Ronald Krauss and Kathy DiFiore on the Making of ‘Gimme Shelter’

WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place in 2014.

Gimme Shelter” gives audiences one of the most intimate looks at life inside a shelter for those in need they could ever hope to see. It stars Vanessa Hudgens who turns in an astonishing performance as Apple Bailey, the child of an abusive and drug addicted mother. At the film’s beginning, Apple runs away from home and seeks out her biological father, a Wall Street banker named Tom Fitzpatrick (played by Brendan Fraser) who does what he can to help her out, but she ends up running away upon discovering she’s pregnant, and because Tom isn’t excited about her wanting to keep the baby. After a couple of nights on the streets and a nasty car accident, Apple finds her way to a shelter for young pregnant women run which is run by a spiritual woman, and it is there that she begins to feel a sense of hope for the first time in her life.

“Gimme Shelter” was written and directed by Ronald Krauss who actually spent some time in an actual women’s shelter run by Kathy DiFiore, a once homeless woman who eventually turned her life around and founded Several Sources Shelters which is dedicated to helping women in need. Krauss’ original plan was to make a documentary out of all the interviews he did with residents of the shelter, but in an attempt to show the world of the importance of the work DiFiore has done and to keep her legacy going, he decided to make a feature length movie instead.

I got to meet with Krauss and DiFiore during a roundtable interview at the “Gimme Shelter’s” press day held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. It was especially nice to see DiFiore there as she does not do a lot of publicity. DiFiore talked about why she decided to let Krauss make this movie which was inspired by her work. Krauss went into detail about his experiences at the shelter, and he also explained how he came to cast Hudgens in the lead role.

Question: How are you?

Kathy DiFiore: Good but a little tired. I’ve never been to so many interviews (everyone laughs).

Question: Welcome to our world. So, what did you think when this guy (Ronald Krauss) shows up on your doorstep? I guess you’re used to having people show up on your doorstep, but this guy…

Kathy DiFiore: Usually they’re pregnant women (laughs).

Question: Yeah right. This guy shows up and I doubt it went like, “Uh, can I stay here because I’m doing research for a movie.” But how did you feel when he proposes the idea of doing a movie based on your thing?

Kathy DiFiore: Well, it didn’t happen that way. It happened more like he was visiting his brother who happens to live a mile and a half from the shelter, and he had heard about my work through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, and he volunteered. It was Christmas time and I let people come in to volunteer all the time, especially someone that has the talents he has. He eventually said, “Maybe I could film some of what you’re doing” which I wasn’t fond of because of the $10,000 fine. I didn’t want any publicity. I thought, let me just go quietly. No public relations. Over the course of time, and it took several months as he was doing the work speaking with the young mothers and they got to know him, they would come to me and tell me how much they respected him and how much he respected them. He felt they were giving him private information, but he was treating them with such dignity. You don’t hear those types of words coming out of the women that come to me. They’ve been abused and abandoned and are really confused by so many, particularly men, in their lives. And then I heard a little voice inside my head, I’m a very prayerful woman and I was asking God for guidance, and I heard, “Trust him.” And when I heard “trust him,” it kept going on. Trust him, trust him, trust him. I thought, okay holy spirit, okay, and then he and I talked about some of the things he looked at.

