeframe of them, we have to sort of break up responsibilities and separate like that. That’s never been a problem, because we’ve known each other so long that it’s really to communicate and identify what each of us needs in order to do our best.

CS: I didn’t even realize you were involved with “All is Lost” as a producer. Obviously, I heard the raves about it out of Cannes, but I had no idea you were involved because I just assumed “Margin Call” you were more involved with because you were acting in it.
Yeah, I executive produced “All is Lost,” so I was much more distantly involved. I wasn’t on the set every day by any means. I was out a couple of times and spent a few days there. Neal was really the life’s blood from the production side of it from Before the Door, but it is an extension of my company, and we are producing J.C.’s third movie now as well. My role varies depending on my availability, depending on how closely I’m involved with any given project, because there’s other projects we have in development specifically for me as an actor, those I tend to be a little bit more involved in on the development process.

CS: It definitely sounds like the company has grown since a bit since last we spoke, so how has that been impacted by the fact you’ve been shooting “Star Trek” and “American Horror Story” at the same time? But you have a couple different things you’ve been producing and developing, so how has it been balancing that with the acting?
Yeah, it’s been interesting. It becomes a little bit more about delegation at a certain point, and I’m living in New York – I’m about to do a play on Broadway, so I’m actually spending time back on the East Coast for the next year. It means that I’m not able to be at the office obviously every day. It just becomes about communication in a different way. As companies grow, and as we’re learning, eventually if your production company is successful, if you’re not going to be able to be on set every day for every project – because you can have multiple things happening at once and they’re going to be in different places and they’re going to require different commitments. We’re really trying to identify the ways in which we can align ourselves with people that are good resources and bring people in on specific projects that we trust. “All is Lost,” which is J.C.’s second film after “Margin Call” is virtually, it’s the same DP, it’s the same script supervisor. There’s just so many people that worked on the film that worked on “Margin Call.” So it’s also about Anna Gerb, who is someone who was a really great resource for us shooting in New York, and she was Neal’s right hand and they produced that movie together. It’s about those kinds of relationships that you know you can count on and you know you can trust and there’s a shorthand that becomes a part of the process and that makes it much easier to not be able to be there every day if that’s the case. So we’re figuring it out. We really didn’t know what we were getting into when we started, and obviously, we’re enormously grateful for the opportunities that have presented themselves so far and we just try to continue moving forward slow and steady and hopefully we’re able to keep doing what we like to do.

CS: Do you have any other directors like J.C. Chandor in your pocket who you think are going to be breaking out? Obviously he has an amazing career ahead with these two films and this third, new film that’s being develpoped. Do you have other filmmakers that you think are going to be that kind of breakout kind of success as him?
I think in the comedy space, I think Victor is somebody, both as a writer and a director that’s going to emerge in a way. I think the “Breakup at a Wedding” premiere next week is really exciting for us to be able to share his work on this scale. They just put it online I think yesterday, their newest “PERIODS” film called “Big City, Bright Lights,” which is my favorite of all of them by far. I think it’s absolutely hysterical and I think they have a real understanding of tone and a comedic subversion that is exciting, unique, and I’m really interested to see what happens with them. They’re the people that we’re most closely working with right now, so I feel really excited about that. Then, we’re going to turn around and go right back into another J.C. movie. We have a couple of things in development that I’m excited about, but I feel like we’re still looking for that singular voice in a socially relevant way to get behind a champion. I mean, there’s a handful of things that we have that I’m really excited about, but I think all of them are pretty early on and waiting to find out what happens with “Breakup at a Wedding” and “All is Lost” to really dictate the direction in which we go for the next projects that we actually get behind.

CS: “Breakup at a Wedding” is a really good example of the DIY – and you also talk about the videos as another example of that kind of DIY filmmaking that’s being done these days where you can make movies cheaply and release them via VOD. “Margin Call” was another great example of VOD success as well. I was curious, as an actor who also does big movies and television, how you feel about that kind of way of working and releasing things vs. the way people might see say “Star Trek” or a show you’re on.
Right, right, yeah. They’re vastly, vastly different. The advantage to a movie like “Breakup at a Wedding” or the “PERIODS” films is that we have so much more immediate creative control. We had great support and our financiers are really invested in giving us the freedom to make the movie we wanted to make. The great news about the evolution of technology is that the way in which people receive their creative content these days is changing rapidly. We’re just interested in figuring out how to keep up with it, and if possible, get a little bit ahead of it, be creative. Of course, the upside is that there’s so much more ownership, both creatively and financially, of those kinds of projects. They’re not as flashy and people don’t have trailers. It’s kind of on the fly and we’re helping each other out, getting lunch and coffees and doing whatever we can to keep everyone comfortable. It’s not nearly as fancy a process, but the upside is that you get to keep a lot more of your own voice and you get to have a lot more freedom and flexibility creatively, and I think that’s worth the tradeoff. Then, in the backend, if the movie does well, then you’re not paying everything into the studio, you’re actually able to participate in the success of the movie. Both as an actor and as a producer, I recognize the value of betting on yourself and saying, “Well, I don’t need to make a bajillion dollars up front or get this crazy producer’s fee or a crazy acting fee. Let me be reasonable and let me support and put that money into helping the project do well and let me own more of it.” That’s just I think a way that we likened how the business is changing since we started our company, and it’s the way we’ve made every one of our films. It’s allowed us to be more involved in our partnerships like the one we have at Lionsgate or Roadside Attractions, which is an incredibly fruitful and beneficial relationship for all of us. We really enjoyed working together and they supported “Margin Call” and then got behind “All is Lost,” and they have been real champions of ours and now with Oscilloscope, just forging those relationships with marketing companies and its about building slowly and steadily, I think, to actually being able to participate and then regenerate revenue.

