Interview with Noble Jones director of ‘The Tomorrow Man’

Noble Jones wrote and directed the film ‘The Tomorrow Man.’ It’s about Ed Hemsler who spends his life preparing for trouble that he will hopefully never face. Ronnie Meisner, a woman he meets while he’s purchasing more stuff to hide away, spends her life buying things she most likely will never need. Somehow, they meet and attempt to fall in love but when their stuff means more to them than any person ever will, can they? The film stars John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil, Katie Aselton, Sophie Thatcher and Eve Harlow. Jones has been working in films for a long time but is just now getting to his own first feature film. He worked as second unit director to David Fincher in the film ‘Social Network’ but most of his experience has been in the music video genre which tells you he knows how to do a lot with a small window; how to get the best shots from every frame. He has worked with artists such as Taylor Swift, HIM, Seal, and One Republic.

‘The Tomorrow Man’ is his leap into features, a film that he not only wrote and directed but shot, as well. I had a chance to speak with him and was wondering if maybe he didn’t bite off more than he could chew by not hiring a director of photography. Looking back, would he have preferred to have worn fewer hats and how did he get this ridiculously outstanding cast for his first feature film?!? I had a chat with him today and asked him these questions and a few more.
Here is that chat.

TMC: You wear a lot of hats. With ‘The Tomorrow Man,’ why did you shoot this as well as direct after having written the script?

NOBLE: It’s just the way I’ve always worked. Well, I mean, as far as directing and shooting, I’ve done that for most of my career, so it made sense. In this case, with the movie, there were economic benefits of it, and they felt it would be best served put on screen and seemingly, that I was able to handle it; just went ahead and did it and it worked out pretty good. The writing? I became a writer years ago. I received a lot of scripts from somebody anonymous and nothing seemed to click for me. I started writing for myself and then there were a few projects I was working on with David Fincher and he actually encouraged my writing and then I got American Psycho, it’s probably on IMDB or somewhere out there, but that kind of got me writing in a more serious capacity. It became a matter of just, kind of, doing the job. I still work on many screenplays. This one was like a small, little character-based piece with a kind of interesting illusion that I kind of bring very organically, you know?

TMC: On Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, John Lithgow (who stars as Ed in the film) said he adored the film and that your movie is like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ for older folks. Did you like that?

NOBLE: Yeah. I thought that was pretty funny when I heard that. I’ll accept his assessment. (Laughs) He’s just so wonderful. I love hearing him talk.

TMC: Older actors don’t get a lot of work, but I thought it was refreshing to watch these two work together so,  thank you for bringing them together and for not being afraid to make your first film a romance about an older couple. Did you ever second guess that decision?

NOBLE: No. I mean, I wrote something that I wanted to be peculiar and interesting and unique and, you were saying, it is rare as were many of my criteria. So… no. I don’t regret it at all. In a way… again, I’m not quite sure how, (when I write I don’t write specifically for actors), but… but it was something that I was fascinated with; the idea of this man, at the end of his life but he’s also pretty knowledgeable with the internet… I just wanted to juxtapose the form, if that’s the word, of a role man between what you might see in teenagers with casting older people and then watching.

Because, that’s one of those things I always thought was interesting, particularly in men, though I’d imagine women might feel this way, as well, but you never quite realize you’re not eighteen anymore until you try to do something that you shouldn’t; attempt to jump into a supermarket cart or something. You’re elated. You have all this energy as a result of meeting this person and you want to run, jump and skip but your hip hurts. (Laughs) A lot of it was playing on that. On the idea of, ‘Oh! Isn’t it great to be in love again?’ And, ‘Oop! We can’t do that.’  

TMC: With your characters, Ed and Ronnie, Ed holds onto things in case of trouble and Ronnie, since her daughter’s death, can’t release things. There’s a correlation there and a balance showing two reasons for hoarding. Was it your intention to examine that relationship or was it just a happy accident?

NOBLE: Not to wax philosophical but that really was what it was. The need to serve the mechanics of it was an examination of two different versions of thrills. The idea that you can find some kind of salvation or solace but something more emotional, or even spiritual, if that’s more appropriate but it’s through material. In his case, it’s more of a structured use of it; analytical. ‘I need this. I need this. This piece will fit with this.’ That kind of approach to things. Versus her, it’s more scattershot but still resourceful. You can attempt to prepare for every eventuality and then step off the curb and get hit by a bus. I’m from New York so that’s a very real possibility. That always fascinated me. How the world, or universe or whatever, works. Some people make it home from Vietnam and some people step off the curb. He’s trying. His thing is survival. One person sees it as a non-issue, the notion of survival, and the other person sees it as being the center of his existence. The plan to survive.

TMC: How old were you the first time you wrote a script?

NOBLE: The very first time? I was probably seventeen. I saw Star Wars and wrote a movie.

TMC: That movie inspired many of us. So, how did you such an outstanding cast for your first feature film?!

NOBLE: I was very fortunate. John (Lithgow) had changed his management company and what happens is, there’s sort of a honeymoon period where, I don’t know this for sure but I’m suspecting, that they threw a lot of material at him and he looked at this one and signed. We were at a lunch very shortly after he read it and he had to go off and do ‘The Crown’ for a year and then he ended up doing ‘Daddy’s Home Two’ just before we started production for a month. But that was it. There was another film I was involved in that didn’t come together and what happened… the right thing happened.

TMC: What was the experience like as you watched your film with an audience for the first time?

NOBLE: I was at Sundance. It was with a huge room of about 1,200 people. It was great. It was really fun. I liken it to having a kid and watching them go play a game of soccer. You know? You do the best you can and then you put them in their uniform and send them out on the field and people are charmed by them, and they fall… and you stand them up again and people laugh. And then people go, ‘Awww!’ And then the game will be over in a predetermined amount of time and they come back, you brush their knees off, and it’ll be okay. That’s kind of how it felt. I smiled a lot. People seemed to like it. I’ve been doing these press screening and other types of screenings and it’s a very interesting process; people coming out of the theatre with dilated pupils and big smiles… grab me. (Laughs) I’m sure not everyone’s in love with it but there are a lot of people that really are and it’s just a nice thing to see. I was at a theatre in Los Angeles and a deaf woman, must have been seventy or eighty, and she came over and signed that she loved me. That was really nice. She was vital; a tiny, tiny woman. She signed and smiled and took pictures with me… followed me around in the lobby. It was great. I loved it.

Interview with Joe Berlinger, director of ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile’

Joe Berlinger, director of ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,’ is an Emmy-winning and Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker. He’s predominantly known for his work in the true crime documentary genre, but he also likes to focus his skills on human rights and environmental issues.

With his documentaries ‘Brother’s Keeper,’ ‘Paradise Lost,’ and ‘Crude,’ he has brought attention to the topics of oil pollution and what pollution is doing to the Amazon rainforest. ‘Brother’s Keeper’ as well as ‘Paradise Lost’ are now examined by documentary filmmakers everywhere. What he does and what he has to say in his films doesn’t go unnoticed. His film ‘Crude’ alone, which examines the infamous twenty-seven billion dollar ‘Amazon Chernobyl’ case, won twenty-two human rights, environmental, and film festival awards and prompted a First Amendment battle with Chevron oil. He cares about people and the planet and his appreciation of all that he’s been given is very obvious in his work.

I’ve only scratched the surface of his incredible body of work. We sat down for a chat with him and asked him about his latest film, ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.’ He had a lot to say about how he got the script for the film, his cast and his logical maneuvers through the behaviors of a serial hunter and those who loved him. And while dialoguing with Joe I noticed he very definitively reveals an incredible respect for Netflix.   

TMC: I read that you said the reason for making this movie was to inform people to not trust a person based on how they look. I wanted to say, thank you. People do need to realize that, especially women who are taught from day one to ‘Always be nice!’ Did you also take this on to give the audience a reason to feel sympathy toward Liz?

BERLINGER: Oh, absolutely! Getting to the first point, as somebody who has spent a long time doing real crime, it’s been my observation that those… you know, we want to think that a serial killer is some bizarre looking social outcast; some creepy guy who you can spot a mile away because that implies that you can somehow avoid that fate because he’s easily identifiable.

The enduring lesson of Bundy, and why I was preoccupied enough to do both a documentary series and a movie is that what I’ve learned is that the people who you least expect and who are in positions of truth and are the least likely to do such a terrible thing are the ones who often do the evil in life. Whether it’s a priest who commits pedophilia and holds mass the next day, whether it’s the executive at Purdue Pharma that tells its salesforce to, not only suppress the research that shows Oxytocin is an addictive but actually tells them to lie to doctors about it. We’ve had over 200,000 opioid deaths. Those are people who, I’m sure, have wonderful friends and there are art museums who think their donations are fantastic. They have loving families but that’s compartmentalized evil, you know? Just like a serial killer who pretends to be one thing.

So, the reason I wanted to make these films is because, my daughters were of college age when I called them up and said, ‘I’m thinking about doing this. Do you know who Ted Bundy is?’ And they had no clue. And I think in this day and age, in an era of catfishing or the fake Uber drivers (make sure you check the license plate, by the way, some are getting in the wrong car thinking it’s their Uber and it’s something else) the lessons of

Bundy can’t be overstated. Some people need to deserve your trust.

The other reason to do the movie is to really understand the experience of the victim. How you become seduced by this kind of psychopath. Because, I think people hear, ‘Oh! Bundy had a live-in girlfriend?! She must have been an idiot!’ No. This is the opposite. This is a person who not only seduced Elizabeth, psychologically, but he also seduced the American media and seduced the legal system. (He’s speaking about a scene at the end of the film.) Can you imagine at the end of a murder trial, if this was a person of color, that a judge would say to him, ‘Hey! I’m sentencing you to death because what you did was extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile but I have no hard feelings and I wish you would have practiced law in front of me. You would have been a terrific lawyer.’ Are you kidding me?? Because he was a white male, in the seventies, he was given all sorts of breaks because of his demeanor, because of his looks, because he was a law student, because he was white. He was given all sorts of freedoms. So, to me, seeing things through Liz’ eyes is an understanding of how one becomes seduced, how a victim becomes seduced by a psychopath. She’s lucky. He actually, I think, liked her and kept her alive. But it’s that same power he had over everybody that I think is a lesson I want my daughters to know.

TMC: For some reason, there was a lot of talk, when the trailer first dropped, that this movie glamourizes Ted Bundy. What did you think of all that nonsense?

BERLINGER: I was never a fan of the first trailer. The people who were responsible for marketing the film prior to its acquisition going into Sundance did a trailer that they thought did the job. Umm… I was not that happy with it. (He snickers) So, I’m very happy that I got the opportunity to work with Netflix pretty closely on the trailer which was great. I’ve done several things with Netflix now. ‘Tony Robbins: I am not your Guru’ and ‘Conversations with a Killer’ which was the doc series and they were amazing about working closely with the filmmaker. Making sure that the tone and, you know, the intention of the movie is nicely captured. And we worked together on that trailer and instead of focusing on the negative, first trailer, I’d say that I’m very happy with this trailer, and I think it really captures the tone and the spirit of the movie. As somebody who has spent twenty-five years doing a lot of real-life true crime, the last thing this movie is doing, in my opinion, is glamourizing a serial killer.

So, some of that criticism was very personally painful to me because I’ve spent a lot of time, you know, doing very meaningful things with my films. Wrongful conviction, shining a light on justice reform, advocation for victims… that’s a big part of what my film and television work is about. In fact, when people say, ‘you’re a true-crime pioneer’ as I’ve been told because of the ‘Paradise Lost’ series, I cringe as much as I embrace that description. The pioneer part I like. That’s cool. (Laughs) But the true-crime thing? I have a funny relationship with that phrase because I think true-crime, just that catchphrase, kind of conjures up, wallowing in the misery of others for entertainment purposes and I think when you look at my filmography, that’s that last thing I do. Where is the victim? Are we glorifying? I think it’s a healthy debate, an important issue. The first trailer gave the false impression that the movie had a different tone. I’m very happy with this trailer. It captures the spirit of the movie.

TMC: What was the biggest issue you faced presenting this?

BERLINGER: The biggest issue I struggled with is, in the memoir that it was based, there’s a few times where she talks about having found things that made her think twice. She found the knife in the glove box of his car. They kept separate apartments, even though they lived together, and in his apartment, she found a bowl of keys. Why did he have so many house keys?? But these are isolated events that take place over a seven- or eight-year period. It’s like if you’re living with a cheating spouse or an alcoholic or drug addicted spouse, and they claim to be on the wagon or to not be cheating, you have the ability to push that aside for a period of time and it’s only when it reaches critical mass that all the clues come together. ‘I should have realized this all along!’

But in a two-hour movie, the compression of time is so great that if I, in the first act, had Lily (Collins) find a knife or looking through keys, she would have looked like an idiot for not catching on. So, that was the biggest issue. There were certain things I had to leave out from the memoir because time is different in a narrative film than it is in real-life or even as it is in a documentary.   

TMC: What’s your best guess as to why people are drawn to stories about serial killers… and why do they keep watching?

BERLINGER: People seem to have an insatiable appetite for crime. In fact, one of the reasons I’m so fascinated with Bundy is that I think Bundy, to me, represents the ‘big bang’ of our current, insatiable, appetite for crime. Bundy’s Florida murder trial was the first time cameras were allowed in the courtroom. There was this new technology called electronic news gathering. Just a few months before Bundy’s trial, most stations were still shooting the evening news on 16mm film. So, coinciding with the fascination with Bundy was this new satellite technology, new electronic news gathering which just kind of pushed its way into the courtroom and the Florida Supreme Court allowed cameras into the courtroom. And I think that was more… had a greater impact than people realized because for the first time, in our history, serial rape and murder became live entertainment for American television viewers. It was the first time we got to watch something live that was as sordid as what went on in that trial.

I think that was a precipitating event to where we are today because you can draw a line from the coverage of Bundy’s trial, which was the first time cameras were allowed into the courtroom, to ten years later when he was being executed.

There was a new technology called mobile satellite trucks. The ubiquitous trucks… fifty of them show up at every crime scene now with the satellite dish. But that technology was just coming into play. So, parked outside of the death house when he was being executed, were all these satellite trucks and revelers and party goers and people wanting to watch the execution. So, once again, murder became entertaining for people, both on television and live. You can trace that line to a few years later to the O.J. Simpson trial. Which NOW you have the 24-hour news cycle, and this need to feed that monster with stories every day. That trial became a huge turning point to where we are today. I think we’re wired for danger. We want a look. From the hunter-gatherer days when it was often not safe to leave the cave, or wherever you were living, you’re wired to see what’s around the corner. I think that’s part of it.

I think we’re just a nation of rubberneckers. We slow down to see the car wreck.

TMC: Was it your intention to do both a doc series and a film or did one inspire the other?

BERLINGER: I wish I could say there was some masterplan and I’m an amazing statistician. Honestly, it was a lot of coincidence. A guy named Stephen G. Michaud, who wrote this book two decades before called, ‘Conversations with a Killer,’ (he recorded all these death row interviews with Bundy) used that as a basis for this book that came out a long time ago. But he reached out to me January of 2017 and said, ‘I have these tapes that I based the book on, sitting in my closet. Do you think there’s something there? There seems to be more and more interest in this kind of programming.’ And I said, ‘Well, there has been a lot of stuff done on Bundy so let me take a listen. I’ll tell you what I think. The bar has to be high because there has been other Bundy stuff.’

So, I got the tapes, immediately were captivated by them because, you know, just hearing from him, going inside the mind of the killer, I thought was just a fascinating way to tell the story. I knew the 30th Anniversary was coming up and that just seemed like a good time to reflect back. I actually had been very conscious of this growing trend of true-crime. So, I said, ‘Yes. I think there’s something here.’

Pitched it to Netflix and Netflix said, ‘Great! Let’s go do a four-part series.’ So, I was doing the series; had no clue that the script existed, that this film was out there. But I was sitting with my agents in CA in April of 2017, sharing my enthusiasm for how cool this project was turning out. I was giving an update on this stuff but also saying, ‘I’d like to try my hand at a scripted movie.’ My agent said, ‘There’s this script and it’s on the Hollywood Black List. You should take a read.’ I read the script, I said I love it, connect me with the producers.

