John Carroll Lynch – Lucky

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

For actor John Carroll Lynch, stepping behind the camera as a director for the first time in his 25-year career was an aspirational move. He’s always been attracted to storytelling, but storytelling from a filmmaker’s perspective was something that intrigued him on another level.

“As a director, you’re no longer attached to telling stories just with the physical body that you’ve been assigned,” Lynch, 54, told me during an interview at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year. “It frees you from those bodily constraints.”

In “Lucky,” his debut film as a director, Lynch, who has starred in a number of high-profile films in his career, including “Fargo,” “Zodiac” and “Shutter Island,” takes that ambition and proves himself to be a talent to watch as he evolves in his career. “Lucky” stars the late Harry Dean Stanton in his final film role as the title character, a 90-year-old atheist taking a final spiritual journey in the small dirt town he lives. It’s a perfect farewell for Stanton, who passed away in September at the age of 91.

During my interview with Lynch in March (Stanton was scheduled to also be at the interview, but had to cancel), we talked about his time with Stanton on the set and what he learned from other directors going into his first film project.

Was making a movie something you’ve always wanted to do?

I am an ambitious man and I have to deal with that in some way. I felt for a long time that I wanted to try this. This opportunity came in a way that was unexpected. In a miraculous way, it came together in such a fast period of time. There were such an amazing amount of yeses based on Harry Dean’s participation. I will always be grateful for that.

When you’re 90 years old, do you want to be like Lucky?

Well, I’d like to be 90. There’s a famous story I heard about Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrating his 80th birthday. Somebody told him, “Maybe you’ll live to be 100.” Then somebody said, “Who would want to live to be 100?” Without missing a beat, Eisenhower said, “The man who is 99.”

Talk about Harry in this film. He is a revelation.

The story is based on his life. It’s a fictional story but it’s inspired by his life. What I love about the script is that Lucky is not thinking about his mortality for the first time. He’s thinking about it for the last time. He also finds a certain sense of community he never thought he had before. He’s been in this little town and supported by this little town, but then suddenly he realizes there are people that care. I love that about the script. Harry Dean has such a presence. He requires from everybody a level of truth and honesty when they act with him. That’s aspirational for most people.

How do you direct something like that?

It was particularly challenging in this circumstance because this was his life. He had a personal stake in it. So, he had strong opinions because he had a strong personal connection to the material. One had to say to him, “Yes, this is a story in your life but this is Lucky saying it, so let’s create the construct of Lucky.” That was a tricky conversation to have because Harry doesn’t believe in acting at all. It’s an ironic thing because he is one of the best actors around. It’s kind of like not believing in music when you can play the guitar so well.

So, acting comes naturally to him at this point of his life?

I don’t know that it comes naturally to him. I just think that he forgot that he learned it. He’s done 236 films. I imagine that any master artist at the level that he’s at and at the age that he’s at knows what he knows. It’s like breathing.

So, it’s not Lucky you aspire to be, it’s Harry Dean.

I would like to be like Harry Dean. That I would like. I’d like to be as peaceful in my heart as Harry Dean is in his heart. He’s fiery in every other way, but in his heart, he is peaceful.

Is Lucky alone or lonely in your opinion?

I think at the beginning of the script he’s alone and suddenly realizes his loneliness. I feel some of that is a construct of the character. I think he sees himself as OK with the loneliness. It’s the American ideal of rugged individualism. I live on my terms the way I want to live. Those are small terms for Lucky. He doesn’t need a lot.

In the film, we learn a little bit about Lucky’s background, but not much. Did you have more of a sense of who he was in the past or was his life meant to be a mystery?

I think the strength of the script is in the specificity of the present. Lucky lives within these stories. There are foundational stories that make up what we perceive ourselves to be. The rest is intimated. Who did he love? Who are those kids? They’re not his kids, but he keeps a picture of them. Those are the mysteries of his personality. The audience is left with a really specific feeling, but not any information. I think that’s how I kind of lived in the story. I was never curious about what the script didn’t say.

You’ve worked with some great directors over the course of your career. Did you borrow anything from them as a first-time director?

Well, first, I spoke a lot to close friends of mine who are directors. Miguel Arteta (“Beatriz at Dinner”) was incredibly supportive and helpful. He was very inspiring. He gave me great advice to read Jerry Lewis’s book on directing. As for those people that I’ve had the good fortune to work with over the course of my career, I took what I appreciate about each of them. Every director who I think is a master who I’ve worked with has these things in common: they are extraordinarily good hosts. They host a set very well. They make sure the set is run smoothly and that the boat is pointed in the right direction. The other thing is that they bring clarity and purpose to what they’re after. They know what they’re interested in. They know what things will get in the way and easily discard them. Those are the things I wanted to aspire to during this process.

Talk to me about the day on the set when the song happens. Was that in the script? (Note: In the film, Harry Dean Stanton sings a mariachi song)

It was absolutely in the script. One of the things that people may not know about Harry Dean is that he’s a musician. Harry Dean also adores mariachi music. There were times when Harry Dean was acting and I’d tell him, “We need another [take]” and he’d say, “What was wrong with that one?” He really didn’t want to do another one. But when he’s playing the harmonica, we would get through three versions of [a scene] and we’d stop and say, “That was great!” and he’d go, “Do you want another?” It was the same with the mariachi. Actually, with the harmonic it was, “Do you want another?” and with the mariachi it was, “Can I have another?” He worked all that day on that scene. It all comes from him.

