WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2011.
Jason Reitman completed his guest programming at New Beverly Cinema with a screening of Wes Anderson’s directorial debut, “Bottle Rocket.” This film also marked the movie debuts of Luke and Owen Wilson, the latter who co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson. Before seeing this movie, Reitman admitted he was actually scared of becoming a filmmaker especially because he was the son of a famous one (Ivan Reitman). He did see all the great movies of the 1990’s like “Clerks,” “Slacker,” and he checked out all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, but he said none of them had the same effect on him as “Bottle Rocket” did. For Reitman, this was the movie which made him want to direct films. And of discovering Anderson, he said, “This is the voice that I am going to follow forever.”
Joining Reitman for this special screening was actor Luke Wilson, and it was nice to see him take a break from all those AT&T Wireless commercials he has been doing endlessly. Ironically, the movie Reitman showed the same evening before it was “Breaking Away,” and Wilson said he is actually good friends with one of that movie’s stars, Dennis Quaid. Quaid was away in Hawaii so he was unable to attend the screening with fellow co-stars Dennis Christopher and Daniel Stern. This coincidence did, however, allow Wilson to talk about how Randy Quaid told Dennis he already made the family name and suggested he change his. Dennis ended up asking his brother, “How about McQuaid?”
Anyway, Luke told the audience Wes and Owen originally wanted to shoot “Bottle Rocket” guerilla style so they could shoot it cheaply as Richard Linklater had done the same thing with “Slacker.” However, they ended up meeting a producer who told them about the Sundance Film Festival and advised them to start off by making a short film they could take there. So they made the short and got it entered into Sundance, but nothing happened and they didn’t win anything for it. Despite that, they managed luckily to get hooked up with a producer named Polly Platt who had worked on such movies as “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment” among others.
The project went on from there as Platt brought the Wilson brothers and Anderson to the attention of famed writer/producer/director James L. Brooks. Anderson ended up getting everyone to do a read thru of the script at some office in Texas during the summer. Turns out the air conditioning there wasn’t working all that well, and they were reading a screenplay which was two hundred pages long. Luke said he ended up sweating profusely throughout the whole read, and this made Owen glare at him as if to say, what the hell are you doing?
Luke also took some time to talk about Brooks who became one of the chief supporters of “Bottle Rocket,” and he described him as being very nice. However, he also said Brooks can immediately “cut to the truth and be painfully funny.” Of course, Brooks was going through problems of his own. While working on “Bottle Rocket,” he was also busy with his film musical “I’ll Do Anything” with Nick Nolte. For those who remember, it ended up getting released without any of the music as the movie tested poorly (and that’s being polite).
Reitman went on to talk about how he related to the voice of the film and how it had a “strange innocence” to it. Luke replied the film’s voice came from Anderson and Owen, but he said he never got the feeling he was working on anything special. Columbia Pictures, which distributed the movie, wanted to make “Bottle Rocket” but with different actors. When it was all shot and in the can, the studio didn’t like or knew what to make of it. Looking back, Luke said bluntly he was “stunned that the movie got made.”
When it finally came to making “Bottle Rocket” as a feature length film, Luke remarked Wes knew exactly how movies were made. He and Owen, on the other hand, did not. They didn’t understand certain jobs the crew on set had like the boom mike guy. Luke said he and Owen wondered out loud, “How can that guy just stand around like that?”
Also, Anderson did not want the actors to watch dallies of the day’s work, but this didn’t matter much because neither Owen nor Luke wanted to watch them anyway. Luke says he still doesn’t understand what compels actors to watch dallies as he feels it will likely mess you up in terms of how you go about developing your character.
The cast and crew also had the fortune of working with James Caan who had a bit role in “Bottle Rocket,” and Luke recalled he was going through a rough patch at the time, but that he did warm up to the rest of the cast during shooting. At one point Luke, Owen and Wes asked Caan what it was like working with the late Marlon Brando on “The Godfather.” To this Caan replied, “It’s like you guys working with me.”
“Bottle Rocket” did go through the rather unnecessary realm of test screenings. For a movie like this, it must have felt like a waste of time because this is not one which just sells itself to mainstream audiences, but the studio executives decreed that Anderson screen the movie for focus groups nonetheless. So, there was a test screening done in Santa Monica, and out of a crowd of 250 people, 75 walked out. The ones who stayed through the whole thing, as Luke remembered it, wrote nothing but shit about the movie. To date, it remains the one movie with the worst test screenings in the history of Columbia Pictures. Luke said he, Owen and Anderson were convinced they would never get to make another movie ever again.
Despite all that, “Bottle Rocket” did get discovered by audiences through cable, video and DVD. Luke says he still sees it on cable every once in a while, and Reitman remarked it became the “touchstone for those who want to make movies.” Martin Scorsese ended up naming it as one of the best movies of the 1990’s. Still, everyone involved with this little film had a hard time getting over it feeling like a failure. But when these guys got around to making the brilliant “Rushmore,” they found themselves re-energized and have since gone on to make one great movie after another.
WRITER’S NOTE: This screening took place back in 2011.
Jason Reitman described the last double feature he presented as part of his guest programming at New Beverly Cinema by saying, “Whereas the last few movies I chose were sad in some respects, these two just make you feel good.” After dealing with the downfalls and missed opportunities which were major parts of “Shampoo” and “Boogie Nights,” he finished off his slate of favorites with “Breaking Away” and “Bottle Rocket.”
The first movie shown was “Breaking Away” which was directed by Peter Yates, the same man who made the Steve McQueen classic “Bullitt.” For years it has been considered one of the best sports movies ever made, and it’s also a movie where several young actors got their start together like in “Taps” or “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Among those actors were Dennis Quaid, Dennis Christopher and Daniel Stern. We even got to see a teenage Jackie Earle Haley in it, and he has since gone from career oblivion to critical acclaim for his performances in “Little Children” and “Watchmen.”
Reitman asked how many people in the audience were seeing this film for the first time, and many hands, including mine, immediately went up. To this he replied, “I am so jealous!”
