With a reputation for being innovative and versatile, Dante Ariola made a name for himself directing commercials for the likes of Coca Cola, Nike and Lexus. What began as a substantial career in graphic design morphed into a myriad of film work, including music videos for bands like Cake and Cypress Hill, and a documentary short about wildlife conservationist Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, entitled “Man & Beast.”
This month, he makes his feature film debut with “Arthur Newman,” starring Academy Award-winner Colin Firth and Golden Globe-nominee Emily Blunt – two British A-listers sporting their best American accents here. Firth plays a washed-up golf star that fakes his own death and assumes a new identity, teaming up with a young woman (Blunt) that’s also striving to escape her past. The East Valley Tribune recently caught up with Ariola, who chatted about the film, “Breaking Bad” and why this project seemed right for his debut feature.
Q: I understand that early in your career, you started out doing a lot of graphic design and music-related projects. Could you tell me about your transition into filmmaking?
A: Yeah I mean, basically what happened was I grew up in New York and when I first moved to LA, I had met some people in Cypress Hill and I winded up doing their logo. Then I kind of just fell into doing a lot of local design for a lot of bands. So basically I had a graphics business and then I got a call to do a commercial out of the blue and I’ve been doing that ever since.
Working in commercials, you do learn the craft of filmmaking and I’ve always been a film fan but I didn’t really come to Hollywood to make a film. I was looking for scripts that spoke to me and this was the first one that really did.
Q: What was it about this particular script that appealed to you?
A: I liked the idea of a film that deals with themes of identity and kind of figuring out who you are, you know, and maybe taking escapism a little too far. I thought it was like, basically, if you had a genre, it’d be self-discovery but not like any other movie that I’ve seen. I felt like it had an interesting takeaway but it was just sort of framed in an odd way I hadn’t seen before.
Q: Aside from the scope of “Arthur Newman” being much larger than that of your previous projects, what were some of the challenges you faced taking on a feature film?
A: I think with independent film, the biggest challenge is just giving actors space to really find these characters and find where they need to be in each scene. You’re on a 30-day, pretty tight schedule, and I think the biggest challenge is to make sure the performers don’t feel rushed, even though you are rushing.
Q: Were Colin and Emily already attached when you signed on or did they audition later in the process?
A: No, I was just starting to think about who could play Arthur and I knew that I definitely wanted an actor that had an inherent pathetic quality about him because the character is so flawed and almost unlikable at times. That’s kind of what brought me to Colin and then just to find somebody that he’d have chemistry with.
The two characters are diametrically opposed in almost every way and definitely age being a part of that, if you know what I mean. I wanted to find someone where age wasn’t the main driving factor. It’s not a film solely about an older man and a younger woman, it’s just another thing that makes these two people so different. In regular life they’d probably never be hanging out together, you know?
Q: How would you describe your experience working with them and what qualities they brought to the roles that others might not have?
A: I mean it was an incredible experience working with them. You know, I think we were all making movies for the right reasons and this project sort of spoke to everyone. They had their heads wrapped around who these characters were and how they changed, and they sort of cracked that. They definitely bring a lot to the table and have inherent acting ability, you know what I mean? They’re a director’s dream come true, really.
Q: Were there any films or filmmakers you watched while making “Arthur Newman” that maybe inspired you stylistically or tonally?
A: I mean I think tone is a big part of this film, but maybe just growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. That’s kind of when I got into film, and you know, it’s a little bit slower unraveling of a story, like how films like that used to unfold. I would have loved to see how Hal Ashby would have directed a film like this.
It’s got a little bit of a timeless quality; it was written like 20 years ago and then kind of sat in the drawer. I would say just the pacing of it and the way the story and the characters kind of unfold, it has a little bit of an intentionally antiquated structure.
Q: Any films or television shows that you’ve enjoyed recently or would recommend?
A: I’m curious about what happens in the final episodes of “Breaking Bad.” I’ve been so busy making this thing and working that I haven’t watched as much as I want, but I’m waiting for that.
“Arthur Newman” opens in select theaters Friday, April 26. For more information about the film, visit http://arthur-newman.com/.