By definitions, a Hollywood Black Listed script is a script that a lot of executives like, but they have trouble figuring out a way to make it. So, to me, getting the script and liking it… and talking to the producer was baby step number one that I thought was going to be involved in the process and that maybe if I were lucky in five years, I’d be doing this movie. I didn’t imagine the two projects would be simultaneous.

So, I got on the phone with the producer; explained why I liked the script and got control of the rights to it. It was a much longer conversation than what I’m reducing it to but basically, I gave him my take on how I’d do it. My take was to… the original script depended upon not knowing it was Bundy until the very end of the movie, which reads well on paper, but I didn’t think was realistic. The moment someone signs on to do this, they’re going to know it’s a movie about Ted Bundy. So, I felt like you had to situate the POV (point of view) more on Liz’ point of view that it was in the script. That you can know it’s Bundy at the beginning of the film because everyone’s gonna know and that it needs to take a much darker journey because the original script was a little more, ‘catch me if you can.’ Much more of a lighthearted… not to criticize the script. The bones of the script are very much the same and I think Michael Werwie (the writer) did an amazing job. I fell in love with that script, but I tweaked it to make it more realistic, a little darker and to cop to the fact that it’s Bundy at the beginning of the film.

So, I gave my pitch. The producer said, ‘Cool Let’s go take it to market.’ Again, indie movies… and this is truly, despite Zac (Efron) being in it, an indie movie. Not a big budget, financed through foreign sales… umm… and I figured if I’m lucky, I’ll be doing this in three years. But it just so happened, the script had been in my life for three weeks, the producer said, ‘Yes. Let’s try it.’

By the way, Jodie Foster was once attached to the script to direct and it fell apart. And another director was attached to it and it fell apart. I’m just saying, this is a script that has been around and people have tried but my agent… I’m at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and CAA has a weekly meeting where they discuss what their clients are doing and my agents said, ‘Joe’s interested in this script.’ Zac Efron’s agent said, ‘Hey! Zac is looking to do something different. Do you want Zac to take a read? Very coincidental. So, I was asked, ‘Do you mind if Zac reads the script?’ Now, in our business, when someone at Zac’s level reads a script, it’s called a Reading Offer. So, it’s a very considerate decision because if I say, ‘Zac. Read that script.’ And he says, ‘Hey, I wanna do it.’ I’m obligated to hire him. But I didn’t have to think very long because if somebody like Zac wants to play with his teen heartthrob image in that way, I respect that. And, also, as a documentarian, it gives me a little piece of reality to break into the movie-making process. The fact that, in real life, he has this profile of teen heartthrob… that is very similar to the effect that Bundy had on women. I found that a nice piece of reality I could play with.

To make a long story, hopefully, shorter, I said, ‘Yes! Read the script.’ And to his credit, he read it immediately. Again, getting a movie off the ground is a painful process. It takes forever. So, I expected that maybe in a month he would read it. He was promoting ‘Bay Watch’ at the time. But he read it almost immediately.

We finally found the time to speak. We just hit it off. He said the right things; I said the right things. With Zac signed on, this was now week four, they decided to take it to Cannes and by the end of the fifth week, it was a financed movie… which never happens. Now I’m stuck with a situation. ‘Oh my God! I’m in the middle of ‘Conversations with a Killer’ for Netflix and now I’ve just obligated myself to do the movie.’ But, luckily, the start date of the movie pushed a little bit because of Zac’s availability, so the documentary was basically shot and was in editing when I started prepping the movie. The experience of doing both at the same time was great because you wanna be an expert in your subject matter when you direct a movie. I’m really an expert now. I was really able to guide people in the story, give them archival footage to look at… every department head during prep, when they needed a photo reference (what did the courtroom look like?) we had a whole documentary in New York in the editing phase that we could rely on.

Going into Sundance, it wasn’t clear that Netflix was going to buy the movie. Netflix had nothing to do with the production of the movie. We made it independently but because at Sundance the movie did well and ‘Conversations with a Killer’ did well, we had offers from other people, I kept steering this toward Netflix because they did such an amazing job marketing ‘Conversations with a Killer.’ It was the number one global trend on Twitter like within hours of release. I just felt that the two movies together on the same platform would be amazing. I was a big voice on pushing it toward Netflix.

Anyway, that’s the long story. I gotta figure out a shorter way to tell that story.

TMC: What was it like working with this amazing cast?

BERLINGER: Every cast member were my first choices, which never happens. There was a great comradery on set. Zac and Lily worked particularly hard. These were not easy roles for either of them. Both of them are going out of their comfort zone with what they normally have done in the past. I did a couple of different things. With Zac, I gave him a lot of footage to look at, a lot more archival footage, a lot of proprietary footage that we used in the documentary footage but that’s not accessible online. But Lily, I did not want her to see anything. She was, at first, ‘Where’s my drive of footage?’ I was like, ‘I don’t want you to see anything. Don’t go on the internet, don’t worry about Ted Bundy.’ In fact, the first time she saw any graphic imagery was right before we shot the hacksaw scene. That’s when I pulled her aside and I said, ‘Look. This is what this guy did.’ So, she was able to use that. More importantly, the whole film rests upon you believing in their relationship, despite what he did.

TMC: Relationship with an evil serial killer.

BERLINGER: There’s one spectrum of compartmentalization of evil that we all exist on. We all compartmentalize and do bad things in varying degrees. Most of us here, I would hope, our compartmentalization is a little lie here and a little thing here and we all just move on. But as you go down that spectrum, you have that priest who commits pedophilia but is a spiritual leader and holds mass the next day. He’s able to compartmentalize that evil and still play that role.

You know, you have the aforementioned executives who, most of the time are being good guys. But they’re repressing whether it’s repressing Climate Change, (although I don’t want to get into a political discussion here), whether it’s fossil fuel companies repressing Climate Change research or OxyContin or whatever, we all compartmentalization and it gets more evil and evil and I believe Bundy actually was capable of love which is a controversial comment, I’m sure. I think he needed and craved normalcy, but he compartmentalized this terrible evil that he did.

And so, for me, the relationship being real is the crux of the movie because I want the audience to have the same… you know, some people have criticized, ‘Where is the violence in this film? You’re like glossing over his evil.’ But to me, the catalog of killings in a serial killer movie has been done to death. We live in an age where you can go like this (He acts as if he’s on a computer) and see the most violent images and the worst degradation to women that you can imagine. Why do I need to populate a movie with that stuff, as long as he gets his due at the end of the film?

I want… what I’m portraying is the seduction of evil and how you can be fooled. The key to that was that relationship being real. My big note to them, that I kept hammering home, was that this love was real, between the two of them and it needs to burn off the screen, this connection between the two of them. That was the thing that I worked on the most. Not because I’m glamorizing a serial killer and I want to gloss over it, just the opposite. I want to share, I want to portray, how somebody who’s intelligent, who had a child, who had her whole life in front of her, was able to be seduced by a guy who presents to be one thing but turns out to be another.

TMC: Are you worried, because of copycat killers, that some deranged individual will watch this film and be so inspired by Ted Bundy, someone they might not have otherwise known about had they not seen this, that they copy him because they saw this film?              

BERLINGER: Glamorization, inspiration, all of these are very healthy debates but the moment you start censoring yourself… you know, if this movie was a gorefest and irresponsible gorefest, MAYBE, but it’s an intelligent movie that has some real thought behind it. If somebody is inspired to be Ted Bundy off of this movie than I would argue that a different person would be inspired to do something evil off of any kind of movie. Where do you draw the line? I don’t actually have an answer, but I know that I’m not worried that people will be inspired to something off of this movie in particular because I think it was very responsibly made.

TMC: I liked the story. I liked how you laid out a bunch of crumbs for us to follow, especially the way that Haley Joel Osment’s character, who plays Liz’s co-worker Jerry, came in an allowed Liz to move on without actually moving in. Within this, I thought there was satire in the way that you portrayed his charm. In the way it was shown to the media and how you represented the media. Was that intentional or did that happen because of everybody’s performances?

BERLINGER: To call the movie a satire would be an overstatement but there are satirical elements to it because I’m definitely making a comment in how the media helped contribute to create this monster and that how there were so many opportunities to catch this guy that it’s being somewhat satirical in… you know, for example, the title of the movie is ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.’ It’s an absurd title but you notice that the movie doesn’t begin with that title. It ends with that title because, by the time those words were pronounced, the gravity of it is felt. Yet, when I think people see the poster, see the trailer, go into a movie called ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,’ they think they’re going to have, kind of, a good time. And for me, the truth, just like the title, is right in front of you. By the end of the movie, when the title is spoken, it takes on a whole other meaning.

To me, the question of everybody’s culpability in allowing Bundy to flourish is what was being commented on.

So, there are moments where there is some satire because I’m trying to let people know that the truth is often right in front of you. It’s kind of a warning that, you know, especially in this day and age, where I think we all live in these curated worlds of Instagram and Facebook and we all pretend to be something that actually isn’t the actual essence of our life. That there is a danger in that people can take that to a much greater degree and be dangerous to society. And, you know, the fact that we pushed our way into this courtroom and televised this trial and turned it into entertainment… I am self-reflexively looking at, you know, a genre that I participated in. In what we’ve created to the point that now we live in these media silos where nobody is talking to each other and we look for our own confirmation of things. And I think a lot of it has to do with the perception of reality. We don’t seem to know the difference… there’s been such a blurring of the line between fiction and reality in our society that facts don’t seem to matter much. And the fact is, Bundy was a ruthless killer and rapist of women and there were so many opportunities to catch him, but everybody gave him a pass because he was white and charming and so… there is a satirical line for that.    

See his film ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,’ on Netflix this Friday 5/3/2019.

My interview with John Lee Hancock and John Fusco of ‘The Highwaymen’

As you should posthaste, I recently watched the highly entertaining Netflix Original ‘The Highwaymen.’ Having enjoyed it so, I couldn’t wait to converse with the men who created the film, director John Lee Hancock and writer John Fusco.

The two are incredibly passionate, inspiring, intellectual, kind and talented as hell.

With films such as ‘Hidalgo,’ ‘Thunderheart’ and ‘Young Guns’ to his name, it only makes sense that John Fusco would write about a Texas Ranger bringing down notorious gangsters. This chat will fill you in as to how, over years of interest and research into crime, these particular felon’s lore developed in young John Fusco’s mind to appear on your screen.  

His partner in the project, John Lee Hancock, who’s from Texas, couldn’t have been a better choice to bring John’s tale to life. Known not to shy away from making ambitious, real-life dramas, Hancock directed ‘The Alamo,’ ‘The Blindside,’ and ‘The Founder’ and now Fusco’s story about Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), which tells us about these two Texas Rangers. They’re friends as well as lawmen who came out of retirement in 1934 to retire the vicious Bonnie and Clyde and the Barrow gang. Unlike the 1967 Arthur Penn film, ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ we see why it was important that they are stopped rather than praised for who they were. Read here how this film came to be.           

TMC: What inspired you to share this story?

Fusco: I grew up with a real fascination with outlaws and gangsters. I think you can look at my work and realize that. (Smiles) So, when the 1967 Arthur Penn movie came out, I was in my pajamas at the drive-in with my mother and father, and it just continued to fuel my fascination with Bonnie and Clyde. So, I wanted to know everything I could, after that movie, about them. I had these books that my mother didn’t want me to have that graphic crime scene photos… I was obsessed. But as I started researching, I realized ‘Wow. You know what? They weren’t Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.’ They killed a lot of people, left a lot of victims and destroyed a lot of lives during The Depression. But, along with that, the portrayal of the protagonist, Frank Hamer or ‘Hammer’ as they called him in the movie, was so far off the mark that it was troubling to me as a young person. So, I started researching Hamer’s life and saw that no one ever abducted him, tied him up in the back of a car, spit on him, sexually taunted him, put him in a rowboat and shoved him across a lake. He didn’t go out and kill them out of revenge for some vendetta. In actuality, he was one of the greatest law officers of the 20th century. He took on the KKK singlehandedly, kind of exemplifying that one riot, one ranger ethos. He was a really cool western hero to me as a kid.
So, suddenly, here I was going from gangster worship to, ‘Wow! Hamer kinda got a bad deal in this.’ And so, I grew up waiting for someone to do his story on some level and it never happened. Eventually, as my writing career was going on, it was still in the back of my mind. And it had nothing to do with the corrective or answer to the Arthur Penn movie, which, I have to say, I recognize as a watershed film, a cultural touchstone and I’m part of that filmmaking generation who was inspired by it. There’s no denying that. I just felt like the side of the story about two retired Texas Rangers coming out of retirement to enter the gangster era is a really cool western. Kind of that elegiac ride the high-country type of story.

Hancock: For me, John was there from the start and wrote it, so I was just reading the script that came to me and being from Texas, I knew some of Frank Hamer who’s one of the most legendary Texas Ranger. Of course, I knew some of Bonnie and Clyde. But for me, I just… I’m a huge fan of the ’67 film; watched it all the time. It wasn’t so much Bonnie and Clyde, I was really drawn to the dark journey of these two men who have a terrible gift, and their gift is they’re blood hunters. And they know it’s going to be ugly, they know what it’s going to look like; what’s at the end of the road waiting for them. And there’s no one they can talk to but each other. So, it’s kind of a ‘men loving men,’ ‘these two guys together’ that drew me. And I looked at it as, if anything, a companion piece to ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’ Not to say you’re not aware of it while you’re making the film, I mean, of course, you are. You’ve got one of the more famous cinematic scenes is the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde so you approach it and go, ‘What can we do that’s different?’ Not as an answer to it, not as pushback or anything, no. You don’t want the comparison… you can’t outdo the operatic ballet of bullets, which was fantastic. So, you go, ‘Okay. Well, our option is, we’re going to play it in real-time. Nothing’s gonna be slow mo. Everything’s gonna be real. It’s going to be brutally violent. And it’s going to be bloody and it’s gonna be as promised. It’s gonna be worse than promised.’ And then, the heavy weight that carries with these guys. There’s no joy at the end of this. They walk away with more soil on their souls. That’s what drew me to it. That kind of heavy, dark, lonely journey.

Fusco: I think that what John recognized in that, is what we really set out to mine. The story is the weight that these two guys carry from the things they’ve done and the thing they have to do to finish out… that moral gravitas.    

TMC: Did you take poetic license with the conversation between Hamer and Barrow’s father?

Fusco: Well, the conversation actually happened. It happened in a different chronology. It happened in Arcadia, Louisiana, in the aftermath in which he approached Frank and said, ‘You did what had to be done, I don’t hold it against you, and I understand. We’ve all been through hell with this thing.’

TMC: Going to the two leads, Hamer and Gault seemed like an old married couple. They had a friendship but also worked well together. Did one or both of you approach it from that angle? To show on screen more of their friendship or how well they worked with one another? Which was more important?

Hancock:  You’re always hopeful… the thing you don’t want to do it, ‘Let’s flashback to the time when Maney and Frank were in their twenties in south Texas,’ or something like that. You’ve got a certain imperative, even though I’m the first to recognize that it’s not a, ‘will they catch them or not?’ We all know what happens. It’s about trying to make the journey interesting. So, for me it was… I was hopeful that when you saw these guys together, in the car, with the rapport, with the dialogue that John’s written, that we would understand the legacy of their friendship. Just the fact that Frank drove all the way to Lubbock to see if Maney might be up for the job speaks to that. To me. And then hopefully you can get them on the road and that, that would be inherent.

TMC: I liked how we saw Bonnie and Clyde throughout the entire film and then at the climax, it really resonates on multiple levels visually because of their betrayal. What was the inspiration behind that? Was it in the script? Did it get developed along the way?

Hancock: It’s twofold. It was in the script. John described it in such a way that you never quite got the look that you wanted out of ‘em. When I came on board, I thought this was an exciting opportunity to have two very different visual styles to play that meet up at the ambush site. So, talking to John Schwartzman, our great DP (Director of Photography), I said I wanted to shoot it like a graphic novel. I want all the stuff with Bonnie and Clyde to be highly stylized frames with amazing, beautiful, poppy clothes… shiny cars. I want it to look fast. I want it to look sexy. I want it to all that for two reasons. One, because that’s how the public in 1934 thought of them. And two, the way I might view the movie if I weren’t involved with it is, ‘No. I get this. I’ve seen Penn’s movie. They are sexy and the cars are fast and they’re amazing and beautiful and all that.’ And then when they enter the naturalistic part of the movie, we stay with Frank and Maney through a more naturalistic style when they enter it and they pull up and get a good look at their face, we see that they’re scrawny kids.
So, on the one hand, the public in 1934 has been duped, that we’ve come across, and hopefully the audience has been duped, as well. Saying, ‘It’s not what I expected.’ It’s not like, ‘Ha-ha! I gotcha!’ Pull the rug out. It’s more of a, to me, ‘Everything about this enterprise is ugly and now I’ve got to kill kids on top of it.’

