Monday, August 18, 2014

Is It Unlikely Chang's Cecile Is for Real?

Find The Unlikely Girl on iTunes

Is It Unlikely Chang's Cecile Is for Real?

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 8/17/14)

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I met Wei Ling Chang several years at the Tribeca Film Festival when she was doing a reading of one of her scripts-in-progress. Impressed, I watched her chilling horror short Aunt Tigress and recognized a budding talent. So I am delighted that she has released her first feature, The Unlikely Girl, a splendid, sexy little thriller that will have you cheerfully trying to put together the puzzle pieces long after you watched it.  It’s now available on iTunes, to be seen at least twice. Often I don’t want to give away the endings of movies; in this case, I don’t even want to give away the middle.   Not that I fully understood what is going on in the middle, or, as a matter of fact, the beginning or end.  And it’s okay that I remain a little baffled. Anyway I interpret it, I like it.  I’m not sure how to summarize the movie, so here is the Synopsis in the press notes: “After a racy encounter with a stranger on a train, Cécile (Hande Kodja) arrives at a family vacation house in the south of France to unwind, at a place she seemingly hasn’t visited in [at least seven years.] When she travels into town, she runs into an old childhood crush, Luc (Pierre Boulanger, of the upcoming God Help the Girl), who can’t believe that it’s really her after all these years.  But as they begin to rekindle their intense longing for each other, they are surprised by the arrival of an American exchange student, Jamie (Shane Lynch, Kelly’s daughter), who interrupts their little piece of paradise.  Initially, Jamie and Cécile clash over cultural differences and fight for the affections of Luc, but they bond instantly when Jamie learns a dark truth about Cécile’s childhood [and Jamie tells Cécile a story from her youth].  In fact, Cécile even encourages Jamie to take Luc for herself.  Yet shortly after the revelation, Cécile’s brother Matthieu (Raphael Godman) unexpectedly shows up at the house in the middle of the night…Jamie and Luc learn that Cécile and Matthieu have vastly different stories about their childhood and it shatters Jamie’s perceived reality.  Who is lying and who is telling the truth?” What the synopsis leaves out is that it’s unsure whether the young woman who enters this family home really is the long-missing Cécile.  I spoke to the writer-director about her identity and other questions that arise when viewing The Unlikely Girl.
Danny Peary: When I first saw your trailer a couple of years ago, I thought your movie was about a bunch of hunky guys and promiscuous young women who party around swimming pools during the day and change lovers every night.   I had no idea what it was you were making and was relieved that it turned out to be a quirky little thriller.
Wei Ling Chang: Originally it was going to be a horror film.
DP: I think it’s one of the few movies that ever started with a location. Because you had the use of a house in France through your French husband, you decided to write the script using the house. Was it going to be a slasher movie with a French girl and an American girl visiting the house?
WLC: Yeah, there was always going to be an American girl and a French girl. I don’t remember what the premise was going to be, but very soon it evolved into something completely different.  I’d been thinking about the idea for a long time, and I was a big horror fan but I’d watched too many horror firms and by the time I started writing it I was kind of done with that genre for a little while. So I decided to do something completely different.
DP: Had you ever made a movie like this?
WLC: I did a horror short and a comedy short with kids, but nothing like this. I would say the closest was my first film, The Good Husband, which is kind of Hitchcockian noir. It didn’t have much of a story, it was much more a mood piece.
DP: I really like your 2007 short, Aunt Tigress. Oddly that’s another film about not letting someone into your house!  It’s very creepy.  I watched it again recently and was surprised that the lead actress, playing an irresponsible teenager who is babysitting her brother, is Emily Kinney, who since then has become familiar as one of the stars ofThe Walking Dead.
WLC:  My husband said that Emily went from a role in my short where she gets eaten to a role on TV where she will probably get eaten. I’d never thought of it that way!
DP: I also like your lead in The Unlikely Girl, Hande Kodja.  I think she has a lot of charisma, sex appeal, and screen presence, and she gives a gives a really assured performance. I assume she’s French.
WLC:  Actually, she’s Belgian. I think it was very easy for her to play the sarcastic, chain-smoking, flighty, bitchy French girl. I remember that after auditioning her I actually wasn’t going to call her back because, as I told the casting director, Michael Laguens, I thought she was too tough. I said, “No, no, no, I don’t think she’s right for the role, I need Cécile to have a certain sense of vulnerability.” But the casting director explained to me that I had directed Hande to be tough and called her back anyway.  I’m glad because once Hande was there again, I realized she was what I was looking for.
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DPHow did you cast Shane Lynch?
WLC: I saw over a hundred girls in New York before jetting off to Paris.  About a week or two before principal photography started, we still didn’t have our Jamie.  Eve then sent me several more girls and one of them was Shane.  I auditioned these girls via Skype.  It came down to Shane and another girl.  By then I had already cast Hande and the two male leads.  I put all the cast photos together.  When I looked at Shane side by side with Hande, I knew it had to be Shane.
DP: Talk about the early scenes in which Hande and Shane are on screen together.  Cécile and Jamie bond later in the film, but they’re supposed to clash until then.  They aren’t able to even converse. Directing the two, I think you had to say to the actresses, “I want you two to not get along.”


