Interview with Director Hunter Adams

I had a chat with fellow Wisconsin native turned L.A. filmmaker, Hunter Adams, about his new release, Dig Two Graves, which is available to watch on iTunes and at a theatre near you.  His film is a suspenseful thriller that is summed up perfectly by its tagline.  ‘A young girl’s obsession with her brother’s death leads her on a nightmarish journey where she is faced with a deadly proposition to bring him back.’  I was excited to speak to him and could have talked to him all night but administered some self-control and kept it short.  Here is some of that chat:


Me: So you’re from Wisconsin, I see.

HA: Wisconsin has a long history of serial killers and great directors. 


Me: (I resisted asking him if he were also a serial killer.)  A lot of great actors, as well.

HA: Yeah.  I’ve met a lot of crew out here in L.A. who are Wisconsinites.


From my experience, Wisconsin schools always encourage the arts and most Midwesterners are escaping the cold so this makes sense to me.  Moving on, I asked him where his fairly unique and bizarre story came from.


HA: It started off as a simple story about a young girl who loses her brother and then makes a deal with the devil, by way of these three hillbillies.  Ultimately, I decided I wanted to give them more of a concrete narrative… to be messing with the girl.  They were originally drawn in the Shakespearean tradition (the witches from MacBeth) where you just weren’t quite sure how much supernatural power they had or if they were just being manipulative.  I kinda wanted to walk that fine line.  But in the final version, we do have an actual reason for messing with the girl.


Me: Where did you originally get your love of films?

HA: From my mother.  She’s in my first film, The Hungry Bull.


Me: That’s a nice thing to be able to do.  What does she think of this film?

HA: My mom passed away while I was writing the script so she didn’t get to see the final product, unfortunately. 


Me: I’m sorry.  She’s with you, though.

HA: She definitely influenced the film.


Me: Did you go to film school?

HA: I didn’t really have a film school education per se.  Its been mostly a hodge-podge of classes and self-teaching and just watching as much as I can. 


Me: How long does it take to get a film like this made from script to screen?

HA: We started in 2011 and we went through a program called IFP (Independent Feature Project) New York, which is a big non-profit program.  So, we did their– we went to this film week in New York.  We went to a script lab and after that, we made some connections that led us to some investors and we ultimately started shooting in 2013.  It was about a year of editing afterward.  We shot for four weeks in January in the dead of winter and we went back for a few days in the summer for the opening shots of the two kids in the quarry.  And then the underwater sequences, which are at the end, we did that here in L.A. 

Me: You clearly love both writing and directing, is there one you’d prefer over the other if you could choose only one?

HA: Directing.  I like to have the control.  I love being on set and the collaboration, working with actors… the whole process; post production, working with the sound team.  All that stuff.  And I love the technical side as much as I do the artistic side. 


Me: Do you have a say in editing your projects?

HA: I edit a lot on my own for a living.  That’s how I pay the bills.  It’s something I’m heavily involved with but I had a good editor who worked with me on this one.


Me: I loved the tone, the color, and the overall feel that the landscape gave the film.  Where was this shot?

HA: We shot it in an interesting part of the country called Little Egypt.  It’s in southern Illinois.  Everything there is Egyptian themed.  Down there it isn’t flat and boring, it’s really wild and it has swamps and hills and cliffs and lots of slivers.  It’s a really interesting place; a great backdrop for a supernatural setting.  It’s about six hours south of Chicago.


Me: What was the most difficult thing to shoot in this production and what was the easiest?

HA: It’s sort of hard to narrow it down.  There were so many difficult shots.  So much of it was shot at night in very rural locations in the dead of winter and during one of the coldest winter spells on record in Illinois.  That made everything pretty challenging; pretty grueling.  But there were a couple of really technical things that were hard to achieve.  There was a fire scene… and the underwater sequence was really hard both for the actors and for me because as the director, you’re giving over control to the underwater technicians and it’s a really slow process.  That was really frustrating because I like to keep things moving.  So, I have to say the fire and the water.  They were the most technical and the hardest to pull off.  I think the easiest were the scenes between the grandfather and granddaughter.  They had such a natural chemistry together.  There wasn’t really very much I had to do except just get out of their way and let them be great actors together. They’re the real heartbeat of the story.  They’re the real emotional arc and I think that they both did a terrific job.  That makes me look good and makes my job easier. 


Me: Are you ever going to direct someone else’s work?

HA: It’s possible if the right script came along.  There’s nothing in the works at the moment.  I have a few projects that I’m developing but those are things that I’ve also written… but I definitely have my eyes and ears open.  If something came along I would not be opposed. 


Me: Tell me about your writing process.

HA: To me, because I’m writing, directing and am involved from the conception to completion, the writing process is pretty fluid and doesn’t just start and end on the page.  That’s one part of the process.  I also went down to southern Illinois, spent a couple of months down there… scouting locations and talking to locals and incorporating some of the folklore that I heard, into the screenplay.  Some changes come when you’re on set and you’re with the actors and they’re bringing their instincts in, it continues to change.  Then in post (production) we significantly re-shaped the storyline, as well.  But when I’m specifically writing, I try and set hours, you know?  I’ll get up at three in the morning and try and work; try to be as diligent as possible.  I have to really be regimented or I won’t get anything done.  I consider the writing process to be throughout the entire filmmaking process.  I was making changes right up until the last day of the sound mix; cutting shots out.  It’s an evolution, for sure.