TMC: The movie implicitly condemns Bonnie and Clyde’s violence. The movie also touches upon these men, that they’re also murderers. They’ve done some terrible, bloody things. There’s a moment in the film where one of them rejects an interview about their killing of Bonnie and Clyde but now you’ve made a movie about that. Do you think that the movie runs the risk of sensationalizing the violence that these men carried out?

Hancock: It doesn’t bother me. For one, I would take exception to calling them murderers as a blanket statement because if you’re an officer of the law and there’s a person shooting at you, you need to shoot them.
That didn’t come into the definition we—

Fusco: (Leans in) No, no. ‘Manhunters.’

Hancock. Yeah. They were manhunters. They were going after the bad guy and the bad guy has this and you could go case by case with a hundred different files maybe and find something. I wouldn’t disagree; I’m not a historian. I think calling them blanket murderers is 100% incorrect. Legally.

TMC: Well, yeah, legally. I was referring to the stories of when they broke into a place and shot a bunch of people before they could put their hands up. Some may see that as unethical and more murder than punitive justice.

Hancock: I would go with it being unethical and certainly a gray area. In that time and place, it was, unfortunately, more commonplace than one would think. Did they come to this story without flaws? Without demons? Without their own stuff? No, they don’t. They’re not perfect human beings and I think that’s part of that journey that we’re talking about, that they regret. I think that’s what the story is about. The burden you carry with that terrible gift. So, I would agree that, yes, this is not… these aren’t completely righteous men doing the right thing. They are doing what they think is necessary. Even the governor thinks that their style of doing things is not ‘PC,’ even though that wasn’t a term in 1934.

Fusco: That’s a really thoughtful question. For two years, Barrow and Parker were out there killing. When the law tried to do ‘legal’ roadblocks and get them to surrender, a lot of that was, ‘There’s a woman with him. There’s a girl with him.’ These law officers were killed. They had three-thousand rounds of armor-piercing ammunition in the damn car.

Hancock: When they found them.

Fusco: Yeah. They had three Browning automatic rifles fully loaded, ten Colt automatic pistols, three loaded shotguns, other handguns. I always described it as, kind of, a runaway train with hazardous materials in it. It had to be stopped. Hoover and a 1,000-man dragnet, for two years, was not able to catch them. It got to the point where, ‘We gotta go to a dark place and bring out two guys who come from another era; who come from the old-time Ranger school. But it is interesting because Hamer was a humble, quiet guy who did not want to talk about this stuff. Turned down Tom Mix for a movie offer. Turned down $10,000 for a book deal.

Hancock: I think the reason, and I don’t know this to be true but, in my heart and mind, I think the reason that Frank Hamer took on a job that… he didn’t need the money, why did he take this on? I think it galled him. They were more than small-town heroes. They were national heroes and in the international press. I think it galled him that people were being made famous for things they should be ashamed of. He was an old-school guy. I think that’s what put him behind the wheel of his wife’s car to go out… because he didn’t need the money. And maybe that’s an old fashion sense of right and wrong but I think that’s who Frank Hamer was. Did he always do right? Nope. Like Ma Ferguson says in the movie, ‘You leave me to answer for the blood.’ Yeah. They get the bad guy but it ain’t pretty. The whole thing is an ugly enterprise which is why, at the end of the movie, the thing I really wanted to come across, and why we shot at the actual location, wasn’t just because it was authentic and cool and creepy and all that, which it was, it was that there was a pervasive sense over the crew and the actors, ‘We gotta help them recreate it. One, the anxiety and, ‘Here they come. Here they come. Here they come.’ And I’m gonna keep firing until my gun is empty. It’s overkill. There’s no doubt about it. When that car comes to a stop, there’s no joy in Mudville. By all the reports, ‘It’s done and I’m glad it’s done and it’s worse than I thought it would be.’ Then, as bad as that is, to see what happens in Arcadia. Which, by the way, was toned down in the movie. There were thousands more people. They were trying to cut off Clyde’s trigger finger and his ear. They cut off locks of her hair.

Fusco: They were putting their handkerchiefs in Bonnie’s blood.

Hancock: Taking pieces of the car… it was grotesque. They loved ‘em when they were alive. They loved ‘em when they were dead.

TMC: Would that be the start of a revolution of Bonnie and Clyde’s efforts? And their response… was it revolutionary in terms of how the public perceived what they were doing and how the public perceived what Frank and Maney were doing to try and stop them?

Hancock: Revolutionary in what way, from a police tactic standpoint?

TMC: Yeah. And the way we respond to things. You know, with social media today, something’s on there and the world reacts. Back then, you had to wait two or three days before you read something about what was going on and yet, as you just pointed out, there were dozens of people who were cheering and crying over their deaths. Celebrity status. Their reaction to the law enforcement side of it was very dark and was unprincipled, yet they were both men of moral conviction. I think that signaled a change in the way I think about their tactics and how we react to things.

Hancock: I don’t know. It’s interesting. The legacy of the ambush and everything is…. we could fill this room with historians now who’d disagree about everything, trust me. About every single thing. But the fact that the posse, the six of them, decided never to talk about it and no one could write about it until the last person, everybody was gone except the last person… and who knows how much to believe of what came out or whatever, but we do know that the Parker family and the Barrow family were very open in public. They invited everybody in—

Fusco: (Jumps in) They toured with the crime doctor who bought the death car and went on tour with it, with Bonnie Parker’s mother Emma and Henry Barrow who had little patches of Clyde’s trousers’ that he was killed in, that he’d sell. They traveled, they toured with the car.

Hancock: There’s a funny letter from Bonnie’s mom about Frank Hamer saying, ‘Those guns weren’t stolen. They’re our property. You must return them.’ (Laughs) Yeah, right.

Fusco: They were stolen from an armory. It’s a great question and I don’t know if I’m grasping it right, but public sentiment did start to turn at Grapevine Texas. Easter morning, those two patrolmen on motorcycles who came up… one, it was his first day on the job. He kept his shotgun shells in his pocket, which we reference, but he did that because he was afraid that if he took a spill on his bike, the gun might inadvertently kill somebody. An innocent person. So, he had to try and get his shells and the gun. He was scheduled to be married two weeks later, and his widow wore his wedding gown to his funeral. And, so those stories started to leak and little by little, the public started to feel like, ‘Well, wait a minute.’ My mother remembers her Scottish immigrant father, my grandfather, being obsessed with True Detective magazine following this saga, it was like a Soap Opera. She remembers the day they got Clyde and Bonnie. ‘Really? They’re gone? They’re dead? These lovers on the run.’ No one ever talks about those victims. The Native American, full-blooded Chickasaw, who had worked so hard to become a deputy sheriff in a white town, had a family, and Clyde killed him with a 30-caliber rifle. And all the families who had been left on the breadline. And children raised without fathers during the depression, who had to endure, had to watch this celebrity… like, you know, ‘I’m a young man and I gotta go to work because my dads’ been killed by these two who everybody’s glamorizing. So, there was a certain groundswell of, ‘Wait a minute. Who are these two?’

TMC: Did you purposefully add Hamer waving at the FBI plane and at Hoover because he really only got involved when something was successful?  

Fusco: Yes. That was my intention in the script, yeah. Hoover really resented Frank Hamer and resented the fact that he was on the case. They weren’t the FBI at that point. It was like the fledgling FBI. It was the birth… right at the beginning. There were other FBI on the ground who did recognize, ‘We got a real pro out there and he might be old school but…’ But Hoover resented him and resented the fact that it took him two years… for two years, he couldn’t get him. This guy (Hamer) went out using Comanche tracking skills and caught them. But really got under his skin was that something came up in the press, it was, ‘Dillinger’s still out there and nobody’s got ‘im.’ And Hamer said, ‘Well, Mr. Hoover would like to have a conversation about that.’ Hoover didn’t like him.

TMC: Frank was a tracker. I can barely operate my phone. (They laugh) Is that a lost art or still in practice today because I find that kind of thing fascinating.

Fusco: As do I. I studied tracking. It’s a real passion of mine. Hamer studied with the Comanche and really appreciated that skill. A lot of the old-time Rangers did. It only exists in one law enforcement area right now and that’s a group at the border which is all Native American patrol called the Shadow Wolves. They use traditional tracking methods. So, they train border patrol and federal officers in using those old tracking methods.

TMC: (To Fusco) I was reading in the notes… says you were, to quote you, ‘Always fascinated particularly with what is underneath the veneer and myth of folklore.’ And I’ve seen that in your screenplays. ‘The Highwaymen,’ obviously, ‘Thunderheart’ and ‘Young Guns.’ What drives that for you as a writer? Is it pure curiosity, do you dig into it or are you always looking to—

Fusco: I think it goes back to the first story I told about being a kid and being fascinated by Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde. I used to sit and stare at those photos and say, like, ‘How did this Billy the Kid, this diminutive, little bucktooth outlaw in New Mexico, rise to this iconic level? How did that happen?’ And why were there forty-two movies made about him, where did this legend of the left-handed gun come from and the fact that he was this lone gunfighter who whistled sad ballads. You know? What I found was that if you dig underneath the veneer of the legend, you find the history. It can be a lot uglier and more crude, but it’s always more fascinating. And then to explore how that history becomes myth and why. And I think that really applies to this movie.

TMC: Are there other stories you’re itching to tell?

Fusco: Oh, yeah. There are some coming up.

Hancock: Keep me posted! (They both laugh)

TMC: Some of the towns Frank and Maney drive through are very poor. There are a number of establishing shots, kind of, showing the destitution people are living in. A lot of people who celebrated, even the criminal violent acts of Bonnie and Clyde saw them as the common man’s hero. Someone has a line in the movie about how they hate the banks.

Fusco: Banks are the devil.

Hancock: They rob banks and the banks rob from me.

TMC: So, a lot of people saw them as hitting back at the establishment. What were you trying to convey by showing how poor these towns were while also demonstrating how horrible these crimes were? There’s sort of a disconnect between, ‘They’re robbing from the people who are hurting us but they’re also hurting other people.’

Hancock: I think that they were, kind of, given a pass because hatred was so great for the banks and that was the overriding feeling. You know, the farms, the stores, your houses. The banks were taking them all. Everybody’s hurting. They want them to be Robin Hood. They’re taking from the rich, but they’re not giving to the poor. They’re robbin!’ They’re not Robin Hood. But you need a hero when you’re in that deep, dark place. You want a hero and you want somebody’s who’s going to strike out at ‘The Man.’

Fusco: And I think the ‘Lovers on the Run’ element, that really appealed to the people and Bonnie and Clyde… they played into it. They saw this and were acting out a sick fantasy of being movie stars. Bonnie wanted to be a Broadway star. Clyde wanted to be a famous musician. It was almost like, ‘If we can’t be famous, we’re going to be notorious.’ They were very aware. As John has said before, ‘They were branding before branding.’ If they had Instagram, they would have been on.

Hancock: They’d have a lot of followers. They’d be tweeting every day. Even more than Trump.

Fusco: Like Dillinger at the time… saw himself as a John Gotti. He felt that he had class, and I’ll admit, I didn’t know a lot about Dillinger, but he saw himself as a bona fide Robin Hood. He was robbing big, hardcore banks and was feeding money back to the people. He would write to the papers and say, ‘Please don’t mention Bonnie and Clyde in the same article with me. Those are pintsized punks who are killing gas station attendants.’ Circulation was plummeting during The Depression. Newspapers were going under. Publishers were like, ‘What’s going on?’ People did not want to read about depressing, economic news. They were interested in three things. Sports heroes, movie stars and flashy gangsters.

TMC: If it bleeds, it leads.

Fusco: Yeah. And so, that’s what was getting the ink and Bonnie and Clyde really played into that. Bonnie always referred to her public. ‘I don’t want my public to think I smoke cigars so please let them know I was just posing with Clyde’s cigar for the shot.’ It’s incredible. It’s… it’s an incredible story.

Yes, it is. ‘The Highwaymen’ is a unique way to look at Bonnie and Clyde. This film is a great example as to why it’s important there are writers like the noble John Fusco out there. He helps us view different angles of every story. Admirably, he gives us a glimpse of this legacy from a standpoint we might not otherwise have marched on to view. He gives us the foundations of it, the truth, the barbarity and John Lee Hancock was the precise ally for him to jump in with. I hope you enjoyed getting to know them a little here.   


Interview with Bo Burnham, Director and Writer of the film ‘Eighth Grade’

During festival season this year, a few of us got to sit and talk to the incredibly deep thinking and quite personable, Bo Burnham, about his outstanding, authentic coming-of-age film ‘Eighth Grade’ which comes out this weekend and I insist you see. Below is the conversation we had with the writer/director of the critically lauded film which is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with a rating of 98% and deservedly so. His film moves deep into the psyche of a young girl and here we get to drill deep into his mind as he, almost painfully, attempts to describe his love/hate relationship with the internet which was the inspiration of the film. He speaks a lot with his hands because he has an energy that’s hard to contain. While talking to him, you feel you’re important to him because he keeps eye contact with you. Though his tugging on his ears, sleeves and buttons on his shirt says he might be a little uncomfortable, you can tell he isn’t. He’s slender, very tall, happy and pauses a lot while he thinks before he speaks… every utterance is desperately important. I hope you like it.

TMC: There are a lot of coming-of-age films that have been made throughout the years but this one not only stands out today but will stand the test of time. You do what most people wouldn’t which was write, not from the perspective of an adult dealing with this youngster who’s in the eighth grade, but her. And a girl to boot! Did you have any hesitations toward that? How did you find this character?!

BO:  I wanted to write about the internet and how I felt at the time which was nervous… and my nerves felt connected to the internet, so I set out to write it, ‘Okay. How am I gonna write about this?’ So, I set out to write a ton of stuff about all these different characters and I stumbled upon her and felt like I could say it, everything I wanted, through her. It was not a conscious decision, ‘I’m gonna write about an Eighth-Grade girl.’ After the fact and realizing I was going to write about this, I was violently aware that I was a man in the position of writing this story. Truly, I was proceeding with caution.

But… I mean, it just felt natural to me and after, I look back and think, ‘Why was that?’ And it’s like, I think on the internet, we all act like eighth graders, so it makes sense that a movie about the internet, when taught purely, would be about an eighth-grader cuz an eighth grader is actually the only one that’s being themselves on the internet. We’re all just being more immature versions of ourselves. And then, you know, I watched hundreds of videos online of kids talking and the boys talked about ‘Minecraft’ and the girls talked about their souls… truly. So, it was like, at that age at least, the girls run a little severely more deep and interesting. (Laughs) The eighth-grade boy stories were just a little bit more closed off, so I saw myself in her more. The things that I struggled with, with the internet, which are sort of how I feel about myself and how I see myself and how I see other people see me, I think girls, for whatever reason, (cultural pressures or whatever) are sort of forced to see themselves in that narrative a lot earlier than boys. I don’t know… boys… I don’t know what they’re thinking about at that age. I met a lot of them and I still don’t know what they’re thinking about. (Laughs) Girls you actually can have adult conversations with. They talk. They seem like young adults that are very thoughtful, and the boys are just like. (Shrugs)  

TMC:  In the mall, Kayla meets Olivia and her friends. Some of them immediately dismiss her cuz she’s a different generation almost. You have Gen-X and Baby boomers and generations seems to have this wide span of years, but do you think that’s shrinking because of technology?

BO:  I do. It feels like it. My girlfriend is twelve years older than me and we feel closer than people four years younger than me. I got Facebook when I was sixteen, seventeen and to have the ability to sort of have a little bit of a sense of myself before social media I think that would have been different if I had that my freshman year of high school, only three years earlier.