On “Breaking Away,” Reitman described it as a movie you associate with watching with your father, and one which captures the lives of twenty somethings very well in the indecisions of where to go from high school; unsure of what to do with the rest of their lives. It’s also a great story about class wars in society; of those who have everything and those who never have enough. Upon looking for trivia about “Breaking Away,” Reitman found the film was originally two screenplays. One was called “The Cutters” which became the name of the people from the working-class environment, and the other one was about the bike race the characters train for.
Joining Reitman for this screening were Dennis Christopher who played the endlessly obsessive bike rider Dave Stoller, and Daniel Stern who played Cyril. Reitman usually had his guests hidden from sight before introducing them, but they were already in the theater giving autographs and posing for pictures which got posted on Facebook. Both Quaid and Stern also said they were so envious of those who were seeing this for the first time.
Reitman started off by asking them if they knew they were working on something very special. Stern was the first to reply:
“That was my first movie,” Stern said. “I had never been in a movie before, and so I thought they were all like that. There is a wonderful simplicity to the movie, to the script, to the way the movie was made and the way it comes across. It does have a lot of depth to it too. I look back at it thinking, that was just an incredibly unique experience. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know where the camera was, and I didn’t know anything about that!”
Christopher, on the other hand, had worked in movies before with acclaimed directors like Robert Altman and Federico Fellini, so he knew a bit about being on big sets. The experience of making “Breaking Away” proved to be a bit different though.
“The thing that really made it special was because after that horrible first day of being a big Italian impersonator, because they made me all dark and I had my hair slicked back, black shirt, a tight waistline, etc. He was supposed to look like a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ guy,” Christopher said. “He (Yates) wanted him to be that kind of Italian. And I thought, why the fuck did they hire me? I looked like Lily Tomlin would when dressed up like men! That’s exactly what I looked like! I was waiting for them to glue hair on my chest!”
“I was so shaken, and the next day I came onto the set and I just burst into tears,” Christopher continued. “I told Peter that I just can’t do this and he said I KNOW, I KNOW! And we had a big talk with Steven (Tisch, who won an Oscar for his screenplay) and Peter, and then the character evolved; the way he looked and the way he was. So for me that was the special thing of collaborating with a director who cared about what you thought. So, for me I thought whoa, this is amazing!”
Reitman then spoke for those who had this on their minds after Christopher spoke:
“So what you’re saying is that Robert Altman really doesn’t care…”
This got a big laugh from the audience.
After making all the changes with Christopher’s character and making it more like him, they reshot everything and had to wait three weeks to see how it all looked. For those who have seen this movie, you have to agree this was one of the smartest choices Yates made. If Christopher was forced to do an Italian impersonation, it probably would have wrecked the movie.
Reitman also asked Christopher and Stern what kind of bike riding they did before production began. Christopher replied he did the “regular kind” and was never involved in any bike competitions like his character. Stern, on the other hand, said he was not a bike rider which turned out to be perfect for his character.
This led Stern to tell everyone he didn’t even audition for “Breaking Away.” He came into the office to read for Yates, and he was on a phone call nearby and saw him. Once he got off the phone, Yates handed Stern a script and was asked to be on set in a short time.
Unlike a lot of the big productions he had previously been involved in, Christopher said this film was almost completely the opposite of them. They had a very small crew working on it, and there was no overabundance of trailers parked on every street corner.
Barbara Barrie played Dave Stoller’s mother, Evelyn, and she got nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. However, it turns out she was a little peeved when she read the script and found there was no big scene for her. Christopher even recalled her telling Yates quite loudly, “WHERE IS MY BIG SCENE?!” So Barrie, Tisch and Yates worked together and did an improvisation which led to that wonderful moment where Evelyn talks about getting her passport and how she always keeps it handy.
People did not expect much from “Breaking Away” while it was being made, but it turned out to be a surprising success which won many awards, and it even spawned a prequel television series in which Haley and Barrie reprised their roles for. Of course, like many movies adapted to television, it lasted only one season. Stern called it “the little engine that could kind of movie,” and he even came to this screening wearing his white “Cutters” t-shirt. Christopher said this and “My Bodyguard” were the first movies for kids which were taken seriously by adults, and he and Stern said people’s overall reaction to it today is still quite powerful.
Christopher also told the audience about when he took his dad, whom he was estranged from at the time, to see “Breaking Away” when it was first released. After it was over, he said his dad came out of it “ruined” and looked quite frail. His dad could not believe how great the movie was, and when people outside the theater asked Christopher for his autograph, he got in line with the others. His dad even acted as his security chief in getting people in the line to move along.
The Q&A ended with both actors asking Reitman, “Is this a good print of the movie we’re showing tonight?”
“We’ll see,”Reitman replied.
Reitman said he had previously seen “Breaking Away” on VHS and laserdisc, but seeing it with an audience was something else. The nearly sold out crowd at New Beverly Cinema really got into the proceedings and cheered loudly throughout. You came out of the theater agreeing with Reitman that “Breaking Away” was as good as reputation has long since suggested.
WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place back in 2012.
David Bautista has made a big name for himself during his time in World Wrestling Entertainment where he became a six-time world champion. Like many major athletes, he has since turned his attention to acting, and he gets one of his biggest roles in RZA’s “The Man with the Iron Fists” in which he plays Brass Body, one of the main antagonists and a mercenary who can turn his body into metal. This makes him almost completely invulnerable; much like Bautista seemed like whenever he was in the ring.
While at a press conference for “The Man with the Iron Fists” which took place at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, Bautista talked about what it was like making the movie. Co-starring alongside him was Cung Le who plays Bronze Lion and was also at one point a major kickboxing champion. Bautista was asked what it was like working with Le and if he had ever fought with him “in the cage.”
Dave Bautista: I never fought with him, but we actually trained a lot together in China (where the movie was made). I wish we had some scenes together. I’m determined in my life to do a movie with Cung Le just so I can get that fight scene with him just because he’s so dynamic and so intense. So, we never fought together but I picked up a lot of good things from him.
Bautista said he accepted the role of Brass Body without even reading the script and that the character originally only had one or two lines as it was more of a physical role. This soon changed once he was cast. The biggest challenge for him, however, was filming the fight scene between Brass Body and Blacksmith who is played by star and director RZA.
