Edgar Wright Talks with Walter Hill about The Driver

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2011 when this screening took place.

Continuing with his film programming at New Beverly Cinema which he entitled The Wright Stuff II, filmmaker Edgar Wright gave us a vehicular double feature with “The Driver” and “Duel.” The main attraction of the evening, however, was “The Driver,” a 1978 movie directed by Walter Hill, and Wright gleefully told the audience it was more for him than us as it was his first time seeing it on the big screen, and that it made him want to become a getaway driver. Joining him for this screening was the film’s director Walter Hill, actors Bruce Dern and Ronee Blakley, and producer Frank Marshall.

Upon seeing the sold-out audience at the New Beverly, Hill remarked, “This is the largest crowd in the United States that has ever seen this movie. It didn’t do all that well when it was first released.”

Indeed, “The Driver” is not as well-known as some of Hill’s other movies like “48 Hours” or “Southern Comfort.” When it came out, it was criticized as not being fun and for being “too real.” Hill remarked how depressing it can be when a movie you make does no business and gets bad reviews. Later though, another filmmaker contacted Hill about the reception “The Driver” got and told him, “Pay no attention to reviews. The movie’s marvelous, life is hard.”

“The Driver” marked the first time Hill worked with Dern, and Dern praised Hill endlessly throughout the evening and said he would go anywhere in the world for him. Dern said he found Hill to be “full of surprises,” and he came to work thinking they would do something which had never done before. Hill in turn described Dern as “a very special actor” who always jumped out at him with quality and personality in each of his performances, and that he gave each role an unusual quality of psychological density to even the most mundane characters.

Marshall, best known for producing the Jason Bourne movies and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” originally turned the movie down because it was being shot at night in downtown Los Angeles. Back in the 1970’s, he was worried about shooting there as it had a very brutal atmosphere. Somehow though, he got sucked into doing this one and ended up trading a summer in Malibu as a result. “The Driver” later led Hill to make another film called “The Warriors” which was also shot at night.

While Dern has most of the movie’s dialogue, the main star of “The Driver” is Ryan O’Neal. His character is noted for having only 350 words in the entire script, and Wright remarked how nice it was to have an action movie where the hero has no good lines. O’Neal was known as a heartthrob at the time, but he was eager to do something different in his career when this role came along. However, many didn’t accept O’Neal as this character when the movie came out as people had a different image of him at the time. Years later though, it is clear just how good he is here, and it served him well in his growth as an actor.

When it comes to the car chases in “The Driver,” it is clear the actors really were driving those cars instead of their stunt doubles. This film was released not long after “The French Connection” which did everything for real, and everyone was really tearing around at crazy speeds. Hill said he and his fellow filmmakers were “young and reckless” back then, and he gleefully pointed out there indeed was “a real man in that car that flipped.”

But what’s great about the car chases in “The Driver,” as Marshall pointed out, is how Hill uses them to tell a story. These are not car chases for the sake of car chases, but ones which are an integral part to the movie as a whole. Watching it at New Beverly Cinema, it made me yearn for the kind Hollywood doesn’t do any more unless CGI is heavily involved. In the end, there is not much which is even better than the real thing.

One audience member asked if there were any police experts on set during the making of “The Driver.” Hill said there were not, and he made clear how the movie is really “pure fantasy” in what it portrays and is the “opposite of law enforcement.” It’s hard to think of any police force wanting to be involved with a movie like this as it appears to show the bad guys getting away without any real repercussions. In the end, Hill saw it as an extension of the “dark sides of personalities.” Indeed, this is not a film inhabited by easily redeemable characters, and Hill was correct in describing as a “very unreal movie.”

Hill also took the time to talk about his style of directing, and this something I was eager to know more about. His films typically don’t get much rehearsal time, but he found this actually works in the director’s favor. He told the audience that two-thirds of directing is casting, and he never gets any rehearsal until take one. Dern added how Hill is not very good at rehearsal, and this made him and Walter seem like a perfect match for one another.

Hill even talked about how he originally wanted Robert Mitchum for Dern’s role, and that he talked with him for six hours straight about it. In the end, however, Mitchum told Hill there was “too much car stuff” and that he didn’t have the energy for it. This clearly benefited Dern who got the role instead, and he admitted Mitchum would have been a “handful” for Hill to deal with.

In the end, this screening “The Driver” really turned out to be a gift for everyone at New Beverly Cinema. It was a gift for Hill and the other guests as it brought back so many memories they would have otherwise forgotten. It was also a gift for Wright as he would never have seen it on the big screen otherwise. But it was an especially big gift for the audience because many of would not have seen it otherwise. I probably would not have rushed out to see “The Driver” if Wright did not feature it in his festival of movies, and for me it turned out to be a special treat.

“The Driver” is one of the many movies which show how Walter Hill is still a vastly underappreciated filmmaker at times. After watching it at New Beverly Cinema, I am reminded of how effective a director he can be when given the right material.

ADDITIONAL WRITER’S NOTE: This movie has become a cult classic in recent years and has proven to be very influential on many filmmakers. Nicolas Winding Refn has cited it as an inspiration on his brilliant movie “Drive,” and you can see its influence all over Edgar Wright’s 2017 action film “Baby Driver.”