Wei Ling Chang
WLC: In the beginning, there’s obviously animosity between the two, more from Cécile than from Jamie.  Jamie’s intention, as I directed Shane, is to win over Cécile. Because Jamie’s the third wheel, Cécile wants to have Luc to herself, so her intention is to make Jamie look ridiculous. But as the movie progresses, and the story progresses, the two girls become really good friends. And in real life Hande and Shane became really good friends, so it was easier for them to form a bond and have chemistry on screen.
DP: How did you discuss Jaime with Shane–as an innocent or as someone who is corrupted by Cécile or as someone who has never been as innocent as she seems?
WLC: Jamie’s definitely more on the innocent side than Cécile. But as the story progresses, her innocence gets stripped away piece by piece.  In the first half of the movie, we are seeing Jaime through Cécile’s eyes.  So she comes across as the stereotypical American girl who talks in hyperboles and thinks everything is awesome. The girl you see as Jamie is only from Cécile’s perspective. It’s not the real Jamie. When we later switch to Jamie’s POV, we get a truer sense of what Jaime is like—or we see how Jamie sees herself and it’s as true or reliable as Jamie’s perspective of herself can be. There is nothing objective in the film, it’s all subjective.
DP: Tell me about your title choice.
WLC: I made a list of titles and sent it to my sister, who works in marketing, and asked her to figure out which one worked the best. I actually don’t remember where I came up with The Unlikely Girl because it’s been quite a while since I first wrote the script and settled on the title. This is what I think I was trying to get across: we have two main females and when the movie starts, you think that The Unlikely Girl is referring to Cécile –but as Jamie becomes the protagonist you wonder if maybe she’s the unlikely girl and the term takes on an entirely different meaning.
DP: Your film reminds me of French films. Did you think of it as a French film?
WLC: I don’t know the definition of a French film.  Yes, it was shot entirely in France and there was a French crew and French actors, but I’m American and I wrote it in English and I had the French dialogue translated to French. I think I’d just call it Hitchcockian.
DP: To me it had a kind of Claude Chabrol feel.  The French-British thriller Swimming Pool, which your film recalls, wasn’t directed by Chabrol but was certainly influenced by him.  But of course Chabrol’s idol was Alfred Hitchcock.
WLC: You’re not the first person who has mentioned Chabrol to me. I definitely think that’s a compliment. And I loveSwimming Pool.  Jonathan Demme came to our screening at the Woodstock Film Festival.  He stayed for the Q&A and asked me a directorial question. Then he told me he loved my film and thought it was very Hitchockian, which made my day and is the highlight of my Unlikely Girl journey!  At Cornell, I took a film analysis class on film noir andSilence of the Lambs was the only color film we saw.  I loved it and I felt things came full circle when he came to my screening.  I didn’t recognize him but my producer told me who he was later.
DP: I saw traces of Vertigo in your movie, and even a little of Psycho. The structure in both those films has one girl replacing another girl as the lead character in the second half of the film. Of course, in Vertigo, it turns out to be the same person.  Psycho has Vera Miles’s character taking over when her sister, played by Janet Leigh, is killed. You allow Cécile, your lead character, to depart before things are resolved and Jaime, who had been a supporting player until then, assumes the lead role for the rest of the film. Structurally, that’s rare.
WLC: As I said before, it’s because of the change of POV. The first half of the film is Cécile’s point of view, then it becomes Jamie’s. I always wanted it that way, even when it was a going to be a horror movie. That was basically the premise I started with. I always had the idea of having the story continue and not use a flashback. I thought that if I did use a flashback, it would be a rewind and we’d go back to the beginning and then tell the same story from the other girl’s point of view.  But I thought that would be kind of boring.
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DP: There are a couple of scenes where I thought I may be watching a flashback, as when Luc drives off in a car and Cécile is upset and chases after him.
WLC: No, that’s actually in her imagination. She made that whole scene up in her head.
DP: As opposed to her remembering something.  I guess it wouldn’t make sense as a flashback since Cécile, if she is Cécile, hasn’t been home since she was thirteen.  That scene couldn’t have happened because she hadn’t been with Luc when they were adults.
WLC: It’s her fantasy. When she plays the piano in the house, it’s the same thing.
DP: She imagines she’s a star and people are applauding her. I’ve read that you’re interested in time travel.  The Unlikely Girl has to do with time–past and present overlap.
WLC: Yeah, and also reality and fantasy.
DP: Early on, it seems that the entire movie is going to be going back and forth between fantasy and reality, and there will be Cécile’s voiceover.  But you drop her narration and it seems that you drop what could be construed as “fantasy”—unless the whole film is a fantasy–and the movie changes in midstream.  That is kind of daring, and I can see a film professor saying, “You can’t do that.”  Were you thinking that?
WLC: No, I didn’t think it was that daring. I just thought it would be interesting to tell the story from two points of view.  For me, the POV switch happens around the night scene in which Jamie witnesses Cécile making out with Luc.
DP: In making this film, did you have to explain the whole film to all your actors?  Or did you say to them that it wasn’t important that you all shared the same point of view of what happens?  Or by the end, did everybody know your interpretation of the story?
WLC: That’s interesting, because the only person who needed to know the truth was the actress who plays “Cécile.” She needs to know who she really is. All the actors discussed what they thought actually happens, but the only people who knew the truth were Hande and I.  Obviously Shane has no idea, and neither does Pierre, who plays Luc, or Rafael, who plays Matthieu. They’re all like, we discussed this, what we think actually happens, but the only person who knows the truth is Hande and me.
DP: But in regard to how she played her, why did Hande have to know if she is Cécile?
WLC: For me, there’s a definite answer, a definite truth. For me it was clear as night and day. The first hint I had that people had their own interpretations was during auditions in France, when one of the actresses who was trying out came up to me and asked, “So, is she really Cécile or not?” I was really shocked.  So I asked her what she thought and she told me who Cécile is and gave me her explanation.  I found that really fascinating. I was bombarded on Facebook with people asking if Hande’s character is Cécile, so I started a discussion board. You wouldn’t believe the kind of interpretations people are coming up with on it. Some people have even suggested that Jamie IS Cécile.
DP:  I’m probably not the only person who feels that the characters slip in and out of each other. To me, the two women are the same person, in a way.  At very least they melt into each other and where there once were two, eventually only one is needed.
WLC: Most filmmakers make their first film autobiographical, right?  Plotwise, there’s nothing autobiographical about The Unlikely Girl, but there are definitely pieces of me in each character. In that sense, they’re the same person.
DP: And in that story, Jamie becomes a strong person, too, as strong as Cécile.  She becomes her protector, the one who knocks the dangerous guy over the head. Cécile had seen Luc as her protector but actually it’s this girl.  Jamie’s a stronger person.
WLC: That’s how she perceives herself.  She’s a truth-seeker.
DP: I suppose Jamie can’t be Cécile because they would have had the same mother, Matthieu’s mother. We know the real Cécile’s mother is Mrs. Deveroux, and Mrs. Deveroux’s hostile reaction to Jamie indicates Mrs. Deveroux regards her not as a runaway daughter but as a stranger who is staying in the house in Valencia.  Hande’s character rides the train in the opening sequence, before she identifies herself as Cécile, and she speaks to her mother on the phone–is it Mrs. Deveroux she is talking to?  And if “Cécile”—as Hande’s character calls herself after she arrives in Valencia–sticks around till the end, would Mrs. Deveroux recognize her as her missing daughter or call her an imposter?  You don’t have to tell me! But I’m wondering, if she’s not Cécile, has she done this identify-theft before? Does this jobless girl meet people on trains and learn enough of their stories to take it from there?  Because in her voiceover, she states that men are very predictable.  She expects Matthieu to invite her to the swimming pool at his house, and he does. She ends up with his house keys while he’s off to Paris.  So does she repeatedly meet bad men on trains and go to their houses, reveal their crimes, and impact on their lives?  Has she done this at other times?
WLC: Hande and I actually discussed this, because if she is not Cécile, then we could have sequels and multiple stories about this woman who goes around impersonating Cécile and others.
DP: So her having done this many times is actually a valid possibility! I’d like to think of Cécile coming into different houses, revealing crimes, and partly mending the whole situation.
WLC: I’m curious about what you think happens.