Me: Congrats on doing such an amazing job of casting.

HA: We knew casting the girl was going to be the most important decision we made on the movie because it really rests on her shoulders and if the audience doesn’t take the journey with her than there really is no movie.  So, we spent a long time looking for the right actress to play that part and pretty late in the process we had a tape in the mail from Sammy (Samantha Isler).  She was living in Tulsa OK, had never been in a movie before and when we got the tape I knew, pretty much right away, that she was the one.  She had great instincts, she was smart and understood the subtext… had a real intention behind the words which is pretty rare to see in someone of that age and still have that innocence, you know, that wide-eyed look that we needed.  So, we got pretty lucky that we found her and a lot of the other cast were Chicago-based.  We were trying to cast locally as much as possible because of the budget.  So, we tapped into the local T.V. and theatre scene there and got some great actors and then Ted Levine was on our short list of actors we were looking at.  Short because the actor had to be a pretty specific age because we age him up and down for the two time periods.  And I’ve always loved his work.  He’s played some pretty iconic roles, Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs being the most notorious, but I was excited to see him play a meaty role for a change.  We gave him a chance to dig into a morally complex character.  We got lucky with him.  He’s a real method actor; he gets into the part… pretty obsessive about wardrobe and costuming and all that kind of stuff.  It was an honor to work with him.  I can’t even imagine another actor playing that role now. 


Me: Tell me about your next project, Blue Palms.

HA: The guy that did the storyboards on Dig Two Graves is a cartoonist friend of mine and we concocted a graphic novel that’s best described as a demented version of Three’s Company.  So, it’s kind of a wacky comedy about these eccentric artists living in a dilapidated apartment in Hollywood.  And we’re getting ready to publish the first volume of that and try to spin that off into an animated comedy series.  It’s very different in tone from Dig Two Graves but sometimes you gotta swing the opposite way and keep in interesting.       


Me: Give me some words of wisdom for any budding filmmakers who may be reading this.    

HA: If you want to be a filmmaker, it’s important to watch movies.  To watch a lot of great movies; old movies and really understand the potential of the medium.  I think, a lot of times with a first-time filmmaker, they can be a little bland in a cinematic sense.  Sort of shot after shot of talking heads.  They don’t utilize the full vocabulary of the medium.  When you’re ready to make a movie, my advice is, it’s such a laborious, time-consuming process that you really have to make something that you’re passionate about, not something that you think is going to sell or be popular cuz chances are it’s not going to necessarily make millions of dollars.  You’re going to be spending years of your life on this.  You gotta invest your time in something you really believe in.  And enjoy the process as much as the final product. 


Me: How do indie filmmakers get their films seen?

HA: We played the festival circuit and then the last year or two had just been trying to figure out the wild, wild west of independent film distribution.  We finally got that sorted out.  It’s now releasing in theatres and on VOD.  Its been a long journey.  We’re doing an iTunes exclusive for the first four weeks and then it’ll be available on all VOD platforms; Amazon, Playstation… all of them.  That’ll be April 21st.  All VOD platforms.  Just search Dig Two Graves right now on iTunes and it’ll pop up.


What are you waiting for?!  You heard the man.  Go check it out and watch this little gem.  If you’re a horror fan and like a good indie film, this is a strong story with great characters that is filmed beautifully be someone who appreciates a good movie and wanted to create something for his audience to remember.  Hunter Adams was a joy to talk to.  I believe he’s a director to watch out for and a name you’ll hear more of in the future.  Start now and don’t miss a thing he does.

Fist Fight Movie Interview with Charlie Day & Director Richie Keen

Fist Fight Movie Interview By Shari K. Green

Actor Charlie Day and Director Richie Keen, of the film Fist Fight, came to Phoenix for a movie interview press event to discuss the film.A few of us got to meet and talk with them during our movie interview.  Here are some of those questions.

Q: Having just come from Chicago, and we have such beautiful weather here in February, it had to be asked, what do these gents think of Arizona?

Richie Keen (RK): I love Arizona.  I’ve been to Arizona many times, I’ve been to Phoenix many times I have friends who live here and there’s something very, very peaceful about this sort of desert life.  Uh, I grew up in Chicago and it’s a much different vibe and yeah… I always loved coming here; I just find it really peaceful. Charlie Day (CD):  Same here.  I grew up in Rhode Island and there’s something about when I come to the desert that I like so much and it’s like a well-kept secret, too.  It’s like, ‘What’s out there in Phoenix?’ And you get here and you’re like… ‘of course, no one ever leaves.’  He smiles. RK:  Yeah. CD:  It’s… you’re living in paradise. RK:  It’s like a nicer L.A. CD:  That’s right.  L.A. without the cars. They both laugh. RK:  And everyone looking over their shoulders.

