Robert Epstein,Biography,Howl,Attorney

Robert Epstein Biography

Robert Epstein was born on June 19, 1953. Is an American film director, writer, producer, and editor. He has also won two Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature, for the films The Times of Harvey Milk and Common Threads; stories from the quilt.

He is also one of the co-founders, of Telling Pictures a production company famous for mind-blowing feature documentaries.
Epstein is the current co-chair of the film program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland California.

Through 2003, he served as University Research Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University. He received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1981 from Harvard Universit

Robert Epstein Attorney

Robert Epstein graduated from the University of Toledo in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and received his law degree from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1990.

being admitted to the bar Bob has been involved in commercial real estate leasing and development and the general practice of law in both federal and state courts.

Bob represents clients in the areas of family law, criminal/traffic law, juvenile law, real estate, landlord/tenant law, and probate matters. Bob is counsel for a number of local property/apartment leasing organizations.

Robert Epstein

Robert Epstein And Jeffrey Friedman

In 2019,  Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein were nominated for an Academy Award for their work in the documentary film End Game.

Robert Epstein Howl

Howl is a 2010 American experimental film which features both the six Gallery debut and the 1957 outrageous trial of the 20th-century American poet Allen Ginsberg’s.
It is directed by Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and casts James Franco as Ginsberg.

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Rob Epstein Interview

Erik Anderson: You guys are known for your award-winning documentaries. What made you decide Howl was going to be your first feature?

Robert Epstein: Well, we’ve had other features we’ve developed; this is the first one that got made. We decided to do this film because there are so many elements to it that excited us. It’s a film about an artist, it’s a film about what’s behind the creation of a work of art and how personal that is, how broadly thematic that is, so there’s a whole confluence of things that got us excited about this particular subject. And then the idea of doing something that was pushing the envelope excited us, and using our documentary sensibilities in a different way, dramatizing what otherwise we would have approached as a documentary. We were just creatively very jazzed by that possibility.

EA: Something it reminded me of quite a bit was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Was it an influence on your work and were there any others that had some impact on you guys?

Robert Epstein: Well, that was a key one so that was very astute; I think you’re the first person that’s ever mentioned that. American Splendor, Lenny by Bob Fosse, the way [they] use interviews in Lenny and then several beat films from that decade, Shirley Clarke’s film Portrait of Jason and Robert Frank’s film Pull My Daisy pretty much inspired the black and white imagery in the film.

EA: So with the cast you have assembled, you’ve got some pretty big names with just one single scene. Were these existing relationships with the actors or how was that born?

Jeffrey Friedman: They all came on because they had some connection to the material or to the issues or to the poem or they knew our work. They all came on because they thought it sounded like an interesting project. Nobody came on because it was…no one did for the money [laughs].

BE: ‘Cause there wasn’t any [laughs]. Mary-Louise Parker said her brother read “Howl” to her baby in utero and she described herself as a poetry whore; Jon Hamm said he thought the script was really interesting; so they all came on for what we considered the right reasons. Certainly having those actors on board helped the financing.

EA: What about the process of getting James Franco? Did it start with him?

Robert Epstein: It started with him in terms of the actors, I think. Gus Van Sant read the script and loved it and he was here shooting Milk at the time, as was James. We suggested he give the script to James, which he did, and practically the next day we had a meeting with James. He loved the script and he said, count me in. In that meeting we learned a lot about him we didn’t know before, which was that he was a student of literature, just finishing his degree at UCLA in literature, and that he had grown up reading the Beats, had a great affinity for Ginsberg, was the same age Allen was when he wrote the poem; and we watched a lot of his [Franco’s] work that we weren’t familiar with, particularly the James Dean TV movie he did, and saw the depth with which he was able to portray Dean so we had no doubt he could act the part. So it felt like the right confluence of forces.

EA: Were you guys able to utilize any actual locations?

JF: The courtroom scenes were in a courthouse in the Bronx. The black and white flashbacks were somewhere on location on the Lower East Side, the East Village, Tompkins Square Park and then sets that were created in a townhouse on the Upper East Side. The Six Gallery was recreated in a storefront on 8th Avenue in lower Manhattan.

EA: How much input did Peter Orlovsky have and did he have a chance to see the film before he passed?

JF: No, we interviewed Peter. We met him and interviewed him and his interview will be on the DVD. We interviewed him and a few other people as we were feeling our way into the material. So our conversations with him certainly informed our thinking of the material and one of the scenes, the scene where they’re howling at Moloch, came from a story Peter had told us. But we got the news he was in hospice just as we were finishing the film and we weren’t able to get it to him before he died.

RE: But we did get a letter to him that we know was read to him, where we got to tell him about what was happening with the film and show him pictures of Aaron Tveit playing him and the shots we recreated of the two of them together.

EA: There’s a really great line that Treat Williams’s character has that says, “You can’t translate poetry into prose,” which I thought was a great line considering that you guys are visually making literal the interpretation of this poem. How daunting was it, even though Eric Drooker already had these animations, to try and create something that was quite a literal translation?

Robert Epstein: Well, yeah, we knew it was risky because people have their own internal visualization of the poem and might resist the notion of having it be so specific, but the poem always exists as text, so we quickly let go of being daunted by that notion and likened it to if you take on interpreting a novel, it’s going to be your particular interpretation of that novel, the novel will always exist as will this particular interpretation. This is a particular interpretation of the poem.

JF: And we also wanted the poem to live as spoken word performance art as well as animation so that audiences would be able to experience it in a couple of different ways. So that’s what the Six Gallery allowed us to do.

EA: I read that you were originally making this as a documentary before it became a feature, is that correct?

Robert Epstein: Yeah, but we really just kind of were immersing ourselves in the material. But at a certain point we realized we kind of wanted to shift the thinking around it and that we wanted it to be a present tense film, not a past tense film, and that freed us up to consider all possibilities as to how we might make it present tense. Then we started saying, well, we can work with all of these elements. We do that in documentary, why not do that in a narrative feature? So our philosophy has always been, if you know how you’re using the different elements within a film and you have a real kind of sense of design and control over those elements, you can mix things up.

EA: I think it’s just huge and fun and risky and completely different than anything that’s going on right now.

JF: Well, we wanted…thank you…we wanted it to be different and risky and adventurous because the poem was so revolutionary in spirit and form, so we really, one of our goals was to do something that would resonate with that.

EA: What kind of time period did it take to get this from idea to today?

Robert Epstein: Well, we lived with it for about eight years but it’s hard to quantify that; we lived with it for eight years and shot it in 14 days.

EA: Wow.

Robert Espien: Uh, there you go. [laughs]

JF: [laughs]

EA: Well, that’s a lot of foreplay.

RE: Yeah! [laughs]

RE: It took us a long time to know how to approach it. There were a lot of pieces to juggle.

EA: What’s been the response you’ve gotten from people that knew Ginsberg and were a part of that time?

JF: They love it. They love it, they think it’s, they say it’s uncanny like it’s watching Allen.

Robert Epstein: Yeah, most importantly to us Bob Rosenthal, who was Allen’s secretary for 30 years, who actually brought us the property, stood up after a screening with tears in his eyes and said, “You know, you’ve created your own work of art.” That meant, that meant a lot to us.

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