Dave Bautista: The fight scene itself took days and days and it was just a pain in the ass. It was cold, it was brutal, and RZA had those damn iron fists on and they were just killing my arms because he was hitting me. I had scratches and I was bleeding.We actually started the fight scene a few days after I arrived in China, and then we had to go back to it at the end and finish it because it was so drawn out. The two characters (the Blacksmith and Brass Body) were so strong and kind of invincible that we really didn’t know where to go with the fight scene. We really went without a plan and thought we could wing it and ad-lib and come up with stuff here and there, so that was really a challenge in itself.
One of Brass Body’s other big scenes comes when he viciously attacks one of the female characters, and Bautista said shooting it was “awkward.” He described himself as a “passive” person especially when it comes to women, and since this was essentially a “rape and murder scene,” it became very uncomfortable for him to do.
Dave Bautista: I kept coming out of character because my first instinct was to tell the actress, are you okay? But she actually made it a lot of fun for me because I had this little thong on and I was freezing because the set wasn’t heated. Even when I picked her up, I didn’t know where to touch her, so I picked her up and threw her over my shoulder and I’m trying not to grope her because I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. Then RZA stepped in and said ‘you gotta make it look more real. Grab her over her ass because it’ll help her out because it will cover some of her stuff up.
The actress Bautista was working with thanked him for doing her that favor.
In addition to wrestling, Bautista is also a skilled mixed martial arts fighter. The first martial art he learned was Kali which comes from the Philippines and emphasizes weapons-based fighting with sticks, knives and other weapons. When asked if he tried to influence his fighting style in this movie, Bautista replied he did to a certain extent but that it only went so far.
Dave Bautista: The stuff that we were doing just didn’t translate as well as we thought it would on film, so we had to switch it up a lot and bring Corey Yuen (the movie’s fight choreographer) in to help us through this. We wanted this to look like a traditional kung fu fight movie especially with the characters being so strong, but I did utilize a little bit of my Kali.
Those who have seen “The Man with the Iron Fists” can agree Bautista is perfectly cast as Brass Body as he truly comes off as a badass who cannot easily be defeated. When asked if he shares any similarities to his character and if he could offer advice to those of us who are not as athletically inclined as he is, Bautista’s response was actually quite surprising.
Dave Bautista: I never felt like I was invincible. Throughout my whole life I always felt like I was an underdog. It’s kind of hard to relate to a kung fu action hero. I was trying to stay in character to where he (Brass Body) would always feel invincible and how he would react when he realized he wasn’t invincible and started to break down. I tried to get that in my head and I tried to make it come out on film, but not being the best actor made it kind of a challenge for me. I wouldn’t be the best person to give advice on how to be invincible because I’ve never felt that way. Everything’s a challenge for me, but I’m a hard worker.
Before he concluded his time with us, Bautista was asked what his dream role is.
Dave Bautista: I hate to sound cliché but I’ve always wanted to do a vampire movie. Any kind of superhero stuff, that’s what I’m a fan of. I wouldn’t mind doing that, I just don’t see myself as a leading man type character. I like the drama; I just don’t know if I fit that type of role. But that’s the kind of stuff I like to watch though.
WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2011.
In July, America will finally get to see John Carpenter’s first feature length film in 10 years, “The Ward.” After the critical and commercial disappointment that was “Ghosts of Mars,” Carpenter seemed determined to retire from filmmaking as he felt it was no longer fun for him. But after working on a couple of “Masters of Horror” episodes, he seemed rejuvenated and ready to take on another film of his choosing. While appearing at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood for a 25th anniversary screening of “Big Trouble in Little China,” Carpenter talked about the upcoming movie, and what he thinks about the state of movies today.
The famed director described “The Ward” as an “old school horror film” and a “psychological thriller.” It stars Amber Heard as Kristen, a young woman who is institutionalized in a psychiatric ward which turns out to be haunted by a ghost as mysterious as it is deadly. Carpenter said he was attracted to the project because it had a low budget which would give him creative control, limited locations, and a short schedule which he especially liked. With the schedule being short, Carpenter knew he could finish the film before any form of exhaustion did him in.
“The Ward” first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has since opened in the United Kingdom. Word of mouth indicates the movie has received mixed reviews thus far, but his fans are thrilled he went back behind the camera once again. Carpenter feels that “The Ward,” in his own estimation, is “pretty good” and found some fanboys liked it while others felt it was not “gruesome enough.”
Audience members asked Carpenter’s opinion on the state of movies today which is swamped with endless remakes and a frightening lack of originality. He openly described most films which are out now as being “still bad,” said some were fair, and others were “really good.” In his view, the movie industry has not changed. The present cycle of movies will pass, he said, and he is looking to a “more positive future” and encouraged the audience to do the same.
John Carpenter said his career as a filmmaker has really been the result of luck, and he’s done many of the things he always wanted to do. While he still gets caught up in video games (he was a creative consultant on “F.E.A.R. 3”) or contemplates perhaps doing a music score for another director’s movie, it is great to see him behind the camera once again. And, if we’re lucky, he and Kurt Russell will get another chance to work together in the future, and that’s even if it’s not a sequel to “Big Trouble in Little China.”
WRITER’S NOTE: This interview was conducted back in 2015.
Dominik Garcia-Lorido is an actress on the rise. So far, she has turned in memorable performances in movies like “The Lost City” and “City Island” which had her co-starring with her father, Andy Garcia. On television she co-starred on the Starz television series “Magic City” (sense a trend here?) as Mercedes Lazaro, a housekeeper training to become a stewardess for Pan Am Airlines. Now she co-stars opposite Jason Statham in “Wild Card” which was directed by Simon West and written by the great William Goldman who adapted it from his novel “Heat.” It is also a remake of the 1986 film “Heat” which starred Burt Reynolds and is better known for the behind-the-scenes troubles which resulted in six directors coming and going from the production.
Garcia-Lorido plays Holly, a young woman living in Las Vegas who gets brutally assaulted and calls on her friend Nick Wild (Statham), a lethal bodyguard with a gambling problem, to help her get revenge on those who did her wrong. I got to speak with Garcia-Lorido on the phone while she was doing press for “Wild Card,” and she helped fill me in on the kind of character Holly is. In addition, she also discussed how she approaches each character she plays and described what it was like being a student at UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television.
