Paul Reubens – Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

March 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

Paul Rust – Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

March 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

Patricia Riggen – Miracles from Heaven

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

No matter what your religious background may be, director Patricia Riggen (“The 33”) says her new faith-based film “Miracles from Heaven” is a story everyone can relate to and be inspired by. In the film, Riggen, 45, tells the true story of Annabel Beam, a 12-year-old girl in Texas who many people believe was saved by the power of God.

Suffering from an intestinal condition that did not allow her to digest food properly, Annabel was inexplicably found to no longer have the disease after falling 30 feet from a tree. She later reveals to her parents that after her fall, she visited Heaven. The film was adapted from the book “Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing,” written by Annabel’s mother, Christy.

During our interview, Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, talked about the recent rise in productions of faith-based movies and whether or not a belief in God is necessary to enjoy her new film.

Why do you think we’ve seen more faith-based films hit theaters in the last few years?

I think there are a lot of bad movies out there and a lot of movies that don’t have a meaning or a message. There are a lot of movies that just don’t communicate anything to the audience and don’t make you grow into a better person. I think people really want to have an option to see things that are inspirational and have a good message and that you can take your kids to see. I think people are yearning for movies that have some goodness as opposed to really violent stories.

Do you think it’s your job as a filmmaker to communicate something with meaning to an audience?

Every director is different. I have a lot of respect for all of them. There are a lot of great movies out there in different genres. I, personally, have always made movies that are very optimistic and have a big heart and that are emotional. The kinds of movies I like to make are ones that make you grow and make you learn something. I like to show the good side of human beings, not the dark side. I did that in other movies like “Under the Same Moon” (“La Misma Luna”) and “The 33.” [“Miracles from Heaven”] allowed me to do that once again. This one is particularly uplifting.

What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the Beam family’s story?

The first time I heard about it, I thought it was absolutely incredible. I’m a big believer in things that are unusual and cannot be explained. I think it is part of my upbringing and my culture to believe in miracles. I was very interested in exploring it. I wanted to make sure this event was very rooted in reality and was not a supernatural thing.

Did your religious background play a part in deciding to make this film?

Not really. I was raised Catholic. I’m a filmmaker and a storyteller, so when I see a good story, that is the most important thing for me. That’s why I make all kinds of movies, not just religious movies. In fact, this movie is not very religious. It’s very spiritual. I think it allows anyone from any faith or no faith at all to see it and understand it and relate to it. That was my intention from the very beginning – to really find the universality of the event.

Do you think what the Beam family’s experienced was proof that God exists?

I don’t know if we need to prove that God is real. I think what [Annabel’s experience] proved is that amazing and beautiful things happen in our world. It proves that you must not lose hope. I think [the film] really conveys the message that there is a lot of goodness around us and that we need to keep our eyes open to it.

What would you say to people who don’t believe what the Beam family experienced was a miracle?

I respect that. I think it’s open to interpretation. For some of us it’s a miracle. For others it might be a coincidence or something that happens by chance. That’s fine, too. Everyone is allowed to think whatever they want. The movie allows us to do that. For some people, there could be a scientific explanation to it. I’ve seen people from all faiths watch [“Miracles from Heaven”] and they all have a very emotional, very human reaction to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or not. It’s a very inclusive movie. You don’t have to believe in God to believe that something like this can happen.

Were you disappointed that your last film, “The 33,” did not get a bigger reception? I’m assuming it was released late in the year because the studio thought it might have a chance at awards consideration.

I think the movie might not have come out at the right time. I think it’s a beautiful movie, but I’m saddened by the fact that not many people watched it. I hope it gets discovered later on in its life like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” I hope “The 33” gets a second chance. Like many other movies in the history of cinema, it just didn’t have the right [release] date or the right kind of marketing.

Robert Eggers – The Witch

February 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the Puritan horror film “The Witch,” director/writer Robert Eggers tells the story of a early 17th century family who is forced to find a new home when they are banished from their colonial plantation. After finding refuge on a plot of land, frightening incidences begin to happen to the family, all of which point to the terrorizing forest living beside them.

What drew you to this specific time period, the early 17th century, and what kind of tone were you hoping to create in this environment?

I grew up in New England. Its past is part of my consciousness. It’s hard to go back to New England and feel like it’s not haunted by its past. My earliest nightmares were about witches. I thought I could make a genre film that was personal. I liked the idea of going back to the very beginning of the great migration when New England was extremely primitive. This made the family very vulnerable. That’s a big part of it. In this century, the real world and the fairy tale world were the exact same thing. If I can bring the audience back to the 17th century, then “The Witch” can be real and scary for them. It was about doing everything I could to make that 17th century come alive and make a film that was ominous and dread filled and gloomy.

Was part of the process doing research on old folklore?