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

February 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the true-life drama “Spotlight,” director/writer Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) tells the story of the Boston Globe investigation in the early 2000s that led a team of journalists to uncover a sex abuse scandal that reached the highest levels of the Catholic Church. McCarthy, 50, was nominated for two Academy Awards this year for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. I spoke to him this week about “Spotlight” and whether he think his film has made an impact on the way the church operates.

“Spotlight” was released on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 23.

“Spotlight” is the first film you’ve directed that deals with real-life events. Did that put added pressure on you as a director and writer to not let people down, whether it was the victims or the journalists?

When you take on a project like this, you develop relationships with people like reporters and editors, but also some of the survivors. It does add a burden of responsibility to get the story right and to make the storytelling feel authentic.

Now that awards season is almost over and you’ve been able to process the film even more, do you think “Spotlight” can be the type of film that brings closure to this story or do you think it has drummed up past pain that people are still trying to put behind them?

Well, I don’t think it’s a question of past pain. I think this is still a problem that is playing out within the Catholic Church. The Vatican screened [“Spotlight”] just last week and the discussions were still going on there. I think that’s exactly why we made the movie, so people could understand that this was not just something we were drumming up from the past. It’s something that is very much still playing out. Hopefully this film will help continue the dialogue. We’re not condemning anyone. This happened. We all know it. What can we do to make sure it never happens again? That will come through action and transparency.

Do you think that transparency has been taking place in the Catholic Church since the scandal was revealed?

I don’t think we’ve seen enough action or transparency yet. Just last week, this council that Pope Francis put together (Vatican Commission on Sex Abuse) had two survivors on that council. One of them (Peter Saunders) had been speaking up to the press a lot saying, “Hey, we have to be more transparent and let everyone know exactly what we’re doing. We have to let the Archdiocese know if there is a bad priest in their midst.” Unfortunately, they removed [Saunders] from the council, which doesn’t really send a strong message. It speaks to the way the Catholic Church worked in the past. We’re hoping Pope Francis starts putting things into action. The church is a very big and old institution, so I think it’s going to take time.

Moving forward in your career, is “Spotlight” the kind of film you think you’ll be able to completely let go of? What I mean by that is do you feel like you have a responsibility to continue talking about the topic or are you the kind of filmmaker that wants to start a new film and put past projects to the side?

A little bit of the latter. I’m not an expert on this. I probably know more than most people because I’ve spent the last three and a half years of my life immersed in it. I take that very seriously. Certainly, many of the relationships that I’ve formed throughout I’ll continue to be involved in. But ultimately I feel like I’ve done my job in making the movie and telling the story. The movie will continue to live on and I’ve got to get on to the next project. But sometime over the course of the next couple of years if I’m asked to speak or attend fundraisers or social action campaigns, I will stay involved in that way. But I do feel like I have to get on to my next project.

“Spotlight” has been given a lot of credit for not hero-worshipping the journalist characters and turning them into saviors. How important was it for you as a storyteller to make this decision and present these characters as flawed human beings?

Just like everyone else in the film, they are authentic characters. Reporters, like all of us, are flawed. They’re human. I think we were trying to capture that. In doing so, you see how difficult high-end investigative journalism is. To really get it right, it’s very tricky and takes great commitment and support. I think, ultimately, this movie champions that. It champions investigative journalism on that level and the impact it can have. But at the same time, these are people, just like you and me, who are just doing their job and doing it at a very high level.

I come from a newspaper background, so I’m a little bias when I say that the procedural elements of the film were extra fascinating to me. What surprised you about the way journalists work on a daily basis?

I think it’s the details. I think this movie celebrates the craft of journalism. Maybe it’s all in the bits and pieces and how every little piece of information can really unlock an investigation and how detail orientated it is and how tedious it can be. Ultimately, I think what I was most fascinated by was the spirit of the journalist and their commitment to finding and revealing the truth. It’s incredibly noble and honorable in my mind.

You’ve made five feature films in the last 12 years. Do you see any kind of connective tissue between them, whether it’s thematically or stylistically?

Stylistically, I think it sort of speaks for itself. I’m trying to find humanity in the films and let them feel as authentic as possible. Thematically, it varies, but in my movies I feel like I’m dealing with some sort of outsider and the impact they can have on the community. In this particular case [in “Spotlight”] it was [editor] Marty Baron coming to the Boston Globe from Miami and on Day One setting a course for this incredible investigation. So, again, another outsider and the impact he can have. Thematically, that’s what I was interested in.

Andrew Haigh – 45 Years

February 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his new drama “45 Years,” British director and screenwriter Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) tells the story of Kate and Geoff (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), an older couple who is about to mark their 45th wedding anniversary with a grand celebration. When Geoff receives a letter revealing a heartbreaking event he experienced before he met Kate 50 years prior, both he and his wife must come to terms with the news and figure out a way to put it behind them.

“45 Years” is adapted from a short story called “In Another Country” by David Constantine. Rampling was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Kate.

During an interview with me last month, Haigh, 42, talked about how he confronted the love story between Kate and Geoff and whether being a filmmaker who is gay presented any interesting challenges. We also talked about the casting of Rampling and Courtenay and what similar attributes he saw in both of them.

When did you first read David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country,” and what about it resonated with you to adapt it into a feature film?

I read it when I was editing my last film [2011’s] “Weekend,” so it was quite a long time ago. A publisher sent me a collection of his short stories. [“In Another Country”] is probably like 11 or 12 pages. There was this central idea that was fascinating to me. It stayed in my brain and played around in there. It felt like a really good way to tell a story about a relationship and how we understand ourselves within relationships and how they can be more fragile than we think they are and how we can never really, truly know someone. It was a really great thing, especially coming off making “Weekend,” to tell another story about relationship, but tell it from the opposite end of the spectrum.