DP: I don’t think it’s possible to put it all together.  But since Jamie opens up about her friend being abducted in front of her when they were kids, there has to be some healing process going on with her and I believe Cécile helps heal her.  She corrupts Jamie but that’s good overall because she evolves from robot to human.  Why would Cécile leave Jamie alone to deal with Matthieu?  I think it’s only because she believes Jamie can now take over for her.  By then, she had completely confidence in Jamie, who is much stronger and out of her shell. This is a strange turnaround for Cécile, who didn’t like Jamie when they first met because she was conservative and virginal. You have a line in your script that says people change. I know you don’t want this to be a rite-of-passage movie, but when Cécile leaves she kisses the girl from Iowa on the lips and is not rejected.  I’m sure that early in the movie this conservative girl would have pulled away in shock and nausea.  She wouldn’t have been able to handle that.  Now she accepts the kiss.
WLC: That’s a good point.
DP: Don’t you think that by the end Jamie would say, “Cécile helped me and I miss her.”
WLC: I think for Jamie, in the end, it’s the birth of a new character. We discussed how if we meet Jamie again ten or fifteen years later, it would be interesting to see who she’s become.
DP: When Cécile kisses her goodbye, she says, “It’s been fun.”  She’s telling the truth but nothing we’ve seen seems to have been fun. In fact, she is almost killed.  So I think that’s an important line in regard to her identity and her motives.
WLC: It’s definitely an important line.
DP: If it was fun for her then it’s only because she got a kick doing her hobby, which is   fixing people and bad situations.  So will she do it again?
WLC: I think that’s a hard question to answer, because if I answer that, I might reveal too much.
DP: Okay, good enough. But do you think it has been fun for her?
WLC: I think so, yeah.
DP: What gives her fun–fixing things or stirring up things?
WLC: It’s stirring up things, the drama of things. I don’t think she’s the kind of girl who likes to watch life pass by, she likes to be involved. She likes to stir up emotions. Just look at what she does on the train with the stranger–she likes to play with people.
DP: There’s a lot of selfishness that comes across in the beginning. By the end it seems like that part of her almost disappears.  She’s still her own person and untamable, but she does help Jamie evolve and she rights a wrong, maybe. My guess is that Hande is protective of her character and speaks highly of her.  I think Jamie would defend her as well.
WLC: I’m glad that you can see the good in Cécile, because a lot of people don’t see that.
DP: There is another important line that Cécile delivers in voiceover when she blanks out on Jamie’s annoying chatter: “The world I see is a simulated reality.” Is that line a clue, that we’re not seeing a real world, but a movieworld?
WLC: That line is more referencing her perception of things. It’s more about her character and what she sees and how she sort of joins fantasy and reality at different points in the movie. I would say everything she says is important and a clue.
DP: We don’t have to take any of it as being real anyway, right?
WLC: That’s true.
DP: Cécile tells Jamie “If you believe it, then it’s the truth.” Throughout the film, we have truth and then we’re not sure if it’s true, and then we think, “Hey, it must be false–but maybe it’s true.” Contradictory reactions. It goes back to the words you open the film with: “The sentence below is true.  The sentence above is false.”  Is that a theme that goes through the whole movie? You obviously know what’s going on more than we do.
WLC: I would say one of the premises of the whole film is paradox. Those two lines are a version of the “Liar’s Paradox,” and I would say it’s a running theme throughout the film. It’s similar to Cécile saying, “Would you believe it if it isn’t true? If you believe it enough, it becomes the truth.” It’s not easy to convince yourself that something false is true, but if you say it enough times to someone else you’ll believe it, too.
DP: There is another important line, I believe, that comes when Hande’s character receives a call at the house and it’s Cécile’s brother Matthieu.  Actually just one word is important: Cécile.  Maybe she’s imagining the call but I think not, and he calls her Cécile.
WLC: He is surprised that she’s still there, that she’s at home.
DP: That in theory confirms she is indeed Cécile.  Her brother knows that is who she is.  But wouldn’t he have recognized her as his sister earlier on the train?  We saw no indication of that.  He does show her family pictures, and that’s how she could have figured out the real story or concocted a different story. I think she’s very intuitive, so she should be able to figure out that Matthieu isn’t a good guy in the train. I don’t know.
WLC: I don’t think your interpretation is convoluted, but some people have really convoluted ways to explain why what they think is the case, and I always tell everyone that the simplest answer is usually the right one. But everyone thinks differently.
DP: I’m at a loss on this one, but I kind of like not knowing. That’s sort of what you’re trying to do, I think, open up a lot of possibilities.
WLC: That’s definitely something I wanted to do. I created the story so I have all the answers in my head and definitely put in clues throughout the film so viewers can put the pieces together and figure it out. I thought the question people were going to ask was: “Did Matthieu have incestuous relations with his sister?”  I am surprised they instead ask about Cécile’s identity. It has been fascinating to hear people express doubts about it. At the Vancouver Film Festival, I asked the audience if they thought the girl really was Cécile, and I would say exactly half the people in the audience thought she was Cécile and half thought she wasn’t. I liked opening up the debate. I don’t like tying things up with a bow, and I want people to talk about the film afterwards.
DP: It sounds like you weren’t trying to confuse people, but to get them to figure it out from whatever clues you inserted.  We know there are clues scattered about but we don’t know how to interpret them.
WLC: I thought there would be some uncertainty but that people would gravitate toward an answer about who she is. I thought some people might know on the first screening. On the second watch, I thought everyone should be able to figure out who she is.
DP: Your film begins on an odd train, where you don’t see anybody else. It could be that you were setting up an alternative world, but it could be empty because of your low budget.
WLC: Haha. No, we shot it and there were actually only one or two people on board; it was bizarre. We lucked out.
DP: What about the expense of Cécile’s clothes?  Particularly in the early scenes, she wore different clothes in almost every scene, maybe for thematic reasons.
WLC: Cécile’s wardrobe is basically mine. I had a chart of all the clothes that she would be wearing because we didn’t have a wardrobe person. We had an assistant on set who was basically helping me, and we went shopping for the actors’ clothes, including both actress’s wardrobes.  I basically mapped out who would be wearing what outfit and what color in each scene.
DP: Is the color important of what she was wearing?
WLC: Yeah, especially the scene where you see Matthieu, Cécile, and Jamie together, the interrogation scene. I wanted it to be bright and colorful in a dark setting.
DP: Well, Cécile wears kind of bright clothes all the way through, I believe. The scene in which she appears at the pool—Jamie and Luc are already there—and looks haggard, as if she had a hangover is the first time I noticed she’s finally wearing the same outfit she wore in another scene. I thought it was kind of interesting how she was changing her clothes so many times, kind of like a female in a fantasy changes her clothes scene by scene.
DP: The wardrobe was determined only partly by budget, but  really great thing about your movie is it’s so efficient. It’s really impressive that whatever low budget you had, you pulled it off.
WLC: Thank you, it was a lot of hard work, the hardest thing I ever had to do. We were in a foreign country with my first film, my producer didn’t speak any French, we had all these obstacles. And the budget that we were shooting on was equivalent to the budget that French filmmakers shoot their short films on. I remember being in Paris during production and going to a Paris cinema reception.  Even then, we were still trying to find local people to help us out, but when I told anyone our budget, they basically laughed at us. But we made it happen, and I remember going to the film commission’s office there and trying to get them to help us find a location.  After that, after we finished the film, and they were really proud that we actually got it done. We were proud, too.
DP: Tell me what else you’re working on.
WLC: I have two sci-fi projects, one a time-travel thriller, that I’m developing with a producer named Amy Mitchell, who’s based in Louisiana. I’m also working on another Hitchcockian thriller set in high school, called Bad Education.
DP: Meanwhile, how can people see The Unlikely Girl?
WLC: After it got good reaction at the Woodstock and Vancouver Film Festivals, we put it on iTunes, worldwide, in seven different languages–Spanish, French, Portuguese, Finnish, Norwegian, Dutch, Danish. The url is https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-unlikely-girl/id866421381?uo=4&at=11lJXr&ct=TUGPB. It has been a long but interesting journey.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Curtain Rises Early on "Get on Up" in East Hampton