I do think, because these… paradigm shifting, brain-altering things are happening really rapidly. The culture turns over so quickly. Do we even remember before 2017? When was Obama president, like, twelve years ago? It’s a combination of the generations getting shorter because the time is getting, wider, or something. The present moment feels very long and weird. Culture ages like milk. It’s a weird moment so to be a kid now is just… wild.

TMC: Your movie is very timely, very relevant. It feels like it was written two months ago.

BO:  It will be dated in six months and I’m fine with that. I’m not afraid of it being dated. I have just as much affinity for an I-Phone as I do a vinyl record player.

TMC:  Would you want to live in a time before all of this technology?

BO:  No. I don’t think so. (Thinks a moment) I’d probably be happier or something but I’m so inextricable from it. I’m wired with it. Umm… so it’s all I would know. I definitely wouldn’t want to write about another time. You know? I’m interested about this time. Eventually, I probably might want to, but I mean, I feel lucky to be a part of… I think it’s a reckoning in a way. It’s a cultural rift. This is getting way off topic. (Laughs) But… it’s an interesting time to be alive, to be American and be in the culture. Yeah. I probably do need another time. Is that what we’re saying? We’d go back to cassette players and half the country not hating the half of the country? (Laughs) That sounds fine.

TMC:  Is there a time when that wasn’t happening?

BO:  Maybe. That’s probably right. There’s just a sense of visibility that’s crazy.

TMC:  This is your John Hughes film. Your film captures the essence of what it’s like to be a student, a youngster at this age. It’s something people can appreciate no matter your demographic or age.

BO: I think he’s a good reference in a sense cuz I think he captured, at the time, something very true which is that maybe the crux of the struggle at that time of being a teen in the 80’s was, ‘How do you fit into the ecosystem of the class? Specifically, how do you feel with your parents and your family and, again, it was captured so well that people have just recycled that with cultural decoration in different decades, but I just don’t think it’s relevant. I’m not relevant but I don’t think it’s the core issue that they’re dealing with so when you see them dealing with that, dealing with being a jock or an emo kid with a cell phone and going– for me the struggle of being a kid now is interior. She doesn’t get bullied, she gets ignored. She doesn’t get people’s attention, which is all that people are giving and withholding to each other; is just this dispassionate attention as this currency that goes around as opposed to… we’re almost like… we wish for the days of high school hierarchy and parents that hated us and yelled at us and we slammed the doors in their face. It’s like, now we’re like this, fragile little ‘ego people’ in our own head and our parents are looking in and going, ‘Are you okay?’ and it’s a bunch of kids on their phone, hyper-connected and super lonely. Overstimulated and completely numb. I think that extends to adults, too. I think the bigger American problem of it being, like, no sense of community. Even the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders and the dorks… that is a community, you know? The breakdown of that is sad in a way.

TMC: You’ve spoken several ways about how anxiety informs this movie, in Kayla possibly seeing the symptoms of her anxiety disorder. You’ve also spoken about the anxiety of wanting to consolidate a really free and freewheeling and terrifying life into little social media posts and trying to break it down and make it feel comfortable, in these social web games that we’ve invented. The existentialists would say, ‘To be anxious is to be human.’ Do you think that social media is just another conduit for anxiety?

BO: Yeah. It’s human and everything but it’s more just like innovation works in a lot of areas. It took an hour to get to work on your horse and now it takes half an hour to get to work in your Model T, now it takes ten minutes to get there in your Ford Focus. Good! Good. Innovate. That’s great. To innovate socially? There’s no reason that’s good. Oh, you can have a conversation with your friend, now you have twenty conversations with twenty friends. ‘Oh, you can see a photo of yourself two weeks after you give it to CVS, now you can see 1,000 photos of yourself right away!’ Those things… that’s where I think the anxiety comes from. There’s a natural sense of anxiety that I think everyone will have and certain people with certain dispositions will always have just because, like they say, ‘To be human is to be anxious or self-reflective.’ But there’s a mechanism right now that encourages it and ramps it up in a way that I feel. I feel like I’m anxious to the degree I am because of the internet. It has something to do with, and I’m not being articulate about it, but there’s this impulse to pursue… like, social media is becoming efficient in all other areas of technology are efficient and there’s no proof that human interaction has to be perfected and sped up like everything else does.

Yeah, let’s make high-speed railway. Do we need to make high-speed conversation? High-speed national conversation in the form of Twitter?! It’s crazy. It’s a very capitalist view of ‘Social Stuff.’ That’s so weird. It’s so much weirder than the internet. The internet is all cool… I think this social media showing up is more significant than the internet showing up. The internet is, ‘take all the information from all the libraries and now you have access to it all.’ High-speed information is cool. High-speed feelings… which are social media? High-speed feeling about yourself and relationships with other people? That shit’s deadly.

You should be able to go to the library and type a thing up and get any entry into the history of the world but to apply that to relationships and the relationships of children is crazy. Literally, it’s not spoken, I can’t believe, eight years into this thing and I’m struggling to articulate this because I’ve never heard it said out loud. I don’t understand that there’s twenty-thousand conferences for Twitter, Facebook, social media, all that stuff… never at one point do we say, ‘Should we be doing this? Is this good? Is this making people better friends?’ Of course not. It’s laughable that Facebook is making you better friends with people. Is there anyone on the internet you like more on the internet than you like in real life? No. Are there plenty of people you like in real-life and then hate on the internet? Yes. It’s crazy to me, so, there’s a big long rambling answer to that question but… but…

TMC: It’ll be fun to transcribe.

BO: (Smiles) Yeah. That’s vaguely what I feel about it. I think it has a direct line to my anxiety… to a kids anxiety. She would be nervous without social media, for sure. Without the internet, she would be sort of nervous, but it’s not helping. It’s not helping.

TMC: I get a sense you have a love/hate relationship with technology and social media. You basically got your start on YouTube and social media so how do you balance that?

BO: It’s like God or something. It’s big and empty and full… it’s like if you mix every color of paint together and get white. That’s how I sort of feel about the internet. I don’t know. It can be used for real good or real bad. Again, I don’t think that conversation’s put in the framework yet to even know how morally powerful it is to then steer it in one direc– The conversation, about the internet, I hear are about cyberbullying or Russians and I think there’s a subtler conversation to be had about, like, how does it make you feel personally… as a person about yourself and your own experience? It has saved people’s lives, I know it has, by connecting them. It can be a really, really good thing. It can be a really crazy thing, can literally destroy the world so, it needs to be recognized as such.

If you want to get TV changed, you gotta go before Congress. If you want the internet changed, change it. Right now. Go for it. Write anything you want on Wikipedia right now. So, that’s sort of how I feel. Yeah. Net Neutrality and all that stuff but also, we need some sort of structure to look after this thing. I personally think you should have to take like a… like a driver’s license… you should not have the internet until your fifteen or sixteen. Right now, the safeguard of the internet… you go to a porn site, it says, ‘Are you Eighteen?’ Click ‘Yes’ and you’re in. That’s how we safeguard our youth. Can they click the word, ‘Yes?’ It’s insane.

TMC: I loved her relationship with her dad. It’s a supportive household. Kayla’s not always present mentally but it’s great. What if Mark started dating someone? How would Kayla react? Would she pull back or would she fight for attention?

BO: That’s hilarious. I don’t know that he hasn’t. That is a whole other movie. So much of the story is about, that the tiny things in life are huge to her so that is way too big of a question.

TMC: I love how you show some really strange things kids do to their bodies, which makes the film that more real. Collaborative effort or…?

BO: For sure. Asking kids, asking crew members. Before the pool party, asking stuff like, who can do anything weird? Who can spit the water between their teeth and one kid could do it, so he got the part. Can anyone do the eyelid flip or whatever, who’s double-jointed? I met every extra just so they knew me a little bit and I’d ask them all if they have any special talents and one girl said, ‘I have eczema.’ (chuckles) I was like, ‘Awesome.’ That is the whole thing… just like, embracing the weird little stuff kids do. You can tell when a kid is doing a weird thing he does all the time versus when he’s being told to shove something up his nose by a director or whatever.

TMC: You open the film with her giving life advice and you think about who she is and we don’t know that she’s had all these experiences until she finds her time capsule and watches her video of five years previous. It was an interesting and bold choice opening with that because we get to see her intimately, within the frame of a video… because, like a comedian who’s talking to an audience, unless they’re laughing at you, it’s not reflective. And with video, you don’t know how the audience is reacting unless you get a like.

BO: Yeah. You don’t even know that there is one when you’re making it.

TMC: Exactly. So, I thought was a bold choice because you start her out in her own world and gradually build on that until she gets her time capsule. You have the image of the Phoenix engulfing her time capsule and she starts anew, and I think that’s an important progression from seeing her intimately at the beginning of the movie; giving advice that she doesn’t know has had an impact on the world. And I think that goes back to the social aspect that you fear, as the writer and as the director, you don’t know whether your message is getting out.

BO: Yeah. It was interesting, what those videos looked like, too. We had to down-res it because those videos are too good now. They don’t even look shitty. The flatness of those images are interesting to me, too. The weird flatness of the way a camera views you on your webcam. The.. the crux of the… pressure of the movie is almost about someone that thinks the movie of her life sucks. That the movie of her life is unwatchable, and she wants to… she wishes she lived like the girls in the movies she watches. She wished she sounded like the girls who do voiceovers in movies and she can’t. The irony for me is, ‘That IS watchable.’ You want to be better than yourself. You want to articulate yourself and failure to do so is what’s watchable.

TMC: And yet she’s the most confident of the characters in the movie.

BO: Yeah. Totally. The one on screen is.

Bo Burnham is a fascinating person and I hope this movie gets the kind of attention it deserves. See it this weekend and then see it again. There’s a lot to unravel here and one thing I’m positive about is that since this is his debut feature, you’re going to see a lot more of Bo Burnham. You’re going to want to see a lot more Bo Burnham, too, because not only does he write in a way that examines and defends the human condition but tells that story in an intoxicating way. I can’t wait to see what his mind and spirit purges next. I hope you enjoyed reading this. Now, go see the film as soon as you can.

Interview with Jim Loach and Liana Liberato from the film ‘Measure of a Man’


Studio: Great Point Media

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Directed by: Jim Loach

Cast: Blake Cooper, Donald Sutherland, Luke Wilson, Liana Liberato, Danielle Rose Russell, Luke Benward, Sam Keeley, Beau Knapp, & Judy Greer

Writers: David Scearse, based on the novel One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 100 min



During the summer of 1976, fourteen-year-old Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper), insecure and overweight, must endure another tortuous family vacation at Rumson Lake.  His summer job, tending to the palatial estate of the reclusive, enigmatic and overly demanding Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland) is backbreaking. His parents (Judy Greer & Luke Wilson) appear on the verge of divorce; his sister Michelle (Liana Liberato) is forcing him to help conceal her clandestine rendezvous with the local pretty boy; and his best friend and kindred spirit Joanie (Danielle Rose Russell) is leaving for a month and won’t tell him why. On top of that, a crazy townie has focused his hatred of the rich “summer people” exclusively on Bobby.  Over the course of this emotional rollercoaster of a summer, secrets are revealed, lessons are learned and Bobby comes to understand who he is and what makes up the true measure of a man.



Following in his director father’s footsteps, Jim Loach has become an outstanding storyteller. His father is the well-known director, writer, producer Ken Loach, who directed last year’s impressive film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ among countless others. Jim has decided to one-up dad this year by giving us a memorable film of his own called ‘Measure of a Man,’ based on the book ‘One Fat Summer’ by Robert Lipsyte. I’m not sure which is best, but I know which one is about to come out and do strongly suggest you see it as soon as you can. In the movie, Jim handles the subject of youthful angst quite delicately while simultaneously keeping you on the edge of your seat. He tells us of one summer poor when Bobby Marks had to endure bullying that most couldn’t tolerate for a day and how overcoming it helped him grow into a better man.

During the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival, I got to sit down with Jim Loach and the young actress, Liana Liberato, who played Bobby’s (Blake Cooper) sister Michelle and discuss the film with them. Here is that discussion.

When we first meet, Liana had to let me know what she thought of the heat. Liana was shocked at how hot it was here in Phoenix. It was only April so I had to inform her that she hadn’t seen anything yet as she was really only catching what we consider spring. I couldn’t help but invite her to come back when the real summer temps kicked in. ‘I’d love to be here for that.’ She tells me. ‘I thought I could handle really cold weather, but I can’t. I can’t handle really hot weather either, so I don’t know where I belong.’ I instantly understood where she was coming from and felt a weather-related kinship. This interview will go well, I told myself. To be honest, it did go really well and I found both Liana and Jim to be extremely considerate, warm and gracious.
When she says she complains a lot about the weather Jim says, ‘I’ve never heard you complain.’ She reminds him, ‘It was cold where we were filming.’ He thinks a moment. ‘Yeah. It rained a lot… one of the issues of this film.’ She interjects, ‘I don’t mind a hot rain. I could do that.’ As if they forgot I was there, she turns to me and says, ‘I’m sorry. Went off on a little tangent.’ We all laugh.

I ask my first question based on a scene from the film where the locals let it be known to the rich people who come and summer in the area that they’re not appreciated as much as they think they are.

Shari: How were the locals with you filming there in Rhode Island?
Jim: It was really, truly, a fantastic experience in Rhode Island. I’d love to go there and make another film. There were some brilliant locations. We ended up shooting in a place called Camp Hoffman, which was a real summer camp, and we shot a lot of the film there. There is a really fantastic local history in Rhode Island, Providence in particular. People were really supportive. I would love to go back there and film; it was a really good experience.

Shari: I’m sure they’d love to have you back.

I turn my attention to Liana.

Shari: I definitely know why you’d want to be involved with this film but what drew you, specifically, to the character of Michelle, the protagonists somewhat unfriendly sister?
Liana: I had just gotten out of my teens when I got the script and I just really related to Michelle and the place she was in, in her life because I was, kind of, just moving out of that. You know, where you’re a teenager and you want to explore and make your own decisions, and not be told what to do and butting heads with your mom. That was something I was just beginning to grow out of so I really related with Michelle. I did find myself saying, ‘It makes sense that she’s sneaking out, that she’s asking her brother to lie. That makes sense! She’s growing up!’ And so, I thought that I could have a lot of fun with the character and I did. I had a lot of fun playing Michelle. Just the sibling dynamic with Bobby, with Blake (Cooper), we had a great time so, yeah… it felt like a really fun film to make and it was.
Shari: And it felt realistic, the relationship between you two. Very believable. Do you have siblings?
Liana: I have a half-sister, but she has a family. I didn’t even live in the same home as her. We’re really close but that could be another reason why I was so drawn to the film was I liked the sibling dynamic. I had never experienced that before.

Good acting and good directing will have you surprised at that revelation because I would have thought she had been drawing from real-life experience for this role to be so real. Jim knew how to pull the performance out of her and her enthusiasm for the part made for an entertaining character to watch.

Shari: Did you study any particular school of acting? Meisner, Adler, Stanislavsky… any of those?
Liana: No. I didn’t.
Shari: Do you it’s necessary to or is acting something inside of you?
Liana: I think it depends on the person. I’ve tried different methods or techniques with acting, depending on the role, and I’m always open to all types of preparation, but I really don’t think there’s a wrong or right way to do it. I think that’s the best part of the job. The spontaneity behind it. You can prep a million different ways and no way is really wrong… in my opinion.
Shari: You won the Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress from the Chicago International Film Festival which has also been won by Hillary Swank and Rebecca Hall.
Liana: I did.
Shari: You must be doing something right.
Liana: I guess so!
Shari: How much does an award like that mean to you?
Liana: I don’t know. I… I think it’s nice. There are so many wonderful actors out there that I don’t know how I stick out but I’m so flattered. I was really young when I got that award and it was actually a surprise. I don’t think it was the best idea, come to think of it, because I was fifteen and they flew me out to Chicago. They were like, you’re just accepting an award on behalf of the movie (Trust). I had no idea that it was for me and I’m the worst speaker… and being fifteen, I was so bad. When I went on the stage and it was for me I was like, ‘I don’t know what to say.’

She laughs and then makes fun of the situation by pretending to be an audience member watching her, nervously, practically speechless, accepting her well-deserved award. ‘This chick won an award? What did she do?’ She laughs again.

Liana: But it was very flattering. Very nice.

I turn my attention to Jim.

