Creative Quarantine: Writer/Director/Producer John McNaughton

John McNaughton

1. How are you holding up?

I’m holding up pretty well. As I look out my window I am amazed at how quiet and still the city of Chicago is at this moment. Growing up an only child I am used to solitude and in fact enjoy time alone to read, watch films, think, etc. Also to write. I think it may be easier for someone like me who is used to living alone than for those who are now spending an inordinate amount of time confined with those whom they normally share their lives with. Something tells me that divorce attorneys will have a banner year coming out of this crisis. I stay connected to the world online and read scores of news articles, FB posts, etc. and keep in touch with friends and collaborators via social media, email, etc. Mayor Lightfoot has just opened the city to phase 3 of their Coronavirus plan and hopefully I’ll be getting out soon to meet friends and rejoin society and some semblance of daily life as I remember it.

Something tells me that divorce attorneys will have a banner year coming out of this crisis

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

Zoom has become a part of life, allowing for real-time collaboration on some of my projects. I have also been attending Director’s Guild meetings and even a birthday party via Zoom. In terms of storytelling, which is my primary occupation, it’s very interesting to contemplate how much of our current predicament to include knowing and/or hoping that eventually, we will return to life without masks and social distancing, etc. so how much should we include it now in our scripts? I’m working on a story that takes place on an airliner and find the idea of having the actors all wearing masks, at least in the beginning, to be interesting. Especially if they can one by one be unmasked as the action proceeds. But how will a film featuring masked actors age? Perhaps not well so how do we reflect the moment knowing that it will probably be a very different moment a year from now is a very interesting question and also a challenge.



3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I think it’s too early to tell. I believe Zoom will be a useful and constant addition to our lives and methods of working. But much of the adjustments we are making in order to work and communicate are a matter of necessity at this point. What’s clear is that the world has changed dramatically and I don’t believe we will fully comprehend what methods are useful and what will be discarded until we spend some time on the other side of the divide. Since the business of film and television production has stopped almost entirely it’s very difficult to say what it will look like when it starts up again but having read numerous articles in the trade publications and position statements from the professional Guilds it will be a very different environment indeed.



4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

Most are struggling. It’s not a good time for most artists who often have no safety net but I can name two friends who are handling the crisis particularly well. Tony Fitzpatrick came up with the idea of converting various of his artworks into jigsaw puzzles at the same time the Coronavirus hit. I’m not sure if this was by coincidence or design but it proved to be a great idea as puzzles are a perfect pastime for people who are sheltering at home and in need of entertainment and a way to fill the hours. And my old friend and collaborator George Condo has been on a tear in the emerging world of online art auctions. He set a record recently for the highest price ever achieved by a painting in a Sotheby’s online sale and has continued making record sales in the online marketplace.


A Thousand Beautiful Things | © Tony Fitzpatrick

Finally, I recently read an article by the Indian writer, activist and winner of the Man Booker Prize, Arundhati Roy about the Coronavirus crisis in India and worldwide in which she stated, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”


John McNaughton grew up on the south side of Chicago. Before becoming a filmmaker he worked for, Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago Bridge and Iron, Republic Steel, Pullman Bank, Campbell Mithun Advertising and on to carnival barker, silversmith, sailboat builder, bartender, carpenter, and operator of a laser light show.

In 1986, McNaughton directed, co-wrote, and co-produced his first feature film, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. Eliot Stein of The Village Voice named it the best film of the year and it made the ten best lists of both Time Magazine and Roger Ebert.

He then came to the attention of Martin Scorsese who hired him to direct MAD DOG AND GLORY, for Universal Pictures, starring Robert DeNiro, Bill Murray, and Uma Thurman.

Since then Mr. McNaughton has worked continuously directing feature films, TV pilots, episodic television, and documentaries. Among his many credits are, WILD THINGS, for Sony Pictures, starring Matt Dillon, Kevin Bacon, Bill Murray, Neve Campbell, and Denise Richards, and LANSKY, for HBO Films written by David Mamet, starring Richard Dreyfus and Anthony LaPaglia.

Most recently he directed the feature film THE HARVEST, starring Academy Award nominees, Michael Shannon, Samantha Morton, and Peter Fonda.

He is currently working with novelist and screenwriter Irvine Welsh, (TRAINSPOTTING), on an adaptation of his book, THE SEX LIVES OF SIAMESE TWINS, and re-teaming with Michael Rooker on a film version of Flannery O’Connor’s story, A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND.