Meet Julian Marshall, the 22-year-old director of “Obey the Giant”, a film based on the earliest controversy Shepard Fairey courted as a design school student.
By Kim Hana
If you’ve watched and enjoyed the Obey the Giant movie, surely you’re curious about the person who gained access to the early life of Shepard Fairey and earned his approval to make a film based on it. So we dial in to New York where Julian Marshall, the 22-year-old director of the film, is based, to have a chat about the movie, his love for skating, snowboarding, and the big screen.
Hello Julian. Tell us more about yourself.
I grew up in Washington DC. I love skating and snowboarding. I started making films shooting skate and snowboarding videos. I entered RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) in 2008 and graduated last Spring. I then moved out to New York in 2012.
How did you decide on the subject matter of this film?
I worked for Shepard in 2009 and at the end of my internship, he gave me a couple of posters including the Obama Hope one. As I was brainstorming ideas for my film thesis, I looked up at my wall and saw the Obey posters. I decided to base the film on Shepard’s life as a student at RISD. What better story to tell as a RISD student than a story of another RISD student? I pitched the idea to Shepard’s wife, she told Shepard about the film and he loved the idea. They told me to come out to LA to talk more about it.
What was the process that went into the making of this film – from the time you decided to make it to the time it got released online last week?
I brought out a buddy of mine, wrote the screenplay, we raised funds, brought a crew – the one that did Moonrise Kingdom (a film by Wes Anderson) We shot the movie last February. I then cut the film in order to graduate, and I re-cut it again for the online release.
So Shepard Fairey knows this film exists. What are his thoughts on the film?
Shepard likes the film quite a bit. There are a couple of things we got right – things that were nostalgic to him that he really liked.
Did he want to have any creative authority over the film?
He gave me free creative control. He wanted an impartial look into the story.
The film is your graduating thesis. What grade did you get for the film?
I got a grade for the whole year.
You must have gotten a good grade then?
Yeah, it was a good grade.
What was your life like as a student at RISD? Were you anything like Fairey as a student?
There are parallels between Shepard’s life and mine. The challenges of art school are all the same. You have to make work, present to your classmates, there is a critique on it, there’s a level of competition. I’ve been through the same experience but I wasn’t a rebellious student.
In the film, Fairey’s friend, Jonah said, “The only thing that matters is people know who you are.” How do you feel now that people know who you are and you’ve made your mark on the world through this film?
A lot of art can be about getting attention. Most artists want some form of attention and recognition – whether they like it or not. I like it because it makes it easier to make films now.
What can we expect from Julian Marshall next?
Right now, I’m working on a new film which I can’t reveal too much about except that it’s set in the not too distant future. It deals with issues of gun control, cyber warfare, and other issues that we’re on the brink of.
Ideally how would you like the movie-going experience to change in the near future?
The movie-going experience has changed. People don’t go to the movies anymore, more people are watching movies at home. I like to see things projected big – hopefully we can move back to that. A return to the traditional principle of cinema.
What’s your favorite film of all time?
Apocalypse Now. Both because of the film itself and the making of it. They spent 200 days shooting in some of the craziest jungle conditions imaginable. Martin Sheen thought he was going to die making it; Francis Ford Coppola put all his money into it… It was a film that had to work.
You’re an avid skater. What’s your favorite brand of sneakers?
At the moment: Supra and Lakai.
Finally – style or substance?
You need both. A film that’s all style and technique and no substance is meaningless; and a film that’s all substance but has no style is gonna be boring.