Shari: How long ago was this movie shot?
Jim: The end of 2015 to 2016.
Shari: So, the actors… everyone has grown up.
Jim: Everyone has grown up.
Shari: I was looking at pictures of Blake and didn’t recognize him.
Liana: He doesn’t look like the same guy.
Jim: He’s tall. He was taller than me when we shot the film.
Shari: Really?
Liana: I remember that now. He was almost to the ceiling.
Shari: Now, how did you come to cast him?
Jim: Gosh, I mean… we watched lots and lots of young actors that age, watched lots of tapes and stuff. It sounds like one of those things you say but he stuck out from the very beginning. From the first week. We still went through the process because one always does, and then right at the end we were like, ‘It’s Blake isn’t it?’ So, it was quite simple really. Quite straightforward in some ways because the film is so much through his eyes, it would have been difficult to make the film if you hadn’t nailed that part. We were fortunate really.
Shari: There are parts where I felt that I wanted to jump into the screen and beat everyone up on his behalf. You really feel his pain, his struggle, so you did a good job with him all the way around. Why was the title changed from ‘One Fat Summer’ to what it is now?
Jim: A number of reasons really but ultimately it was a conversation between David and I, David Scearce who wrote the script. ‘One Fat Summer’ is a beautiful title for a book but in terms of it being a real coming of age piece, which we both wanted, we felt ‘Measure of a Man’ played into that so that’s why we changed it.
Shari: Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland) being a concentration camp victim. Was that in the book or something that was added to the script to make him a character who’s sympathetic to Bobby’s plight?
Jim: That was David’s idea. That story… we wanted something really simple that had a huge emotional place to land, obviously, upon which you’re understanding where that character could, sort of, pivot and once we started talking about the mid-seventies, that timeline was right. But, it was David’s idea.
Shari: And the striped pajama’s?
Jim: That was Donald’s idea:
Shari: Well, seeing that and the tattoo, you originally don’t like Kahn very much, he’s not being too kind to this child, but then you realize he’s eventually getting him to grow and move out of the prison he has himself in. Was it your idea to not go back and readdress any of that?
Jim: There was a longer scene that we had, actually, where that is explored more but I just felt that the film wasn’t really about that. To really explore that properly, you need to make a film about that, of course, that’s a huge subject. So, ultimately, we kind of felt that they change each other in unsaid ways. You know? It’s not said, they’re not really conscious, necessarily, of the way they change each other and the way each character changes the others character or vice versa. At that age, maybe it’s unconscious, but we thought maybe the scene you’re describing, could happen but happen when Bobby was fourteen and he’d looked back on it and go, ‘That’s what the significance of that was.’ Does that make any sense?
Shari: Yes. Very much so. Something he notices but upon reflection later in life… wow. The scene stayed with me for the rest of the film. It never left the back of my mind because I did not see it coming.
Jim: Well, that’s good. I don’t think you really understand life at that time. Even as an adult, don’t you think? Especially at age fourteen. I don’t think you have a conscious understanding of it. You just have this unconscious feeling that something profound is happening and maybe during your adult life you’ll understand what that was.
Shari: Any advice to indie filmmakers?
Jim: My only advice is to keep going. Keep a sense of the stories you want to tell but also keep in mind how you’re actually going to make it. You know?
Shari: Did you start by making shorts?
Jim: I made a short about a bus driver and it was an absolute disaster… it was terrible.
Shari: Gotta see this.
Jim: It’s somewhere in my loft. Never to be seen again.
Shari: Never to be seen.
Liana: He knows where it is!
Shari: Last question to both of you. How do you know when you’ve ‘Made It’ in this business?
Jim: These questions are really hard and interesting.
Liana: Honestly, I think everyone’s perspectives of ‘Making It’ are so different… I mean, there are definitely milestones that I’ve enjoyed hitting. ‘Wow! I made it over that obstacle and now that I’ve done that, I can conquer my next goal.’ So, I personally, would be in tears if I thought I had made it. I don’t like knowing that. I have way more ahead of me. I don’t think I’ll ever know.
Jim: I think that’s very wise. In a way, what is it? I don’t feel I’ve made it, whatever it is.
Liana: You can’t look at your own career and compare it to others and think, ‘Why don’t I have that?’ You’re probably not going to get that anyway, so you just have to look at your own personal goals and what makes you happy and strive for that, I guess.
Jim: Don’t have a sort of, unconscious analysis of yourself. Don’t you think? Isn’t it better just to go do what you want to do?
Shari: Keep working.
Jim: Keep working. Tell the stories you are able to tell.
Shari: And if you’re no longer happy doing it, it’s time to stop.
Jim/Liana: Yeah.
Shari: But don’t stop… either one of you.

They smile, thank me, toss me a compliment or two and walk away.

I thank them and tuck them their kind words away for safe keeping… in case I need to analyze myself.

*HERE is my review of the film.

Interview with Mark Geist and John Tiegen of “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi”

Former Marines, Mark “Oz” Geist and John “Tig” Tiegen, were unable to quiet their minds and bodies on September 11, 2012.  They were in Benghazi, Libya, when what they were trained and ready to do, not what they were actually there for, kicked in; and luckily for anyone who survived because many wouldn’t have, had these men not been willing, ready and able to be, not in their words, heroes

For them, they couldn’t just sit and allow people to die if there’s something they could do about it and though they were told not to engage, they dug in to find true abnegation within themselves and did what they felt had to be done; ignore those orders. 

There are many who would call them angels; some who would say they were crazy for stepping in, though those people would be few and far between, but what does it take to be someone who runs into gunfire, instead of someone who runs from it? 

What they were faced with was a situation where Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.  A book has been written and a film is about to be released, telling the story, not just their story, the story, of what every man went through. 

These men want to spread the word of what real sacrifice is, what it really means and who, on this night, understood the meaning of that word more than anyone.  Not only understood but took it to heart… and took it to that grave.

I was given an opportunity to have a little chat with Geist and Tiegen, and was honored to have met them; to, essentially, get the definition of that word first hand.  They were very frank and open and I found them to be quite funny at times, poking fun at one another and then at me when I walked out of the interview, forgetting my recorder.  Tiegen was upset when I had returned; thinking that he had gotten himself a souvenir. 

But, this is that chat and I hope you take interest in what they have to say.  Enjoy.

Shari:  Have you seen the movie yet? 

Geist:  Not the whole thing.  We’ve seen bits and parts throughout the making of it (Thinks) and then… umm, of course, the two trailers and the featurette.  There was a small twenty piece that they put together that we’ve seen.

Shari: What kind of emotions are brought up, if any, when you see your story being turned in to a Hollywood movie for all to see?

Geist:  For us it takes us through a lot of different emotions; or at least me.  And, uh… I think the movie, the way it’s made is gonna… and the efforts that they’ve brought to it to make it as true to life as possible is gonna bring you, the viewers, the same thing.  I mean, you’re gonna feel everything from, you know, compassion to anger, to fear, to sorrow; and I think it’s going to be excellent… they did a really good job of it.

Tiegen:  I think it’s going to be a punch in the gut.  (Long pause before he speaks again)  That’s my opinion. 

Shari: The main motivation behind this is just getting the truth out there and… it’s not a political issue or any of these other things that are surrounding it, it’s just getting your true story of the real events on the ground, you know, out for the public to know.  But when you go to an author to write a book or to make a film, especially when they’re portraying it as an action film, a lot of times there is some understood ‘creative license’, but they’ve gotta change things a bit to keep people interested.  From your perspective, what percent of the book and or the movie, is faithful to your story of what really happened out there?

Tiegen:  I mean, since we haven’t seen the whole thing, I would say anywhere between eighty-nine to ninety percent of it.  I mean… (Stumbles for his words a bit) you know, it’s… there again it’s not really about the politics all it is, is about what happened that night on the ground, I mean, people ask us, you know, ‘Do you think it’s going to affect Hillary?’ or this and that… well, honestly, we don’t care if it affects Hillary.  It’s not our goals.  You can make it positive or negative for her.  Our goal is just to make sure that the story of four guys and the sacrifices that were made for our country gets out there and gets told the right way. 

Shari:   What was it like being on set… seeing it all come back to life?

Geist:  Umm… for me it was surreal.  I mean, it didn’t… seeing it come back to life, I don’t know maybe it’s just the way we work, you know, I compartmentalize things so, when I was on set it wasn’t about the events that happen… I mean, it’s about the events that happened through my life but I don’t see it as that.  I see it as a work of how people are…. I mean, how they’re doing that and the technical aspect of taking this from the paper, umm, from the book to putting it on film and how the actors took the effort that they did to make sure that they get the story right.  Each one of them, you know, contacted the person they were playing and tried to get as much background information of not just how we did things there but as much as how… where I grew up, where I… I mean, Max Martini is who plays me, and he wanted to know about my background; where I grew up, my family life because that allows him to…

Tiegen:  …steal his credit. (Laughs)

Geist:  …yeah; (Laughs… continues) no… he can encompass so much more of me into that story; into that character because then he can just… it’s not just some guy carrying a rifle or shooting a gun, it’s everything also and that’s the story we want to get that… the guys who do this, I mean, us… the other guys out there that are out doing this as well as the Ambassador and Sean Smith is certain that the foreign service officers that serve in this country in the 270 odd some diplomatic facilities that we have around the world aren’t just robots that are doing their job.  They’re people who have families and have loved ones that have sacrificed for that… and they’re doing that because they love this country and they want to honor this country and we want to honor them in doing that.

Shari: You guys are former Marines but you weren’t in Benghazi as Marines, you were security contractors.  I wanted to ask when you leave the base after being asked to stand down, what was the thought process going through your minds when you made that decision?  Were you worried about what would happen if you disobeyed orders, or was this instinct?

Tiegen:  It was kinda… we didn’t care about what would happen with our jobs.  I mean, you’ve got someone on the radio saying, ‘Hey, if you don’t get here, we’re going to die!’  So, I mean, we’re not gonna sit there and listen to people being killed, over a radio, when we can go up and make a difference… so, you know, we didn’t care about the consequences at that time, so we took off.  I mean, we knew our base was gonna be protected because we still had twenty-something Americans that knew how to shoot a gun and it ain’t like they’re going to sneak up on ‘em cuz they’re pretty much ready for it, you know, so I mean, (contemplative) …yeah, we heard ‘em say, ‘Hey!  If you don’t get here, we’re gonna die.’ So we left.

Geist:  I, kind of, relate it to the person that stands there with their cell phone and videotapes and fight.  I don’t see how you could do that.  How do you not get involved in… something that’s going on; to help somebody else’s life?  That’s not who we are and it just baffles me that people can stand around and watch that and not have a care.  To me that’s cowardice.  They’re cowards; they’re chickens, they have no integrity.  And… to me, it’s that simple.  I mean, I don’t know how anybody sits there and… you gotta live with the consequences but the consequences are Americans are gonna die or they’re not; people are gonna die.  It doesn’t have to be Americans.  I mean, if it had been the French consulate, we would have done the same thing.  It wouldn’t have mattered, I mean… it’s… people’s lives are at stake and you can make a difference in their life and you don’t do something, I think that says more about somebody’s character than anything else.

Tiegen:  And that’s where working together, being the two SEALs, three Marines and a Ranger… the Ranger wasn’t very good but that’s a Ranger. (Laughs) It’s not as much when they’re not here.  But, you know, you do a little bit of training and know what each other’s gonna do and, you know, it goes back to the whole training through the military, you know, tactics are tactics no matter how you look at ‘em so we all just kinda knew what to do and just flowed with it.

Shari: At what point did you realize that this story needed to be told?  Did the author, Mitchell Zuckoff, who wrote the book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi”, approach you or did you approach him or..?

Geist:  No, I got injured over there with the two guys that got killed and umm… I had been in the hospital recovering back and forth and… we talked on a regular basis.  All of us.  All five us.  I mean, just… we’re a family now.  It’s like we’re a bunch of brothers now who irritate the crap out of each other and we’ll pick on each other but don’t let anybody else come after any of our guys.  And we just started venting to each other about the frustration, that two of our teammates got killed and two more, an Ambassador and a Foreign Service Officer who had gotten killed and it didn’t seem to us that the politicians cared about that.  There was no honor being brought to them; to their families. Umm… they were taking the story and trying to spin it for their own political gains for whatever reason, whether it’s Left or Right, and I distribute that criticism to both sides of the aisle… equally; and so we just, you know, how do we tell the story?  And we talked about, ‘let’s go to the media.’  But, you know then, if we go to the media, they’re just gonna do what they’re doing right now and spin it.  How can we put this into something that everybody will have to know about and umm… through people we had met throughout our careers and kinda, we were introduced to certain people and they reached out to them and, I think it was something bigger than just coincidence because it brought the right people to help get this done in the right time manner and the time frame from the agent who was with “3 Arts Entertainment”, he runs the literary division.  He knew who the writer was, that would be writing.  Mitch Zuckoff was the writer that our agent felt could tell the story the best way and he did, of course, as you can tell.  It’s a New York Times best-selling book. 

And then being able to then take this book and put it to that next platform with Paramount and Paramount coming together believing in this story and wanting to tell it as we wanted it and Michael Bay doing the same thing and the respect that they came with to this story it just kinda all came together and it is what it is now and I think it’s a great piece.  I think people are going to walk away from it with a different viewpoint of the whole scenario and realize what we want is that there are these people out there who give their lives in some of the worst places in the world and they’re separated from their families and… that they will, I think, it’ll be a change in view to a lot of places on both sides of the aisle.

Shari: Since you were an elite team and actually seemed more superior to, say, the SEAL’s or the CO’s, do you or have you felt under-appreciated by anybody or your country since nobody knew about what you were capable of doing and then you ended up being heroes and should be respected?

Tiegen:  No, I mean, I guess we are Marines and we are with the SEALs but… (Smiles) we don’t brag about it (Laughs) but you know… I really don’t care if anyone appreciates me.  I don’t do the job for them to appreciate me.  I do the job to keep the bad guys over there and I just like doing it… and, you know, if I can get twenty terrorists killed with one attack from a missile that made my day and I drink my coffee.  We don’t do the job to be rewarded, umm…

Geist:  …we do it to make a difference.

Tiegen:  Yeah.

Geist:  Because we can make a difference in people’s lives… I think.

Tiegen:  This wasn’t, neither one of us, this wasn’t our first rodeo, I guess you could say, you know?  We had been doing it for ten years; been working with the agency for about that long and, you know, you’re not going to go that long and working for them where you are, without seeing somethin’.   So, it just happens that this is the time when the Ambassador for thirty years got killed and you know, just… for me it was just kinda being there and seeing the security that was there prior; it was attacked twice prior, it had a grenade thrown through the wall, it had a big hole blown through the wall and I was there for that one.  There were only two guys that were protecting the consulate grounds that time.  It was just kind of like, ‘what the hell?’  And then they go off and they start spinning the story for their benefit.  You know, but we just don’t do these things to be appreciated or awarded ‘cause if that was the case, the other two guys would have come out to the public too.  They wanted to keep working; keep doing what they were doing.

Shari:  Was this just another day at work for you or something much more than that?

Geist:  I think it started out as just another day at work.  I mean, that guy’s trying to shoot you, you shoot back and hopefully, you shoot them before they shoot you and you protect the ones that they’re shootin’.  It didn’t start out to be defining but I think the closest that comes to defining it was that I got injured there.  It redirected my life but even that is just life and you just accept that.

Tiegen:  He wasn’t any good anyway.

Geist: (Laughs)  We all just went back to work.

Tiegen:  We all go back to work.  It ain’t like we all quit.  I didn’t stop until we decided to do the book.  They said, ‘Well if you’re doing the book, you can’t work.’  Otherwise, I’d still be working.

Shari: Are you bummed about that?

Tiegen:  Oh, yeah… if definitely sucks.  I mean, it’s great and I like being home with the twins but I’d definitely like to be over there; especially right now.  I’d imagine it’s going to be a lot of fun here soon.

And with that, it was over.  They would do it all over again.  See “13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI” from Paramount Pictures which will be released nationwide on January 15th2016.

