You probably had never heard of Josh and Benny Safdie before this weekend. Though the brothers have been making shorts and feature films for the last ten years, none of them had a movie star, so without that vital component they might as well have been released on Mars.
However, that doesn’t mean their movies aren’t good. In fact, the Safdies’ past features “Daddy Longlegs” (2009), “Lenny Cooke” (2013), and “Heaven Knows What” (2014) are critically acclaimed works that showcase the incredible talents the brothers have as storytellers.
And that’s what caught Robert Pattinson’s eye when he saw a production still of “Heaven Knows What,” then watched the movie, and sought out the brothers about working together.
That has led to “Good Time” (currently in select theaters, nationwide August 25), a heist-gone-wrong movie that uses the pulpy feel of the genre to explore major themes, ranging from racial profiling to the prison industrial complex.
But its biggest triumph is the explosive performance by Pattinson as the movie’s lead, Connie. His transformation into a Queens criminal has given the movie a thrust into the mainstream, and with that, a higher profile for its directors.
The rewards have been life changing for the brothers. They walked amongst the legends in the South of France when “Good Time” had its world premiere in competition at the esteemed Cannes Film Festival earlier this year; they have done the top-flight interviews to promote it, like Charlie Rose; and now the Safdies are taking calls from major stars and Hollywood executives who want the same magic they sprinkled on Pattinson.
“Rob [Pattinson] had a desire to get deep with a project and he looked to us and felt some type of connection to us,” Josh Safdie told Business Insider. “Immediately it changed our budget, it changed everything.”
It was only a matter of time before the Safdies started working with Hollywood talent. At the time Pattinson came calling, the brothers were in the middle of getting their long-developed project “Uncut Gems” off the ground, and were chatting with Jonah Hill to play the lead. Set in Manhattan’s Diamond District, the project has Scott Rudin attached as a producer, Martin Scorsese as an executive producer, and A24 (the company that released “Moonlight”) as its distributor. The latter happened after the Safdies made “Good Time.”
But Pattinson’s enthusiasm to work with the brothers made them halt work on “Uncut Gems” (which because of Hill’s busy schedule was easy to do) and decide to build a project from scratch.
Taking ideas from a project the brothers’ cowriter Ronald Bronstein was unsuccessful in trying to get off the ground, and Josh Safdie’s interest in making a movie with a bank robbery, they pitched Pattinson a story about a guy who tries to reconnect with his brother (played by Benny) after a stint in prison — which leads to disastrous results.
And thanks to Pattinson’s involvement, the movie features things the brothers never had access to before. They got aerial shots from helicopters, and permission to shoot in a bank and a shopping mall (in their previous movies they often “stole” shots around New York City, not having the budget to pay for permits).
“Someone asked us after ‘Daddy Longlegs,’ ‘What would you do with more money?’ and we were like, ‘We would make a bigger paper tornado,’” Benny Safdie told Business Insider. “We just want more and more.”
The Safdies admit, though, that the reason many of their previous movies didn’t have traditional roles, like an assistant director or a script supervisor, wasn’t because they shunned the mainstream. They just didn’t have the financial resources. With “Good Time,” the brothers feel it showcases what they can offer general audiences, when combining a respectable budget with their own unique talents. (The Safdies didn’t give an exact number for the budget, only that it was “way more” than their previous movies.)
“Hollywood, in large, has really embraced this movie, and really important, powerful people love this movie because I think for $200 million they can’t buy what we did,” Josh said. “You have to know how to do it and that’s a specialized skill and that’s greater than CG. I think 10 years of filmmaking is starting to show in our work.”
Now the brothers are enjoying the rewards. When “Good Time” premiered at Cannes they spent their stay on the movie’s financier’s yacht. They said the phone has been ringing constantly with top actors and executives. They want the experience the brothers gave Pattinson.
But the brothers are staying level headed about their new fame. They said they have already turned down a big budget movie offered to them because “it just wasn’t right.” What they really want to do, other than get hired to do the next big movie, is come in with ideas that launch the next Hollywood trend.
“I want to be the termite in there,” Josh said. “We are trying to reinvent this idea of what can be populous cinema. What can be pop culture. Movies. TV shows. There’s a lot of ideas that we have that once we figure out a way in, we can start exploring.”
Next for the brothers is “Uncut Gems,” which they plan to start shooting early next year. They said they would never have been able to pull off their plans for the movie if they didn’t make “Good Time” first. But Pattinson’s performance also showed Hollywood actors the type of dedication the Safdies expect when you sign on.
“Working with Rob sent a message to the industry saying we are willing to play the game,” Josh said. “We are willing to work with the people that you guys have anointed as stars, and we’ll work with them. And not only will we work with them, we’ll do it in a way that will be so satisfying to them, that other actors will want to do it. We’re seeing that, but Rob set the bar high.”