Playing in Theaters

The Curtain Rises Early on Get on Up in East Hampton


(from the Sag Harbor Express 7/31/14)


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Get on Up opens this week at the UA East Hampton Cinema 6 at a special time, 8 p.m. on Thursday night, an indication that the much-anticipated James Brown biopic is getting special treatment. The advance word is strong and I am expecting Chadwick Boseman to give an electrifying, star-making performance as the very complicated “Godfather of Soul.”  I haven’t seen the film yet, but on assignment for the Australian magazine FilmInk, I was really impressed when I saw the amazingly talented Boseman in action during a set visit to Nachez, Mississippi in December.  That day, when director Tate Taylor was recreating the historic T.A.M.I. Show, I did brief, off-the-cuff video interviews with Taylor (The Help)–who is a Mississippi native–Boseman (42); Nelsan Ellis (True Blood), who plays singing star Bobby Byrd, Brown’s long-time friend and the creator of the Flames (later the Famous Flames); and Brown’s friend and collaborator Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, SNL), who plays famed agent Ben Bart.  These are the edited transcripts of those videos.
Tate Taylor
Danny Peary: Why are you filming in Mississippi for a bio on James Brown, who was from Georgia?
Tate Taylor: Well, we’re in Mississippi because I’m recreating so many eras in James Brown’s life in Augusta, Georgia.  Natchez, Mississippi is unique because of all the buildings and architecture that have been preserved here. You have row houses from the twenties, thirties, and forties, and you have sixties architecture.  So we’re here because of that and also the authenticity of the extras and just the vibe of that southern world.
DP: And also probably because of your feelings for Mississippi?
TT: Absolutely, it is good to promote this industry in my state. That’s one of the main reasons we’re here, but truly when the South needs to be a character in a film I think there’s no better place than Mississippi.  Selfish, very few previous films have shot here, so I’m the first.
DP: Assuming that you’re a fan of James Brown, when did you start becoming a fan?
TT: Absolutely I’m a fan. It’s really interesting that we have Dan Aykroyd in this film because one of my favorite movies of all time is The Blues Brothers and it really inspired me to get into this business.  As a child I wondered, “Who is that man preaching and singing in the movie?” It was James Brown. So the spark had been lit back then, and then I was looking for a follow-up to The Help and I came across this project.  Most bio pics are how did they get there? What I loved about this one is it shows how a man gets there and also shows what happens to someone when they don’t want to go backwards in life.  James Brown kept reinventing himself and I think that’s a really inspirational thing for an audience to see.
DP: The Help is set in a specific time; Get on Up takes place over many decades but I think it also has to do with time, specific eras. Do you think James Brown’s personal life and career as they evolved reflected the changing America, particularly for a black man?
TT: I really don’t. The Help had covered those issues. For me in this, James Brown just did what he wanted to do and as a result became a hero and a voice for his generation. I think what’s interesting is that a lot of people seek that status, and try to do things so they will be put on a pedestal; whereas he just became that person naturally.
DP: Where does the TAMI Show fit into his career?
TT: The TAMI Show was the first time James Brown and the Famous Flames were ever photographed, historically speaking. We have nothing prior to that performance of how they appeared.  The reason they were part of it was that they were trying to get out of the Chitlin’ Circuit trying to expose James Brown and their music to a whole new audience.  That was the way they did it.
DP: In the scenes you’re shooting today, it’s clear that James Brown wants to end the show and not go on before the Rolling Stones.  He ends up going on before them but he upstages them. Was James Brown always trying to prove himself?
TT: James flew out and really stole the show.  [He wanted to expose himself more than prove himself] and as a result he got what he wanted—from then on he was in the mind set of mainstream white America.
DP: Talk about the casting of Chadwick Boswick as James Brown.  Was it because of 42?
TT: As a director, I don’t care who’s done what or what’s on the resume.  My motto is: cast with the idea that the best person wins the job.  A lot of unknowns are in my movies because they were the best people for their parts.  Chad came in and read for James Brown, and it was just hands-down his part. I contribute a lot of that to what we were talking about before.  Chad is from Anderson, South Carolina.  His dad and granddad are from a rural area.  As Southerners, Chad and I both know that when you’re born and raised here, there’s this innate sense of how it should be in this part of the country.  That gave me a lot of confidence in him, and he’s been a great collaborator.
DP: When you think of James Brown other than as a musician, do you think of him as a tragic figure at all, or a triumphant figure only, or something else?
TT: Well, I love that saying, “If you haven’t done anything bad there’s no reason to talk about you.” You can call it tragic, I call it living life. I think the unstoppable energy and work ethic is waning in the younger generations today.  Often it’s none existent.  So I hope people will watch James Brown’s story and see that if you really want to be successful and famous it takes more than a Facebook page or a tweet or a selfie.  You gotta go do the work.
DP: So again you see James Brown as an inspirational figure.
TT: Absolutely.
Chadwick Boseman
Danny Peary: I loved you as Jackie Robinson in 42 and it was quite a relief to me that you did him justice. So when you play a real life figure like Robinson or James Brown and know people might get mad at you if you do it wrong, is that a burden, a challenge, or an opportunity?
Chadwick Boseman: There might be a few days where you see it as a burden, but once you’ve taken it on it’s too late to think that way.  Then you’ve got to see it as a challenge and an opportunity.
DP: Would it be easier for you to play a person nobody heard of than an icon?
CB: Sure, and I love it when I get the chance. In fact, I filmed a movie called Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner, and I play a totally made-up character. So I’m not stuck playing icons. He’s not a real person, but he will be once you see who he is.
DP: When I think of Jackie Robinson I think of the words defiant, courageous, and forward thinking. Do any of those words apply to James Brown?
CB: You know that James Brown created two phases in music, so that’s pretty forward thinking and pretty courageous. I would tend to say James Brown was fearless. There’s a legend that goes along with that. It’s almost mythical–the idea that he was stillborn and his aunt had to breathe life into him for him to come to. That’s one of the legends of James Brown. From reading and hearing from his family members that that he was dead at the beginning, I believe that his magical birth created a sense of fearlessness in him. So he walked through life fearless, ready to do anything.
DP: Do you think that if he didn’t have that birth, or his upbringing, or experience poverty, that his music would have been the same?
CB: Probably not. I would say that in songs like “There Was a Time,” he was clearly talking about seeing a beauty in this moment.  There’s a sense of abandonment there, an out-in-the-woods abandonment, but he found some music in that and so I think to a certain degree the world is blessed because he went through what he went through as a kid.
DP: You don’t want to, or you just can’t, do interviews dressed as James Brown because I think when you look like him you try to channel him. So what do you think goes on in his head while you’re looking like him? He’s innovative as a musician obviously, but are there a lot of conflicting thoughts?
CB: I wouldn’t say that they’re necessarily conflicting. I think he’s single-minded in a way where he’s very sure about the things that he’s doing at all times. He may second-guess it in a moment of silence.  He holds court with people, he’s a much more outward external person than I am. I wouldn’t want to do an interview as him.  I think it would sort of take away from the performance and I don’t know if I could really answer a question about what I’m doing as him. We did play around on set when we were searching for the right shoes for me to wear.
DP: His song “Say It Out Loud” has the subtitle, “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Did he think way his entire life and was that a driving theme for him?