Interview with “Unsullied” director Simeon Rice

Interview with “Unsullied” director Simeon Rice

Directed by: Simeon Rice

Starring:  Murray Gray, Rusty Joiner, James Gaudioso, Erin Boyes, Cindy Karr and Nicole Paris Williams

By Shari K. Green


“Unsullied” is a film made by Simeon Rice, who directed and helped write the film after film school.  He graduated film school after he retired from pro-football in 2009.  He played for the Arizona Cardinals and also earned a Super Bowl ring in 2003 when he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He was a very good football player but I’m not so sure that he’s going to be as successful behind the lens unless he learns more about what he’s doing.  We do need to keep in mind that this is his directorial debut, but he should take on smaller films and lighter topics first, “pay his dues” so to speak, because as it turns out, the film is sloppy and chaotic… muddled, and the problems with it were exactly what you’d expect from a new director who needs a bit more experience.  

When learning that there were several writers on the project, you can see why so much commotion made it to the screen.  I won’t lie to you… if you like the type of action/horror movies that come from indie or student filmmakers, this is what “Unsullied” has in store for you and you’ll like the film.  It isn’t special and it isn’t new.  What doesn’t work?  It’s in conflict with itself and its overall message is unclear.  What works?  Well, Rice has surrounded himself with some good people, chiefly, his cinematographer, Scott Winig.  The movie looks good so, Rice has some experts in his corner and if he wants to continue making movies, his love of film and eye for talent behind the camera could begin to work for him. 

As he declares in my interview with him, he’s very passionate about filmmaking and is humble enough to ask for assistance when he needs it.  It’s my belief that as he learns more about the game, as he did in football, there’s little doubt he’ll improve and even become good at this. That said, “Unsullied”, a story about Reagan (Gray), a track star who is kidnapped by a pair of sociopaths for a game of cat and mouse, is an extremely formulaic “B” movie, made more for Rice to get a feature under his belt than for an audience to love and then tout for their new favorite director.

I hope he absorbs the criticism about his film and what is said about him.  He should make improvements based on his mistakes and focus on creating a story that isn’t rife with commonality and concentrate more on entertaining his audience than proving something to himself and his friends.


SG: Everyone dreams of a second career and I know you’ve been asked this question a lot, but I must ask you… why film?

Rice I have a passion of storytelling.  I have a passion of… of creating concepts and being able to express yourself on a theatrical standpoint so… film, to me, is one of the ultimate levels of expression and freedom.  To be able to do that and tell your own stories in your own way from facts to fiction is just one of those things that resonated with me… and improved itself over time.

 You had made a short film, a comedy, and then you tackle an entire feature next.  Why such a tough project right away and what is the ultimate message you’d like to convey?

Rice:  That I’m a filmmaker.  That I’m telling a story and I can create details.  I want to go so far left of what people would expect from me and to show that I’m a serious filmmaker; as a storyteller and as of a responsible storyteller.  I have a film going into theatres nationwide and it comes from a very organic place.  Those tales I create are going to stay in the pulse of people.  I watched the film “No Country with Old Men” and as I sat and watched that film, I was so enthralled and into this movie, that I said, ‘I want to make a film similar to this’… one that’s going to lead you to the edge of your seat… that’s going to be an adrenalin rush of a film, that’s going to take you to epic heights and the lowest of lows, and things of that nature… so, I wrote “Unsullied” and “Unsullied” to me… it typifies the tipping point of what an action/thriller/suspense could be. 

SG: You achieved all of that.  It’s crazy, this movie.  Murray Gray was the perfect choice for it.  She was tough mixed with innocence.  Were you involved in casting her?

Rice:  Yes.  I cast her.  She was brought to me by a casting agent slash one of our producers, Michelle Gracie and… yeah… I watched a lot of girls.  I sat in that process and ultimately picked the one who suited this role the best.  Her and her ability to translate emotion really spoke to me and she really went after this role and took on a full commitment and the responsibility of what a lead actress would do and I’m overjoyed with her performance.

 Now the cinematic side.  You had to have spent many days in the woods, not a Hollywood set, and shot day for night and such in those woods.  I have to commend you for picking the right director of photography, as well, Scott Winig, who started his career shooting music videos and won many awards there.  He got some really beautiful shots that had to have been equally as difficult to capture.  How many days did you spend in those woods?

Rice:  We were there just about twenty days.  The shoot was twenty-three days and we were in the woods about seventeen or eighteen of those days.


SG: Wow.  That’s a LOT of work!  What was the biggest challenge for you there?! 

Rice:  I dealt with a lot of challenges but I think the biggest challenge was just… ummm… the anxiety of it.  Dealing with my own anxieties before shooting and having confidence in my own ability as a director.  But once I got on set, I think the biggest anxiety was the unknown; the fear of the unknown when you’re going into production.  But once I got on set, it all made sense… it all felt natural and I felt that I shouldn’t have been anywhere else but right there in the director’s chair creating this film.

SG: Well, congratulations.

Rice:  Thank you.

 I must know your opinion here.  Which do you find harder, a three-week film shoot or a seventeen-week football season?

Rice:  They both have their inherent strengths.  You have to endure so much as a player.  You have to endure so much as a filmmaker slash writer slash producer and executive producer.  They are both very respected in their own different ways.  Obviously playing football has a toll on me physically and creating films, you deal with great highs and lows… they both are different but both have their levels of complications.  I respect both professions. 

 Who came up with the title, “Unsullied”?  Are you a “Game of Thrones” fan?!

Rice:  I’m a “Game of Thrones” fan but it was more related to what she went through.  It begs the question, “Unsullied”, does she or does she not, you know?  It was just one of those things… the fact that the guys were so sullied… so tainted, you know?  She goes through this and we want to know, does she lose her way? 

 Right.  Does she stay clean?

Rice:  It’s also an open-ended question.

 Exactly.  So, what was your favorite part of directing?

Rice:  My favorite part of directing?  I don’t really deal in favorites because that’s an absolute.  I kind of enjoyed every aspect of it but really connecting with the actors is my biggest joy in terms of directing.  To connect with the actors in terms of the role, in terms of expression, in terms of casting them and communicating an idea and then working through some of the complications that come with it… that’s a joy.

 Is there anyone out there you’d like to work with in particular?

Rice:  I’m so humble.  I’m so fortunate if anyone would work with me.  There are so many great actors out there in the platform of theatre and production that if I’m connected with anybody out there that wants to tell a great story, I’d be overjoyed. 

 What’s your advice for anyone who wants to go into filmmaking?

Rice:  Come in the game very prepared if you want to see your story through.  Tell your story.  Tell your tale.  Be dedicated.  Make sure, whatever you do in terms of storytelling, that you have an outlet for the big game.  Be honest in your creativity.  Be honest in your storytelling… but be a responsible storyteller and make sure that the message you’re trying to convey is parallel with the message you want to get out there.  

Talking “The Choice” with Nicholas Sparks

Interview with Nicholas Sparks for the release of his film “The Choice”

By:  Shari K. Green

PHOENIX, AZ – Nicholas Sparks, as you know, is the author of books such as, Message in a Bottle,  The Notebook and  The Best of Me,  which have all been turned into big Hollywood money makers, not to mention the fact that these films widened his already immense and devoted audience with each movie; suddenly books had to be seen by his fans and the movies had to be read… pretty good deal for a Carolina Panthers fan.  When he came to town for a chat, I had to go there with him.  I asked and, yes, he’s for Carolina in the Super Bowl this weekend, of course, and I’m for the Broncos.  We’ll see.  Anyway, he sat with me and a few others to discuss his most recent offering, The Choice, opening in theaters starting February 5th

 Very bubbly and fun, he walked in the room and gave us a ‘How are ya’ll doin’?’  Then he grabbed himself a Coke, offered everyone else one, as well, before finding a seat and introducing himself.  He tells us that he generally has water the rest of the day, but touring means he usually has caffeine ‘til noon and this throws him off his normal healthier schedule, and how can you blame him?  This is how he gets through these long days of interviews.  His energy was very nice to be around and I find him to be quite warm and genuine; a very kind soul… sincere.  He looks you in the eyes when he speaks to you, making sure that not only he is heard and understood, but to be sure to give you the feeling that you are heard and understood.  He’s a very easy person to talk to and one I’m glad I had the chance to spend some time with.  Here are some of the questions from our time together.  Enjoy!!   

*FYI There will be SPOILERS

Shari:  You are one of the only writers to give us these deep romance stories from the man’s perspective.  Do you get stopped on the street and get asked advice on romance all the time?

NS:  No.  In fact, I don’t know that its ever happened before so how about that.  I’m not recognized by men.  I’m recognized by women sometimes, but never men.  Unless I’m supposed to be in… they know kinda where I’m supposed to be, I’m very seldom recognized at all.  Like, for instance if people know I’m in Phoenix doing stuff, they might see me in a hotel lobby and recognize me but had they not seen me on the news that morning, they might not.  So, in the history of my career as far as I know outside of my hometown of New Bern, North Carolina, I think I’ve been recognized… less than a dozen.  I had a lady sit next to me on a plane, reading my book, staring at my author photo… and she didn’t recognize me.  So no; but to answer that question I do, often by journalists, get asked, ‘can you give romantic advice?’  And I say, ‘I don’t think so.’  He laughs.

Shari: So you’re not going to start a column or anything?

NS:  Absolutely not.  I just try to write the best novels that I can. 


Shari:  Being that you’re going through some change right now, what advice would you give to students on making a life changing choice?

NS.: In general?  I’d say, ‘choose your struggles wisely because it is your struggles that will define the life you live.’  What do I mean by that?  If you ask people what they want, if you ask almost anyone what they want, everyone pretty much wants the same thing; they want a job they enjoy and great personal relationships, they want to be close with family and get along with friends, they want to be healthy, right?  Everyone… the answer is so common it’s ubiquitous, however, if you ask someone, ‘How do you choose to suffer?’  That’ll tell you a little bit about the person.  I choose to write novels.  I isolate myself from friends and family for hours on end.  The time vanishes when one writes it feels as though you sacrifice a bit of your life.  I’m willing to put up with the torture of creation, you know, the struggles of writers’ block, to get to the end, right?  That’s one of the struggles that I choose.  So, choose your struggles wisely because how you choose to suffer will largely define the life you live. 


Shari: Is the suffering worth it?

NS:  That’s the question.  Most people don’t, I find, get what they want.  They really just didn’t want it bad enough ‘cause if you really want something, you really will do what it takes to get there. 


Shari:  For someone who does spend a lot of time in their room, maybe on the computer or what have you, what would you maybe say to someone who needs to maybe break away from that mold and to kind of get into that “romancesphere”?

NS:  I would say that unless that’s what they truly want, they probably never will… and to accept that.  And it’s okay… to each his own.  (He thinks a moment and speaks again).  To… to step out of a box in which you’re very comfortable and put yourself in an uncomfortable position, you have to really want to do that and there are certainly joys and wonders that can come about but there’s also heartbreak and sadness which are also part of the game.  You know, everyone wants a wonderful relationship; they pretty much want the view from the top of the mountain but ya gotta be willing to walk up the mountain.  Ya gotta be able to do the climb so, if they’re not willing to then have them accept themselves and to make the most of the lives they can with the friends they have and life’s about enjoyment.  Life’s not only about work, it’s about enjoyment so as long as they’re good, I’m good.

Shari:  Has anyone made a decision that you didn’t like?  One that you had no say in; that’s the way it’s going to be?

NS:  Has anyone made a decision I didn’t like.  Sure!  We can start with my children.  (Laughs)  Of course, you know?  And… I suppose it goes to the nature of the question that was up to require the decision, right?  Most of the time I try to live my life by simple words that my mom taught me, ‘If someone says something you don’t like, or you disagree with, say, (And this is true though) it’s your life you can do with it what you want… you can.’  Now how I deal with that, that’s up to me, but you can do whatever you want.  My children hate when I tell them that.  They hate it with a passion, like, ‘Put all the burden on me!’  But it’s very true.  I don’t know how successful you’ve been at running someone else’s life, but I already found that it’s not very successful so I try not to give advice.

Shari:  What are their age ranges?

NS:  Fourteen to Twenty-Four.  But it’s not just them, it’s siblings and people you work with.  People are going to do what they’re going to do and the only thing you can control is how you respond to it.


Shari:  Religion became a part of the narrative of the story, subtly and not so subtly; where Travis pulled away from his faith.  Do you think that after the story ended, that Travis would go back to his faith?

NS: My opinion is that it would be difficult for Travis not to go back to his faith.  That would be my thought on that subject but, of course, that’s just my opinion on the matter.  And that was not an element that was within the novel.  That was an element that came about in the film… and so, I suppose an even better person to ask would be Ben Walker for his version of the character and the director (Ross Katz).


Shari:  How did you bring Gabby (Teresa Palmer) and Travis (Benjamin Walker) together?!  They had such great onscreen chemistry.

NS:  First we cast people who we thought were immensely talented and then throughout the casting process, we look for chemistry.  How do they seem to get along, do they seem to be friends… and Teresa has one of these personalities that draws everyone in, and so does Ben, in fact.  And so, what they had was just magnetic, even in the read, so, when we put them on screen, when you get them in the big picture, it comes across as being incredible.  But it’s something that we definitely look for.


Shari:  The brother/sister relationship that you had occur… is there something in your personal life that you drew from because the sister is very likeable.  Her character brought a lot to the film.

NS:  The sister in the novel was an even broader character.  I’ve been asked numerous times to write a story about the sister cuz she had it all together and she really did.  She was as comfortable as he was, with herself and I find that a wonderful element to someone’s personality… just the comfort with who they are.  So, yeah, I was very close to my siblings growing up and I’m still incredibly close to my brother; we actually took a trip around the world and I wrote a non-fiction book about that called “Three Weeks with My Brother”.  And, I’d say I’m close to my sister, too, but she passed away.  She passed away from a brain tumor about sixteen years ago… so… yeah, the relationship between Ben and his sister was very much inspired by the relationship that I have with my siblings.  I had parents that really stressed the fact that your siblings will always be around.  Your friends will come and go but your family’s there forever.  In many ways, they are the people that you can tell anything to and they still keep coming back… right?

Travis Shaw (Ben Walker) and Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) in THE CHOICE. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley

Shari:  Up to the accident, you have your love story… and then the accident happened and I’m in tears; multiple times throughout.  What about trauma do you think makes the story that much better?

NS:  Well, I write in a very distinct genre… it’s really called a love story as distinguished from a romance novel; a romance novel is really about romantic fantasy and it’s really supposed to be able to allow the reader to escape into a world and you go through conflicts but you pretty much know that the couple is going to get together in the end.  That’s what it’s about and that’s why you read them and it’s certainly a very valid, you know, it’s a wonderful genre; Cinderella.  I mean, it works every time.  This is a love story and a love story is not necessarily romantic fantasy, although there are romantic elements.  The purpose of that is to move the reader or the viewer through all of the emotions of life; to make it feelreal so you might call it romantic realism versus romantic fantasy.  And that realism requires the reader or the viewer feel all of the emotions of life, cuz otherwise something’s missing… you know that; and the simple fact of life is that everyone goes through tragedy.  There’s not one of us that will escape scot-free.   So, we have characters that feel real then they go through emotions that feel real… and they allow you, the viewer or reader to live someone else’s but to feel like it was a full life; like you got it all even though it was just a snippet… a point in time. 


Shari:  You have romance down, for sure, have you ever, even if you did it under a pseudonym or something, considered writing maybe a horror novel ala Stephen King; try a different genre?

NS:  No.  I don’t.  I’m very happy writing the kind of novels I write.  One of the wonderful things about the genre in which I work, is that I’m able to pull elements from all sorts of genres and build them into my novels.  For instance, “See Me”, is my latest novel; it’s a love story; these two opposite characters meet, it’s my first Hispanic character and she’s a lawyer and this guy is a reformed bad-boy and, okay, they’re going to make it work… overcome these obstacles.  And somewhere around the halfway point the novel starts devolving into a very twisty mystery thriller.  Something like my attempt at what Harlen Coben would do.  And I’m not saying I did it but it was my attempt to do what he does so expertly well… and part of the fun of that novel is, the tension is increasing and you’re not even sure what’s going on.  The reader is as confused as the characters in the novel.  You can just feel the tension growing and growing.  So, I can put elements of mystery into my novels.  I put elements of the supernatural in “Safe Haven”… take that for what it’s worth… it’s very light.  Uhh… Epic.  I’ve done epic sweeping stories like “The Longest Ride”.  So, all of these elements that are particular to various genres, I’ve been able to put into mine. 