Your first two films – “Weekend” and “Greek Pete” – could be categorized as gay cinema. You’re a gay man yourself. Did making a film about a heterosexual couple present any interesting challenges?

Not really. To me, I never really thought of myself as making only gay cinema. In the end, there are more similarities between gay people and straight people than there are differences – when you start to look under the surface of things. I never felt like I had to change my mental understanding of relationships. Fundamentally, our concerns as human beings are pretty much the same.

Do you try and avoid getting categorized as a gay filmmaker?

I suppose there’s not much you can do about it. (Laughs) People decide to call you what they’re going to call you. I see that all the time. The world wants to put people in boxes. I don’t mind if people call me a gay filmmaker. I am gay and I am a filmmaker. But it’s almost like you have to ignore that kind of thing. There’s no point in me fighting against it. My films come from me, but they’re not always about gay subject matter. You learn to live with how people want to define you. You just do your best to try and stay truthful to yourself.

You’re in a relationship yourself. I’m not sure if you’ve been with your partner for a long time, but did that help develop the characters in any way in “45 Years?”

Yeah, I think when you’re in a long-term relationship you can’t help but use elements of that when you’re telling a story. I think it certainly helps. I think it’s fundamental. All of us are looking to be with someone – or most of us are anyway. As human beings we strive not to be alone in the world. Relationships become an important part of us.

What kind of relationships are you exposed to the most in your life? Do you hang out with married couples? Single people? Is there anything that links them together?

Yeah, I think I see a variety of different relationships. I see people who are married and not married and younger and older or divorced and still together and not together. I see a nice complexity of relationships. I think the thing that links them all together is that they are filled with people who are trying to make the best of their lives and trying to be happy. They’re trying to find what works best for them and trying to find someone they can be with and understand and who can understand them. There is a vast array of relationships in the world, but I think, fundamentally, they all come from the same place.

Did you do any kind of research on long-term relationships by talking to older couples who have been together as long as Kate and Geoff in “45 Years?”

Not really. I didn’t feel the need to go talk to people that have been together. Whether you’ve been together for five years or 10 years or 20 years or 30 years, I don’t know how fundamentally different that is. So, I was really just trying to understand these characters I was writing and trying to feel what they would feel rather than having to talk to people about relationships.

Talk about the casting process in “45 Years.” How did you come to bring Charlotte Rampling on board?

I didn’t write the script with anyone in mind. I don’t like to do that too much. You can always end up being disappointed when they say no. We had a casting director and we kept talking about people. Very quickly, Charlotte became someone we wanted to approach. I think she certainly has a very interesting kind of persona and an interesting way of being. She’s a great actress. So we sent [the script] to her. I thought she had that perfect combination of strength and vulnerability as a performer. I thought it was perfectly suited for Kate. I spoke to Charlotte and we had a long conversation on the phone. She agreed to do it very quickly.

And Tom Courtenay?

Well, we wanted to cast Kate first because it’s told from her point of view, but we found the perfect male lead to work alongside Charlotte with Tom. We sent [the script] to him and, like Charlotte, he had that very interesting combination of strength and vulnerability that makes sense in their relationship.

Did you hope Charlotte and Tom did anything on their own to get ready to play this couple in a long-term relationship? Or we you confident enough in their abilities for them to just show up on Day One and be believable as a couple who has been together for 4½ decades?

We didn’t really do much rehearsal. In fact, we didn’t do any rehearsal. I spent some time talking to them both. We talked about what the film was and what we wanted it to be. I don’t necessarily think actors have to live together. You hear these stories about actors in like “Blue Valentine” (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) who lived together and all these sorts of things. I know that Charlotte and Tom were not going to want to live together before they made the film. (Laughs) But they’re great actors and they knew for the film to work, they would have to show the audience that this is a couple who has been together for a long time. We knew that’s how we needed to start the film off. We knew what we had to do to make it work.

Are you the type of filmmaker that likes to explain some of the things that happen in your film or would you rather the audience come to their own conclusion? I don’t want to give too much away, but everyone, of course, is talking about the final seconds of the final scene and what Kate’s gesture really means for the future of her and Geoff’s relationship. Do you care to give us some insight to what that meant?

Yeah, I love the idea of people figuring it out for themselves or just having their own opinions. I think it’s so important. I love the idea that you make a film and it exists. I want people to see it at the cinema and have it take over their brain. I love films that come into someone’s life and then leave that life and you’re left to come up with your own conclusions. Life doesn’t end with a neat, tidy bow. It’s always a bit more messy and complicated than that. I love to try to engage the audience in the film and make them become part of it. That, for me, is the perfect way to tell a story.

This is your third feature film. Looking toward the future, what kinds of stories are you looking to tell?

I’m pretty convinced that, thematically, there will be things that link all my stories even if I’m the only one that knows what that thematic link is. (Laughs) I certainly want to tell different stories. The next project I got is an American-based project set in Oregon. It’s not a relationship story. It’s coming together at the moment, but I’m hoping to shoot that in the summer. It’s slightly bigger in scale and scope, but at the heart of it I think it’s trying to say a similar kind of thing as my other films.

Robert Lemelson – Bitter Honey

November 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

An anthropologist by trade, Robert Lemelson has spent his entire life studying different cultures around the world and observing the human behavior and social conflicts that make the places he visits such an interesting resource for storytelling. In 2006, Lemelson took his role as an anthropologist to the next level by putting his research on film and making documentaries on his subjects. During this time, he has told an array of stories from a young Balinese woman with Tourette’s syndrome to a mass killing in Indonesia in 1965 to Javanese folk dancing.