Ben Kenber: Could you tell me more about your character of Holly? We only get to know so much about her in the movie.
Dominik Garcia-Lorido: The backstory for her was just that she was a teenage runaway who came to Vegas. Nick always knew her and he says it in the movie. I think it’s still in the movie, when he says, “When I first met you, you are this kid with braces” and all that stuff. I think she’s like the love of his life and they just couldn’t make it work, but he’s still very close to her. She’s an escort in Vegas and does very well for herself, and she seen a lot and has grown up really fast and can really take care of herself. This isn’t the first time she’s probably been disrespected on the job, but to this extent was really the first time that she’s been this disrespected.
BK: I definitely get the sense that she’s grown up a lot faster than anyone should have to.
DGL: Exactly. I just never thought she was this young girl. When we went to shoot my first scene where he (Nick Wild) comes in and sees me, we shot at that location at this big house, we see that she lives a good life. She lives very well and does very well for herself. She’s not this broken down hooker doing drugs. She’s got her shit together and this is her job.
BK: Holly does get very disrespected in some scenes which I’m sure were not the least bit easy to shoot. What was it like shooting those scenes?
DGL: You know, those kinds of scenes are those kinds of scenes. Whether it’s a love scene about two people in love or whether it’s like this, they are so choreographed. That’s just like the perfect word for it; they are so choreographed. Milo (Ventimiglia) was such a nice guy and I felt really comfortable with him and he made me feel very comfortable. I felt very safe doing those scenes, but yeah that’s sort of how they are. We shot so much more than what you see of this flashback scene. And then being hauled into the hospital and on a gurney there were a couple of actors that were medics around me, but one was a real nurse and I was asking her questions before we shot in between takes about how would my breathing really be. That’s really scary. That’s a lot of acting you have to do when you’re shooting really fast. You have to show pain and that’s where you do the most acting. I was just asking her; how would I be breathing if I just experienced trauma? How would I be speaking? Would I be crying? She was very helpful with that. So that’s like always a little hard to do. You want to get that right.
BK: “Wild Card” was based on the novel “Heat” by William Goldman, which in turn was adapted into the movie “Heat” back in 1986 which starred Burt Reynolds. Were you aware of that movie before you started making this one?
DGL: Well, I wasn’t aware before I read the script, but then I knew it was a remake when I got it. But I never watched it.
BK: Did you ever get the chance to talk to William Goldman?
DGL: I never did. I don’t know if any of the actors really did unless Jason did. I don’t think any of us really have that opportunity.
BK: The making of “Heat” was said to be a very messy affair.
DGL: Yeah, that’s what I heard.
BK: I imagine the making of this movie went a lot more smoothly.
DGL: This wasn’t messy at all. I think there were a lot of difficulties with the director on the first film. I think Burt Reynolds punched him or something, I don’t know. We were really taken care of with Simon (West) and the producers. It was smooth sailing.
BK: Did you base Holly on any people you knew, and what were your influences on the role?
DGL: I didn’t base her on anyone I knew. I tried to personalize it in some way I can. With anything I play, I try to be as honest as I can. I wear my heart on my face more than Holly, but Holly wasn’t that to me. Her vulnerability is like creeping through the cracks, and she has poker face. She has to.
BK: Absolutely, she can’t let everybody see what’s going on inside her.
DGL: she still fresh from the night before, I think was important to me to show that a little bit because Nick needs to see the pain in this.
BK: I saw that you attended the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television. What did you learn there that really helped you the most as an actress?
DGL: UCLA was such a strenuous program. We did so much. In our first year we were constantly working. Every weekend we were seeing a play and writing a paper on some aspect of the play whether it was the lighting, the production design, the costumes, the acting or whatever. During the week we had so much work. UCLA just taught me to be a hard worker, number one. It really just has you focusing on the craft and all aspects of it. I never had done that much work before. I cruised through high school before that. So I think that’s just the training because acting is a lot of work. I had a good acting teacher there that I continued to work with for a little bit when I left named Marilyn Fox. I’ve seen her act and she’s the kind of actress you want to be. She’s so grounded and so honest. She’s just always brought that out of me. I learned a lot and I grew a lot there.
Thank you to Dominik Garcia-Lorido for taking the time to talk with me. “Wild Card” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.
Even though we are still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, there are still new movies arriving to us in theaters (those which are open anyway) and/or to our own television screens thanks to On Demand and various digital platforms. One such movie is “Wander,” a thriller starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) as Arthur Bretnik, a private investigator who live in a rusty old trailer out in the middle of nowhere. We soon learn he is still grieving the loss of his daughter who was killed in a horrific car accident which left his wife completely catatonic. The perpetrators of this accident were never found, and he remains determined to find them.
One day, he is met by a woman who pays him to look into the death of her daughter who also looks to have been killed in a car accident, but the mother is not convinced this was the case. In the process, he uncovers a conspiracy which links to other cases of people killed in a similar fashion as well as to his daughter’s death, and he becomes infinitely determined to uncover it for all to see. But with his troubled past and a history of mental illness, one has to wonder if Arthur is really seeing the truth out there, or if his mind is playing tricks on him. “Wander” also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick.
Directing “Wander” is April Mullen, a highly creative Anishinaabe Algonquin (Indigenous) filmmaker who is known for her passion, her bold visuals, and an ambitious shooting style which is truly amazing. With “Dead Before Dawn 3D,” she became the first woman and the youngest person to direct a live action stereoscopic 3D feature film, and it was awarded the Perron Award for its technological achievement. Her other directorial efforts include the erotic romantic drama “Below Her Mouth” which she filmed with an all-female production crew, and the action thriller “88” which stars Katharine Isabelle and Christopher Lloyd.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk with April Mullen about “Wander” recently, and in her director’s statement, she described the film as being a journey towards a truth unseen by most, and one hard to face. In addition, she also sees it as a critique of sanctioned government surveillance which has led to the displacement of many indigenous people through no fault of their own. We talked about this and more in our interview below.
April Mullen: Are you the marathoner runner himself, or did somebody else run a marathon?
