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Pi In the Sky

Interview ("Pi in the Sky") conducted by Scott Roesch at "Mrshowbiz.Com" concerning Darren Aronofsky's film, Pi.

Hi Darren. How are you holding up?

I feel good. I'm a little tired, but good.

You've said that you hate electronic music, even though it supplies the pulse of your film. Did you still manage to enjoy the rave that was held for Pi the other night?

It was fun. I actually think the DJ did some brilliant work on the turntables. I've learned to respect the music quite a bit since I've been working with the music and listening to a lot of different stuff. There is a lot of interesting stuff out there.

After one of the screenings of Pi, you mentioned a trip you once took to Israel. Can you talk more about that, and how it influenced this film?

When I was eighteen, I graduated high school early, and I left Brooklyn for kibbutz in Israel with the dream of picking avocados in the avocado fields. Well, it wasn't exactly a dream, but I figured since I was graduating high school, I'd travel around Europe and start in Israel. Actually, it turned out I got stuck in a plastic factory instead of an avocado field. I hated it; it was sort of like [Charlie Chaplin's] Modern Times, running between the two assembly lines. I ran away two days later and ended up in Jerusalem with a backpack and no money in my pocket. If you're sort of an assimilated Jew wandering around the Western Wall, these sort of sects of Hasidims descend on you and try to convert you and bring you into the fold.

What sort of tactics do they use?

They basically offer you lodging and food if you take some Torah classes in the morning.

That's gotta be pretty attractive if you've got no money?

Exactly. It's wonderful—you give them two, three hours in the morning and then the rest of the day you can hang out and walk around. And actually, the classes are very interesting. Basically what they do is try and bombard you with a bunch of mystical, extremist Judaism, as a sort of fail-safe to try and make you stay in Israel. It didn't quite work, but I definitely got some good material out of it.

What's the single most important thing you learned over there that may show up in the film?

The whole idea of Hebrew letters as being mathematical, and the idea that you could convert the entire Torah into a long number and do all types of different mathematics with it. I thought that was a very interesting way to approach a text. I returned to America really wired and interested in the subject I had learned and I did a lot of research the first year I was in college [at Harvard].

Did you have any sort of parallel experiences with Wall Street that may have informed the movie?

Well, the thing with Wall Street is that I moved back to Hell's Kitchen [in Manhattan] after a harrowing experience in Los Angeles. I went to film school [at the American Film Institute] for two years, and then a year working for the Man—with a capital M—doing war movies and B-unit on different types of stuff. I came back to New York and when I moved in they had put up that new, beautiful stock ticker, that giant, three-tiered stock ticker. I wanted it in my movie, and it's there. So that was the first initial idea for bringing in the stock market.

The funding of Pi is interesting. You solicited a lot of $100 investments, and then got an infusion of cash from Randy Simon, who's listed as the executive producer?

He's an L.A. guy, and he came in later on when $100 wasn't enough to finish the movie.

I heard about a party he threw last month back in Beverly Hills with all kinds of celebs attending.

Yeah, there was a big, big party he threw, and it was actually the week after we'd gotten into Sundance. He just sort of happened to be throwing a party, and we'd just found out about Sundance, and we thought, "Let's make it a celebration party." So he made up a big banner and stuck up the Pi logo.

How do you, as an unknown, but soon-to-be-known, filmmaker, get treated at that kind of an event, with people like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio circulating around?

Oh yeah, well, I was introduced to David Arquette I guess, but you know . . . I guess I didn't get treated like anything. I didn't really meet any of the celebrities there.

Getting Pi done must have taken a Max Cohen-esque obsession. [Cohen is Pi's main character.] How long did it take?

It was about two years of work. I had been trying to get a film going in New York City, but it was basically a little bit too big for me. Two years ago, I came here to Sundance with a friend who had a film here [Scott Silver, director of johns], and was really really possessed and inspired by the independent spirit here. And it got me extremely juiced up to just go out and do something, because I saw the types of films Sundance was recognizing, and I was really responding to films by filmmakers who were doing what they wanted to do.

Do you have any special facility with math that aided you in the scriptwriting?

Not really; I'm more of a storyteller. I did a lot of math in high school and my dad was a science teacher. But then when I got to college I just sort of didn't do math anymore; I haven't done algebra since. I don't really think Pi is a math movie. The hardest math problem in the film is forty-one plus three, and we give you the answer five seconds later. It's more the sort of hokey-pokey magic tricks of math that we wanted to show off.

You certainly don't want Live Entertainment to market it as "the math movie!"

Yeah, people are like, "How did you make math interesting?" We did it by not getting too deep into the abstract of math and just showing people the cool stuff about it.

What have you seen here at Sundance that you've liked, and how do you rate your chances for an award tomorrow night?

Really, getting into Sundance was our award. We were sort of the underdog film—no budget, no stars. I haven't really seen anything else, so I don't know how we're going to do. But I'm not really looking for a prize. We basically have done everything we wanted to: get recognition, get a distributor, and hopefully [be in a position to] make another film.

When is Live planning on sending Pi into theaters?

They're talking about a summer or fall release.

And what's next on your slate?

I have a sci-fi thriller that I'm interested in doing, a more commercial project, and I have a bunch of other projects I have my eye on.

One more question. The movie you referred to earlier, the one that was "too big" for you. What actually went wrong with that project?

It was a little more autobiographical film; it was a magical realism urban tale set in Coney Island, Brooklyn, where I'm from. It's sort of like The Jazz Singer, in that it was about a fortune-teller who didn't want to be a fortune-teller anymore. It was his grandmother who wanted him to be one. I thought I could've done it for a million dollars maybe, and I couldn't convince anyone that I was capable of doing it.

It looks like you'll have to get used to bigger budgets in the near future. I bet you don't see that as a problem.

Yeah. [Laughs.] We'll see what happens