justin nappi 1

Justin Nappi

Justin Nappi: Producer

Despite his young age, producer Justin Nappi is already forging a successful career with projects like Arbitrage, At Any Price and Adult World. He explains why it’s so important to take a hands-on approach when building a career. 

Talk about making an auspicious start to your career. Launching Treehouse Pictures with producing partner Kevin Turen in 2010, Justin Nappi, 25, has just seen their debut film Arbitrage garner star Richard Gere a Golden Globe nomination and some of the best reviews of his career. Meanwhile, Treehouse’s second feature, Ramin Bahrani’s At Any Price, starring Zac Efron, competed at the Venice Film Festival last September. With three further prestige titles—Adult World, All Is Lost and Are We Officially Dating?—all now in post-production, Hollywood is certainly watching…

Your first film was Arbitrage. How did you get involved?
I was working with a producer on a film in Paris when I was finishing school, and she introduced me to Nick [Jarecki, Arbitrage’s director] in Los Angeles. And through Nick, I met my future business partner, Kevin Turen. We all built a friendship first and then from that, a working relationship. The script was a fantastic script. It’s interesting when you get a writer-director too; you find more of a heart to something. I knew from when I first met Nick he was going to make this movie with or without me. He knew exactly what he wanted.

When you were in university, was producing what you wanted to do?
It was definitely on my mind. I went to a business school before I went to NYU: Hofstra University. I only went there for a year before I realised it wasn’t fully what I wanted to do. I’d lived in New York my whole life; I grew up in Syracuse, New York. My father is an entrepreneur, businessman—he’s into energy, power plants. No one in my family is in the film industry!

So producing is a natural fit for you?
Yeah. We’re very hands-on, Kevin and I. We’re there from the beginning to the end. That’s the easiest way to learn something; I’m very much a visual learner. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the process of putting the little pieces of the puzzle together—is it going to work, is it not going to work? I like to say every film is like starting and closing a business. You execute it differently every time. They’re all different experiences.

What attributes do you need to be a producer?
I think people skills is definitely something you need; there’s a lot of face to face. Being a producer, there’s many different aspects of it, and I guess one of them is the day-to-day communication—always being a sounding board or a voice listening to different problems, whether it be from the director or the crew. Just being there at all times, being accessible, to help in any form and then just having the business knowledge, making sure it all makes sense.

How do you see the business evolving, especially with the economic restraints on independent movies?
The model is changing. I think I’m coming in at an interesting time, where you’re going to see more things like Arbitrage, which showed that the day-and-date model really works, releasing theatrically and video at the same time. You’re going to see a lot more of that. Then there’s Netflix, with [Internet-only shows like] House of Cards. I think it’s an interesting route and I think the studios are looking at that now and reworking the way they go about filmmaking.

Do you have any ambitions to direct?
I’d like to say eventually, but it’s not on my mind really. It’s more about getting projects made; just making great pieces of material. All of our films are different. It’s not like we just do horror films or comedies at Treehouse; we like to do auteur-driven films.

Which is presumably why you got involved with J.C. Chandor, who made Margin Call?
Yeah… Margin Call, the performances were great—and that was shot over very few days; the actors had very little time. And I think he did a fantastic job with that film.

You’re partnered on his new film All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford. Is it really all based around one character?
Yeah. It’s going to be a fun one! Redford went through a lot on that film; it’s literally just him surviving in the water… The script was 40 pages; very little dialogue. As a performance piece, we thought it was a very interesting route to take.

You’ve also clearly set out to build relationships with actors, too. You’re working with Zac Efron on two films: At Any Price and Are We Officially Dating?
Yes, we fostered a great relationship on At Any Price. We became quite close. We’re very similar in age, doing what we’re doing in our careers, so I think that really helped. It was like summer camp, filming in Illinois for a month-and-a-half on At Any Price. So we built a very good relationship and kept in contact. And Tom Gormican’s script [for Are We Officially Dating?] was a Black List script of two years ago. I loved it and I thought it would be perfect for Zac. We were in Cannes last year, and that’s when I first had him read it. He instantly loved it.

What was it about the script that drew him in?
It’s very much a film about the process of growing up and maturing, turning into an adult. He’s at that age where he’s in his mid-twenties and he’s enjoying himself and he’s working very hard. It’s very relatable to him, so I think that really enticed him to want to do the film… And he’s taking a risk, doing the film for cost. There were no trailers on this film.

Finally, what can you say about Adult World?
We shot in my hometown of Syracuse, which was nice. It’s director Scott Coffey, who made Ellie Parker. Emma Roberts is a poet who works in an adult video store. And John Cusack is a professor and poet and he mentors her, teaching her that her crazy goals and aspirations should be subdued—it’s like at NYU, kids are always like, ‘I’m going to be the next director’, without going through the process or the work.

Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 34 (May/June 2013)



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