Ben Kenber: (Laughs) I am indeed the marathon runner. I have run the full Los Angeles Marathon (26.2 miles) eight years in a row.
AM: Awesome! I just had to ask. I just looked at the (website) byline (“Cinematic Musings from a Movie Lover and Marathon Runner”) and I loved it. I looked at your website and I was like, this is wicked!
BK: I did not run the LA Marathon this year, but I am hoping to come back to it once this coronavirus pandemic has finally ended.
AM: You better because it pumps me up.
BK: Thank you. “Wander” really held my attention to the very end. This is always tricky to pull off especially with one like this which deliberately messes with your mind. When were you first introduced to the screenplay by Tim Doiron?
AM: Tim Doiron and I go way back. We started working and making independent films together 20 years ago. We come together and we’re like, what do we want to make next? That’s a very messy and exciting day. Five years ago, we wanted to create something with a main character who was really dealing with grief, loss, mental health issues and a huge amount of paranoia when it comes to conspiracies and government surveillance and anxiety, and of how to over come that. And then we thought, how are we going to bring that truth and that character to a world that’s commercial and viable for the entertainment industry (laughs). The backdrop was the conspiracy, the podcast, the chip technology, border control and my inner side of the truth; that indigenous women, 2Spirited warriors, BIPOC and displaced people have always been a continual target and victim of governmental subjugation and violent practices. (We went about) exposing that in a tight narrative through the eyes of one single character which is an unreliable narrator like Arthur. So, all of those themes became our mixing pot and then the rest is history, but it wasn’t as easy or smooth as we originally thought. We were like, this movie is going to be very straight forward, but of course it is so much more complex than we had hoped. But hey, we made a movie and that’s what it’s about (laughs).
BK: Exactly. Aaron Eckhart is terrific here. He has to run a gamut of being in a state of grief, but he is also a bit crazy as well. Did you and Aaron had to measure out crazy and grief-stricken he had to look throughout shooting?
AM: We had an unbelievable working relationship. We were attached at the hip. We could communicate through our eyes and even our physicality on set. I was never far away. I was maybe three feet away from him. He was on set every day, every second and in every frame of the movie. He brought 150% and was beyond dedicated. I think this role was so different and far removed from anything else he has ever played. When he read the script, he completely resonated with Arthur. Aaron himself is totally into conspiracies, podcasts and the dark web. He always said, if you’re not paranoid, you should be. We were riffing on conspiracies and chem trails. It was unbelievable how much material resonated with him. He came from a really strong place of truth, and then Tim’s experience with mental health issues also rang from a place of truth. So, my job was just to make all of those things come together and make Aaron feel really comfortable to take major leaps and capture that lightning in a bottle that he has. We went off script and we went off locations. Sometimes it would just be him and I. He would be in a car and I would be operating the camera. We were able to do that because the film was so small, but I knew Aaron Eckhart if that makes sense.
BK: “Wander” is kind of a mind-bending movie in the same the way movies like “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Memento” and “The Sixth Sense” were.
AM: Very much. It’s very much like a current version of “Jacob’s Ladder.” I feel like it is the 2020 version of “Jacob’s Ladder” (laughs). At least, I hope it is. We really hope it is.
BK: You have said “Wander” was created in honor of all Indigenous, black and other people who are targeted and have been displaced through border control on stolen land. Do you this is what helps to set the film apart from others of its kind like “Jacob’s Ladder?”
AM: I’m not sure. I hope so. In the statement (at the film’s beginning), there is so much truth to that. We did a lot of research with MK-Ultra and who were the victims of that and of who did the government use to test different technologies on people, and it was mortifying. In our history, what we have done to people made a huge impact on us, and we had to say something at the beginning of the film because it’s not just a fictional world although we both wish it was different. This is the world that has happened in the past and we didn’t want to ignore it, but we didn’t want to heavy-hand it either. But we just thought it was so important to recognize the truth of what has happened, and it is terrifying to think we are constantly being tested and watched. Chip technology is right around the corner (laughs). Five years ago, it felt a little bit further away, but today… What we assumed five years ago, “Wander” is way more current than we ever dreamt it would be.
BK: In the film’s opening statement, it says “Wander” was filmed on the homelands of the Pueblo Navajo and Apache peoples. What effect would you say this had on the entire production?
AM: It had a huge effect. Our very first day, we opened with a ceremony recognizing the land with an indigenous family and clan from New Mexico, very close to Carrizozo, and that set the tone of what we were about to embark on. And as a creative person, and I’m also Anishinaabe Algonquin, I just thought that to start off with the recognition of the land that is not our own and that’s where we began, I really hoped to allow for truth, vulnerability and a humbling of everyone to know our goal as a creative group of being a silent warrior; shedding a light on these subject matters whatever they might be. This one in particular was Arthur’s journey, but at the end of the day we are all creating something that we hope makes an impact and propels change. Whether you’re a grip or costumes, I just thought coming together as a group and really allowing that to begin on the right foot was important, and then every day afterwards was the same. And then on a personal note, I don’t know if you noticed, but the music throughout the film was really specific and really original and different I think than any normal psychological thriller. That was a very strong intention to collaborate with an indigenous artist out of Canada whose name is Jeremy Dutcher, and I really wanted to put indigenous language in the film to bring medicine and healing through the Ancestors’ songs on the harsh reality of what our past and our history was. Just hearing that and feeling that, whether we understand it or not, I think our spirits are ideally healing through song and language, and that was a personal goal as well in making the film.
BK: The opening shot of “Wander” is brilliantly shot in how the camera comes up to the scene of a car accident and then pulls away from it to suddenly go up into a crane shot. How did you pull this off?