CB: I would say no. From what I’ve read and heard people say, I’d guess that those exact words put together were not necessarily his philosophy the entire time. I would say that he found his own journey through this African, disparate experience.  Growing up as a dark-skinned person, being a lead singer–you just have to imagine what gave him the confidence to do the things that he was doing.  At the time when there were the Jackie Wilsons and the Sam Cookes, he didn’t stand down to any of them.  He had a love for himself amidst people who might not see him that way.  So he’s a very interesting character.  I think that “I’m Black and I’m Proud” would connect him to a time period, a very political time when black people were beginning to have a different sense of identity.  So he attached his philosophy to that.. But I would definitely not say that it was his exact philosophy that the entire time.
3 GetonUpNelsanEllis
Nelsan Ellis
Danny Peary: Everybody involved with Get on Up wants the new generation to see James Brown.  You want that to happen but I’m sure you also want recognition for Bobby Byrd.
Nelsan Ellis: Absolutely, absolutely, I think that Bobby Byrd has a powerful story in regards to James Brown.  I hope that people gleam from this movie how James Brown became James Brown because there was a Bobby Byrd, and Bobby Byrd was Bobby Byrd because there was a James Brown.
DP: It is a shame that Bobby Byrd did not get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame at the same time as James Brown, and not until several years after he died.
NE: It was in 2012 that he died and he deserved to be in there way earlier than that, certainly when he was alive.
DP: Did you know much about Bobby Byrd before playing him?
NE: Not at all.
DP: Which is a shame, because we should know, right?
NE: It is. I didn’t know there was a Bobby Byrd. I knew there was a James Brown and I knew he had a band, had I had no idea who Bobby Byrd was. Then during my research I was like, “Oh, I feel ashamed of myself.”
DP: I’ve seen videos of James Brown and Bobby Byrd performing together and James Brown is being James Brown and doing all kinds of spins and whatever, and Bobby Byrd is just singing normally. But when you watch them together do you see Bobby Byrd as a talent unto himself?
NE:. I see the big thing about Bobby Byrd is that he’s a supporter. Everything he’s doing is in support of James Brown. But yes he was a talent unto himself. He was a frontman for the Gospel Starlighters before James Brown ever came along. He’s the one who started the Flames.  He was a talent, he had a hit record, he could sing.  To my ear he and James sounded kind of alike.
DP: Would James Brown have had the same career he had if not for Bobby Byrd?
NE: Absolutely not.  Well, no one can ever say something like that.
DP: Well, you can.
NE:  Bobby Byrd is actually credited for discovering James Brown.  It was Bobby Byrd who gave James Brown his first opportunity to be in a group, the Gospel Starlighters, and from there they took off.
DP: Bobby Byrd got him out of jail.
NE: He got him out of jail. He came and stayed with his family. I think that there are notable steps that Bobby Byrd was responsible for in James Brown’s life.
DP: In the movie, what is the trajectory of the relationship between the two men?
NE: As in any relationship that falls apart, you have your good times and then you have your bad times and sometimes it doesn’t work out. So you’ll see good and bad times and maybe it doesn’t work out and maybe it does.
DP: I don’t know if you would use the word loyal in regard to both of them in their relationship, but Bobby Byrd was the only Famous Flame who stuck with James Brown, all through the years while everybody else sort of faded away. Did James Brown feel the same towards Bobby Byrd?  And was James Brown as protective of Bobby Byrd as Bobby Byrd was of James Brown?
NE: I would say that Bobby Byrd was definitely loyal to James Brown. But he was in a different position than James Brown so I don’t know if James Brown could feel the same.
DP: A different position?
NE: Bobby Byrd wasn’t the frontman, James Brown was.  James Brown always stayed in touch with Bobby Byrd despite whatever falling outs they had, so while he couldn’t be as loyal he was committed to their relationship–if that means anything.
DP: You’re from Alabama and Bobby Byrd was from Georgia, so do you think you had an automatic connection to him because of that?
NE: I did. He grew up in the South, and came from a strong Christian family.  I grew up in the South and came from a strong Christian family.  So I automatically knew fifty percent of who this man was. The other fifty percent I had to figure out.
DP: What kind of satisfaction, gratification do you have being in this movie?
NE: I get to play a person who hasn’t been given the credit that he deserves. I’m the one who get to play that dude and ultimately the responsibility falls on me. I feel privileged to play Bobby Byrd.
4 getonupackroydboseman
Dan Aykroyd
Danny Peary: The longest time I’ve ever had between interviews of a particular person is with you. You’ve just set my new record, because I interviewed you with John Belushi years ago. I put down my recorder and John picked it up and put it in his pocket.
Dan Aykroyd: It might be in the box with him right now, I’m sure.
DP: I’m sure, too. But the reason I’m bringing it up, is that it’s interesting that Get on Up probably wouldn’t exist if Tate Taylor hadn’t seen you and John Belushi in The Blues Brothers.
DA: I understand that.   I think Tate would have found his way into this profession without The Blues Brothers but if I can take partial credit for this brilliant young talent and his development and future, I will.
DP: His introduction to James Brown was in your movie.
DA: Right, and Tate told me that he also loved Raising Arizona.  So he’s admiring an emulating some great filmmakers–John Landis and the Coen Brothers
DP: It’s fitting you’re in this movie because you had a strong relationship with James Brown, professionally and personally.
DA: I first saw James Brown perform at the Esquire Show Bar in Montreal in the late sixties, and then again at a club in Toronto in the early seventies.  Subsequently I put him in The Blues BrothersDoctor Detroit and The Blues Brothers 2000, so we worked together in three movies.  We opened five House of Blues nightclubs across America. I got to sing with him, jam with him, hang with him. I went to his birthday in Augusta, Georgia one time and, you know, I think he would’ve considered me a good friend. I certainly loved him dearly and I miss him.
DP: Was he an easy guy or a hard guy to be friends with?
DA: Well, with me he was easy, I guess because he looked upon John and me as fellow artists.  He accepted us and was appreciative of the re-energized focus The Blues Brothers provided for his career.   Beyond that, I wasn’t a part of his inner personal life and he was maybe difficult to be with if he were your spouse or a family member.  I wasn’t and I just got the best out of him, which was to be a fellow colleague as an artist and a friend.
DP: If you sat around with him, what would you talk to him about?  Only music?
DA: We did talk about music, the old Blues, who his influences were in the beginning.  Of course, he was brilliant and well-read so he could talk about anything—politics, the universe, space, quantum physics.
DP: Politics–he was a Republican, which many people don’t realize.  It was funny that all of us in the counterculture admired James Brown, but all of a sudden we heard he was a supporter of Richard Nixon.  Did you have a heard time dealing with that issue?
DA: No, it didn’t matter to me. I have many friends who are Republicans, and I think a little theoretical debate is very good. I think that just came out of the unconventional way he grew up.  I think in a way he embraced conventionality and conservatism. He was a reverend, he had a very strong moral center and a strong faith in God, and I think that just went hand-in-hand with the conservative southern base where he grew up.
DP: In the many years you knew James Brown, did he ever talk about Ben Bart to you?
DA: No he never mentioned Ben Bart to me, maybe because I met James after Mr. Bart had died.
DP: From what you’ve learned, how important was Ben Bart to the career of James Brown?
DA: Well, Ben Bart was a classic Brooklyn operaserio.  He had his company of Universal Attractions, he handled Etta James among other artists and many other players.
DP: They included Hank Ballard, who was a major influence on James Brown.
DA: Yep, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.  I think what Ben Bart did was give James the keys to the business in a way, an understanding of the business that James was just beginning to acquire. And he enhanced that and it directed him to where James had a sense of independence and to where he could take control of his own enterprise. So Ben was instrumental in giving him that access to the understanding and the knowledge it would take to build a business, as he did.
DP: How gratifying is it to play this guy?
DA:  Oh, I’m from the Peter Sellers-Catherine O’Hara school of performing so I like any role where I don’t talk like me and don’t look like me and don’t walk like me. I prefer to steep myself in whatever props and voices and accents that I can.  So I’m loving playing him. I’m having a great time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Healing Power of Music Is Evident in "Alive Inside"

