Writer-director Josh Mond has an interesting arrangement with his longtime friends Sean Durkin and Antonio Campos, who are partners at Borderline Films. While one of the three is writing and directing a feature, the other two are there along the way, producing the movie and offering support in myriad ways. While the trajectory of Borderline Films has, to this point, kept Mond in the role of producer for such acclaimed festival hits as Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and Campos’ Afterschool, he moved into the director’s chair this year with James White, starring Cynthia Nixon and Christopher Abbott. The film has picked up an Indie Spirit nom for Best First Feature, and Mond couldn’t be more excited. “My partners both got the same nomination, so I feel like I’m in good company,” he says.
Mond’s feature directorial debut certainly stands up to those of his peers, and for that, he has various collaborators to thank. Though James White is a low-budget indie with only one major star—the sort of project that would typically involve a long, laborious development process—the pressures of securing financing and reporting to financiers were not Mond’s to bear this time. Producer Max Born handled these duties alongside Eric Schultz, who had corresponded with the Borderline team via email and declared his interest in coming on board. Says Mond, “Every movie is tough to get the financing together for, but we had some real fighters from all of our producers. The movie was made with a ton of love, and it was definitely also in the people raising the money.”
Casting was another area where relationships cultivated by Mond and his partners paid huge dividends. “I’ve known [casting director] Susan Shopmaker since I was like a kid,” Mond says. “She’s done pretty much every movie we’ve ever done, and she’s family.” Shopmaker was crucial in securing Nixon, and also introduced Mond and company to Abbott on Martha Marcy — he’s now a close friend and frequent collaborator. And Durkin and Campos were present throughout production, giving notes and coaching Mond through the process. “I’ve been looking for something to say for a long time, and from the beginning Antonio was encouraging to explore something personal, and so was Sean,” says Mond.
Logistically, James White came together pretty seamlessly, given the support of Mond’s partners, as well as Abbott, who was a presence throughout. Certainly, directing a major star was intimidating—“(Cynthia Nixon) has worked with everybody from Sidney Lumet to Mike Nichols” — but once this awareness faded a bit, Mond found in Nixon a strong advocate and an actress willing to make herself vulnerable in the pursuit of a great performance.
Nixon connected with Mond’s script, about a young New Yorker who tries to keep it together while his mother battles cancer. He lost her own mother only a couple months prior to filming, and she also related strongly to Mond, both being from the Upper West Side. For Mond, most of the challenges were emotional ones, like watching some of the most raw scenes of the film play out in front of him, for example. “It was hard to be vulnerable, but the movie was cast and crewed in such a way that it couldn’t have been a better circumstance for me to let go,” he says.
Mond survived the trial by fire and came out on the other side with a half-dozen major accolades, many more nominations and those filmmaker-to-watch praises. He’s also just as excited about what’s still to come—namely, Antonio Campos’ period piece Christine, and Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes Of My Mother, two films he produced that will debut at the Sundance Film Festival this month.
Speaking to Christine, starring Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall and Maria Dizzia, Mond says, “Antonio is brilliant and I think he’s made something masterful. It’s a really strong, strong film, and I’m really excited for people to see it.”