AM: You are the first person to mention this, and I have to say I loved that you did because no one has! That shot was so, so ambitious. There was only four of us. It was a (camera) operator who I have worked with on three films on the Steadicam who was rigged on the back of one of our production vans. My father was driving backwards (laughs) along a deserted road which we had full safety on each side which then came to a stop. The camera operator came up to and circled that space that you saw. He designed, which we brought from Canada to Carrizozo, a walk on/off platform which I am obsessed with. It’s used in the film a dozen times. He was able to take the Steadicam and do a walk on crane shot. It’s independent film so we have to do these things. He at the end walks backward onto a platform after which a crane lifts him up. He’s actually standing on the crane that he made a platform for, and it is all in one shot. I wanted it to be at sunrise so our window was very small. We practiced about three runs to get the timing of the lines of the road correct, and I really wanted it to be shot in one shot and not digitally faked. We shot it four times and then we got it on the second take. I’m really proud of that because it is an amazing achievement for a small crew with a small budget and being innovative together out in Carrizozo, New Mexico. We had very little resources. We built that shot with a hammer and screws (laughs).
BK: I imagine the budget on this production was very tight.
AM: Super tight. Too tight.
BK: How much time to shoot “Wander” in?
AM: 20 days, but our below the line budget was very puny because we had these incredible stars in the film, which is okay because that’s what we need for people to be able to see the film. But it really tightens the clasps on everything else. It was puny, very puny (laughs).
BK: Speaking of the cast, you have a great set of actors on display here. In addition to Aaron Eckhart, you also have Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick among others. How much direction did you have to give these actors, or did you simply leave them to their own talents?
AM: As a director I am very, very hands on, so I am always within arm’s length of them and am trying to challenge them and steer them in new directions. I think Aaron, Tommy, Heather and Kathryn are all playing roles that they are not stereotypically cast for. Heather Graham was the grounded best friend and the tether to reality for Arthur. She was not a romantic love interest. She was the voice of reason for the audience. That is something very challenging and new for her, coming up with ways in making sure she was really grounded. She loved it, I loved it and we were both up for the challenge. Tommy Lee, he doesn’t usually doesn’t get to play an eccentric, fun loving (at least on the surface), Hawaiian shirt wearing, whatever goes kind of guy. It is very different for him. There were a lot of questions and bod language and how to say certain things. We were always, always communicating and it was unbelievable work because it was such a small set and a small cast in a lot of ways. There was a lot of one on one time which was fortunate and really wonderful.
BK: Katheryn Winnick’s character always stands out in an interesting way in this film, and this is especially apparent in the first shot. Was that by your design or Katheryn’s?
AM: It was written in the script, but we also worked on the script months before she got to Carrizozo. I love that she comes prepared. We were revamping and reworking the script to cater to her and her strengths, and what she thought was more intelligent or higher stakes for her character which was fantastic. That was really unique how she brought that as a performer. When she got there, she was unbelievable. She came onto set, it was her first day, and it was the shot where she has to jump out of a window and Aaron catches her and they start running, and it is the intro where she takes off her mask. As she was coming out of the trailer, I was like, Katheryn, we have 20 minutes, the sun is setting, it’s a one-take wonder because it has to happen at magic hour. Once again, trying to way too ambitious for what I have (laughs). So I said, Kathryn, I have your stunt double here, but then I would have to cut for the lines. What do you feel? And she was like, “I’m down, I’m ready, let’s get dirty!” As big and as Hollywood as she is, she was ready to get dirty and gritty for the role because that role is undone in a lot of ways because her character carries with her a lot of weight. She is manipulating all of the puzzle pieces which is pretty cool to find out at the end. She was just such a team player and she didn’t even practice. She was like, let’s do it. I was like, are you sure about the window? Are you sure you’re gonna go through it? Are you okay? She says, “done. I’m ready.” We did it twice, she nailed it twice, Aaron caught her twice doing somersaults out of a window, both of them did their own stunts and it was unreal (laughs), and that was day one on set! They trusted each other, they trusted us, they trusted me and it was an awesome moment of just jumping off a platform and creating magic together. It was awesome.
BK: That’s one hell of a first day.
AM: Can you believe that? I know! Unbelievable.
BK: The look of this film is fantastic. How much of it is due to you, and how much of it is the result of your cinematographers, Gavin Smith and Russ De Jong?
AM: It was a huge collaboration from the beginning. Tim Doiron, the producing partner and I landed in New Mexico six months prior to shooting. We lived in Carrizozo, that little town, in those tiny motels for four months. We were isolated from reality just like Arthur which was super inspiring, and Gavin and I were coming up with that beautiful projection and trying to be innovative with the small budget and small locations we had and really branching out to try and make the film feel much bigger than what it was. I’m obsessed with every detail, every moment and every little piece of color, light, production value and design that you see onscreen. Every little detail, I wish I could say it happened by accident and that we sneezed and there it was, but it is meticulously planned (laughs). I hope it feels real. I just wanted it to feel like real life, but it was definitely very much planned including the times of day when we shot. I really wanted to take advantage of those gorgeous landscape shots and the sun setting shots. That required teamwork with the DP and also out first assistant director and our production designer, my sister Faye Mullen, and me and everybody coming together to really try and achieve what we needed to on a tight timeframe. But the look was heavily established beforehand. I started taking pictures and photographs the minute we started writing. Five years ago, I was collecting a look book for “Wander” that I brought to the DPs who I have worked with before on several projects so we had a shorthand. We just wanted to make it our best work, so we challenged each other every day than we ever made it before which is a good thing.
BK: That lightning bolt in one shot, that was real?
AM: Oh yeah it was. Nothing is effects except for the little chip. Everything is real. Every sunset, every lightning bolt, all of that is just real and I’m so proud of that.
BK: Thank you for your time April.
AM: Thank you for supporting “Wander.” Have a great day and keep running!
“Wander” will be released in theaters (whichever ones are open), On Demand and on Digital starting December 4, 2020. Please be sure to check out the trailer below.Poster and photos courtesy of Saban Films.
WRITER’S NOTE: This screening took place back in 2011, not long after “The Town” was released in movie theaters everywhere.
Ben Affleck arrived amid throngs of fans and paparazzi at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for a Q&A of his directorial efforts, “The Town” and “Gone Baby Gone.” Both films have received tremendous praise and given him a second wind to his career which at the time was in lousy shape. Upon being introduced to a standing ovation, he remarked, “This is nice! People are still in the seats! It’s always cool when people stay through the end credits!”