Shari:  Have you ever or are you now, writing with a specific actor in mind?

NS:  No.  The only time I did that was for “The Last Song”.  If the movie got made it would be for Miley Cyrus and that’s because I worked with Disney on the project.


Shari:  Never??

NS:  No.  No.  (Laughs)  I never… never… no.  (Laughs again)


Shari:.  I love the cast, especially the side characters, Tom Wilkinson and Tom Welling are terrific… umm… were there any jokes on the set or how was Ben feeling about stealing Superman’s girlfriend?

NS:  There weren’t any particular jokes about that.  It was a very familial set because we asked all of those characters to have arcs; even the father had an arc, you know, the sister had an arc.  So, because they all had arcs, we all asked them to do various things emotionally and… we wanted them to be very comfortable, really experimenting… pressing themselves, going out on a limb, really (allowing) them to evoke these emotions in the viewer in a real way and we did that by having it become a family setting.  When they’re filming the backyard for the bbq, things like that, it was like we were at a backyard bbq.  The dogs were running around, the kids were over there… the sun, it’s beautiful, it’s warm, you’re in your shorts, you’re cooking on the grill; it was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re working.’  It was more like that. 


Shari:  What’s it like seeing your novels come to life from a producer’s point of view?

NS:  It’s a lot of thought.  I love the fact that viewers are going to see a new way to hear the story that I conceived.  I have my chance to tell the story the way I did in the novel… but let’s see how someone else does with my story, you know?  What kind of colors, who are we going to cast, how are we going to frame this… what elements do we keep, what elements do we change to capture the whole spirit of the story and the characters.  For me it’s a wonderful way to experience the story in a different medium.


Shari:  Have you ever thought of just skipping the whole novel thing and just writing the screenplay and producing films yourself?

NS:  Sure I have and I’ve chosen to do that in television not as far as film.  Television is a bit more like a novel so you have a longer opportunity to tell a specific story.  I’m currently, for instance, writing a pilot for HBO but that’ll give me ten episodes to tell a full story.

Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) and Travis Shaw (Ben Walker) in THE CHOICE. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley

Shari:  The big ending, whether she lives or dies… what was the deciding factor for you?  Was there a deciding factor?

NS:  Well, it was during the course of the novel and, of course, that’s what happens in the novel is what I’m trying to say there; and I knew all along that she would come out.  I knew.  I didn’t… I didn’t want to… uhhh, I just knew but it was to bring the reader through all the emotions on the way to get there because… because sometimes these things happen; sometimes they don’t.  When they do, there’s a really magical and wondrous feeling with it.


Shari:  The husband in a film called 45 Years that just came out, says “All of the big decisions that we make, we do when we’re young; big decisions /choices”.  And he had a real defeatist attitude which I don’t agree with.  What is your take on that?  I think we can make life changing choices every day.

NS:  Of course.  And at the same time, there’s some validity (in it), when you’re young is usually when you choose your career, you might choose a partner or a spouse to be with; you might choose whether or not to have children and there are certain points in time when some of those are no longer valid.  If you’re a woman and all of the sudden you’re fifty and you never had children… you can’t bear them.  You might be able to adopt, but you can’t bear them.  So, some choices, just by the nature of time itself… yeah, they come and go and they’re focus is more when you’re young.  However, there’s always major choices that one can make because there’s always the kind of life that you want to live and the new strugglesor the new sufferingsthat you’re willing to experience to get there; right?  You want to go climb Mount Everest?  Sure.  Someone’s done that in their seventies.  Alright… you’re willing to do that suffering; all the training… are you willing?  Do you really want to climb Everest?  That would be one example, but sure it’s possible


I know what else is possible… you running to the theater this weekend and checking out Lionsgate presenting a Nicholas Sparks / Safran Company / POW! Production of  The Choice starring  Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, Brett Rice, and Tom Wilkinson.  Don’t forget to come back and let me know what you think of it!!!  Have fun and Go Broncos!  *Although, I have a feeling Sparks will win this one… just like his film will.  Bring a tissue!  

My interview with the gang behind the Super Troopers Franchise! ‘Super Troopers 2’ comes out tomorrow!!

Having just watched the screening of Super Troopers 2 the night before, I had a really fun time when a very small group of us press members sat down with most of Broken Lizard, the men behind the hilarious film franchise, the next afternoon for a bull session.

I could have talked to them all day but was, unfortunately, given a time limit. I spoke to Jay Chandrasekhar, the member of the five-man comedy troupe who directs the films, the night before, but only slightly as I hadn’t realized in time that he wasn’t going to be joining in on the interview or I would have brought my recorder to get a quote or two for this piece. Luckily for us, the four who were there, Erik Stolhanske, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Kevin Heffernan were chatty enough and quite entertaining, as was their film.

In fact, I was nervous for them as I went into the screening because often times films suffer from the sophomore jinx, but ‘Super Troopers 2’ is not one of them. They were happy to hear that I felt that way about their efforts as they were worried, themselves.

Read on because they also hint of a ‘part three’ which sounds intriguing. I say, ‘Go for it!’ Why stop now? But they made us wait long enough for this film… they need to get moving already, right?!  I digress.

Interestingly enough, the most serious of the bunch was Kevin, known to most as the frustrating but cuddly ‘Farva.’ He had a more contemplative tone and seemed to analyze the questions more before forming his responses, which, here and the night before at the screening, seemed to be direct and to the point rather than trying to fit some mold a person may have expected from him.

Steve (Mac) is the more playful in the group. The class clown, so to speak. They all fit that description, in a way, but he seems to always be on. When not speaking, he’s waiting to speak, however, does give the speaker his ear. He’s genuine and warm and a pleasure to get to know.

Erik (Rabbit) is the quiet one but he’s not shy. He’s very sweet. Respectful. You can tell when talking to him that he was reserved as a youngster. He’s the one who politely waits his turn to speak and sometimes gets skipped. No member is rude toward the other, don’t mistake what I’m about to say, but like brothers often do, they jump on top of one another, metaphorically speaking, in certain situations which can turn into a free-for-all. If it does, someone gets left at the bottom. Erik may sometimes take a place at or near the bottom but seems comfortable there. What I mean is, if you watch him, his wheels are always turning. When it’s his turn to work or speak, he’ll burst from the pile and you better watch out. Don’t get in his way. This is all conjecture, by the way… just an observance.

Paul (Foster) is a little of all these characteristics rolled into one. He’s studious and insightful and he respects the audience, as they all do. They share a mutual appreciation for their fans and are aware they’d be nowhere without them. Knowing this, they’re very approachable and grateful.

Broken Lizard. A brotherhood has been created here and it was fun to witness it come to life. They finish each other’s thoughts and are hip to where the other is going with a point, cognizant of where each one stands on a subject. There’s a comradery, a reverence and admiration between them, that I’d say will never break.

Kevin starts by talking about the film.

Kevin: There was a lot of pressure about whether people were going to like this movie or not. Because there’s so many fans of the first one that they don’t want you to screw it up. Inevitably the concern that they raise to you, even in those groups, you know, it’s like, ‘I was so afraid it was going to suck!’ My wife said the same thing.

Paul: Our fans have never been shy about saying what they feel because you get people every day, like, ‘Yeah! Loved ‘Super Troopers!’ ‘Club Dread’ sucked.’ Or ‘I loved ‘Beerfest’ but ‘The Slammin’ Salmon’ sucked.’ So, we know people. That’s actually good. That’s helpful to see. What’s working and what people like. I think it’s nice; the response. We’ve shown the movie a few of times, especially to the Indigogo backers, people are so positive. I really believe they’re satisfied.

Question: Do you think that’s because they have a stake in your game?

Kevin: Maybe. I think it’s more of a wedding toast kind of situation, like, they want you to succeed. They’re on your side. You’re like family, right? So, you can go up there and, hopefully, not screw it up.

Steve: Kevin’s right. You feel a sense of release. I mean, from us, too. We just didn’t want to suck and thankfully it doesn’t. A lot of people are saying it’s as good as the first one, maybe better, so…

Paul: Yeah and certainly, we spent a lot of time on both scripts, but I think that what I like here is we spent more time thinking about what makes a good story or what makes a good movie so, you look at the first one and we’ll admit that it’s really, sort of, an excuse for set pieces after set pieces but we really wanted this to be something with an interesting story and you wanted to know how it ends and a cool hook about this chunk of Canada and, you know, I think we’ve ‘plus upped’ just the story telling of it.

Erik: Let’s face it. We made a great movie.

They all laugh and talk over each other having a great time, most likely, remembering moments of making this film as they smiled with congratulatory grins. All earned.

Then Paul jumps in with a worried face.

Paul: He just jinxed the shit out of us.

Question: When writing, what type of research did you do, in terms of Canada? I know that Bruce McCulloch (Kids in the Hall) was on set but, myself, I’d watch ‘Strange Brew’ or ‘Kids in the Hall’ or something like that, but did you pull from your past or do research or–

Erik: Yeah. I lived up there for about ten years.

Kevin: We had a lot of interaction. There were times when we’d go up there and, you know, have fun.

Erik: And for Touring and stand-up.

Kevin: There were times when we’d go to Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival and you’d be in that area and there were… funny elements of it. There’s a lot of French Canadians who don’t want to speak English to you. There were a lot who were kind of gruff when it’s normally the Canadians who you think are nice people but they– so it was kind of a cool area; thought it would be fun to have some fun with it.

Steve: Plus, we’re neighbors and we know nothing about each other, truthfully, you know? We were in Calgary and we met a Canadian person who was saying some untruths about Americans and we’re like, do you know anything about the United States? How many states do we have? And he’s like, ‘I don’t know forty-eight?’ And we’re like, ‘Holy shit! That’s a ridiculous answer.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, how many provinces are in Canada?’ And we’re like, ‘I don’t know.’

Erik: What’s a province?  

Paul: Forty-Eight? Seventy? That, to me, is why we left every joke in the movie is because, at the end, it looks like we’re all friends again and then Linda Carter basically says, ‘No. It’s going to be status quo again.’ And we immediately turn on each other. And that ‘Burn down your White House, again!’ and ‘What the hell are you talking about?!’ ‘The war of 1812. Learn your history.’ That’s my favorite joke because it is like, we didn’t even know our own history.

Kevin: We were in Calgary and someone, one of the Canadians, was telling us this whole story about how they burned down the White House and we were like, ‘What?! We don’t remember it that way!’

Steve: I had never heard that before. We were like, ‘The war of 1812 you burned down the White House? That doesn’t even sound familiar.’ We looked it up on Wikipedia. ‘No, actually, the Brits were renting YOUR land and THEY burnt down the White House in the war of 1812.’ But the Canadians were like, ‘No. We did it.’ We’ll let them have that one. We’ll give it to them. It’s fun.

Erik: Sure.

Steve: We also didn’t realize they didn’t become a real independent nation until 1983.

Paul: The more you dig around, it’s just fun… just funny stuff; the real history.

Steve: But we don’t just take the piss out of them, you know? If you watch the movie, we’re the ones who come over the border and we’re making fun of them. We’re the ugly Americans. And then it gets flipped immediately and we’re kind of the bad guys.

Kevin: We cast Canadians in those lead roles, Will Sasso and Tyler Labine, Emmanuelle Chriqui; they’re all Canadian and we kind of brought that whole thing to the table.

Erik: And they’re all from different parts. Will’s from Vancouver, Tyler’s from Ontario and Emmanuelle’s from Montreal… it’s such a wide range.

Steve: And our philosophy with Broken Lizard, comedy wise, is never to be mean-spirited and never to pick on anybody. We’re joking about how silly Canada is but the point was that we were setting ourselves up intentionally to have these guys smear us all over the place. That’s the thing about Canadians. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

Erik: I showed some clips up in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and they were very excited.

Question: Jay isn’t here right now so this is your chance to tell us about him.

Steve: Our chance to bash him? Terrible director. Terrible actor.

Question: C’mon. Give me something juicy.

They laugh.

Paul: He sleeps with his eyes open and snores really loudly.

Steve: It’s freaky as hell.

Paul: Days where we would share a hotel room and sometimes even share a bed with the guy, like, you’d wake up and he’d be staring at you and he’s snoring.

One of the four makes a snoring sound.

Erik: I wonder if he’s human.

Paul: And he’s deaf in one ear.

Kevin: It was also fun to have him direct this movie because… since the first Super Troopers movie, he’s directed 100 episodes of TV so he does have a different rhythm now than he did then and it was kinda cool to see how he did things a little bit differently. It was more about pacing and having efficient coverage. So, he definitely learned, you know?

Steve: This is my impression of Jay Chandrasekhar, (deepens his voice; speaks slowly) ’Uh… speak faster.’ (They laugh)

Paul: But I feel for him because he has to direct and act, which, I don’t think about how hard it is until I watch him. You can see he’s acting but his wheels are turning as a director and you have to snap him out of it. Brian Cox did that a couple of times, which is the great thing about having someone like Brian Cox on set sometimes. He wants to make sure you have your shit together as a director but as an actor too, so it makes you up your game.

Steve: And Brian Cox, naturally, when the sun starts going down, he starts to get a little crusty. He certainly doesn’t have time for any tomfoolery.

(Laughing, Crosstalk)

Steve: Cuz when the sun goes down, we start to become a bunch of monkey’s.

Erik: In Trooper, we worked him too hard. We worked him overnight.

Paul: He’s awesome. His eyeball exploded ¾’s of the way through the shoot. What happened with him? A blood vessel burst—

Kevin: He burst a blood vessel in his eye so, as a matter of continuity, we had to go in and digitally remove the red from his eye for certain scenes, otherwise, in his closeup you would have seen that his eyes was all—

Erik: Terrifying.

Steve: If you know which scenes the blood vessel burst for, which we do, now I can only focus on the white of his eye and it’s brighter than it normally should be.

Kevin: We won’t give those secrets away. You can see it on the DVD.

Erik: I mean, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen Steve reacting to it.

Eric suddenly looks horrified and alarmed. The room bursts into laughter at the memory.

Erik: That bloody eyeball was right there. Makes you jump.

Steve: A bloody eyeball is a terrifying thing.

Paul: He has a malevolent presence at times. He’s a jovial guy and he loves doing these things with us but when he turns to you with a big bloody eye…it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Question: I enjoyed the hell out of the movie. You guys don’t take yourselves seriously and you’re very passionate about what you do and it comes through in spades but you’re never rude about it like, we know you make fun of the Canadians but you don’t blame the Canadians’ right?

All: Right.

Question: Your passion shows through. So, what influences you, beyond the sequel, what influences you as actors to want to continue these characters?

Kevin and Steve argue over who’s going to answer the question first.

Kevin: A lot of this is based on us being friends. And it’s on… the philosophy is, ‘Hey, we’re gonna create this world and you can come and hang out in our world with us and be happy and be comfortable in this world because we’re having a good time; you’re having a good time.’ And so, I think that influences us to want to do these worlds in this way, you know?

Steve: That’s what I was gonna say. And we have drafts of things where the guys are bickering with each other or arguing, and we look at it, ‘No… no. We don’t want it to be that way.’ These guys are just joking around and having fun with each other and there’s the one asshole that everybody has in their workplace that’s gonna come in and ruin everybody’s good time and that’s this guy (gestures to Kevin) and so any obnoxious line that isn’t pc or not what we want someone to say, we just pop them into his mouth and we can get away with it.

Kevin: But you still like me.

Steve: But we still like you.

Erik: You’re lovable.

Kevin: Thank you.

Paul: The guy you love to hate.

Steve: And now we have a French-Canadian version of Farva, too (Paul Walter Hauser).

Question: From ‘I, Tonya,’ right?

Kevin: From ‘I, Tonya.’ What’s a great story is that I had done a comedy show with him, a live show… I had met him. And so, we’re trying to cast a Canadian Farva and I was like, ‘This guy I met; he’s fantastic. Let’s have him come in.’ So, we sent him to the casting director to go on tape for our movie and so we did our movie and they were casting for ‘I, Tonya’ and it was the same casting director and she was like, ‘I’m gonna call that guy in again cuz he was so great.’ And she called him in for, ‘I Tonya,’ and he got the part because he did ‘Super Troopers,’ which we were so excited for him about. And now the guy’s taking off. He’s in Spike Lee’s new movie (BlacKkKlansman). He’s done a bunch of stuff since.

