When Max Gold ’10 was a young child growing up near the Vassar campus in Poughkeepsie, he loved to watch Walt Disney movies on his parents’ VCR. Now a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, Gold recently assembled a cast and crew in Iceland to begin shooting Beast, his “much darker version” of the Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast.
Gold says the script he wrote for Beast was inspired in part by his love of folklore and mythology that was sparked by one of the first classes he took at Vassar. “One thing I learned in that class was that the Disney version of a myth is rarely the real thing, the way the story was originally told,” he says. “In my treatment of the tale, the heroine, Bell, is fleeing a brutal past, contending with a lot of inner demons.”
The 90-minute feature is the first full-length film for the writer-director, whose short films, commercials, and videos have won several awards. Gold says he chose to make the movie in Iceland for several reasons: the professionalism and affordability of the cast and crew and the breathtaking scenery. “The quality of the production value you get there is enormous; a lot of big films (including View to a Kill, Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) have been shot there,” he says.
Gold hired seven Icelandic actors for his cast, including Hafphor Julius Bjornsson, well known to American audiences for his role as “The Mountain “ on HBO’s Game of Thrones. “I cold-called Bjornsson’s agent, and he was very receptive. When I met Hafphor, I learned he was a big fan of (rapper) Snoop Dogg – he had just taken his son to see him in concert – so we just hit it off,” Gold says.
Gold and the crew shot the winter scenes for the movie over an 11-day period in January. They’ll resume shooting in June when the weather warms up. “I need lots of green in a lot of my scenes,” he says.
Gold lived in Poughkeepsie until he was 8 years old, when his family moved to Minneapolis. His grandmother, Miriam Gold, graduated from Vassar in 1953 and still lives in Poughkeepsie, and Gold says the college was his top choice when he graduated from high school in Minnesota. When he enrolled in 2006, he decided to major in English but he was active in campus theater and comedy groups and landed a job with a video production firm in New York City after he graduated.
Gold moved to Los Angeles about a year later and landed some work by parlaying some Vassar connections, including classmate and actor Ben Palacios ’10 and Jason Kassin ’90, who owns a film distribution software company. “Jason hired me to make some promos and be a copywriter,” he says.
In 2012 Gold was hired by writer-director Nicholas Jarecki to work on the film, Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. “I assisted on editing and other post-production work, and learned a lot about how to be a director – where that job stops and others begin,” he says.
Gold calls making Beast “sort of like getting an MFA degree in filmmaking.” He says he’s been pleased with how the filming has gone so far. “As the writer and director, I have my own point of view, but in the end, a movie is a collaborative effort, and I’ve been lucky to be working with some very good people,” he says. “I’ve learned how important it is to tell your story more through images than with words, and that’s the direction I’ll take with future films.”
Gold has secured some backing for the film from a firm in Los Angeles and ran a successful crowd funding campaign. He expects to finish production this fall and plans to distribute the film late this year. He has written two other scripts he hopes to turn into films. One examines the use of military drones, and the other focuses on one of his passions, surfing.
“I started windsurfing on lakes when I lived in Minnesota, and I try to surf almost every day in California,” Gold says. “It’s a great stress reliever for the business I’m in. When you have a nine-foot wave coming at you, it kind of simplifies your life.”
Photo by Buck Lewis