Ronald Krauss: I didn’t really have any sort of agenda when I met Kathy. I wasn’t really setting out to make a film. It just so happened that her shelter was a mile from my brother’s house and it was at Christmas time. Usually during the holidays I’m, like a lot of people, at food banks or something or shelters just reaching out to people who are less fortunate. I remember the first time I was there visiting Kathy and walked into that shelter for the first time and saw mothers and children walking around and it was really fascinating. It’s exactly what you see in the film because we shot the film at the real place. I had learned that Kathy had not done any publicity in her work. For the last 30 years she remained anonymous other than when she started with the $10,000 fine, and that was news of a woman who was homeless and was trying to give back to society by turning her own home into a shelter. The state came down on her, and that’s a whole other story. She reached out to Mother Teresa, and Mother Teresa came by her side and together they changed the laws in the state of New Jersey, and she was honored in the White House with Ronald Reagan. I learned all of this which was fascinating and I was sort of intrigued by her, but I was more intrigued by… the young women that struggled and were finding their way in life and the woman that was sort of selflessly helping them with her work in this shelter and five shelters she has now; some just for homeless women and some for teenagers and different things. My first thing was to sort of really help her organize so that her legacy and her work would continue. I didn’t realize that I was planting the seeds for a film that I was really trying to say that people need to learn about your work. I was thinking at first that I was going to document her work just for her own purpose so people could find out later. With any device that I found there, and I actually borrowed her camera, I started to interview the girls and record the girls and go through her boxes and look at all her old videotapes. It was a lot of stuff. I started filming one girl after the next, one after the next, interview and asking where they were from, how they ended up here, where’s their parents, where’s all these things and the tapes started piling up. I would put them in Kathy’s office in the back, and before I know it there was a whole stack of tapes of these girls and their stories and they were all very similar. They were all stories of abuse and neglect and abandonment. It was both something like a bad mother, bad father, nobody cared and the thing they had in common is that they didn’t pick this life. They didn’t pick these parents. They didn’t pick up parent who was a drug addict or an alcoholic, it just happened. And what do people do when these things happen? They just get abused and they struggle in life, and they think there’s no hope. A lot of times the will of the parents and the people who are bad, it gets thrown onto the kids and they become angry and bitter and they fight and rebel and they run away and become homeless, and so it’s a vicious cycle. I think the turning point of the whole thing for me was I kept going back and back and weeks were passing and peoples’ lives were passing through my life, and they were touching me but I was sort of a little bit removed in a sense. Then one day I showed up at the shelter at about 7 o’clock at night and there was a young girl standing there in front of the shelter; an African American girl about 18 years old. It was about 15 degrees out, she had no jacket on and she was just standing there and I said, “Can I help you? Why don’t you come inside? What are you doing out here?” I thought she lived in the shelter but she didn’t and she thought I worked there and I didn’t obviously work there, so we were kind of misleading each other. Then Kathy shows up and I’m standing in the living room with this girl and Kathy says, “Who’s this girl?” And I said, “I don’t know. She was in front of the shelter.” And she comes over and says, “Never let anybody in the shelter. These are the rules here.” She kind of dug into me a little bit, you know? And I was like, “Okay but this girl, she didn’t have a place to go. She’s by herself, she doesn’t have a jacket, she has nothing.” And she says, “Let me talk to her.” Kathy’s very seasoned obviously and knows what to look for in these people because they could be deceiving, and she interviewed her and she came back to me and said, “It just so happens that we have one bed left in the shelter. Why don’t you tell this girl that she could stay here.” And so I went up to her, her name was Darlecia, and I said, “Hey Darlecia, they have an extra bed here for you to stay. You can stay here” and this girl… I’m sorry (Ronald started to get teary eyed) … Anyway, this girl, she hugged me so hard that she almost knocked me over.

Question: Is she the one that you based Vanessa Hudgens’ character on?

Ronald Krauss: Yeah. It was a jolt into my heart about that there were many young girls like this out there and that could use help. That’s what inspired me and made me think if I was to make a film it could create awareness for other people. I asked Kathy about it and she said absolutely not, of course. And then time went on and she came to me and said, “You know the girls really respect you and trust you in terms of the care of what you’ve been doing, and perhaps you’re right. Maybe some sort of film could really help to spread the word that shelters like this exist and that other people can be kind, and maybe someone will open a shelter if they see a film like this.” But no one ever anticipated it would be a film like this.

Question: What made you choose Vanessa Hudgens for the role of Apple Bailey and what was it like to work with her?