Q:  Charlie, did any of your cast mates try to throw you off?

CD:  Kym (Whitley) threw me off a bit. (Laughs)  I assume you mean get me off my game? I think when Ice Cube threw me into the school bus (Keen snickers) for the fifteenth time in a row, it really started to rattle me. RK:  He’s a very committed actor. CD:  I started to wonder if anyone realized we were still filming and if he was trying to smash me to pieces. RK: I was impressed because I was thrown by Tracy Morgan and Charlie wasn’t.  To me, he’s so… bizarre and interesting and nothing is ever the same way again that I couldn’t believe how Charlie could just role with him and stay in the character and stay in the story.  I was just cracking up, thanking God I had a camera on him for half the time so– CD:  Yeah… for some reason, I feel like I speak Tracy Morgan. RK:  Yeah. CD:  I like the absurd nonsequitur.

Q:  Part of the fun of this film is that Andy has to grow and learn on this journey.  One thing he learns is that ‘snitches get stitches’, right?

CD:  Yeah that’s the tough lesson.

Q: That’s one.  But he also learns another life lesson which I won’t reveal here for the people reading… what about Ron Strickland (Ice Cube).  What do you think he learned?

CD:  That’s a great question.  I think Ron Strickland learns that, possibly, his methods are a little too extreme.  That this man who is known for being so soft and kind and easy with the students wasn’t just a fool for having that point of view but that he has a point of view and that he’s willing to go down swinging for that point of view and that both he and Ron Strickland have to find middle ground.  It’s a good metaphor for, I think, everyone in life which is that no matter what your point of view is if you disagree with someone you can’t be so bullish on your point of view as to not listen to them.  And so they’re forced to understand one another. RK:  Yeah, just piggybacking off that, I think it was so important to us that both teachers be teachers who cared and they just happen to have different philosophies and that Ice Cube was, you know, he loves the Civil War.  I mean, he cares.  It’s not like he’s a bad teacher, he just believes that (he’s old school), he believes, as he says in the movie, ‘I don’t need to be liked.  I need to educate.  Whereas, Charlie wants to be your buddy.   And there’s different philosophies in teaching now… I…I don’t know what the right answer is; it’s probably specific to each school and even each class and even each student but I do think that Ron Strickland probably learned that he could probably ease up a little bit.  I mean, without ruining the ending, he does actually tell Charlie’s character to calm down a little bit at one point. CD:  Right!  Maybe that is where he learns his lesson. RK:  He sees someone else doing it and he realizes it’s a little out of control. CD:  That there’s such a thing as too far.

Q:  If you scrub away all of the laughs and all of the F bombs and all that, there’s some good social commentary here.  Was that in the script or was that something you guys brought into it during the production?

CD:  I’m sure that there was something in the original draft there but it was something that was very important to both Richie and myself that the movie was anchored on… which is, I think essential to any kind of comedy, especially comedy where you want to be edgy or occasionally outrageous.  If it’s not anchored on some positive message then it really just feels like shock value for the sake of shock value.  And we’ve been doing that for twelve years on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I think we would have been a one season show if each episode or the majority of the episodes weren’t rooted in some message… I hesitate to say what they are but for people to watch and make them think just a little bit.

RK:  Yeah–

CD:  It was important to us.

RK:  I think we felt like, first of all, we don’t have the answers but we do… we all can agree no matter what you think about politics or anything that we need to look at the education system.  It’s just not working the way it once did.  And I wanted the film to feel like a prison riot movie.  I felt it was the prison guards versus the inmates.  You’ll never see two students going at each other; that was deliberate in the movie.  And the way I shot it, I wanted to open in that prison yard, that courtyard.  I didn’t open it from the school or from where the flag or the brick wall are and even in the way I tried to light it, you know, the cinematographer I hired did Copland he did To Die For he did My Own Private Idaho I didn’t hire the guy– I mean, he’s done commercial movies but I wanted it to have that feel of like– the school I picked was rusty and crumbling and so it was important to all of us that– we’re not a hard message film; we wanted to be the most outrageous comedy of the year but–

CD:  It’s a very pro-teacher film, too.

RK:  Absolutely.

CD:  I think it really shines a good light on the difficult situation that teachers are in these days both with their lack of ability to discipline kids and their lack of resources sometimes.  And I think Cube’s character would have been really one dimensional if we didn’t give him a great philosophy as to why he wanted to have this fight… beyond the fact that I got him fired.

Q:  There’s a lot of intensity in this movie.  There’s a lot of characters who are right on the edge of losing their sh*t and as I’m watching it, it reminded me of this story I read a long time ago.  Bruce Willis, one of his action films, before each take, would get psyched up… throwing chairs around and such.  I was wondering if you or any of the other actors had any little routines you ran through before each take to get into that mindset.