In his new documentary “Bitter Honey,” Lemelson tackles the subject of polygamy by exploring the lives of families living in Bali. During an interview with Lemelson, we talked about how common polygamy is across the world, how he feels it is viewed in the U.S. and what the different reasoning is behind the number of wives a polygamist decides to take.

Along with 133 other feature documentaries, “Bitter Honey” was recently submitted for Oscar consideration for the 87th Annual Academy Awards.

Here in the U.S., polygamy isn’t a lifestyle most people practice, but worldwide it’s fairly common, isn’t it?

Yes, if you look at it historically, about 75 percent of the world’s society has had some form of polygamy as a valid kinship form. It’s very common everywhere from North and Central Africa through the Middle East and through Southeast Asian and Malaysia and Indonesia where polygamy is legal. That probably encompasses several billion people. Now, that’s not to say all these people in these countries are polygamists. But various forms of polygamy are all over the Old Testament, from Abraham on.

How do you feel polygamy has been portrayed in the American entertainment industry? Do you feel like it has been sensationalized in shows like “Sister Wives” and “Big Love?”

I think it’s probably viewed as a bit of a freak show because it’s unusual and bizarre to a lot of people. I don’t think Americans really know how common it still is.

At its center, “Bitter Honey” is a film about polygamy, but it also explores other themes, correct?

Yes, it’s about polygamy, but it’s also about relationships and power and how culture enters into people lives. Sometimes culture can be quite freeing and other times it can be quite constricting.

So when you look at a U.S. state like Utah where the attorney general just struck down some of the state’s anti-polygamy laws, should that give us an idea of where the U.S. is right now on the topic?

Because it’s a minority of people who practice polygamy, they are generally under and lot of pressure. Even in Indonesia where it’s not common but it’s not unusual, a large number of the population is not in favor of it. It’s a very contentious issue. Indonesia is mostly Islamic and polygamy is more or less practiced by the more conservative or fundamentalist sects there. In the U.S., they might make minor changes to the law and maybe not make it as criminalized, but it’s hard to image a time is going to come in the U.S. where polygamy is going to be considered a legal kinship form. I don’t think that would be accepted by most of the population.

The consensus on gay marriage has drastically changed over the years as we see more Americans becoming accepting of same-sex partners getting married. Why wouldn’t the same happen with polygamy as another form of non-traditional marriage?

That’s a really great question. I think that was one of the arguments when people were opposing gay marriage. They would say things like, “If gay marriage becomes legal, then the next thing people will want is to make bestiality or polygamy legal.” They would put them in the same category. But all societies have their own rules and histories. It’s not a tradition in the U.S. or part of our cultural heritage. Will it change as we get increasing populations from all over the world? I don’t think so.

How do the men that practice polygamy decide how many wives they want? In “Bitter Honey,” one man has 10 wives while another has two. How does that work?

In the anthropological literature, there are two separate streams of thought on that. It goes into the origins of polygamy and under what conditions polygamy arrives. One of the streams is really quite economic. For example, you see in Sub-Saharan Africa, where people are engaged in farming or horticulture, having multiple wives in a family is an efficient thing economically. Women do most of the hard labor in the fields. The women and children who work in the fields create an economic bubble around the family, which increases their wealth. Then there’s a personal or psychological argument that polygamy is driven by male desire to have multiple spouses or sexual encounters. I think that’s a bit more of what we’re arguing in the film. The economic argument doesn’t hold up in Bali where we were. Most of the women were not engaged in farming. Most are selling things at the market or they have other occupations. The women are financially supporting the men. What the film actually highlights is that polygamy for these men is a form of status and male prerogative. It’s like, “If I want another wife or three wives or five wives, I’m going to take them.”

That’s interesting that there seems to be some machismo in their thinking, but at the same time, they’re not playing that traditional role when it comes to supporting the family.

It also goes against this local, cultural reasoning that these men should be taking care of their wives. There is also a lot of gender-based violence and abuse going on that is arguing against the cultural logic of how your supposed to, as a man, treat the women in your life.

Would you say in these cases, it’s almost like another form of slavery?

Yeah, I think some of the women would consider it slavery. For some of the wives, there is a very strong sense of coercion. They really felt forced into the marriage against their will. There are a few wives in the film who felt it was there own interest or desire to be a No. 3 or No. 4 wife. But others felt that it was a form of coercion, in which violence was implicated. But you have to understand, if a woman wants to get a divorce, the children will stay with the husband. She will lose her children. She will lose land inheritance rights and tenure and wealth. As the film shows, they also lose their souls because they are recycled into their husband’s lineage as soon as they’re divorced.

Charlie Paul – For No Good Reason (DVD)

September 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

After 10 years of shooting footage followed by five years in the editing room, filmmaker Charlie Paul had completed his documentary. For him, it was a long, unique experience making “For No Good Reason,” an in-depth look at acclaimed British artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his longtime partnership with American Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. During that time, Paul says, his friendship with Steadman grew into a working relationship.

“After a while, I got to a stage where I had total access to Ralph,” Paul told me during an interview at the SXSW Film Festival where the film made its debut in March. “There were no barriers or guards with him. The end result is that everything in the film is completely honest. It’s as if you were in Ralph’s studio without him noticing you there.”

In “For No Good Reason,” Paul interviews Steadman (and others like actor Johnny Depp and director Terry Gilliam) to create a sense of how important his work is not only as an extension of the controversial words Thompson wrote in books such as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” but to illustrators worldwide. He also uses Steadman’s own incredible drawings to show the influence he has made on others both culturally and historically.

 “For No Good Reason” was recently released on Blu-ray and DVD on Sept. 2.

