The one-time prizefighting director discusses his return to the movie ring after an extended hiatus.
Motorcycles and movies are Ben Younger’s two biggest passions, but it’s been over a decade since the now 44-year-old New Yorker indulged his love of the latter. Back in 2000 his testosterone-fuelled financial thriller Boiler Room was being talked up as the most exciting debut feature in years. Now he’s back from the wilderness with a new attitude and a new film, the punchy, crowd-pleasing Miles Teller vehicle Bleed for This. Just don’t call it a boxing movie…
LWLies: You’re over in the UK scouting for a film about the Isle of Man TT Race. As an adrenaline junkie, did a boxing movie just feel like a natural fit?
Younger: Boxing doesn’t do much for me, I’m not a fan. But I don’t really regard this as a boxing movie. I was actually just looking for something I could write, I wasn’t thinking about directing again. I’d taken some time off to get my pilot license and I was working as a chef down in Costa Rica, doing some surfing, and I heard of this guy’s story. It just seemed interesting to me.
There have been a few high-profile boxing movies in the last year or so. Why now?
I suppose. Southpaw is unwatchable though. And I didn’t really care for Creed. My approach was: don’t treat it like a boxing movie, just treat it like an all-time greatest ever comeback story. Raging Bull is the one for me, but again I wouldn’t call that a boxing movie.
Scorsese was an executive producer on Bleed for This. How did that come about?
He called me in to talk about Boiler Room a few months before Wolf of Wall Street came out. He told me that he had used Boiler Room as reference material. It was one of the best days of my life. And then he asked me what I was working on. So I gave him the pitch, he got excited. He asked if he could read the script, so I gave him the script. Then he called me two weeks later and it just went from there. When we were making the film he was shooting Silence, so I didn’t really see him after that. I hope no one compares the film to Raging Bull though.
Is it right that you made this movie for less than Boiler Room?
Yeah. It was fucking nothing, man. And we didn’t even get the amount we needed for the 26-day shoot we had scheduled. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just some accounting mix up with Rhode Island, the amount of tax percentage that you think you’re getting or some bullshit. So I stupidly put my whole salary into the movie, and I ended up having to borrow money out of my mom’s 401k. That’s not a good look.
Is it your job to make the most out of whatever budget you have?
That’s the funniest thing, ’cause you piss and moan and fight for more money, but if they had given it to me the movie wouldn’t have been half as good. At the time you feel like you’re making a huge concession. You fight tooth and nail for what you think you need but in hindsight you’re often wrong.
How much of directing is about managing egos? Your own included.
It used to be the case a lot more so when I was young. I was combative and pretty insecure back in the day. Insecurity is the biggest breeder of the ego.
So why the break?
I felt like I could take five years between movies, like I was fucking Terrence Malick or something, and I put all my eggs into this Isle of Man TT movie basket. It was and still is my passion project, but if you’re a young director in Hollywood you need to have four or five projects on the go, minimum. You can’t just take your time and only make the thing you want to make. I found that out the hard way.
What kinds of films do you want to make going forward?
After the Isle of Man project I’m going to make a movie about the prison system in the US. It’s about the privatisation of the federal prison system – a young woman wrote it, and it’s fucking cut-throat, man. Oh, and another film called Sexed, about monogamy in America. And a western, called 17 Bullets. Hopefully that will keep me busy for a while.
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