CD:  It depends on where in the movie I was.  Certainly, in the beginning of the movie where it’s just me talking to my students I probably wouldn’t do too much before but if I was supposed to be especially agitated, I would do a little bit of jumping up and down and pumping my fist.  It’s something an actor once told me he saw Tom Cruise doing and uh, as a joke we started doing it on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and now I love to do it.  I just feel like it gets the blood flowing.  Or sometimes even, and I learned this one from Danny (DeVito), I’ll start just saying a few lines in character, either to somebody else in the scene or to nobody, just right before we roll the camera but… there’s little tricks you can try.

RK:  I will say, I don’t think you’ll mind me saying this, in the scene where Charlie finally tells off the administration… he did it one time.  Perfect.  I shot it a second time just in case the camera messed up.  I was sure I was going to be there for hours.  I mean, it’s this passionate scene and this monolog and it was just… (He thinks) …he was so– by the point of the shoot, when we had gotten to that point, he was so ready for it. Umm… just in terms of the tension that is something we added, ultimately, in the script when Charlie and I started working on it.  It was important that the fight have meaning.  It had to have a cathartic experience for everyone so we added these crazy senior pranks that the principle’s going through because I just kept thinking, when I cast Dean Norris, seat Charlie between an angry Dean Norris, (Hank from Breaking Bad), on one side and Ice Cube on the other, I really felt like that is a no win situation.  What do you do?  And to watch him try and finesse that and just– Yes, he did it but he had a reason and so… I’m glad you picked up on that because we wanted all the teachers… Tracy Morgan getting pranked, and everyone.  We just wanted to feel that by the time we got to the fight it was gonna be–

CD:  And there were great pranks in the script, in the original draft, but we definitely wanted to make this such a terrible day for Andy Campbell that by the time he finally says, ‘I’m gonna go down swinging no matter how hard you hit me,’ that you can kind of justify that he gets to that place.

Q:  The world has gotten a little bit more absurd lately.  As someone who deals with absurdist humor, how do you catch up to a world that’s just getting crazier and crazier?  Do you use your free speech to ridicule things that are going on or do you go in a different direction?

CD:  It’s really interesting.  I think, certainly Sunny, has thrived in that era and we’ve been around a long time.  When we first started the show, I think Bush was in his first term, maybe his second term.  So, that was an interesting time if you remember… [sic] we were in Iraq and then, of course, it’s not to say the Obama years weren’t interesting times, too, and, of course, now it’s very volatile and out of volatility comes great comedy.  I think it’s our job to just point out our flaws, no matter what side of the political line you’re on.  I think both sides deserve a good comedic lashing and umm, you know, I don’t think anything’s ever going to change in terms of that with comedy.  If the world gets to such a tame place that we can’t have any sort of satire any more than maybe that won’t be a good thing… who knows.

Q:  Kinda lookin’ like you might not be able to make fun.

CD:  Yeah, that’s true.  It’s definitely getting harder for people to take a joke.  I think humor is necessary in times like this.  I think the greatest thing that could happen right now is for a movie like this to come out so people can just go laugh and relax a little bit and they can watch people punch each other if they feel rage and want to punch somebody.  I think movies that have something intelligent behind the humor will survive.  It’s tougher to make senseless jokes and it should be tougher to make senseless jokes but if there’s a good intelligent reason behind the joke telling, I think it should hang in there.

Q:  How did you pick the song you have Andy’s daughter sing on stage to her bully during the talent show?  That song is a touch dirty, we’ll say.

RK:  That was written to be the Kanye West song, Power, which is the coolest song.  I’m so excited about it.  And then we found out, shortly before filming, that we couldn’t afford it.  I was like, ‘Oh my God!  How do you replace this Kanye song?!’  And my music supervisor must have sent me a hundred songs and I got my headphones on late one night and I hear this song and I’m not that hip… I don’t know all the best stuff.  And I send it to Charlie and I go, ‘Charlie, this will change the movie!’  And Charlie’s like, ‘We gotta do this song!’

CD:  Well, for me, it gave us the idea of… cuz originally we kept getting notes about that sequence that it felt like this sort of an About A Boy moment and then suddenly, ‘Oh, what if it feels like it’s going to be an About A Boy moment but then we make it a big comedic…’

RK:  …we don’t do earnest very well.

CD:  But also then that gave us the idea, ‘Oh, what if my daughter is being bullied and she’s using this song as payback?’  Cuz in the original script, she was just a fan of rap music.  Sometimes those limitations lead you to an idea that makes it a better movie.

RK:  It was Charlie’s great idea that, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if he and his daughter were going through a very similar day and she also didn’t know how to handle it and that in helping her handle it, he manned up enough to realize now he’s gotta go handle his stuff.’  So, it was a really amazing opportunity that started off as a problem.

CD:  Yeah.  Sometimes the best ideas come from the limitations that you have.

Q:  Did you allow a lot of improvising, Richie?