Were you surprised no one else had made a film about Ralph before you started shooting this film 15 years ago?

Well, naturally, Ralph wouldn’t let anyone make a film about him. The same thing could be said about Hunter [S. Thompson]. These guys are incredibly personal. Ralph had never seen a need to make a movie. It was only our relationship and the fact that I was a filmmaker that I was able to convince him that this was something we needed to do.

Was it easy to convince him?

Well, if you tell Ralph to go north, Ralph will go south. The idea of actually going in and structuring Ralph to make a film was virtually impossible. I think I would’ve ended up making the opposite film I wanted. So, for me, what I had to do was just follow Ralph. So, I was just there with him all the time. Every week I would go and film a session with him. Each session was guided by him. I shot anything he was doing that day. If I arrived and he was drawing a picture of a bird, that would be what we shot that day.

It must have been incredible just to be in his studio and watch him work. Is his workspace as chaotic as I’m imagining?

You know, I’ll tell you, I was rummaging one day around his studio and found some photos he had taken that he had forgotten about. They were photos he took in New York in 1974. These things were under a pile of rubbish. He would’ve never seen them. So, I took them and scanned them and show them to Ralph and ask, “Hey, Ralph, what do you think of these?” Ralph loved them so much he got them into an exhibition and then decided to make a book out of them. It was good for Ralph and for me to be rummaging around in his space. It was really a marvelous uncovering for him.

Is Ralph, even today, still creating work on a consistent basis?

Oh, yes! Ralph paints every day. Almost every day we would film what he was painting. The work that made it to the film had a purpose. Ralph is constantly creating new work. He still potters down to his studio and gets a brush and makes a splat and, before you know it, he’s created a genius piece of art.

Although Ralph stopped drawing political cartoons a few years ago, he’s now doing it again. Why did he stop in the first place?

It’s because he realized that most of the politicians found [his illustrations] flattering. For all his efforts to show the ugly side of the person, they would actually say, “This is great! Can I have it?” He realized he was helping these people by producing this work. But he’s back in it now. He’s working for the New Yorker. He does politicians all the time, but he’s always very skeptical about beautifying these people or allowing them to think they’ve been immortalized by him. But he’s not out to get people like he was before.

During all the time you spend with Ralph, did he ever tell you anything you remember that sort of encompasses who he was as a person?

He would say something like, “I became an artist to try and change the world, and I did change the world because it’s a worse place now than when I started.” That’s how he feels about life. For all his efforts, he feels like he has done nothing to change the world. Before, the world was moving on in a way he was protesting against. It’s like, however hard you try, the world will carry on without you.

Do you agree with his take on life?

Oh, no. I disagree with him entirely. I always tell him, “Ralph, I was influenced by your work and I am trying to change the world as a mirror to what you do. You’ve influenced so many people around the world.” Bu he doesn’t see that. As far as he’s concerned, he’s only wasted his time. But, again, Ralph really is the reason I do my work. Therefore, he has had an influence. I can tell him a thousand times and he would deny it all the way to his grave.

Don Mancini – Curse of Chucky (DVD)

October 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

Bringing Chucky, the possessed killer doll from the “Child’s Play” franchise, back to its dark roots was something “Child’s Play” creator Don Mancini wanted to do for quite a while. Since the last film hit theaters in 2004 (“Seed of Chucky,” which has a more comedic tone like its predecessor “Bride of Chucky”), Mancini heard fans commenting about how they wanted to see Chucky find the sinister side he exhibited in the first three films. In “Curse of Chucky,” the sixth and newest installment of the franchise, Mancini, who wrote all five previous films but only directed “Seed,” returns to the helm to give new life to the demented, knife-wielding Good Guys doll. This is the first movie in the series that did not get a theatrical release.

“Curse of Chucky” is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.

It’s been 25 years since the original “Child’s Play” hit theaters. What do you think still makes Chucky such a relevant character in the horror genre today?

I think human beings have a sort of primal recoil from dolls. Dolls are distortions of the human form. There’s something about them that seems off. Beyond that, I think Chucky is a memorable character because he inherently goes after authority figures and hypocrites and often uproots the status quo. I think that’s really attractive to the horror genre audience, which is generally young. I think fans really enjoy seeing this diminutive figure on screen that can kick some ass. And, of course, at the end they like to see [Chucky] get what’s coming to him. I think [actor] Brad Dourif has a lot to do with it, too. He’s made such an indelible impression on the role. The fans appreciate that [Chucky is still voiced by] Brad and that he hasn’t been replaced. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it.

My sister collected porcelain dolls growing up and I always thought they were creepy. Did you have an experience that triggered this story to come to life in your mind back in the 80s?

Well, I grew up with four sisters. They all had dolls and I would always use their dolls to scare them. I would sneak into my sisters’ bedrooms and take a flashlight and hide it underneath the dolls so there would be a beam of light coming from below. We even do that in “Curse of Chucky” in one scene. There is just something creepy about that. Without realizing it, I was taking my first steps into creating Chucky. But the story really came to me when I was going to UCLA in the 80s and the Cabbage Patch Kids were in full swing. I wanted to write a dark satire about how advertising and marketing affected children. My father worked in advertising. I was always fascinated about it. It was interesting to see how the Cabbage Patch Doll phase was affecting all of America. I thought it would be a fun thing to write a story where the product turns around and bites you in the ass.

I had a My Buddy doll growing up. Kids really don’t play with those kinds of toys anymore, do they?

Well, now they have that line of dolls called American Girl. But those Cabbage Patch dolls and My Buddy dolls – those 2-foot dolls that are as big as the child – don’t seem to be around as much anymore.