Paul: It’s like we’re going around launching everybody’s career except our own.

Kevin: It’s good. It’s exciting.

Question: So, ‘Rabbit’ gets a love interest!?

Erik: Yeah! I’m tired of being shaving creamed!

Paul: That’s the last thing I want to do, is do the love stuff. Go and make-out and be mushy and have to do real acting? But, as silly as our movies get, you still have to have that scene. You still have to have that.

Question: Is there a girl out there for Farva?

Kevin: I don’t know. We talked about that. Maybe in ‘Super Troopers 3,’ we talked about maybe Farva finally finds his love. Maybe. But for now, I locked lips with Lemme in the movie, so… yeah… I’ll stay with Mac. Farva and Mac having a moment.

Steve: Pretty romantic stuff.

Kevin: Why not do it with the guy you know.

Paul: There’s no mushiness here.

Steve: That would be a great thing. In ‘Super Troopers 3,’ (gestures to Kevin) if Mac says, ‘I need to talk to you for a second. I can’t stop thinking about you.’

They laugh.

Question: Tell me about the writing process. How do you bring it all together?

Paul: It’s like this. It’s us around a table and there’s sort of these stages of just general ideation. Obviously, the world had already been built so that was good but generally speaking, we ask, ‘Where do we want to go with this?’ You, sort of, refine with each phase of starting, ‘Okay. Let’s go with that… let’s beat it out, how would something like that work?’ And with every phase, you’re almost always just throwing out bits or set pieces or comedy that you keep off to the side and you kind of build the structure of the storytelling. It’s just about populating as much comedy as you can.

Steve: Yeah. ‘Lonnie Laloush,’ the Canadian Farva, is a great example of that cuz that’s something where he just existed as dialogue. Down the road we thought, ‘We should probably see this guy.’ So, we wrote him into one scene but then we loved his audition tape so much we were, like, ‘God. We gotta see this guy a bunch and American Farva and Canadian Farva should meet up with each other at some point so… you just keep rolling it out and with each new draft, you have three, five, ten more jokes. It just makes the script better.

Question: Does anyone ever get their feelings hurt?

Kevin: Yeah. It definitely happens.

Erik: I’d say it happens.

Paul: Not over a joke but…

Kevin: We’re passionate.

Paul: We are passionate but it’s not necessarily a ‘This is funny.’ ‘No, it’s not.’ ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘No it’s not!’ The fights seem to be more, ‘Is it, at all, realistic?’ It tends to be more tonal stuff like, ‘That’s too broad, like a Zucker Brother’s joke. It’s funny but I don’t know if it exists in that world.’ Then the guys tend to roll up their sleeves.

Erik: Sometimes it’s like ‘Survivor’ where you have to form an alliance. Like, if you have a joke you’re trying, you have to get three out of five people on your side to get the joke approved. (Kevin laughs) So, often times, you’re trying to form alliances. Sometimes you even have to act it out. If you catch my joke but someone else isn’t seeing it, you have to get on your feet and sell it.

Paul: But then you can also sabotage a joke by reading it in a shitty voice. (Mocks a bad reading of a joke.) ‘Well, when you read it like that, asshole, of course it’s not funny!’

Erik: Right.

Paul: That’s the best way to sabotage.

Steve: But that’s the problem, too. When you get in these creative disputes, after the first round of, ‘Hey. I don’t know if this’llwork.’ It becomes, you just want to win a fight! And so now you got guys who have their heels dug in and there’re just going toe to toe. And three guys will just sit back and watch it. Like, we’ll smirk at each other while these other two guys are just butting heads.

Paul: And when you’re one of those combatants and you want support from the other guys, you’ll always get shot down because there’s nothing more fun than when you’re one of those guys watching two guys fight. And you don’t want to get involved. You just wanna sit back and eat popcorn and watch it. But it’s also maddening when you’re like, ‘Come on! Help me out here!’ And the other guy’s like, ‘You guys figure it out.’

Erik: You’re doing great. Hang in there.

Question: Kevin, you have a law degree.

Kevin: I do.

Question: You passed the bar in two states.

Kevin: I did. In two states. Yeah.

Question: If you became a lawyer and didn’t do this, looking and watching these guys, how would you feel about them?

Kevin: I’d feel they need a Farva, these guys!

Erik: Everybody needs a Farva.

Question: Any other careers anyone else were considering, instead of doing this? Your passion?

Steve: I don’t know what else I would do.


Erik: I don’t think we’re qualified for anything else.

Paul: I had a desk job for, like, one month.

Kevin: You guys could come work for me at the law firm if you want. Come make some copies for me. Do some research for me.

Paul: That’s good to know.

I believe he would. I hope you liked this interview. I know you’ll like the movie.

Interview with Anthony Gonzalez from the movie ‘Coco’

My second interview of the year was with young actor and singer, Anthony Gonzalez, who was touring for the film he starred in which releases this month on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.  Anthony brought the wonderful character Miguel to life in the Disney•Pixar film, “Coco” which is Pixar Animation Studios’ 19th feature film.  In the movie, Miguel dreams of becoming a polished musician and for such a young man he’s, much like Anthony himself, well on the way.  Not only can Anthony act with the best of them but he has been singing almost his entire life, a talent he picked up from watching his older siblings.  It’s appropriate to proclaim he has a beautiful singing voice and he’ll go far with it.  He’s also passing the tradition of performing on to his younger brother.  Read on to learn more about this sweet person, Anthony Gonzalez, so you can prepare for when you hear much more about him.

Q: Tell me about ‘Coco’

AG: ‘Coco’ is about a boy named Miguel who loves music, that’s his passion, but he has to keep his passion for music a secret because his family has banned it because what has happened with his family in past generations.  He kinda struggles with that because he doesn’t have the support from his family. Because of that, he goes on a magical journey through the Land of the Dead and where he gets to meet his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Yeah, I really loved doing the movie and the two things I love to do and have been doing since I was four years old! I have never sang and acted in the same project so that was amazing, especially all the amazing songs that ‘Coco’ has!

Q: What was your favorite part of the film?

AG: I have a lot of favorite parts but one of them is when Miguel is getting ready to sing Poco Loco. I also love a lot of the scenes where Miguel is interacting with Mama Coco because I feel like that’s so sweet.

Q: Okay, now what was your favorite song from the movie?

AG: I really love Proud Corazón a lot because I love the message that it gives. It talks about the family and I love the melody, it’s so catchy. That’s the one I sing the most. I, obviously, love Poco Loco because that one is just so much fun! Remember Me or Poco Loco was the first ones I recorded and that was so much fun.

Remember Me… I love the song so much because of the message. When I was singing it, I got the emotion because I really connected a lot with Miguel singing this to Mama Coco and it really reminded me of my grandfather who passed away when I was six. He was very special for me because he was always there for me and he would support me. He inspired me. When my mom would take my brother to singing competitions, he would tell my mom, ‘Take Anthony, too, because he loves to sing and he’s good at it!’ So, I definitely thank him. It was really emotional for me to get to sing, Remember Me. It was a way for me to connect with my grandfather again and be with him again. It was an amazing experience to get to record it.

I also love The World Es Mi Familia because the message… the world is my family, music is my language… it really shows the love Miguel has for music.

Q: I was wondering what it was like being in the sound booth for you. Was it hard to do that and were you finding yourself really getting into it?

AG: At first, I was like a bit nervous because when I was ten I went to Pixar. It was my first time there and they were telling me about the movie and that was the first time I really knew it was a Disney•Pixar movie so I was, like, ‘Wow!’ I was a bit nervous the first time but then after I started to go a lot more often, I kinda got used to it.  I love this movie a lot because, umm… I really identified myself with Miguel a lot because we both have a passion for music and we both know the importance of family and, yeah, it was so much fun doing the role of Miguel; especially alongside the amazing director Lee Unkrich.  And the amazing producer Darla K. Anderson and co-director Adrian Molina were just an incredible help when I was recording.

Q: Generally, you work with other people when acting but what’s it like to work on building up that enthusiasm when you’re alone in the sound booth?

AG: At first, I was like a bit nervous because when I was ten I went to Pixar. It was my first time there and they were telling me about the movie and that was the first time I really knew it was a Disney•Pixar movie so I was, like, ‘Wow!’ I was a bit nervous the first time but then after I started to go a lot more often, I kinda got used to it.  I love this movie a lot because, umm… I really identified myself with Miguel a lot because we both have a passion for music and we both know the importance of family and, yeah, it was so much fun doing the role of Miguel; especially alongside the amazing director Lee Unkrich.  And the amazing producer Darla K. Anderson and co-director Adrian Molina were just an incredible help when I was recording.

Q: That’s obvious to me now. So, you won the Annie Award for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature.

AG: Yes. That was amazing!

He uses the word amazing a lot, which so fits his personality. He also smiles a lot with a massive grin that brightens any room and is very animated as he speaks. He seems to constantly be in motion, unable to contain the energy coursing through him.

Q: What did that mean to you to win an award?

AG: That was just incredible because when they told me, ‘You’re nominated for an Annie Award,’ I was like, ‘Oh…uh…cool. I don’t know what that is.’ But then the director told me it was like the Oscars but in animation. I was like, ‘Wow!’ That’s a big deal for animation! And I was just so happy I was nominated. But something a director told me was, ‘Never expect anything.’ Because then, like, let’s say you’re so happy like, I’m gonna get the award but then you don’t… and you feel so bad. But like, if you don’t expect anything, it’s not as difficult.

Q: But you won. What was it like getting it?

AG: Yeah, so, when I went there, I was so nervous because I saw the other voice actors that were nominated. So many famous people were there, too, like I got to see Angelina Jolie and Kobe Bryant was there, which was amazing. I got to meet them both which was so much fun.  They were so good, I couldn’t believe it. When I got the award, I was just in shock because this will be, like, marked in history! I was just so happy that a lot of people appreciated the hard work that people put in the film, the heart they put in the film… all the work they put to make it. Just ‘Coco’ in general, all the awards they were nominated for! They even broke a world record! It just made me feel so happy to see that a lot of people were appreciating the movie. It made me feel so good about myself that I even got an award which was amazing and alongside so many people that were experts in animation, like, so many people that were there that have been doing this for so many years.

Q: Well, what was your first acting job?

AG: My first acting job? I’ve never had that question before!

How is it possible he has never been asked this question?! Oh, yeah… he’s thirteen! Anthony giggles for being asked the question, something he does throughout the entire interview. He’s quite amusing to watch. I can’t wait to see the films he does in the future and how he turns his flair for the dramatic and his strengths and gifts into Oscar gold someday. Back to the interview…

AG: Well, I remember my first acting job. I was very young. It was for an Oscar Meyer commercial. About two or three years ago, I filmed another Oscar Meyer commercial and what’s funny about that is that in the commercial, I was with Renee Victor, which plays Abuelita in the movie (Coco) and that was amazing because we didn’t even know her, and we were going to be in the same movie!

Q: What did you have to do to get the part in this film?

AG: So, I auditioned when I was nine years old and what I had to do to get the part? I really had to put a lot of emotion in the voice and I really pretended that I was in the situation, like, if my family didn’t support me… if I was going through this journey… if I was in Miguel’s shoes. That was something that really helped me. So, I just said it like if it was me… like, it was something I would say. It turned out great.

Q: I bet it was a lot of fun.

AG: It was just so much fun getting to explore a different universe and getting to explore different things I didn’t think I’d get to experience.

Q: I heard you got to sing in your audition.

AG: Yes! What’s also cool, and I read this in a magazine I think, it said I was auditioning just for a temporary voice and I was like, ‘Wait! I didn’t know that!’ (Laughs) I was like, ‘Woah! Really?!’ They told me, later on, that Miguel was just gonna sing Remember Me but because they saw that I was able to sing, they actually added Poco Loco, The World Es Mi Familia, Proud Corazón. That… that was just, like, amazing! I couldn’t believe that.

Since my first audition, when I went to Pixar, (I knew it was about music) I was like, ‘Wait, can I sing for you guys?!’ (Laughs, smiles) And so, I did sing. I sang a song in Spanish and they loved it so much and I was so happy to show them what I’ve been doing since I was four years old. I never knew that singing would come in handy for a role! (Laughs)

Q: I loved the emphasis on family in the movie. Would you say there was a representation that you identified with, like, in terms of your own family and upbringing? 

AG: Yeah, yeah! I knew coming into this film that family’s important cuz like, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my family. I started singing because of my brothers. They started singing and inspired me to sing. They grew up doing street performance and dancing in (inaudible) a very Mexican place. There’s a lot of restaurants there and music; that’s all you hear… it’s just amazing. My two sisters would dance and sing and my brothers would dance and sing. I would just look up to them and I would, like, see that a lot of people would enjoy their performances and would have a smile on their face and they would clap, then I see my brothers would feel happy. Well, because of them, I started singing. That’s why I feel that family is important. It also shows that message in ‘Coco’ which I really resonated with a lot. And also, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my parents, for the support they give me and for always being there every step of the way.

Unfortunately, Miguel doesn’t have that in the movie because his family has banned music for their whole life. Miguel could have shined shoes for the rest of his life but he decided to follow his heart and follow his passion and, umm, be a musician which is what he loved to do. And that’s one of the things that I… I really look up to Miguel because he can serve as a role model and a leader to many of the kids who have a passion and many other kids who want to sing and want to play the guitar, so I feel that he’s a leader. I’m happy to do the voice of Miguel.

Q: Is seeing your heritage in films like ‘Coco’ important to you?

AG: This movie was amazing because it was very unique to all the other Disney•Pixar movies. Obviously, they make you laugh, they make you cry but this one also touches on the Mexican tradition and this was very unique.  It touches on the wonderful celebration of the Day of the Dead. A lot of people didn’t even know the celebration even existed, or they thought it was just like Halloween but it’s actually totally different. It’s about remembering your ancestors and connecting with them again and to know they’re not gone. They’re still here with you, their spirits are still with you, and that’s one of the things I love most about the movie! It taught other people about the culture so, yeah… representation is important because a lot of people learned many things along the way.  It also touches on the importance of family and follow your dreams but besides that, there’s (sic) not many movies that show the celebration of the Day of the Dead. For Disney•Pixar to do a movie about it and represent many Latinos is just amazing and I feel so proud to be a part of that representation and to be doing the voice of Miguel.

Q: You’re from a big family, correct?

AG: We’re five. My little brother is nine, I’m thirteen and my older brother, who inspired me, is fifteen… and my two older sisters, who go to university now. We’ve all been into singing, we’ve all been into music. We all sing and we all act. See, my little brother just copied me every day. Every time he wins an audition he’s like, ‘I’m catching up to you!’ He takes it like a challenge and that’s what makes it fun. That’s why he loves doing it. In fact, I’m always there to help him in any audition. To support him and, yeah, it’s kind of like a competition but it’s also fun and we help each other out. That’s the good part of having people there that do the same thing to be there for you and help you… so that’s cool.

Q:  What’s your best advice for young people who want to get into film?

AG: To just do what you love! If you’re having fun doing it, then do it.  I really love singing and acting so I’m doing it! Thankfully, I have the support from my parents and my siblings so it’s easy for me to do it. And, just follow your heart, do what you love and never give up! Be really resilient… don’t do something you don’t love. You only live once! Miguel could have just done shoes, shined shoes for the rest of his life, but he decided to follow his heart and that’s good advice for other people… to just follow their heart. Do what you love and there’s always a happy ending! 


He smiles when we’re done.  This is a signal not only of how happy he was to have been the part of such an outstanding film but of the fun he had while being interviewed. Being interviewed is something he’ll master soon as it is this interviewer’s opinion that Anthony Gonzalez will be spoken to a lot through his many successful years in show business that is to come.  It was a true pleasure getting to know this young actor and be in the presence of such a phenomenal talent and bountiful spirit of intensity. Before long, he’ll get his sea legs and navigate his way through promotional tours with ease and I hope he never loses sight of the fact that the reason doing these events is not just for promoting a film, a DVD or himself but for his fans, soon to be in the millions, to get to know him better. I hope this Q&A helps you do just that but here’s some info on the home release of the film.

*Here is information on the release of the Blu-Ray