RK:  Charlie made a distinction between improvising and alternative punch lines.  Everyone stayed on story.  We’d always get everything we wrote and then I’d be a fool not to have Tracey or Jillian or Charlie or Kumail take a shot at, ‘Do you think there’s something funnier to be said?’  For example, in that scene in the hallway where they’re talking about meth, a written line was, ‘Don’t do meth.’  ‘Why?  Because it’s a gateway?’  ‘No.  Because it’s the finish line.’  That’s written.  Charlie’s saying, ‘Don’t do meth.  Period’  And Jillian is saying, ‘When I’m on my period don’t do it, because that’s when I need it the most.’  Jillian came up with it so… we always played.  It was such a challenge for me in editing because I did like to let people play and there were so many things that made me laugh.  You know, I had a playwriting teacher in college who said, ‘Disciplined writing isn’t writing every day… it’s cutting your favorite scene because it doesn’t progress the story.’  And editing was an exercise in that.

Q:  Given the nature of the narrative, were there any pranks on set?

RK:  There really weren’t.

CD:  I’ll tell you what… if anybody pranked me during the shooting of that fight, I would have killed them.  Parts of this movie were so physically difficult to shoot there wasn’t a lot of room for extracurricular activities.

RK:  I’m not a prankster ever as a director because, for me, I want everyone to feel so safe.  I want them to feel so taken care of that… people can fuck with me all they want and I have a sense of humor about it, although on this movie no one did, but my job with this group of personalities is to just be like a big hug around everyone saying, ‘We’re gonna do it.  It’s gonna be great!’ So, I’m not a big believer in it.

When I first walked in to meet them during the movie interview, I immediately noticed they related with one another very well.  They seemed like brothers or dear friends who have known each other for their entire lives.  They were overwhelmingly warm to me and that said, I don’t want to sound like a fan, I’m only presenting what I witnessed.

Charlie Day and Richie Keen are two of the friendliest people I’ve met in a long time.  I sincerely hope they continue working with one another and as often as possible.  As I’m sure so many are aware, the air around them is filled with the aroma of mutual respect and admiration and each would only wish the best for the other… not only themselves or their friends but for anyone.  I was happy to have been around them.  To be honest, I don’t think I saw Keen’s face ever drop its smile.  What impressed me the most was their attitude toward their fans.  Where the interview was taking place, we could be seen through a window and people couldn’t help but notice the familiar faces behind the glass.  Much to my surprise, they stayed after the interview and met their fans, took pictures, signed autographs never once saying, ‘No.’  They were very humble and very kind.

More Movie Interviews By Shari K. Green

Getting to Know Miss Sloane With John Madden

madden If you’re a fan of the film “Shakespeare in Love”, the director of that film, John Madden, has a new release this month, “Miss Sloane” and it’s fantastic.  I had an opportunity to sit and have a chat with him.  Here’s that chat.

Shari:  I want to talk primarily about your casting.  Chastain was unbelievably perfect in this role.  How did you know she was the one to cast for it?

Madden:  We’ve worked together before on this film called “The Debt”.  Nobody knew who she was when I cast her in that. She was right at the beginning of her very compressed career and so we wanted to do something together ever since then and have been trading material when it came up, but I never found anything that I thought was absolutely perfect for her that I wanted to do.  Even in the iteration of the script that I read originally, by page five I thought, ‘Oh, this is the one for her.’  So I finished it and sent it to her.

Shari:  So this was a story you felt compelled to do from the moment you read it.

Madden:  I think, to me, there are many, many terrific things about the script and the film.  The script, when it came to me was, mechanically, I’m talking about the mechanics of the storytelling were pretty much in place.  Johnny had written a very cleverly constructed piece.  I wouldn’t say the chronology isn’t exactly the way it is in the film now, certainly the elements in it, the content has developed and there was an amazing character there but it… the character essentially had not developed fully in terms of… what she did was there but what happens to her was not.  And I thought the most interesting thing about the film was to take this character who is, you know, so empowered so powerful so brilliant at what she does, so sought after, so successful but also ruthless, dangerous, heedless of the collateral damage she causes on the way to achieving the goal she sets for herself or somebody had set for her and finding out what’s going on underneath all of that and the price that she is paying personally for that because she has no life at the beginning of the story.  She eats her meals in some godforsaken place simply because it’s functional.  She buys intimacy, she has no friends, she has nothing that we would call a life outside of the world that she’s got; which seemed a fascinating thing to explore particularly in light of what happens and that– what does happen to her and what she does, and what happens as a result of that, is a massive challenge to her.  The core relationships developed as Johnny and I worked on the script … and also adapted, forensically, the political assumptions so we made sure we had those right.   

Shari:  I want to talk primarily about your casting.  Chastain was unbelievably perfect in this role.  How did you know she was the one to cast for it?

Madden:  We’ve worked together before on this film called “The Debt”.  Nobody knew who she was when I cast her in that. She was right at the beginning of her very compressed career and so we wanted to do something together ever since then and have been trading material when it came up, but I never found anything that I thought was absolutely perfect for her that I wanted to do.  Even in the iteration of the script that I read originally, by page five I thought, ‘Oh, this is the one for her.’  So I finished it and sent it to her.

Shari: She was so cold in this role.  Was it hard to get her there?

Madden:  No.  Not really because I know her and I know what she’s capable of.  We talked a great deal about how that character operated.  She’s very, very smart and because we have a lot of trust between us, that’s a very intuitive process.  She’ll say, ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m doing in this, you tell me what you think when I’ve done it’ or ‘I don’t know what to do here, should we go this way or that way?’ 