I’m sure since you have an interest in marketing and advertising, you’ve seen how children’s toys and iconic characters have changed over the years. I mean, have you seen the new rendition of Strawberry Shortcake recently? They sexualize everything now. They’ve even turned My Little Pony into a character that walks on two legs.

Oh my God, really!? That sounds like fodder for a horror movie right there.

Oh, yeah! Horses that can walk on two legs! Very scary!

(Laughs)

There are a few things in “Curse of Chucky” that tie into the original film and some of the past sequels.  Would you like a younger generation who has never seen a Chucky movie to pick this new movie up and then seek out the rest of the franchise? Or do you think this movie can stand on its own?

Well, I hope it serves as a gateway drug for the rest of the franchise. The way the film was designed was to accommodate newcomers and longtime fans.  Hopefully newcomers will like the movie and become curious about Chucky’s origins and what has come before. Obviously it’s easier now that all six films are in their own box set.

Of all the major horror movie franchises from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to “Friday the 13th,” none of them besides “Hellraiser” have ever had a sequel go straight to video until “Curse of Chucky.” What was behind the decision not to take this movie to theaters?

Just money, really. It wasn’t my decision, of course. It was the studio’s [decision]. But this movie was conceived as a straight-to-video movie from the beginning. But it didn’t really affect my job other than having less money and less time to do it. Beyond that, I just wanted to make the best movie we could. I always thought there was a way of turning a liability into an advantage. That’s why I wanted to set the movie in one crazy house on one set. That was obviously in line with our budget, but it was also in line with creating a successful, creepy movie. Having everything take place in a single house creates a real pressure cooker. All the action takes place in a single night during a thunderstorm. I knew there were great possibilities for suspense. Even though it’s straight to video and it’s smaller, that pointed us in a useful direction to make Chucky scary again.

Do you feel “Curse of Chucky” could be a turning point for the franchise? I mean, do you think if the movie is well received by audiences, more sequels could come in the future? And vice versa, if it’s not well received, could this franchise pretty much be over?

Well, I would like to do more. As always, the final verdict will be rendered by the audience. But I certainly have an idea for the next one. Part of our intention with “Curse of Chucky” was to hopefully initiate a new cycle of scary Chucky movies. After the cycle of comedic Chucky movies with “Bride” and “Seed,” my hope is to initiate a new cycle that is purely frightening.

We’ve seen Critters go into space in “Critters 4” and Jason do the same in “Jason X.” What are the chances we can see Chucky in orbit somewhere down the line?

(Laughs) Well, if you’re going to do that you’re obviously going to go back into the comedy aspect. It’s such an absurd idea. I’ll even admit, I’ve thought of that idea before. I think the set up would be that an elementary school science class gives a space shuttle crew something to take on the space shuttle and they end up given them a Chucky doll. They would go into space with it and the mayhem would start. I think it would be a fun movie, but I think we would have to hold off on it until we go back into another comedic cycle.

Why did you think this was the right time to go back to the horror aspects of the film and leave out the comedy?

Mainly because that’s what the fans had been asking for for several years after “Seed of Chucky.” I go online and visit various horror movie websites and even Chucky-specific websites because I’m always interested in hearing what the fans are saying. For a while there has been a real consensus that they wanted Chucky to be a legitimate threat again. Also, as a filmmaker I selfishly wanted to make a darker film because as a director I had only made a Chucky movie that was a comedy. I was really eager to make a different kind of movie and direct a proper horror film and flex some different creative muscles.

Yeah, you’ve only directed two of the six Chucky movies, but it seems like you’re having a lot of fun doing it. If this franchise keeps going, do you want to be the man behind the camera?

Oh yeah. I love it. I wanted to direct for many years before I got the opportunity to do it. It’s one of the nice things about having created this [franchise]. I’ve sort of made a little sandbox for myself to play in. I’m proud that we’ve made a lot of very different kinds of movies within the franchise. I had really hoped to direct “Bride of Chucky,” but the studio felt I wasn’t quite ready to do it, so they let me direct the second unit. But [director] Ronny Yu did a terrific job. I would say that along with “Curse of Chucky” and the original movie, “Bride of Chucky” is my favorite. Having directed the second unit of “Bride,” that’s where I earned my stripes. They gave me the keys.

Isn’t it a consensus from most horror movie fans that the original “Child’s Play” is still the best one?

For the most part, but not exclusively. Probably over 50 percent would say that. Then there’s a healthy portion that really love “Bride.” Also, one thing I’ve only become aware of recently is that there is a huge contingent of fans who believe “Child’s Play 2” is the best. BloodyDisgusting.com last month ran a whole piece about why they felt “Child’s Play 2” is better than [the original] “Child’s Play.” I think each of the films has its fans, some more than others. With “Curse,” it seems like people are finding it to be one of the better ones. “Curse” has definitely gotten the best reviews from all the movies in the franchise. That’s really gratifying.

Rick Rowley – Dirty Wars

July 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

If it were up to filmmaker Rick Rowley, the U.S. government would conduct all business in an open field with bullhorns. It’s especially vital, Rowley says, when it comes to letting the American public know about the covert missions carried out under the veil of the U.S. military. In his new documentary Dirty Wars, Rowley and famed journalist Jeremy Scahill investigate the secret military action the U.S. has undergone in places like Yemen and Afghanistan and how this affects the country on a global scale.

Where do you see the fine line between telling a story like this as an objective documentary filmmaker and journalist and allowing your own emotions to seep into the finished product?