Yeah, I did four years of research with historians to make the film accurate. It was interesting reading the source material and to see how the folktales and fairy tales really were the same as real life. I wanted it to feel like an inherited nightmare. This film, in many ways, feels like a dark fairy tale. One of the great things about fairy tales for me – and we’re talking about the pre-Disney versions – is they are unconscious explorations of family dynamics and oftentimes the darkest ones. [“The Witch”] turns it up to 11.

Do you have any concern that Satanist churches have embraced the film and are even holding screenings?

I guess it’s good to have fans. (Laughs)

I interviewed director Tom Six a few years ago when he made the first entry in his “Human Centipede” franchise. We talked about how a lot of people he meets assume that he’s a deviant because of the movie he made. Have you found that people are watching “The Witch” and thinking you are that dark of a human being in real life?

Yeah, I mean, some of my wife’s extended family, when they saw the trailer, called her up and asked, “Are you sure you’re OK living with this guy?” (Laughs)

I think it’s so interesting that some people can’t separate a filmmaker from his or her work. Why do you think that is?

I think people should connect [me to “The Witch”]. This story is super personal. Whether this film is good or bad, it is very much me. I was scared of this kind of stuff as a kid. I walked around terrified and anxious all the time. I think by exploring darkness in my adult life I have control over it. In doing a horror film like this I’m trying to confront the dark side of humanity and take a look at it instead of just shining a quick flashlight on it and running away giggling like a lot of other films do. The dark side of humanity is something you just can’t just push aside.

Where did you find Black Phillip and where is he now? Did you find him a good home?

Ah, well, he’s back on the farm where he came from. [Actor] Ralph Ineson, who plays William, wishes that Black Phillip was in a goat curry. (Laughs) We were originally going to have three goats – a bucking goat, a rearing goat, and a goat that could stand still. But that all fell apart and we ended up with one goat, Charlie, who plays Black Phillip, who really didn’t want to do anything that we wanted him to do. It was actually a real nightmare. As difficult it was to work with him, I’m really glad we had a real animal instead of a CG one. But it was quite the horrific experience.

I know a lot of people who like horror movies, but won’t watch the ones that deal with possession. What do you think it is about that sub-genre that makes people more unsettled than watching the average “monster in the closet” type film?

That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I do think a lot of the times people who have a religious upbringing are affected more with that stuff. I know a lot of people who grew up Catholic and were scarred by “The Exorcist.” A hardcore atheist might not be affected as much.

Talk about casting actors Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw. Those two kids were incredible. What did you see in them that fit so well for “The Witch?”

Well, Anya just seemed like she wouldn’t do well in Puritan society. She also has a really enigmatic quality on camera. You really want to know what she is thinking, but you can’t figure it out. It was very important for the character. And Harvey had a really natural and timeless quality. He was very expressive and powerful. Unlike a lot of kid actors we looked at, he seemed like a real boy. I could believe him working on a farm and helping his father with carpentry. And both of them could speak the language. If you could speak the language of the film, then there was only one audition for you.


Marlon Wayans – comedian

February 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

Actor/writer/producer/comedian Marlon Wayans (“Dance Flick”) will make his stand-up comedy debut in San Antonio Feb. 19 at the Aztec Theater. He talked to me via phone recently about his new venture on stage and about his position on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

Are you excited about coming to San Antonio?

Yeah, I heard San Antonio audiences are unbelievable, so I can’t want to yuck it up with you all and crack you up at the Aztec Theater.

Have you ever been here?

No, I’ve never been to San Antonio. Wait, I’m lying. Yes, I have been to San Antonio. I was there for an [NBA] All-Star game (1996) when Michael Jordan was playing basketball.

Well, you’ll have to come back when the NBA Finals roll through here this year.

Oh, you guys are confident, huh?! You guys get beat by 30 (by the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 25) and you’re going to throw that kind of statement out there?! You get beat by 30 with the Warriors playing like this and you think you’re going to get there?!

I’ll admit [Warriors point guard] Stephen Curry is playing like a madman.

It’s like someone mixed Reggie Miller and Cheryl Miller together.

I know you went on a comedy tour with your brothers last year. How does going solo feel in comparison?

It’s different. I love working with my brothers. It was a lot of fun, but sometimes working with four different personalities makes you see why a group like New Edition broke up. There’s only one Bobby Brown in the group. In our family, we got four Bobby Browns. Honestly, I like [going solo] because I have room to grow – to be on stage by myself and learn how to do an entire show and really rock with my point of view.

What is the secret in telling a good joke?

It’s the setup and the windup and the payoff. There’s the physicality of the joke and telling the joke and then animating the joke. You have to make sure you’re giving it a voice and that you’re in character. When you do characters, you have to make sure [the audience] doesn’t see you. In a show, you have to take [the audience] to different levels. Sometimes it’s not even about the joke, it’s about the statement. If you get them to listen, you can make them laugh.