Shari:  I know the answer before I ask but did you ever question your decision?

Madden:  No, she’s got– there are a handful of actors of both sexes in this business who just have the skills of a virtuoso mastery of their instrument, let’s say, like somebody who can play a Mozart concerto perfectly.  She’s in that league without any question whatsoever.  She can do, sort of, anything but the most extraordinary thing is that she can inhabit anything.  There are very few actors that have the range that she has.  When my film, “The Debt” came out, she had done “Tree of Life” by then, some of those came out before our film because did because for various reasons it got delayed, but she had done “The Help”, “Take Shelter”… there was a huge range in there and “Zero Dark Thirty”, obviously, is another side of her, which this has more of an infinity with, I guess.

Shari:  She’s very intimidating as Sloane.  She towers above everyone, whether it’s psychological or not I don’t know but she felt like a giant.

Madden:   She’s, realistically, small in stature but she totally dominates the entire film to the point where you would think she was an exceptionally tall woman, taller than most of them around. 

Shari:  She’s not?!

Madden:  (Laughs) No. No. No.  I mean, she wears heels, obviously in the film, as that character would and quite deliberately but no… and she has a fragility about her that belies the ferocity and so the paradox is that even though she behaves in ways that you pull back from her, shocked by, you still are rooting for her in some way.  I certainly intended that you’d be rooting for her when she begins to make mistakes, because I think it’s human nature to do so but I hadn’t quite anticipated that you might be rooting for her almost from the very beginning, which I think you are; weirdly.

Shari:  I was.

Madden:  Yes.  I’m sure.  And I think women in particular are.  And, you know, it’s partly the way we’ve written the character and it’s also partly the way she does it.

Shari:  I want to see it again and I think seeing it twice is what a lot of people will be doing.

Madden:  Good!  But it’s a different experience when you see it again because now you know so you’re surfing through it differently.

Shari:  Since this touches on the subject of the guns how do you see this film playing in America now that Trump was elected?

Madden:  It’s hard to say, you know, I think… I can’t say I’m entirely happy about this but it seems to me that, that argument is– obviously this movie is, to some extent, a fantasy even because it actually purposes that such a piece of legislation would be under consideration in congress, which was unimaginable before this event, it is now completely unimaginable that there would be any shift in this… and if anything, you might go backwards.  I think, however, the gun issue is not the subject of the film.  The subject of the film, aside from the character study, is the political process itself and, strangely, the film has become richer in terms of what it’s saying now because you’ve seen that process laid bare in such an extraordinary and, sort of, startling way and in ways that we can’t completely track and understand. 

Shari:  Guns aren’t the situation and the political message is there for us to pick up.

Madden:  I think broken politics is something of a truism now but I think it’s never been more demonstrated than right now.  When I say that, I’m very aware that half of the voting population, it was a very low turnout, have got exactly the result they hoped for and that’s an exercise in democracy that I couldn’t and wouldn’t argue with, it’s not my country… but I think we’re witnessing a massive realignment of how politics functions and I can only, myself, lament and express my dismay at where the country appears to be pointed.  The idea that climate change is going to be arrested stopped and moved backwards is shocking and deplorable to me and that is what is being proposed.  As I said, the gun issue is its own thing and I look at that as a primarily, well, exclusively, American issue; I have my own views about it but they’re not relevant in the film but I think it, strangely, the movie plays more strongly– I was shocked after the election thinking, ‘Wow!  Is anyone going to go to the movies?  I don’t feel like going to the movies right now.’  But I think Americans do go to see the movies when they’re disoriented, depressed, dismayed or even jubilant, as some presumably are… and I think it has something to say in that context and so, yeah… it casts some unexpected light on the situation or rather the situation casts an unexpected light on the film… let me put it that way. 

Be sure to read my review of “Miss Sloane”.   You can catch the movie which is out today at a theatre near you.  Jessica Chastain will surprise you with her best performance yet.  Remember, it’s not at all a movie about gun control, only the reason for Miss Sloane to be working.  It’s barely even noticed.  As Madden said, she is the subject.  It’s a great story and one not to miss, especially if you think it’ll be political leaning left or right.  As mentioned in my review, don’t wait for Netflix.  

Florence Foster Jenkins

I make Simon Helberg from Florence Foster Jenkins and The Big Bang Theory laugh

I had just screened “Florence Foster Jenkins”, a well acted and decidedly entertaining film, when I was honored, along with a few others, to have a chance to then speak to one of its stars, Simon Helberg, most known for his work as Howard Wolowitz on the hit show “The Big Bang Theory.”  I say that I was honored because not only was Helberg courteous, friendly, open and honest but he was extremely attentive and gave a lot of thought to his answers, never once giving the impression that doing press for the film was the last place he’d want to be.  He was warm and pleasant and very thorough in his responses; being careful to answer the question to its fullest.  Here is that interview. 