Running the AIDS Walk

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The second week of 2017 Los Angeles Marathon training had us doing something a little different. Instead of meeting up at Griffith Park on Saturday, we instead met on Sunday, October 23rd, in Downtown LA for the annual AIDS Walk. But while the word WALK is prominently displayed in the event signs, we were there instead to run it, and it proved to be a good preview of what we can expect in March 2017.

Now the AIDS Walk is typically held in West Hollywood, but this time it took place in Downtown LA and for the very first time. Another runner told me this was because the Governor wanted to spread out the LGBT related events throughout the city so the acceptance of them could be wider and wouldn’t necessarily be confined to one part of it. This change did throw some people off as they used to be able to just walk down to the event which was a block away from the apartment, and when something like this is held downtown, you can sure bet traffic will be a nightmare for everyone foolish enough to be driving.

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For me, the AIDS Walk being in Downtown LA got me to do something I haven’t done since living out here: use the Metro Rail. The coaches begged us to use public transportation as the odds of us finding parking were going to be remote at best, and getting in and out of town was going to be an endurance test of another kind (and one which is not at all healthy).

I went to the Jefferson/La Cienega station, one which I have passed by many times back when I commuted to Marina Del Rey on a regular basis. That they did not charge a fee for parking there was both a surprise and a delight as parking is such a racket in Los Angeles, one which sucks too much money out of our wallets. The cost of going one way into Downtown LA? $1.75. Looking at the price, I immediately wondered why I never bothered using this service before. There’s no denying how cost effective it is.

Of course, being this was my first time riding on the Metro (thank you, Berlin

), I was afraid I was going to screw up and get on the wrong train. I also had to make a transfer at 7th Street Station and get on either the Red or Purple Line to get to Civic Center which was our meet up point. A lot of times when I’m afraid of going in the wrong direction, I usually do. Fortunately, thanks to the dozens of people wearing AIDS Walk t-shirts at 7th Street Station, I was fairly confident I was heading in the right direction.

It was fun traveling on the Metro Express as it brought back memories of when I took the BART train into San Francisco. At the same time, it reminded me of all the dead and passionless faces I saw seated near me as people looked like they had the life sucked out of them long ago. That scared me to death because I thought I would end up looking like them before I knew it. I still get scared of that even to this very day.

When I finally arrived at the Civic Center/Grand Park Station, I made my way down 1st Street where the T2EA runners were meeting up. The major plus of this event is that our group was always the one to start off, and we would always start just before everyone else did because AIDS Walk primarily benefits AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) which we run in support of. While everyone else has to wait behind barricades like cattle, we sat at the very front and were more than ready to conquer the asphalt and concrete roads of Downtown LA.

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Coach James and Coach Kerry said we may find ourselves wanting to treat the AIDS Walk as a race, but we needed to resist the urge. In retrospect, I ran way too fast. I’m in the 15-minute pace group, and my average pace for this event was 12:57. I spent a lot of time trying to focus on my form as I’m always afraid I am slouching or leaning forward too much. It didn’t occur to me right away that I was running too fast. I wanted to keep up with my fellow T2EA runners, but as usual the majority of them left me in the dust. As training continues, I want to work harder at being lighter on my feet.

The volunteers proved to be as supportive as those at the LA Marathon, coming out to give us high fives as well as water, chips, bottles of Gatorade and Muscle Milk, and they even had ice cream and popsicles. I was close to getting a popsicle, but I already had a bottle of Muscle Milk in my hands and decided not to overdo it. Plus, I’m on a diet, or so I keep telling myself.

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The major upside was the weather wasn’t too hot or too cold. It was overcast with a nice breeze; a big contrast with last year’s AIDS Walk which had us suffering through temperatures in the triple digits. This time we were lucky and not frying like eggs on the sidewalk. It would have been nice, however, to have had a celebratory lunch in a restaurant with air conditioning.

Coming into this, we were told the whole thing would be 6 miles long. But as I was approaching the 5-mile stretch, one of my fellow T2EA runners who was standing to the side and told me, “Just kidding! It’s only 4.87 miles long!” In other words, PSYCHE! I don’t think the coaches realized it was shorter than everyone expected, but it was just as well as I crossed the finish line because the last hill, which proved to be steeper than any we run up during the LA Marathon, pretty much did me in.

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Volunteers gave us paper certificates confirming we completed the 2016 AIDS Walk, and they also handed us reusable Walgreen bags which we filled up with bottles of Gatorade and Propel as well as bags of French Onion Sun Chips, Cheetos, Veggie Ranch Sun Chips, Kettle Cooked chips, and I imagine there was some Doritos chips out there somewhere. I kept putting a whole bunch of things in my bag, figuring a volunteer would at some point order me to stop hogging all the goodies. Still, it looked like the volunteers were desperate to give everything away in an effort to justify all the boxes of goods purchased.

Looking back, I think I had a good run. I just need to watch my speed in the future weeks and keep up with the maintenance runs. Also, it would be great to get some more cardio exercises in.

But the real benefit of this AIDS Walk was discovering the Metro Rail as I plan to make more use of it in the near future. No more of this paying $10 to $15 dollars for parking. Like Clint Eastwood kept saying in the movie “In the Line of Fire,” I love public transportation.

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UPDATE: I am once again raising money for AIDS Project Los Angeles and am trying to reach my goal of $1,100 before the year’s end. All donations are tax-deductible and go to a great organization. Please click here to make an online donation, or you can download a form to instead pay by check. No donation is too small or too big. Thanks for reading.

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