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Ronald Judkins: Two Oscars For Sound, But What He Really Wants To Do Is Direct

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Ronald Judkins.

Ronald Judkins won two Academy Awards for his sound work on Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park. But these days, the SMU graduate is far more interested in writing and directing. His new film, “Finding Neighbors” screens at the USA Film Festival Saturday. The movie stars Michael O’Keefe as a once-successful graphic designer suffering a mid-life crisis. He befriends a young gay neighbor. Their deepening relationship helps each man overcome his challenges. Judkins told me that he drew on real life neighbors to create the story and shoot the film.

We also chatted about Judkins’ time in Dallas. His first job out of college was at KERA television, and he has fond memories of working with directors such as Alan Mondell, Cynthia Mondell and Mark Birnbaum.  A little digging on line turned up this goofy little gem, “Big D,” an early short that begins with a garbage collector finding a hat, then features a marching band trooping around Dallas and winding up, inexplicably, on top of the Southland building.

Listen to the interview that aired on KERA FM

Finding Neighbors screens at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Angelica Film Center. It’s part of the USA Film Festival.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

On the inspiration for the film….”I was very conscious of trying to tell a story about a guy who was  later in life, trying to recapture his passion.  I wrote the script and I started showing it to people I knew and so many of them would call me and go,  “I’m that guy.”  And when I started getting that response, I started feeling “OK, I’ve hit some pay dirt here. Because I hadn’t seen a lot of movies about people in their mid ’50s, especially men.

You talk about menopause in women. I think men go through something similar. Some of it’s hormonal. Some of it’s depression. But it’s just this whole depressive cycle that I think people of a certain age get into and it’s so difficult to break out.”

On creative crisis v. mid-life crisis….I tend to work in an industry where there are a lot of creative people, I have a lot of friends who are artists, so I’m quite familiar with that creative crisis. I’m also a baby boomer. A lot of us have memories of being in our 20s in the early ’70s or late ’60s and we were part of this youth movement.

We did all think we were going to change the world. And then 30 years go by and you wake up and you go, what happened? What happened to that passion, to those things that were really important to me? How do we reestablish a connection with that passion?”

On the autobiographical nature of the film….A lot of the story is personal.  Just the whole set up of the story  is almost exactly the same as where we live in Los Angeles. On one side of us, we have a middle-age gay couple, and on the other side, we have a married couple, but she is very flirtatious. And the way the movie opens, one of the gay men comes over and accuses Michael O’Keefe of spying on them; that happened to me. And I’ve never forgotten it. So in that way it’s autobiographical.

And coming up against my own self doubt, you know, after getting to a certain age and not having hte success that I thought I would have or wanted to have in a certain area of my career….

On what was still missing, despite two Oscars…. Well, I really wanted to tell my own stories. I wanted to be my own filmmaker. In a way I was somewhat seduced by success doing this other thing. I have no regrets about that.  I’ve traveled the world, worked on amazing films with amazing  actors and directors. But inside, I still had a desire to do my own thing.

On screening his first film, The Hi-Line, for Steven Spielberg…  I was so intimidated when he wanted to see it. I go over to his house and he has a screening room. And I show it to him. But it was so fantastic afterward to have a conversation about the film as two filmmakers, as opposed to me just working on his film. That was fantastic.

On the relationship between creativity and intimacy….I definitely see a connection. Really the story, if I had to reduce it to a single sentence, it’s  about the power of love.  And how love can just unlock people. But it’s also about how you never know where that love’s going to come from. Additionally, when you give it, you never know where it’s going to go. But I just think it’s so transformative in the story, especially the primary relationship, it’s one that you wouldn’t expect, between an older straight man and a younger gay man. And how they do unlock each other.  And it goes both ways. It’s not just about Sam.