Spending any amount of time with director David Gelb has to be the equivalent of at least a month in film school. The Director of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the upcoming “The Lazarus Effect,” Gelb expounds on his early days at USC film school and the craft of storytelling with such a passionate and frenetic pace you want to hold your breath so as not to miss anything.
“The Lazarus Effect,” written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, follows a group of researchers led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who have stumbled on a breakthrough drug that could possibly resurrect recently deceased patients. When a horrific accident causes Zoe’s death, they decide to rush the experiment, bringing her back to life.
As “Lazarus” gets ready for release, Film Slate Magazine was able to sit down with David Gelb for an interview to discuss the value of film school, his amazing cast and directing a narrative film for the first time.
On Film School
For budding young filmmakers contemplating whether they should go to film school or not, Gelb offers this advice: “It’s about building your team and friendships.” For him and the friends he made at USC film school–several who have worked with him on professional projects–he noted the value of having a safe place to work on your craft without having to answer to financiers.
“It’s hard to make it by yourself,” says Gelb, “so it’s important to have support.” He also speaks of his professors as key mentors that championed him and nurtured him to become the success he is today. When asked if he would be where he is today without film school, David answers with a resounding: “no.”
Entering the World of Narrative Features with “The Lazarus Effect”
Almost immediately after film school in 2006, Gelb dove into the world of documentary filmmaking with several projects, including “A Vision of Blindness” and his critically praised film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” So venturing into the world of sci-fi horror may seem like an odd choice.
Not for film producer Matthew Kaplan, CEO of Chapter One Films and former executive of Lionsgate Entertainment. After viewing “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Kaplan was so impressed with Gelb’s creativity and visual style that he knew he had the right man for the job. Kaplan became Gelb’s biggest advocate and fought for him as the director.
Gelb also didn’t flinch for a second when approached with this project. He came into the project with a clear creative vision on not only the visual style, but the underlying premise. He wanted to get away from the traditional horror plot where everyone is scared of a boogie-man and really delve into our most primal fears. Says Gelb, “I wanted to explore the notion of hell not being a physical place, but the hell we create in our minds.”
Working with the Cast
For a debut narrative feature, Gelb could not have wished for a better cast. “Lazarus” stars Mark Duplass, Oliva Wilde and Even Peters (“American Horror Story”).
“He’s one of the nicest guys working in this business,” says Gelb, on working with writer-actor-director-producer Duplass. Gelb admitted at first he was a little nervous, but Duplass’ personality quickly put him at ease and Mark became an equal collaborator.
As for the discerning and graceful Wilde, Gelb could not have spoken more highly on her performance and the importance of her range to pull off the supernatural aspects of this story. “I really cannot emphasize enough how amazing she was and what she brought to this film, said Gelb. “ I just really wanted to emphasize that.”