Playing in Theaters

The Healing Power of Music Is Evident in Alive Inside

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 7/24/14)

AliveinsidephotoPhoto: DP
Michael Rossato-Bennett (L) and Dan Cohen.

Alive Inside:A Story of Music & Memory fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor.  This Friday it opens nationally, as it begins its second week in NYC.  Director Michael Rossato-Bennett literally ran to the post office before its midnight closing in order to submit it in time to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  At Sundance his film won the Documentary Audience Award and it’s easy to see why. From the opening scene–equipped with an iPod and earphones, long-time nursing home resident Henry, who suffers from dementia, sits up in his wheelchair for the first time in years and starts cheerfully singing along to the Cab Calloway song–Alive Inside is extraordinarily uplifting.  Watching people return to the land of the living through music is an extremelyemotional experience.  For several years that has been the experience of social worker Dan Cohen, the founder of the nonprofit Music & Memory, who is on a crusade to bring iPods with personalized music into the lives of the elderly and infirm in nursing homes around the country.  Rossato-Bennett has spent three years on Cohen’s trail, sharing the joy of seeing how music benefits people who were given up as lost and the frustration of trying to convince nursing homes to replace medication with music.  Last week I did the following interview with Rossato-Bennett and Cohen, hoping to spread the word…no, the music.
Danny Peary: This idea of playing personalized music to Alzheimer’s patients is one of those things like suitcases with wheels. It’s self-evident that it would have a positive effect.  What took us so long to think of it?
Dan Cohen: That’s exactly right. There’s nothing new here except a central twist of innovation. We all had the music but nobody thought of giving the technology to our elders.  Oh, it’s technology, so they don’t want it. So my thing has always been, “What kind of music do you like?” Tell us and we’ll provide the technology to give it to you.
DP: When did you come up with the concept of playing “personalized music?”
DC: In 2006. We all heard journalists talking about how iPods were ubiquitous–kids have them, adults have them.  But in a nursing home?  Would I have access to my favorite music there? So I googled “iPods in nursing homes” and found there were 16,000 nursing homes in America and none were using iPods. Nursing homes are kind of in digital isolation. So I had to get the music to people who are compromised. I come from a technology background and am always making up new applications for people or leveraging technology, so this was natural for me.
aliveinsideposter
DP: We always think of technology as being dehumanizing, but what’s interesting about you, Dan, is that you have a history of showing the connection between technology and humanity. That’s pretty much your personal theme.
DC: The Internet, YouTube, all of that is humanizing, really.  It makes possible something that had never been possible before. We’d never had any of this without technology.
Michael Rossato-Bennett: On that point, there were so many comments that were made online about the Henry video we posted on the Music & Memory website [in hopes of raising additional funding].  “This is what the Internet is for!  This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on the Internet.” There was a hunger in people to have this kind of deep human experience when using the Internet.
DP: Dan, how was it being the subject of a movie for three years?
DC: Well, at first I was very nervous being in front of the camera.
Henry is featured on the poster
MR-B: Now you’re not.
DC: No, I got used to it.
DP: Michael, I don’t know your background in terms of music.  Was it something important to you, so that you understood Dan’s mission?
MR-B: I actually had a childhood that was so traumatic that I shut down in a lot of ways. I shut down so much that as a young person I couldn’t do rhythm. Other people could do rhythm but I couldn’t get it. What happened was that I was trying to protect myself, I was trying to insulate myself.  It’s what happens when people are traumatized, and it’s what happens to a lot of people who are in nursing homes. So that’s why I really have an affinity for this story, because it took me years and years before I could really take music in, before I could really do rhythm.
DP: When was the breakthrough for you?
MR-B: It wasn’t until my late twenties. I didn’t get married until my late thirties because I don’t think I was capable of it.  But now I have grown and healed my own self, just as Samite [from Musicians for World Harmony] heals those people in Africa in the movie by bringing their deepest memory, music, into an environment that took away all their humanity. I could identify with this, and honestly I really feel like all of us can because there is a degree of institutionalization in all of our lives. When humans are treated like objects, like things, they do not respond well, they shut down, they go into trauma. How do we take a being out of trauma? How do we do it naturally? We cry, we laugh. That takes us from one state to another, just like Samite does in the movie. Music is an ancient tradition for changing human states and doing it communally.
DP: Oliver Sacks says in your movie that “Music is inseparable from emotion.”
MR-B: Dr. Sacks says there is no music part of the brain. There’s a hearing part and a seeing part and a memory part, but there’s no music part. So over tens of thousands of years, we decided that we would make music in our own brains.  A primate will not respond to music, but an infant in the fetus will respond to music. So music is sort of a primal human experience.  People in nursing homes left their music behind, so that’s why the effect is so profound when they hear it again.
DC: What I’ve always thought of is a way to integrate it into the life flow of a facility.  There are places that have 250 iPods and they’re doing fine. So you have 250 people who now that have this freedom of self.  Their day is totally transformed because they’re having a good time and not just sitting there and watching the clock.
MR-B: If I gave you your music, you would not respond in the way that some of these elders respond.
DP: True, but my favorite song is from 1959, and when I’m surprised by it coming on the radio without being introduced, I get a chill and go back to being ten-years-old old. That’s what they experience, right?
MR-B: Exactly, exactly.
DP: The movie illustrates that music creates spontaneity in an environment where everything is about conformity. So there’s a conflict. The institutions that want to maintain control of elderly patients don’t necessarily welcome spontaneity.