Q:  Outside of some other great films, your father, Sandy, was in “Spaceballs”, “History of the World pt 1”, “High Anxiety”, This is Spinal Tap, not to mention the great television he has done.  Once you saw this quality in him, was it his comedic talents that encouraged you to follow in his footsteps and would you encourage your children to follow in yours?

SH:  Encourage is a tricky word cuz I think you want to be supportive but I’d never want to suggest to my children (and my dad never did to me) in any sort of way, push someone into something.  You’d be kind of a fool if you did that because it’s so hard to make it as an actor or a comedian or anything in the arts so, I’d be very supportive and my dad was very supportive of me and I think he was more inspiring.  I watched him at “The Groundlings” and, obviously, those were great movies that you named and I think it definitely shaped me in many ways and I also say that it was very hard to, sort of, get success and make it.  Even though my dad worked and did well, it… that’s kind of, that’s sort of grounding.  It kind of helped me as I went into it to have a pretty good handle on the difficulty of it and then to sort of be appreciative of the successes. 

Q:  You character and performance has tons of facial expressions they’re a huge part of your performance; they range from very subtle to overt.  In the scene where you hear Florence sing for the first time, were you already aware of what Meryl was going to sound like or were those expressions real? 

SH:  Both, I guess, which is kind of a trick in doing this which is, it has to be new, sort of, every time.  She’s doing something every time and she made my job a lot easier.  We’d already rehearsed for about a week and a half with the music and we’d actually recorded at Abby Road, as well, which was amazing.  So, we had a lot of time to laugh and figure out what we were doing and then, of course, they ended up wanting to shoot it all live so all of the stuff that we had recorded was thrown out and because of that we’re playing all that music live as you’re seeing it and as it was being shot which I think both helped… well, it helped us contain our laughter and, sort of, focus but it also made all of it very authentic; so those reactions… that was really happening, for the most part, in real time.  I mean, obviously the editing is pretty masterfully as well, but what you’re seeing is actually what is coming out of us… for better or for worse. 

Florence Foster Jenkins

Q:  You speak in a higher pitched voice in this film and kind of change your speaking patterns, what was behind your decision to do that?  Was there something you pulled from your research of him?

SH:  Some of it… not from his voice, actually.  The most that I could find in doing this research was some fact and little tidbits of information that were in the movie but there is a recording of him, actually, but he’s much older and he talks about that night at Carnegie Hall and I had a moment of thinking, ‘Hmm… do I want to use this as inspiration?’ because he was probably, I think, in his seventies at that point and it was a bit different than I had pictured it and his outlook was very different than it was in the script.  I thought, ‘you usually always want to start with the script.’  So, to me I just saw it vividly and heard him vividly in this way but as far as the voice, I saw him as being very pure and chaised and very innocent and having no sense of cynicism and hadn’t been corrupted in any way whatsoever like a little bird or a gecko or something.  And I thought, there’s something very childlike and I feel like he’s probably unaware of his sexuality and, I don’t know, he didn’t seem to me to be… uh, that’s just how I guess I heard him.  I guess there are people in my life who I know kind of have… I don’t know, there’s something very chaised about him and very alien at the same time.  And then there’s also the fact that it was the forties and he was walking into this elevated high society, cosmopolitan lifestyle and people actually did take speech classes and there was this sort of dignified way of talking back then and it’s just kind of all of those things combined, I guess, that led me to that.

Q:  Why did you choose to be in this film?

SH:  I couldn’t think of one reason why I wouldn’t be interested or want to claw my way into this movie.  There’s the obvious people that were making it and involved with it who are probably the best, you know, ever at this.  Between Meryl and Stephen and Hugh and… Alexandre Desplat did their music, Consolata Boyle (costume design), Alan MacDonald (production design) did the sets.  I feel like I’m accepting an award.  But all these people who are the most brilliant at doing this, I mean that was in and of itself a dream.  I mean, the script was so unique and the scenes, I guess, really speak to me and not just the love of music but this idea of perception and sort of disparity between our perceptions of ourselves and what other people perceive and the question therein, I guess, being, ‘Does it matter that we hear one voice in our head and other people hear a different one when we all leads to the same place?’  I don’t know, there’s just something that was beautifully poetic about her journey and I felt that the script did an amazing job celebrating this woman and celebrating this love and this joy that she found in music.

Q:  With it being a period piece and being based on real life events, what was the most challenging aspect of making this film?

SH:  Well, the most challenging part of it was combining the music and the acting.  It’s sort of being hired as an actor and having then kind of having the music take over in many ways because it was so hard and challenging and also it was such an enormous part of the film that I knew that ultimately whether I played the piano or not really wouldn’t matter.  People are going to see it in my performance as an actor but then it all got tied together because Meryl was going to sing and they want to do it live and for it to be live, they want the piano to be live and it was going to be different every time so, there was just… part of the pressure of getting this music done live while they were shooting us, working with Meryl and Stephen in this incredible movie and it was just built in pressure and it was just challenging and then on top of that to find this character and do it simultaneously.  It felt very, you know, it’s very hard not to play piano with two hands so it felt like I had like eight arms and I was trying to do multiple things.  And then, of course, you want to be faithful to these characters because they’re real but at the same time there wasn’t a ton of information on them so that was sort of liberating because the script was really the bible.  It was just ultimately great fun even when it was sometimes brutally challenging.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is enchanting!  The cast is delightful. This is an absolute must see!
Shari K. Green

Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager,

Q:  “Florence Foster Jenkins” is about someone who is an opera singer but not very talented.  Luckily there are a lot of talented people on this movie, yourself, Meryl Streep being one of the best actresses of all time and so on, how do you all bring out the best in each other?

