EXCLUSIVE: Acclaimed director Roger Spottiswoode is set to premiere his latest film, “a love poem to New York,” at a time when some have questioned the city’s post-pandemic future.
Either Side of Midnight, which debuts Saturday at the Cinejoy virtual film festival, is “a lyrical celebration of the intoxicating diversity of New York, told through four stories which collide over the course of one Friday night in Manhattan.”
The Canadian-born Spottiswoode has lived in Ottawa, Los Angeles, and the U.K. at various times in his life, but is now based in New York. Either Side of Midnight pays tribute to his adopted home.
“It’s one of those films that has four or five main characters that are sort of woven together,” Spottiswoode tells Deadline. “It doesn’t say it [explicitly], but it is a film about how multicultural the city is…It’s also a kind of love story to New York.”
The film can be seen as something of a retort to one of the city’s most prominent former residents, Donald Trump, who consistently denigrated immigrants during his presidency.
“New York is incredibly multicultural, multiracial, multi-color, multi-language and everybody gets by,” Spottiswoode observes. “They don’t always love each other but they, on the whole, are pretty polite to each other. And sometimes they do love each other…I think there’s a great beauty in this kind of city and New York is absolutely that.”
During Trump’s final presidential debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden in October 2020, he disparaged his hometown as it was hit hard by the Covid pandemic.
“Take a look at New York and what’s happened to my wonderful city for so many years,” Trump commented. “I loved it, it was vibrant. It’s dying, everyone’s leaving New York.”
President Trump was by no means the only one predicting the city’s doom. So did James Altucher, a comedy club owner and hedge fund manager who decamped to Florida during the pandemic and wrote a blog post last August declaring, “NYC is dead forever.” (The piece earned a rebuke from comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who wrote a New York Times op-ed calling Altucher a “putz”).
Spottiswoode strikes an optimistic note about the city, noting the decline in demand for New York office space—which some might cite as a warning of trouble ahead—comes with an upside.
“We’ll figure out how to convert these office buildings into nice apartments and people won’t have to flee,” Spottiswoode says. “Suddenly there’s going to be a lot of less expensive apartments and it will become a city in which people can afford to live…I think all of this could turn around and be a very good thing for New York. And that rather than die out it will have a new and slightly different life, rather a better life because it won’t be so fiercely expensive.”
Spottiswoode shot Either Side of Midnight in New York in October and November 2019, just before Covid emerged and the city morphed into the pandemic’s epicenter. At that point it was relatively easy to shoot there, in something like guerrilla fashion.
“In New York, unlike most cities, if you don’t put anything on the ground and if you don’t stop the traffic and you don’t have trucks and you don’t have extras—you can just live within the sort of New York world—you don’t really need permission most of the time,” he points out. “We use these tiny cameras now that are very good…They look like a little Leica, they’re made by Sony and they don’t weigh anything…and nobody even notices that you’re making a film.”
Either Side of Midnight stars an ensemble cast including Yasha Jackson (The Flight Attendant), Adam Kantor (Billions), Rajesh Nahar and young actor Ishan Gandhi. Spottiswoode went to England to edit the movie, but wanted to return to New York to film one more sequence. But by that time Covid had New York and the rest of the U.S. in its grip.
“I realized I needed one more scene and that of, course, was very hard to shoot. I was looking at [Gov.] Cuomo every day—seeing when the lockdown would end…And July the 15th was the first day we could shoot and that day we did shoot,” the director recalls. “We shot with two actors in Central Park for one day and it took me about 8 weeks of negotiation with SAG, with Central Park Conservancy, who are extremely nice, by the way. To try and make this thing happen was unbelievably complicated.”
Spottiswoode, 76, became one of Hollywood’s most sought-after directors in the late 1980s and ‘90s. He directed Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger in Shoot to Kill (1988), Tom Hanks in Turner & Hooch (1989), Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson in Air America (1990), Pierce Brosnan in the 007 film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Arnold Schwarzenegger in The 6th Day (2000). He also wrote the 1982 Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte hit 48 Hours. Collectively, Spottiswoode directed and/or written films have grossed more than $1.1 billion worldwide, adjusted in today’s dollars.
One of his career highlights came with the 1993 television movie And the Band Played On, about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He earned Primetime Emmy and Directors Guild Awards nominations for the film.
“A fascinating subject, and that connected my documentary roots with my sort of more feature film world,” he notes of the four-hour long film. “I was very nervous about making it, whether it would find an audience, whether one could do it honestly, whether it was possible to tell a story about a very complicated scientific illness that nobody could understand, that we still haven’t solved. That turned out to be an enormously rewarding experience.”
He says he is still motivated by aspects of the filmmaking process that others might find vexatious.
“I’ve got used to trying to do things that I don’t know how to do,” Spottiswoode tells Deadline. “I’m experimenting. I’m trying to find my way, I’m trying to figure out how to make these things.”