DC: Institutional change is slow, right?  Even young people who work in a nursing home get it–iPods, iTunes, what’s the big deal? And they roll it out to half a dozen people there, and then they’re told, “No, you can’t go any further. You can do this, but don’t bother anybody else.  We have enough problems with hearing aids getting lost, and dentures getting lost, now we got iPods–forget it!  Don’t do that, our staff has no time to put them on and take them off.”   MR-B: Think about it like drugging. Basically, when you have so many people in an institution and one person starts acting out, like the guy in the movie who was screaming a lot, it can ruin the experience for everyone else.  So they drug those people very quickly–and we have a tremendous problem with over-medication in these institutions.  Music is one of the few things that can reduce that.
DP: In the movie you talk about how the elderly in nursing homes are terribly overmedicated.  Is music supposed to replace the medication?
MR-B: I’ll tell you the biggest idea that I had while sitting in my bedroom and editing this film. I realized that you have this massive population of people that are beginning to show signs of dementia. When a person’s at home and starts acting out, that is the moment when caregivers say, I can’t handle this anymore. In a family, it’s so incredibly hard to deal with a family member who has dementia. You almost have to trade your life for their life. That’s not the way it used to be. When I was a kid, there was a woman with dementia living next door, and her seven daughters took care of her. It didn’t ruin any one person’s life. We can’t do what we’re doing because we’ll run out of money to put everybody in nursing homes. We barely have the money today to put everybody with dementia into nursing homes. What happens is that they’re overcrowded so if anybody acts out the first thing they do is sedate them  They use these anti-psychotics or anti-depressants, and they sedate these people and their personalities disappear as well. All drugs poison one of the systems in the body. Personalized music is amazing–and I’ve seen it over and over again–in that it can give a moment of peace to both the caregiver and the person who’s suffering.  Especially people with Alzheimer’s. They have this kind of dissonance, where the world becomes overwhelming–there’s just too much data coming in and they can’t filter it out–so when they put headphones on, half the world that they have to deal with disappears.  The way our brains interact through music is that it wakes us up. So over the next ten or twenty years, if we can use music to keep people at home three months longer before they need institutionalization, we’ll save hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s inevitable. They did a study here in New York, and where personalized music was used, the use of anti-psychotics in the facility went down from 13% to 38% over eighteen months.  If there were a drug that had that efficacy, it would be the biggest blockbuster drug in the world. Most of the drugs right now for Alzheimer’s are in demand although people don’t believe they’ll work.  They just want something.  There is no drug that does anything, but fortunately there’s lot happening in science right now.
Aliveinsidemulti
DP: I ask this is a complimentary way: Is your film dated already? I know many new nursing homes have taken your advice about bringing in iPods.
DC: We don’t know yet how things will change exactly, because the movie’s really current. Michael’s been really improving it, working on it.
DP: Well, at the beginning of the movie there were very few nursing homes using music.
DC: And now there are 640. So we’re getting there, but that’s still only one percent, so only one out of one hundred people in the US has access to music. At this time 99% are sitting there being left in the hallway, wheelchair to wheelchair. And nobody’s really giving them anything to stimulate them. Give them an audio book. They were teachers?  Put iTunes University in their headphones, they’ll love it. They’ll have something to talk about.
DP: So the music is part of a multi-pronged approach to bettering their lives?
DC: The music is kind of a low-hanging fruit; once a facility has iTunes set up, they now have a whole media center. Now they can have audio books, e-books, apps. There are many apps that specifically say Alzheimer’s and there are apps that don’t say it but they’re perfect–they’re for fitness, relaxation, a whole bunch of things. So yeah, our goal is to bring the tablets in.  I recommend that every nursing home has three iPads–and I’ve been getting them out there and getting good feedback.
DP: And the goal is to have all this be part of insurance plans, right?
DC: Well, that would be great. To support it that way. Managed care.
MR-B: We have a lot of feelers out there, but I don’t think this film will be outdated for twenty years. And I’ll tell you why. First of all, it’s about some of the most elemental fears we have. Death. Decline. Aging. These are things that culturally we do not address. At its heart this film is about connection–the power of music to connect you to your past.  Music and all the arts are an antidote to isolation present in sterile institutions. We have a massive transition period here, and it’s not going to be one year or ten years. It’s going to take us a tremendous amount of effort to figure out how we as a culture deal with aging.
DP: What would personalized music be for you?
DC: The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, the Beatles, sixties stuff, late fifties music when I was eight-years-old.
MR-B: I like Bach, Pavarotti.
DP: What about classical music?  For fans of classical music, can you put on anything or does it have to be specific?
DC: Everybody’s different with classical music. If you want somebody to really enjoy it, you must go with what they like. Their top ten favorites, it depends. I’m really picky when it comes to classical music, but if it’s a dementia issue, it could work to play not something specific but perhaps violin concertos, which they’d just enjoy no matter what they played.
MR-B: While making the film we met a woman named Barbara.  Her mother was a very sophisticated woman who always loved classical music.  When she started having dementia, Barbara put together a whole iPod of classical music for her.  But when her mother listened to the music nothing happened. Barbara kept replacing the classical music with other classical music.  But her mother didn’t respond to it. One day, she put on Ray Charles singing “Come Rain or Come Shine,” which was the song her husband used to play for her.  And her mom had a huge emotional reaction. So Barbara changed the iPod list from classical to Ray Charles and all the music that her mother and father had listened to together. I get chills just telling this story, because it touches something so profound in these people.  She literally wasn’t responding to classical music at all.
DP: You don’t talk about religious music in the movie, but is there something even more stimulating about religious music?
DC: I’ve had a chance through Alzheimer’s groups to speak to a hundred and fifty chaplains and members. They love this because what’s more core to your youth than religious music.  Religious music was with your family when you were five-years-old, and then you take it with you through life. For some people that could be one of the genres of music that is everything to someone.
MR-B: And it is often. We’ve met a lot of people, and all they listen to are hymns.