Ronald Krauss: I never thought that a Hollywood actress could really play the role like this after living there for like a year. I lived there for a year writing this script. And there are a lot of famous actors that wanted to do it and had auditioned and some of them were really well known, and then someone mentioned Vanessa Hudgens and I didn’t really know who she was. I met with her and she was very passionate to play this role. She believed in herself that she could really do it. There was something inside of her. She turned in a great audition, she was persistent, and the turning point was that I had taken all the auditions, there was about seven or eight that I liked, and I sent them to the shelter. I didn’t tell them who I was thinking about. And when they saw the link of the girls, they unanimously picked Vanessa. They said this is the girl who should play this part, and that was the confirmation. She dove into this thing, she lived in the shelter, cut her hair off, she gained 15 pounds and besides the physical transformation, she transformed inside and she bonded with Kathy and the girls and they trusted her and they opened up to her.

Question: Kathy, what did you think of the final film?

Kathy DiFiore: (It’s) perfect. It still makes me cry when I watch it. There are women who have left Several Sources that want to come and see it and I can’t wait for that. It’s a legacy for us.

“Gimme Shelter” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is Fun, But Also a Bit Stale

Zombieland Double Tap poster

For the record, I have seen the original “Zombieland” although it took being on cable one morning for me to watch it. In the midst of an endless sea of zombie movies and television shows, here was one which had a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse, and it proved to be endlessly entertaining throughout. While everything and everybody could have been easily upstaged by Bill Murray’s howlingly funny cameo where he is at his self-effacing best, it had a game cast of actors who reveled in the fun you could tell they were having during its making.

Now it is 10 years later, and we finally have the long-awaited sequel “Zombieland: Double Tap” (nice title). The cast now comes with at least one Oscar nomination under their belts, Reuben Fleischer is riding high after the commercial success of “Venom,” and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have freed themselves from the “Deadpool” franchise long enough to pen this one. What results is definitely fun, but it also lacks the freshness of its predecessor, and everyone seems to be trying a little too hard to be funny and clever this time around. Plus, the sight of a zombie’s head getting bashed does not have the same visceral thrill it used to have.

When we catch up with our intrepid band of heroes, they are laying waste to the latest zombie horde as they make their way towards a government building which these days has had one too many unwelcome guests – The White House. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has long since become a hardened survivor, and the many nights he spends with Wichita (Emma Stone) in the Lincoln Bedroom has him seriously thinking about marriage. As for Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), he treats everyday in there like it is Christmas while Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) continually resents him for treating her like she is still a little girl. Things come to a head when Wichita and Little Rock suddenly become tired of life in the Oval Office and hit the road to find some new sights. After some hesitation, Columbus and Tallahassee do the same.

For a moment, I figured “Zombieland: Double Tap” would take place entirely in The White House and that the filmmakers would take great pleasure in ridiculing the terrible state of American politics. But since “Zombieland” took place largely on the west side of America, it only makes sense we find these characters traveling through various locales on the east coast which include, yes, Graceland. Like in any zombie movie, home is where you find it as no one can afford to stay in the same place for very long.

Seriously, these movies thrive on their inspired cast of actors. Woody Harrelson, who can play just about any role at this point in his career, looks to be having the time of his life as Tallahassee as we watch him channel Elvis Presley more often than not, and he makes his undying hatred of pacifism and minivans especially palpable. Eisenberg and Stone play off of each other wonderfully as they constantly try to prove who is more sarcastic than the other. As for Breslin, it has been fascinating to watch her grow up onscreen, and her yearning to look for other people her age in this apocalyptic world gives her character more room to grow than the others.

Still, there is a constant feeling of “been there, done that” which permeates these proceedings. Sometimes filmmakers can get away with doing the same thing one more time, but other times they fall victim to staying in their comfort zone to where things get stale very quickly. With “Zombieland: Double Tap,” it is an example of half and half as there is still much fun to be had, but what was once fresh now feels far past its expiration date. Plus, seeing these characters continually try to be cleverer than the other gets exasperating rather quickly.

One of the things this sequel really has going for it is new blood. Zoey Deutch, so fetching in “Everybody Wants Some,” is a scene-stealer as the infinitely dumb Madison. Sure, this character is a dumb blonde cliché, but Deutch is a hoot throughout as she makes Madison so adorably stupid to where I kept waiting for her to sing “Cause I’m a Blonde” at the drop of a hat. We watch a lot of movies like these waiting for dumb blondes to die a most horrible death, but Deutch gives us more than enough reason to see Madison live one more day and then die on another.