So why did Affleck want to direct? Having worked for some time as an actor, he said he was lucky to work with many gifted people, but he found himself becoming increasingly frustrated with the direction films he starred in went. Realizing film is a director’s medium, he decided it was time to give it a shot. With “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck said he was determined to fail on his merits and succeed on them as well. He described his previous directorial experience as being comprised of “horrible college movies” which made him happy YouTube was not around when he worked on them.
“Gone Baby Gone” does feel like the work of a confident director, but Affleck said he felt “failure was around the corner” when he made it. He found shooting utterly difficult as he struggled to find things which worked, and he was forced to shoot take after take to bring the actors to a state of relaxation. The whole process apparently made him feel like jumping off a roof. Still, this film does mean a great deal to him as it allowed him to go after the core philosophy of what he called “acting making the movie.” It also dealt with themes he wanted to explore such as children paying for the sins of their parents and of how strong moral ideals are not always rewarded.
With “The Town,” Affleck succeeded in making both a genre film and a character driven motion picture by taking a drama and, as he said, “wrapping it inside the shell of a traditional action movie.” That it was set in Boston was appealing to him as well. “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” served as an inspiration for “The Town,” and Affleck said he wanted to make a modern film noir which felt real to where your brain was not telling you that it wasn’t. Editing it was painful though as the assembly cut was four hours long and he was unsure of what to take out. Test audiences did not help either as he remarked, “They liked the action. They didn’t like the talking!”
Affleck also talked about the Pete Postlethwaite who co-starred in “The Town” and passed away before the movie was released. Postlethwaite was sick during shooting, but Affleck said he still did the movie and came to work each day with a great attitude. Despite him playing such an unsavory character, Affleck said it was always wonderful to be in Postlethwaite’s presence.
With directing, Affleck said it gave him the appreciation he did not always have for what others did on set. He also confessed he had absolutely no idea of what the crew did to make movies a reality, and that actors always believed film sets revolve around them. Considering what he has been through before and after starring in “Gigli,” he considers himself “remarkably sane for winning an Oscar” back in his 20’s.
We have seen Ben Affleck go from making good movies to truly awful ones (even he admits this), but he still describes himself as being a “late bloomer” which is tricky if you have success early on in life. We all thank him for coming by the Aero Theatre on this particular evening, and he left us with this unforgettable piece of advice for all aspiring filmmakers:
WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place back in 2013.
Skylar Astin has had the privilege of entertaining us onstage in the Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening” and onscreen in movies like “Hamlet 2” where he sang the song “Raped in the Face” and “Pitch Perfect” in which he appeared opposite Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. Now he’s starring in “21 and Over,” the comedy which marks the directorial debut of “The Hangover” screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Astin plays Casey who quickly proves to be the moral compass the other main characters need to survive the mess they end up getting caught in.
I got to catch up with Astin while at the “21 and Over” press conference held at the Saddle Ranch Chop House off of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Now when it comes to college comedies like this one, most actors would prefer to play the character who is wild and crazy and comes across as the life of the party. Casey, however, is exactly the opposite of that even though he gets into as much trouble as his friends do. Still, Astin saw the benefits of playing such a level headed and grounded character in this film.
Skylar Astin: “You’ve got to have a moral compass of the movie and you got to like steer the ship a little. It’s cool that we all got our opportunity to be funny though.”
One pivotal scene in “21 and Over” has Astin and his co-star Miles Teller walking around campus wearing nothing but a tube sock over their privates. Now this could not have been a very comfortable scene to do, especially when you have a lot of people on set looking at you and wondering how much time you spent at the gym. Astin talked in detail about he approached this scene in the film which was filmed in Seattle, Washington.
Skylar Astin: “Funny enough, it was supposed to be approached very delicately. We were told that it was going to be a closed set and that it was gonna be the warmest day of the shoot. It turns out that it’s freezing, everyone’s there, and actually at our first costume fitting they just had a sock and a little underneath sock to keep everything in place and they’re like ‘here’s your fitting!’ At first, we had a moment of where it was like fight or flight, and I think I was just like ‘let’s just do it man. We have to do it eventually.’ I just de-robed and was like this is everything I got. I don’t think I was like proud, but I just had to play the role of being okay with it. I had the idea of making the whole crew where just socks and they didn’t oblige, especially the women, but it worked out thankfully.”
In the film, Astin and Teller take their best friend from high school, Jeff Chang (played by Justin Chon), to celebrate his 21st birthday in an appropriately drunken style. Now the really good actors are able to draw on their own experiences when playing the role, and we couldn’t help but wonder if Astin has been through similar nights in his own life. It was actually a bit surprising to hear the similarities he shares with Casey.
Skylar Astin: “Personally for me, my younger brother is my best friend and my partner in crime and I’ve definitely had several nights that had the spirit of this movie. I’ve always been the one that has a good time, but at the end of the bender it’s like ‘both of our phones are dead and we both have to call our parents and tell them we’re alive.’ That’s kind of always been my responsibility so I can relate to the feeling of just being a little irritable on those nights but also letting loose and have a good time. There is a little bit of Casey in me, but I don’t think I’m as much of an over thinker though. I always try to draw from personal experiences and my own personality whenever I play a role, and it’s not hard to play a role that close to my age, close to home and in a movie that I would go see if I wasn’t in it.”
Working with two different directors on the same film must seem challenging as this is typically a one-person job. What if one director tells you to do one thing and the other director instructs you to do the exact opposite? Where do you draw the line? Astin, however, said both Lucas and Moore were on the same page as they had written the screenplay together and have been friends for many years. As a result, there was never any conflict between either of them.
Skylar Astin: “What they have in common is that they are both the writers so it comes directly from one vessel. That’s always really great as an actor to have that wealth of knowledge coming from two voices. For me, I loved the different kinds of conversations that I would have with each one. Since I had a love story on top of the funny moments, there were different kind of conversations like the leading man type of thing I would have with Moore and to be more sincere in certain moments, and then Lucas was great because he was giving me jokes every five minutes. So, I had this well-rounded voice coming from two different people. They worked together so well, and they almost know this age better than I do and I’m closer to it. It’s kind of crazy.”
For a film filled with such drunken debauchery as “21 and Over,” Skylar Astin proves to be the most well-rounded person these characters need to get them through the night. It is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.
WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place back in 2014.