Ever journalist is also a human being and has their perspective and emotions. Our role as filmmakers was to make this issue visible and make the people on the other side of this media and military apparatus feel like human beings that American audiences could relate to. That was at the core of our journey as filmmakers. I wanted to go to the other side of the story that we’re never allowed to see. That was more important to me than to adjudicate the policies. We’re not politicians. We don’t have a 12-point plan on foreign policy. We’re journalists who believe that for too long – for more than a decade – all of the most important details of the longest war in U.S. history have been kept secret from the American people who have a right to know what’s going on. We need to have a public discussion about what this war is doing to the world around us and to us as a nation. Hiding our own personal emotions about families who we develop relationships with and we had seen gone through night raids and missile strikes is impossible because it was a gut-wrenching, deeply emotional journey for us. We wanted that emotion in there. We didn’t try to distance ourselves from it. We wanted to get closer to the people and not pull away from them.

How much of what the government does behind closed doors do you feel is important for the average American citizen to know? We’re right in the middle of this Edward Snowden debate. How transparent should government be in the 21st century?

The global war on terror is the most important story of our generation. This war has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world and thousands of American servicemen. It has cost untold billions of dollars. Most of this is unfolding in the shadows. At home, the fundamental nature of the republic has been changed by the way this war has been fought – from the executive wing assuming the right to execute foreigners and American citizens without trial or any formal charges to the revelations about the NSA (National Security Agency) and spying on Americans without any concept of probable cause. It’s a complete violation of what my understanding is of the fourth Amendment. All of these decisions about how we are going to fight this war have been made in secret. Snowden was a very brave man. It’s essential that he came forward and revealed the full scope of what has been done in [America’s] name at home and around the world.

So, do you support 100 percent transparency even when internal leaks could put the U.S. at risk in some way?

Look at what Snowden did. He had the identities of every CIA operative and he didn’t leak those. He chose to careful calibrate what he was leaking. He didn’t do any damage to U.S. strategy or security around the world. He wanted to show to the American people what was being done to them without leaking any information that could be useful to people who could harm the U.S. We need to know that the U.S. is responsible for missile strikes in Yemen that killed dozens and dozens of civilians or the fact that the military was running all these secret night raids in Afghanistan. No, I wouldn’t have leaked the details of the [Osama] Bin Laden raid the moment before it happened, but I don’t think that’s what the issue is. There’s no doubt in the Yemanis’ minds where the missiles are coming from that are hitting their villages. The only people that don’t know these kinds of things are happening are Americans. There are dozens of wars being fought around the world off of any big battlefield. The American people have the right to know about those wars.

U.S. deaths overseas and death of terrorists seem to always be reported. People want those stats. But when it comes to reporting on the thousands of innocent people killed in these covert missions, it always feels like they’re viewed as collateral damage. Is that something that was important for you to explain in this film?

Absolutely! We know everything that happened about one night raid that happened – the raid that killed Bin Laden. We were drowned in details about that raid. We know how many Seals were part of that mission, what units they came from, what helicopters they used. We know they were carrying H&K carbines. We know the dog that was with them was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. But what the American people don’t know or don’t realize is that on the same night there were probably on average 10-20 other night raids happening in Afghanistan. We’re told the story the administration wants us to hear. We’re getting a tiny sliver of what this war is about.

What did you think about President Obama’s speech when he mentioned Anwar al-Awlaki teenage son (Abdulrahman al-Awlaki) was killed and said he was “surprised and upset” that it happened. He referenced it, but it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to take accountability.

It was very interesting. That speech was truly remarkable. We’re a decade in to the War on Terror and this is the first time the Commander in Chief has gone before the American people and addressed some of the core issues the war raises – drone strikes and the like. I really think there is this change in American public opinion where for the first time since Sept. 11 we’re looking with clear sober eyes what this war is doing to us as a country. This is the first time he publically addressed the nation on Abdulrahman death even though he didn’t use his name. He used the words “he was not specifically targeted in the strike.” What does that even mean? He didn’t say, “Not targeted.” It’s kind of an Orwellian term that make me think that maybe he was killed in a signature strike, one of these strikes that is authorized by the CIA where they don’t even know the identities or names of the people they are killing.

What do you see happening with drone strikes in the future and in the drone industry in general? I mean, there are private companies who are producing these things now. It’s a new business.

Drones have become a metaphor for this war. It’s a metaphor for killing at a distance without consequences. Drones are just the technology. There are a lot of different weapons platforms that do these same kinds of missions. Even if there weren’t any drones, there would still be these strategic, moral, political problems. Cruise missiles do the same thing as drones. We shouldn’t be blinded by the technology. It’s a policy issue, not a technology issue. The technology is here to stay. Everyone is going to develop drones. It’s a very seductive thing for any executive branch in the world. Drones are definitely part of the military matrix from here on out.

David Riker – The Girl

April 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the independent film “The Girl,” filmmaker David Riker (“La Ciudad”) tells the story of Ashley (Abbie Cornish), a Texas woman whose first attempt at smuggling Mexican immigrants across the border ends with her becoming the caretaker of a young girl (Maritza Santiago Hernandez) who is separated from her mother during their journey to the U.S. During my interview with Riker, we talked about the dedication of Cornish to learn the Spanish language and what he was looking for when he cast a non-professional actor like Hernandez.

Abbie Cornish’s character Ashley is not a likeable one for a large portion of the film. What kind of conversations did you have with Abbie about what you wanted to convey about her character on screen so moviegoers would not be turned away by her immediately?