CS: As a producer and an actor, you obviously have ideas for things you want to develop yourself. What’s the thing that you’ve been developing and want to do as your own project?
Moving back to New York has really triggered a lot of creativity in me, and I really feel like there’s a story that I have that I’ve been trying to shape a little bit as a writer about New York. It’s very vague and early and I dare not be specific in terms of plot or narrative, but just the idea of the energy of this city and how relentless it is and how much can happen in such a short amount of time and how many surprises can reveal themselves here and how much universal support and the openness and willingness to be taken on an adventure or a journey here. I’m just maybe capturing some ideas and thoughts from my own experience and looking to structure that into some kind of a narrative. But, I don’t have anything concrete, so it’s going to be a while, but I’ll keep you posted. (Laughs)

CS: I’ve been out of New York about two months now, so you’re making me miss New York greatly right now.
Yeah, it’s great to come back. Where are you now? Are you in LA?

CS: No, I’m in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a long story.
I have relatives in Cleveland.

CS: Oh yeah? Well, there you go. Not that far away. The last time we spoke, you were also developing the comic book “Mr. Murder is Dead” through Before the Door and when we spoke I hadn’t actually seen it, but it’s a very cool graphic novel that I saw at NY Comic-Con a couple days after we spoke. Are doing graphic novels and working in other media things that Before the Door are still involved with?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t think any of us could have imagined the success of “Margin Call” when we were making it, and when we were getting ready to release it. I think that really defined that path in a little bit of a different way. I mean, we still have those properties and are developing them and talking about ways in which “Mr. Murder” can be adapted. That’s another project that we have with Victor, but then I think subsequently, getting into “Breakup at a Wedding” also kind of derailed our focus on “Mr. Murder” for the time being. It’s something that we always have there and “Lucid” is in active development, which he wrote, and we’re still working on that and are working with Warner Brothers on a loose sort of adaptation of “Lucid.” That’s something that’s in the hopper for sure, but I just think that as the company grows, it needs to be sensitive to where it’s being taken by experience and by opportunity. Our enthusiasm has really been embraced and really supported as an independent feature film company. For the time being, I think that’s where most of our focus is going and will probably continue to go. I’m really interested in actively developing television as well and finding someone that we can bring on board to help us with that as a goal in the next year, I would say. Yeah, it’s just about trying to keep all the balls in the air and all the plates spinning with growing your own company, but I feel like we’ve been really supported and really embraced in a lot of ways, and I’m so grateful for that, so I’m just trying to make sure we really seize that momentum and continue to move forward with the kind of integrity that brought us here in the first place.

CS: That’s great. So you mentioned that you’ll be performing on stage in New York soon, so is that daunting to commit to doing that for a while vs. making films and television? When are you actually starting your run?
I start rehearsals in August and then I start performances in September. It’s a production that I’ve done already. I went up to the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge at the beginning of the year and I spent two and a half months working on this play there, so it’s a production that’s being brought into Broadway from the American Repertory Theater, so I’m excited to do it again. I’ve never had the experience of working on something and then leaving it for, it would be five months by the time we come back to it, so I can’t wait. It was a really incredible experience creatively and it’s such a beautiful play and I’m really looking forward to bringing it into the city for sure.

CS: What’s the play called?
“The Glass Menagerie.”

CS: Oh, of course. Yeah, I’ve heard of that one.
All right. (Laughs) I’m looking forward to that. I started on stage. It’s where I learned how to act and it’s where I always promised myself I would return if I had the opportunity. I think part of the reason why I spent 14 years in Los Angeles was to build a career that would sustain the kind of transition to New York commercial theater that in a lot of ways dictated again in many ways like film and television, sort of by revenue and box office and all of that stuff. It’s all part and parcel. I felt like I could identify the value of cultivating a career in film and television and then try and parlay that into opportunities back here and that’s now what I am fortunate enough to be able to do. So I want if possible to do a play every season and make it be a part of my career from now on.

CS: At one point you were going to play George Gershwin in a movie. Is that still something maybe down the road you might still do?
Yeah, it’s certainly something that I would do. I mean, I don’t know whether it’s on Steven Spielberg’s roster, but he and J.J. are very close and I would see him a lot throughout the filming of “Star Trek” and he would mention it and we would talk about it, but he’s obviously got a billion dollar company to run and a lot of considerations beyond that specific project. Whether or not he ends up directing it or producing it or someone else comes in to direct it or it’s something he circles back around to as a director, I’m certainly open to it whenever it happens. It was a beautiful script that Doug Wright wrote and a very interesting story and one I would love to tell. I would love to see it come back around, but I haven’t had any specific conversations about if and or when that might happen.

Breakup at a Wedding is available on VOD and iTunes right now.

(Photo Credit: Dennis Van Tine/Future Image/