As a professor and film star, James Franco found himself in a unique position while gearing up to teach his first film graduate course at NYU. Over the years Franco had experienced the ebbs and flows of a studio system, and as a student, had started to craft an expansive list of independent projects far and away from the Hollywood structure.

Combining his knowledge of film commercialism and his studies of high concept literary adaptations, the filmmaker brought his 12 students on a two week shoot in Detroit to film "The Color of Time" based on poet C.K. Williams' work "Tar." The result is a uniformed vision that touches on one man trying to make sense of his memories.

amNewYork spoke with Franco about "The Color of Time" which also stars Mila Kunis as his wife, Jessica Chastain, Zach Braff, and Henry Hopper.

 

What was it like for you to witness your students experiencing this process on such a high level of professionalism?

It was great. In the film world, because it's such a hard competitive business, when you're starting out, you can't help but be focusing on yourself so much, trying to get your work to push forward and get it made. Teaching was a way to take the focus off of myself and help others further their own work, and help find them opportunities to do that.

 

What do you think the attraction is for an established actor to say yes to "The Color of Time"?

I think it's a great experience because these projects are very pure. They're made by film students who are really doing it for the art. They're not yet engaged with all the dynamics of the commercial film world. These experienced actors get to go back to the beginning when they were doing it with wide eyes. I think it was a very rejuvenating experience.

 

You've worked with Mila Kunis several times. How is it creating a large body of work with someone like her?

She became a very good friend and a great collaborator. We just found that we really work well together, both in comedy and in drama. What I like about Mila is that she is not precious. She's a great actress but she has a real kind of carefree attitude about her work. She's not afraid to try things or get dirty. She has a silly side and she's not afraid to show it. That allows for us to have fun and play as performers.

 

A lot of people are comparing this to "The Tree of Life." Was that something you had in mind as a template?

Yes. That movie was a huge influence on a lot of film students and with this project, because both films deal with memory, inevitably there were going to be a lot of comparisons. To me that's fine. I have no problem being compared to Terrence Malick.

 

If you go: "The Color of Time" opens at City Cinemas Village East Friday. The film is currently out on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Video on Demand.