There is also the always excellent Rosario Dawson who shows up as Nevada, a fellow survivor who, like Tallahassee has quite the thing for Elvis. She and Harrelson have quite the chemistry together as they talk about their love for “the king,” and it is a shame she is not in the movie more. However, when she does reappear, it is at the perfect moment.

And there is no forgetting Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch who play… Well, just watch the movie to find out.

Fleischer does what he can to keep things rolling, and he gives us one great zombie attack sequence which lasts several minutes and looks like it was done in one shot. This sequel is never boring, but it still feels lacking in one way or another. Even when the main characters ban together to attack an amazingly large horde of zombies which threaten Babylon, an oasis of peace which is just asking to be laid waste to especially when you take into account it has a no guns policy, the climax is never as thrilling as it wants to be.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” is not a bad movie, but it is also not particularly memorable. Whether or not the fans of the original enjoy it, I do not think it will have the same staying power. Everybody here looks ever so happy to be reunited, and the fun is definitely on display, but that same amount of fun does not quite translate fully over to the audience. In the end, things could have been much worse, but this sequel is still a near-miss for me.

By the way, be sure to stay through the end credits as there is a couple of post-credit scenes which are funnier than anything else in this sequel. Trust me, it is worth waiting to go to the bathroom until after the lights come up.

* * ½ out of * * * *

Grindhouse

Grindhouse movie poster

Grindhouse” is a double feature of movies written and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, and it is their ode to the exploitation movies of the 70’s and 80’s which used to play in all those seedy movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Now a lot of those movies were poorly made and had bad acting, writing and directing, but this is not the case here as this crazy love letter to all things exploitation gets brilliant treatment from two renegade minds of Hollywood cinema. To put it mildly, “Grindhouse” was an awesome experience. How great it is to see some kick ass movies made by two guys who have such a love for movies and who love making them.

“Grindhouse” starts off with the first of four fake movie trailers. This is part of Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s plan to immerse you in the experience of watching grindhouse movies like they did as kids; the scratched-up prints, those missing reels, the restricted ratings, the film breaking apart, and of course those insane coming attractions trailers which at times were more memorable than the movies they were promoting.

Anyway, the first trailer was for “Machete” which was done by Rodriguez and stars Danny Trejo as a Mexican framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and he ends up going after the bad guys with a bloody vengeance. This was a blast to watch and the best of all the fake trailers in “Grindhouse” as it captures the ridiculous one-liners we gleefully remember from all those over the top action movies from the 80’s. I especially liked how they had Cheech Marin playing a priest who Machete gets to kill the bad guys with him. He almost succeeds in stealing the trailer right out from under Trejo’s feet.

Then things get underway with “Planet Terror,” Robert Rodriguez’s addition to the “Grindhouse” movie. It is basically his ode to all those zombie movies which came out before we met the fast-paced zombies of “28 Days Later,” and it’s a cross between a George Romero movie and a John Carpenter movie. “Planet Terror” even features a score composed by Rodriguez himself, and he wrote and shot a lot it while listening to Carpenter’s music from “Escape From New York.” In fact, you can even hear a small part of Carpenter’s score in “Planet Terror” if you listen very closely.

“Planet Terror” was a total blast, a flashback to those go for broke action and horror movies that didn’t even try to hold anything back. It reminded me of the “Evil Dead” movies among others where everything and everybody were going nuts. Then again, with the characters running for their lives away from zombies chasing them, can you blame them?

Rodriguez has put a great cast together for “Planet Terror.” The one person who will be remembered forever from it is the ever so luscious Rose McGowan who plays Cherry, a dancer at a strip club who can’t keep from crying as she dances in front of customers. As you know from the movie’s trailer, one of her legs ends up getting chopped off and it eventually gets replaced by a machine gun which she uses to gleefully sadistic effect. It makes for some hilarious moments as Cherry doesn’t even hesitate in blowing away as many zombies as she can.