“Pawn Sacrifice,” the movie about Bobby Fischer’s quest to beat the Russians in the game of chess, proves to be another cinematic triumph for both Edward Zwick and Tobey Maguire. Another person who deserves credit for this movie’s critical success is Steven Knight who wrote the screenplay. Knight’s previous writing credits include David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises,” Stephen Frears’ “Dirty Pretty Things” and John Crowley’s “Closed Circuit,” and he wrote and directed “Hummingbird” which starred Jason Statham. He also wrote and directed “Locke” which featured Tom Hardy in what proved to be one of the most underrated movies of 2014.
I got to sit in on an interview with Knight while he was in Los Angeles, California at the Four Seasons Hotel to promote “Pawn Sacrifice,” and it was really nice to talk with him again after having interviewed him about “Locke” for the website We Got This Covered. His screenplay showed how well researched he was in Bobby Fischer and the world championship games he ended up playing against the Soviet chess grandmaster Boris Spassky.
Ben Kenber:I read that when you found out Tobey Maguire was going to be playing Bobby Fischer in this movie that it made it easier for you to write the script.
Steven Knight:Yeah, well it was Tobey who came to me with the idea, so from the outset it was always going to be Tobey playing Bobby. That really helped because this is about a battle being fought with the face if you like. It’s the intensity of the movement, and Tobey has got that intensity so much.
BK:Boris Spassky (played by Liev Schreiber) is an interesting character as presented in this movie. This could have easily become a good guy/bad guy story, but the movie avoids that thank goodness.
SK:Yeah because that wasn’t the case. If anything, Bobby was the bad guy. He was the one with the unreasonable demands. He was the one everyone chased around for reasons that we know. But Boris was a decent person, and when he applauds at the end of game six you realize that this is a man who knows how to lose and have the dignity. If there’s any message about this Cold War, it’s that when two human beings can overcome that conflict.
BK:It’s almost scary to think about how Bobby would’ve handled fame if he were to become famous in this day and age because there would have been nowhere for him to hide.
SK:No, definitely not. If he came along today, he would get the best agent and he would get the best lawyers. They would come to him. He wouldn’t choose. They would get him than make a fortune.
BK:The last image of the movie, when Bobby Fischer wins and gets what he wants, has haunted me ever since because it’s all downhill for him from there. It’s sad to see that he’s not able to enjoy the success he earned.
SK:Yeah, and the image that’s always in my mind was he’s been running away and he’s hit a brick wall, and now they are gonna get him.
BK:It’s interesting that the movie ends there instead of following Bobby and observing what happened to him afterwards. It could almost make for a good sequel.
SK:It would make for an odd sequel (laughs).
Thanks to Steven Knight for taking the time to talk about what went into his screenplay for “Pawn Sacrifice,” and I look forward to what he has in store for us next. The movie is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.
WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place back in 2014. This is worth noting especially when the director mentions a particular individual who has become far too famous for his or anyone else’s good.
Edward Zwick has remained one of Hollywood’s best and perhaps most underappreciated directors as he has given us such great motion pictures like “Glory,” “The Last Samurai,” “Blood Diamond” and “Legends of the Fall.” With “Pawn Sacrifice,” he takes us back to the Cold War when American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) took on the Soviet Empire and its chess grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in a 21-game competition in an effort to end the Soviet’s domination of the game. But as Bobby contemplates which moves he could make on the chess board, he also has to deal with his mental illness and paranoia which may descend him into a realm of madness he won’t be able to escape from.
Zwick sat down for an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California to talk about “Pawn Sacrifice,” working with Maguire and the genius of Bobby Fischer. As the interview went on, it focused more on the subject of fame and how crushing it can be. Bobby was really one of the first people who had to endure a type of fame which followed him all around the world, and we eventually saw what this attention did to him.
What’s up Hollywood reporter Izumi Hasegawa brought up the fact that, while this movie takes place back in 1972, it deals with celebrity in a way which feels very relevant to what’s going on today. We see artists like Miley Cyrus gaining notoriety for doing things which Hannah Montana would never do, and Zwick really made clear why we remain so deeply interested in famous people and the effect fame has on them.
Edward Zwick: We’re fascinated by the darker sides. We are fascinated when they reveal themselves in a way that is vulnerable or fragile or they have some sort of failures. I think we seize on that, and this was the very beginning of that. The person to ask about that too would be Tobey (Maguire) because he has had to deal with a share of it as an iconic superhero. I think that people of extraordinary ambition and single-mindedness reach a place that, at the same time, makes them more vulnerable to that glare. And as they try to retire from that glare and they turn inward, there is often this weird reaction and I’ve seen it with a lot of people I have worked with and it’s hard to describe. Most people who become artists to begin with, or who aspire to greatness, there’s often some vulnerability at the base that gets exposed, I think.
“Pawn Sacrifice” was released in a year which has seen documentaries made on the lives of Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and Nina Simone; three brilliant artists whose lives were tragically destroyed because they couldn’t handle the pressures of fame which was thrust upon them. Since Bobby never had to deal with his likeness being plastered all over the internet, it’s tempting to say he got off easy, but this was not the case. Like those three, Bobby didn’t and couldn’t deal very well with fame as it isolated him more and more from the rest of humanity, and I remarked to Zwick how watching Maguire portray the chess prodigy here made me wonder how he would have dealt with fame in this day and age.
Edward Zwick: I think it would have been insufferable. Even the reason he disappeared even then was in some sense a reaction to that kind of scrutiny. It’s become so barbaric. I look at Donald Trump right now and I see someone who is now being considered in the political arena as legitimate who is famous for being famous. Not for his policies, good or bad, but because it is so important now in the culture to be famous or to be known, and he is now transitioning into this most serious realm. We’ve almost reached that height of absurdity.
What Zwick said rings absolutely true as our obsession with celebrities keeps getting bigger and bigger to where we are more likely to know who won the latest season of “American Idol” than the name of our current governor. This makes “Pawn Sacrifice” all the more important to watch, and it is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.
BE SURE TO ALSO CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW I HAD WITH EDWARD ZWICK WHICH I DID FOR THE WEBSITE WE GOT THIS COVERED DOWN BELOW