You touched the heart of the dramatic challenge for Abbie, which was this: How do you play a character that’s not likeable in a way that doesn’t just push viewers away? How do you make them feel some kind of connection to her? What the challenge really came down to was showing that Ashley is behaving the way she does because she has been dealt a bad hand. If we feel that soon enough, we can see her actions in some kind of context. [Abbie and I] both felt Ashley’s father was the dark cloud Ashley was living under. The film becomes the story of a father and daughter and whether or not the young woman will choose to break from following in her father’s behavior. Those are the kinds of conversations we were having. We were both very aware of the risks of having an unlikeable character, but we felt if the world where she comes from is established soon enough, it would make people want to know more about what Ashley is struggling with.

Talk about the dedication Abbie gave for this role. I read that she not only wanted to learn her lines in Spanish, she wanted to learn the language as fluently as possible.

I’m still shocked that she truly wanted to learn the language. She spent a great deal of time preparing for it. I think she would’ve loved even spending more time learning it. I met with a number of actors to play the role. They were all equally enthusiastic about it. All of them assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem to learn the lines in Spanish. But Abbie said she wanted to study the entire language and speak it well enough so she could step out of the scene and continue talking with young Maritza [Santiago Hernandez] and the people on the set and with the communities where we were filming. She is a very serious and very committed actor.

It must have been very beneficial for Abbie to be able to continue conversing with Maritza after the cameras stopped rolling. I could see Maritza having a lot of confidence because there wasn’t a language barrier between her and the person with whom she has all her scenes.

I knew that was the ideal scenario, but I didn’t know how we were going to get there. Maritza speaks no English nor does anyone in her family. It was so interesting because when Abbie came down for the first time, we spent several days together not working on the script. We gave Abbie and Maritza enough time together to bond. Maritza took her to the village [in Oaxaca]. They ate meals together. They went to the market together. It was wonderful to see them bond way before we even started shooting.  As you know in the film, Ashley is really vicious to Maritza. It was really important to Abbie that Maritza knew that underneath that there was a different reality. There was affection and respect.

Was Maritza’s life in Mexico similar to the one portrayed in the film?

Maritza’s life is very similar to that of [her character] Rosa’s except for the fact that Maritza has not grown up in a village in the mountains of Oaxaca. She lives in one of the colonias or new neighborhoods that surround the City of Oaxaca. Historically, the City of Oaxaca was a city of about 100,000 people, but today’s it’s one million. The reason it has grown is that a huge number of people have left the mountains and the smaller villages to move into Oaxaca. You essentially have these transplanted communities that are in the central valleys. But the conditions of her life are very similar to that of Rosa. They have no running water. They have no electricity. They had no floor in their home. Although they live close to the City of Oaxaca their life is not urbanized.

When it comes to casting children who are considered non-professional actors, I’ve always wondered if directors take into consideration what happens to these young boys and girls after the film has wrapped. It’s like what happened to the kids who starred in “Slumdog Millionaire.” Studios cast these young girls and boys and bring them into this very new and exciting situation and when the movie is completed, they send them back to their regular lives. Were you conscious of that when you cast for the role of Rosa?

When you work with “non-professional actors,” you have a greater responsibility as a filmmaker. There is a risk that you can upend someone’s life and at the end of it they land hard. It can be very destructive. I know this from studying the history of cinema and some of the classic films like “Bicycle Thieves.” That film destroyed the life of the man who was cast in the main role. My starting point when I cast is thinking, “I’m not just casting for the child. I’m casting for the whole family.” I want to see that the family is solid. If I sense the mother is very excited, I’m very reluctant to cast the child. I see the mother trying to fulfill her own dreams. I’m much more interested in finding families that are rooted. Then I want to make sure they experience doesn’t turn the child’s life upside down.

How did you do that with Maritza?

Great effort went in to find a really superb tutor who was with us every day during pre-production and production. I had a strong, close relationship with Maritza’s teacher and the director of her school. We didn’t want her to miss anything in school and wanted her to excel and get even more attention. Maritza was well grounded. The risks were less that she was going to be thrown for a loop. What’s interesting is that when the film premiered in Mexico at the Morelia Film Festival, Maritza’s performance won immense praise by the Mexican press. No less than 26 outlets interviewed her over the course of two days. All of them asked the same questions: “What do you want to do now? Do you want to make more movies?”  I watched over and over as Maritza said, “Right now, I want to finish my studies and then I want to be a teacher.” It felt so good to see that in many ways she came out of this film an even stronger version of herself. Any child, when given a lot of attention, can blossom. I think she did just that.

I don’t think many filmmakers think about the consequences of taking someone like Maritza out of their environment and throwing them into a different arena only to throw them back again when the film is over. I could only imagine that it would be shocking for some of them. Some probably wonder, “Where did all the attention go?”

I think filmmakers, historically, have not taken enough responsibility for what they leave behind – on an individual level with the casting; on a community level and the relationships they make during production; on a social level. Filmmakers can create a lot of damage. I’ve only made two films and I’ve been working at this for a long time. Part of the reason is because I am hyper-sensitive to trying not to destroy anything except myths.

You’ve done a lot of research on the immigrant’s story. We see that in “The Girl” and in your first film “La Ciudad” (“The City”). Do you think the immigrant’s story is a universal one for all of them, or is there something exclusive to the Mexican immigrant’s story?

I surely don’t think Mexican immigrants have a unique experience, but I do think immigrants today are experiencing what it means to be uprooted in a different way than in previous waves of immigration. We say we’re a nation of immigrants, but the truth is immigrants today face a much more hostile and dangerous journey than the great migrations of the last century. The historical achievement of the border has been to divide families. To be an immigrant today means to be uprooted alone – like a castaway in a storm. That’s what this film is trying to do. It’s trying to broaden this discussion about immigration.