Also great in “Planet Terror” is Freddy Rodriguez who brings a total rebel quality to his role as El Wray who is a very cool customer indeed. You also have Michael Biehn playing the sheriff, Josh Brolin who plays Dr. Block whose wife, Dakota (played by Marley Shelton), has been cheating on him with another woman, and even Bruce Willis shows up as a military commander who knows more than he is willing to let on.

One of the people I was especially impressed with was Jeff Fahey who I have not always been a big fan of as he always seemed to me to be playing himself in every role he takes on. But here he is loads of fun as J.T., a gas station and restaurant owner who continually claims to have the best barbecued meat in all of Texas. It ended up making me look at Fahey in a whole new light, and as a character actor, he proves to be invaluable.

“Planet Terror” is one gory ride, to put it mildly, but then again what do you expect when you have Tom Savini playing one of the sheriff’s deputies? Have you even seen the movies he has worked on in the past? Rodriguez gets all the gross details down like body parts getting blown or ripped off in an ever so disgustingly precious fashion. Those same body parts are, as a man, the last things I ever want to lose! Ever!

After “Planet Terror” ended, we were treated to the other three fake movie trailers that “Grindhouse” had to offer. Edgar Wright, who directed “Shaun of the Dead,” did the trailer for “Don’t,” and it was endlessly hilarious as it showed us all the things we shouldn’t be doing when we’re in a horror movie. Then there was Rob Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of The S.S.” which was as funny as it was bizarre. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil this one for you as there are cameos here that are too inspired to just give away. And finally, there was “Thanksgiving” which was directed by Eli Roth, the same man who gave us “Hostel.” Thanksgiving does seem to be one of the few holidays left which have yet to be turned into a horror franchise where horny teens get slaughtered in a creatively bloody fashion.

Then we get to Tarantino’s addition to the “Grindhouse” movie: “Death Proof.” It stars Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a serial killer who uses a car instead of a knife to murder young women. No reason is really given as to why he does this, but in a movie like this does it even matter?

“Death Proof” has its share of gruesome moments including a car crash that is shown from different angles as you see how each person gets horribly injured in a head-on collision. Suffice to say, if you have been in a nasty car accident, you probably won’t want to see this. It also features one of the more exhilarating car chases in recent memory where Russell tries to run a Dodge Charger which is occupied by a trio of women off the road. One of these women, Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in “Kill Bill”) is riding on the hood of the Charger like the insane stunt woman she is. Seeing her struggle to stay on the car makes the scene all the more frightening and exciting as a result. Tarantino clearly has no interest in throwing all sorts of CGI effects at us. He wants to give us the real thing, and that he does.

Of the two movies in “Grindhouse,” I have to say that “Death Proof” was my favorite. Although it takes a while to get to the action, the dialogue is fabulous in a way only Tarantino can come up with. He continues to come up with great lines which make the characters much more distinct than those in your average action movie filled with stock characters. One of the actresses involved with “Death Proof” said Tarantino really knows how to write for women and knows how they think. Now, this might be open to debate for a lot of people, but I think that is absolutely true as it is shown here and in other movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown.”

Russell remains one of the most underrated actors working in movies today as he can go from genre to genre and from playing a good guy to a bad guy pretty easily. He is great in this role where he plays a pure psychopath who is clearly schizoid as he goes after his next trio of soon to be victims, and it resembles the kind of work he did in movies like “Escape From New York.” Russell is perfect as Stuntman Mike that it got to where I just could not see Mickey Rourke playing this same role even though he was originally cast in it. Rourke wouldn’t have been bad, but this role feels like it was tailor-made for Russell.

So overall, “Grindhouse” was a kick-ass experience that I am ever so eager to see again. I already have the soundtracks to both “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” which are fantastic to listen to. Then again, I did actually get them before I even saw “Grindhouse” because I was pretty confident that I would not be disappointed, and I wasn’t. Although it drags a little in spots, it is never boring. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, and it is as politically incorrect as any movie in recent years, but it will definitely appeal to those who have been eagerly and patiently awaiting the resurrection of grindhouse cinema they grew up watching in the past. Many had no choice but to watch those exploitation classics on video and DVD, but with Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s “Grindhouse,” we finally get to see movies like them again on the big screen where they belong.

* * * * out of * * * *