SH:  (laughs) I was probably the odd man out in a sea of talent.  Well, it was both like every actors dream when you can jump into a part with, honestly, the greatest people working today and maybe ever because ultimately you are only as good as the people around you and these people make you even better.  I think that’s a sign of greatness… so with that also came quite a bit of paralyzing fear as well because you don’t wanna be the one that brings Meryl Streep down… not that that’s possible but it’s scary to kinda get to work with people who are your heroes but then what you kind of realize when you, and I hope this is true for everything and everyone, when you get around people that are that great, usually they’re there to make the best thing they can make and they bring their whole self to.  And in order to make something wonderful I think you have to be sensitive and you have to be generous and you definitely have to be passionate; in this experience I was very warmly welcomed and it was very collaborative and I feel like and hope and think that’s true of truly great people.  

Q:  There’s this great moment when Cosme McMoon (Helberg) asks St Clair Bayfield (Grant) about his arrangement with Florence at St Clair’s apartment and later McMoon speaks to Florence at his own apartment and I thought McMoon really wanted to insert his opinion on Florence and St Claire’s relationship but felt better of it and that he was protecting her like everyone else in the movie.  But near the end of the film, at Carnegie Hall, he says to her, ‘We can do it!’ in a very confident voice and I think at that moment it turns from protection to support.  Is that how you see it or what do you think?

SH:  You have really tapped into so many things that I didn’t know anyone else would necessarily pick up on and (inaudible).  That is all that you said; and something at some point that I was cognizant of.  That being the moment in the apartment when Bayfield is there and he says, ‘I love her.  Do you love this woman?’  There was a real moment there when I thought, ‘How dare you, sir, ask me?  Of course I love her!’  Because he is protecting her.  Florence comes to McMoon’s apartment and he sees how broken she is by Bayfield and so this innocent little McMoon is now… he’s been sort of somewhat corrupted by this harsh and strange reality of this love… this relationship these characters have with each other and all of the sudden he does have to step up and he does feel this protective desire and I think that in Carnegie Hall that becomes the moment, you know, she’s scared and it’s just so beautiful the way the script and the movie, kind of… you can just see all the color in these people, I guess, and that’s his moment.  He has that bond.  McMoon is the only one who understands the music, really, with her.  Bayfield doesn’t.  They don’t play music together so here’s this transition from, ‘Okay, I’ll help this woman’ to ‘You know what, let’s do this.’  Like, ‘this is important not just for her but for me.  We have something greater than this kind of courier minded, reputation focused… you know, frame of mind.  We have the love of music and it doesn’t matter.  Nothing else matters. 

Simon Helberg Florence Foster Jenkins

Q:  It’s amazing how everyone around Florence continued to keep up her status.  She was well protected and people truly loved her but why do you think people loved her so much?

SH:  I think there’s a very human quality and I think there’s almost nothing more human than failure.  I think it’s funny and it’s tragic and I think it’s comforting but only when it’s done passionately.  Only when someone is putting themselves out there genuinely and un-ironically and (inaudible) kind of falling flat (no pun intended).  So, I think that is one element of it and the fact that she was so filled with joy and so moved by music and wanted to share that joy and that love of music with people… I think it’s just magnetic.  It’s like watching a little child with total abandon singing out and dancing.  The part of your brain that had any kind of judgment or criticism is overridden by the joyous part.  Other people were laughing or their jaws were on the floor or; they were enjoying themselves.  

Q:  The world is about to find out that you’re a very talented pianist from this.  I was wondering what else do you with the world knew about you and the things you bring to the table?

SH:  I’m not that much of a showoff.  Well, I don’t know, I guess I can answer sort of as opposed to what I want people to celebrate about me, because God forbid I am somebody looking for a parade, there are different things I want to do.  I love acting and the great thing about that, especially in a case like this is, sometimes that requires other talents and sometimes you don’t have ‘em and you learn to have ‘em.  Look at Meryl and the things that she’s done.  She has all the talent in the world but look at the things she’s learned to do for a film; violin and languages and she played a Rabbi and a man.  I think that’s what’s great about acting.  You get to know other people and find other interests and so, yeah, I’m interesting in discovering what else I might be able to do and when I find things I think I can’t do it’s torturous sometimes but it’s very gratifying to push through that.  This was no exception.  I didn’t expect that I’d be able to play all of these pieces.  There were times when I felt like, ‘If Meryl can do it…’  I was working with that company and I felt, ‘Geez, she’s going to sing all of this live?!  I better do my best to get there.’ 

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is enchanting!  The cast is delightful. This is an absolute must see!

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 Read more

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!