DC: The challenge is to find whatever music is for a person.
DP: Your whole thing is about personalized music. So when people with guitars and other instruments come into these institutions and perform random music, is there a positive effect on the people listening.
DC: If somebody’s good and comes in and plays the old tunes, yes. There’s interaction and that’s a positive because no one’s visiting these people. More than half these people never ever get a visitor. And studies show that if nobody’s visiting you and you’re idle, it’s a recipe for decline. If you’re not getting visitors and you’re not doing anything, that’s a toxic combination. The live musicians are usually there an hour a week. They tell me their secret guilt is that they get the people going with the music and the rhythm but when they leave the people go back to slumping in their chairs.
DP: So the solution is that you have to leave music with the people, on iPods.
DC: Well, to me it’s not either/or. The more live music people coming into their lives, the better, but also give them their own music. We don’t only want to hear music on the radio, we want to hear it in a concert. I saw the Beach Boys last weekend and it was great. I’d never seen them in concert ever!  And the Rascals and the Lovin’ Spoonful, it was just great fun. And with good headphones–we provide inexpensive but good headphones–it’s like being front and center in the orchestra, for these people.
DP: There’s a line in the movie about how painful it is to believe that once you are old no one needs what you have to give.  Seeing people like Denise, who is bi-polar, we realize they have a lot to give.
MR-B: They do! What I want people to understand is that it took me as a filmmaker a year before I really fully understood what was actually alive in these Alzheimer’s patients.  It took a lot of time considering what is the wisdom that an elder has for a younger person.   It’s a very subtle transference between the old and the young, and I feel sorry for those elders who don’t get the chance to give what they can to the young and I feel sorry for children who don’t get the chance to know elders.
DP: Was this a hard film to make?
MR-B: It was a very hard film to make. I cut it three or four times.
DP: In terms of editing, I would think that it was really hard for you to make the decisions to veer off briefly from seeing the elderly respond to music to girls in Africa who had been raped and a man who has MS.  Was including their responses to music a tough decision?
MR-B: You know, it was a very gut-level decision. A lot of people have asked me Why is that MS patient in there?  It was just my gut.  Steve is in an absolutely incomprehensible situation, being in a place where you can do nothing but listen and talk. For eight years nobody thought to bring him music. Now we see music open up his life. I can’t illustrate it any better. And the reason Samite is in my film playing music for the girls in Africa is because he understands how music can literally melt trauma. Melt the frozen soul. That’s what we experienced hundreds of times. In a nursing home, you see some living dead people. How do you wake those people?  Even to think that it can be done…
DP: Michael, did you ever say, “How do I get this and this?” Or was it mostly, let’s see what happens when we turn on the camera?
MR-B: Sometimes we tried to make some points, I guess, and other times we just said, let’s see what happens.
DP: I loved the opening with Henry, but one of my favorite moments that you got on film, probably with no planning, is of the seemingly comatose woman who is lying on her side in bed.  When music plays in her ears, her feet move wildly in rhythm.
DC: People usually first see from a distance and laugh because they don’t really know what’s going on.  Maybe it’s nervous laughter.  Then when they see her in close-up, they become quiet, because it’s like holy mackerel!  There was really very little going on with her, and suddenly she’s going to the music!
DP: Talk about when Denise touches Samite’s face.
MR-B: Incredible! Better yet, his nose! Denise, this white woman, is squeezing the nostrils of this African man because she finds his larger nostrils interesting or whatever. There’s such a beautiful innocence to that moment. I’m really proud that there’s no concept of race in this film. It transcends race.
DP: How is Denise now?
MR-B: She’s still around, She breaks my heart. Imagine your life without a daughter, imagine your life without your work, imagine your life without your husband. All of these things this woman never had a chance to experience, really. That makes me sad.
DP: In the film, she ends up with more than she had.  She gets her mental faculties back to a certain degree. She’s younger than a lot of the others, so she has time ahead so we hope if she gets it together.
MR-B: She’s a fighter.
DP: I want to point out that Regina Scully was one of your producers.  She has great credentials including being executive producer of Invisible War, about the epidemic of rapes in the military.
MR-B: Yeah she’s a great human being.  It’s interesting that our connection is that she too recognizes how traumatized all of us are living in this commercial culture where our connections are diminished. She’s very interested in supporting anything that creates some sort of connection between humans.
DP: In the press notes, you say your life has been transformed from making this picture in ways you didn’t expect. I would think it’s such an emotional topic that you knew you were getting into something that would take a toll or reward you.
MR-B: Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, you get to be useful to the world. The other day there were a hundred and fifty people in this room to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, and they all said I changed their lives in some way. Just by being a good person and a good dad and a good friend. I’ve helped people who’ve had emotional problems, who are my friends,  just by being a nice guy. I could see my life stretching out in front of me and I could start to see the end, and I’m like, whoa, if I keep on doing this, what am I going to end up doing for anybody? So here was my dream: on my sixtieth birthday, there will be a thousand people who can say I’ve changed their lives. I’m going to attempt that, I don’t know how, but I’m going to make that happen. I certainly didn’t think it was going to happen through this movie, I was just working.  But in hindsight I chose to do for good, not for self-aggrandizement or profit or anything. I had an opportunity to be useful to the world and I never ever expected that.
DP: How do you hope your film helps people?
MR-B: I would like Alive Inside to help people see that there is real hope inside of us.  Music is a path we can follow to love and aliveness, and I think we’ve forgotten that. I think we can make some real progress in the world if we have things that we can trust.  There are few things we can trust–we can’t trust religion, we can’t trust philosophy, we can’t trust governments, we can’t trust our countries. However, three things that are still phenomenally trustworthy are music, love, and connection.  They are really what this film’s about.