Some stand-ups I’ve talked to say it might take 25 years before they really know what kind of comedian they are on stage. Do you think you’ve found your voice already?

I think I’m getting there. I have a voice, but I don’t have a style. I’m just honest. I’m a performer. I’m getting my standing ovations, so I feel like I’m getting close to being special, but I’m not special yet. I’ll be special when I look at myself as my own therapist and break that down and make that funny and relatable to the audience. Right now, I’m only good at telling jokes about other people and about other situations. I’m starting to understand how to really talk about me and my life and my damages and all that stuff. It’s like peeling away the layers of an onion. The more you peel away, the closer you get to the tears. Then you gotta take those tears and transfer it out and make people laugh at your expense.

How much of going into stand-up was because you wanted to do more research for the role of Richard Pryor you were auditioning for?

That’s what sparked me to do stand-up. I tried it when I was like 17 or 19. I never stuck with it. I got tired of doing the same bits over and over. I didn’t want to be a comedian. I wanted to be an actor. My brothers were all comedians. I wanted to take a different road. I wanted to travel a different way. I didn’t want to be what my brothers were. I love my brothers to death, but I didn’t want to be them. I always wanted to be me. I am a Wayans, but I’m really working on trying to be Marlon. So, I went on my own path and tried acting class. So, while they were doing stand-up, I was in theater class. But when I got the [chance to play] Pryor, the method actor in me is the thing that made me go onstage. Something happened this time around and I fell in love with stand-up. It’s funny because I wound up not getting [the role of] Pryor, but that’s the best thing that happened. I started out wanting to play a great, and now I want to be one. God don’t make mistakes. I know that wasn’t supposed to happen, but it was in the cards.

You’re new film “Fifty Shades of Black” just came out. Why do you think a movie like “Fifty Shades of Grey” lends itself so well to getting spoofed? What makes sex so funny?

I think sex is funny because we all do it. We all have odd things that we do, honestly. We’re not always the best in bed. There are situations you go through that people can relate to. The more serious the topic, the more it lends itself to jokes.

Are there any example you can share of how one of your own sexual experiences turned out to be funny?

Too many. I remember when I was younger, I was trying to be Mr. Smooth, so I laid out a blanket and lit some candles to make love in the backyard. I was kissing the girl and she was like, “I’m hot.” I was like, “Yeah, I can do that sometimes.” Then it started getting really hot and I looked back and the blanket was on fire.

What is your take on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy? Where do you think the root of the problem is when it comes to the lack of diversity in this year’s nominations?

I think it’s a collective problem. You can’t point the finger and just say, “Hey, Academy, you’re not doing this or that.” There’s a bigger problem. The bigger problem is that they’re not producing enough films with decent enough budgets to film spectacles. We’re so busy entertaining as African American filmmakers. We’re trying to be entertaining. The stuff the Academy likes is entertaining, but it’s something different. It’s more on an epic scale. The messages are very subliminal. Our audience likes big, fun movies. We go [to the movies] to laugh and enjoy movies. Critics don’t matter. My audience loves my movies. That’s who I make my movies for. The day I start making movies for the critics and for the associations and for the Academy, that’s gotta be something I can do on my leisure. We can’t afford as black filmmakers not to make movies that make box office. We ain’t trying to make no art movies until the audience can come support us no matter what movies we do. It’s not a black and white issue. It’s a green issue.

Do you think African American producers, directors, and writers have a responsibility to create work for African American actors that has a better chance of getting award recognition?

I think we all have to make the effort. I can’t put it all on African-Americans. We have to make box office, too. But we also have to make sure we diversify and do more than what we have been doing. We need to start producing more movies. I take it on myself as a producer to start trying to advance the kind of movies I make. Maybe for every one or two or three goofy comedies, I’ll go make a serious one – something thought-provoking or something that possibly can be nominated for an Academy Award. It’s on us as well. It’s all of us collectively coming to the table, coming to an understanding, getting the budgets we need, and going out and executing. I think we’re too far past the days of the boycott. I think that recesses all the advancements that we all have achieved over the years.

It sounds like you’re open to the idea of making something different than what you’re used to.

I make comedies. If you look at the Academy Awards, comedies rarely get nominated. What the Academy thinks is funny is not what my audience thinks is funny. It’s two different experiences. Critics never like movies I’ve written, produced, and starred in – in the history of all my movies. My RottenTomatoes score is terrible. But the fans love my movies. I don’t make movies for critics. I make movies for the fans. It’s the same thing with the Academy and the associations. They look at what the critics say. I make films for the audience. If the audience laughs and forgets about the problems they have in their life and take a vacation for an hour and a half, that’s all I care about.

This interview first ran in the San Antonio Current on Feb. 17, 2016.

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