Tuesday, July 5, 2016

TFF: Gleeson, Molony, Dixon, and Evans on the War Thriller Tiger Raid

Playing at Tribeca Film Festival

TFF: Gleeson, Molony, Dixon, and Evans on the War Thriller Tiger Raid


(from Sag Harbor Express Online 5/2/16)

Joe (Brian Gleeson) and Paddy (Damien Molony).
Joe (Brian Gleeson) and Paddy (Damien Molony) in “Tiger Raid.
By Danny Peary
Writer-director Simon Dixon’s ambitious, psychological war film, “Tiger Raid,” which is set in the Iraq desert, recently made its world premiere in the “Midnight Section” at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, giving the viewers some powerful jolts and reducing the lengths of their fingernails. TFF programmer Dan Hunt’s synopsis: “While on a covert mission, two cold blooded mercenaries form an unlikely bond as they race across the desert in the dead of night. When their violent and desperate world implodes, past atrocities come to the surface and threaten to tear each of them apart. Brian Gleeson (Snow White and the Huntsman), Damien Molony (Kill Your Friends) and Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) offer stunning performances as the inhabitants of director Simon Dixon’s dark and arid, seemingly unpopulated desertscape. Dixon surrounds these complex and troubled characters in haunting imagery and immersive sound design. As the true nature of their mission becomes clear, betrayals accumulate; no one emerges innocent in this disturbing action-thriller.”
Gareth Coulam Evans, Simon Dixon, Brian Gleeson, Damien Molony
Gareth Coulam Evans, Simon Dixon, Brian Gleeson, Damien Molony
During the festival I did the following interview with Dixon, producer/coscreenwriter Gareth Coulam Evans, and the two leads, Brian Gleeson (who plays Joe) and Damien Molony (who plays Paddy), making sure no one gave away the ending.
Danny Peary: This film has so many visual elements that I was surprised to learn that it came from a play.
Simon Dixon: We knew Mick Donnellan, who had written a novel and a couple of plays that were really cool. We’d been saying, “We’d like to work with you.” But nothing quite clicked. Then he sent us this document which was about 118 really rambling pages of dialogue. It was an unpublished play about a tiger raid [an abduction to force someone else to commit another crime], but it was called Radio Luxembourg. There was something about the characters and the cadence and language and the savage beauty of the dialogue that we just really connected to.
DP: Is the play set in the desert?
Damien Molony: No, in Ireland. Basically they figured out a way to put these two Irish people in a very unsafe unsettling situation in the deserts of Iraq.
Brian Gleeson: They re-contextualized it. The play was about two guys in the west of Ireland carrying out “a tiger raid.” I don’t think that phrase is used anywhere apart from in Ireland.
DP: Simon, you call Tiger Raid an Irish film. Is it an Irish film?
Shadha (Sofia Boutella) in "Tiger Raid."
Shadha (Sofia Boutella) in “Tiger Raid.”
SD: I think so. It has an Irish heartbeat. The playwright is Irish, it has Irish characters, the Irish Film Board backed it really kindly and was incredibly supportive, it’s an Irish co-production. There’s a lot of things that make it an Irish film. But it’s a combination; it’s both Irish and international. Both Gareth and I have had a conviction that our film should speak to everybody. So I’d like a guy in Mexico or a woman in Sydney to be challenged by it as much as an Irish audience.
Gareth Coulam Evans: It’s a British film and it’s a Jordanian film. Most of the people who worked on it were Jordanian. We felt a lot of love working in a small industry that’s growing, where they take huge pride in their work, so I hope they’ll feel the same kind of ownership with the movie.
DP:, Simon, when you put these two characters from Ireland into the conflict in Iraq, you didn’t make them American but kept them Irish.
SD: That’s a good point. As I said, Gareth and I were very keen to maintain the integrity and the Irish component of the story. Still, we didn’t want to do was double down on the Irish thing. We liked the idea of stretching the concept and moving it to more of an international context. So that’s what we did. We worked and collaborated with Mick to place the story into something much more succinct and diversify the difference between the two characters and make it more muscular.
DP: Paddy and Joe had more in common in the play than they do here?
SD: Potentially. There’s a little bit more overlap. Both men are very brutal and both are very desensitized to the violence and the terrible things they’ve done. By resetting it in Iraq and have them be mercenaries gave a context of where those guys had come from in their training. We liked the idea that there was this constant backwards and forwards of who has the upper hand. As the film develops there is a series of revelations.
DP: Did you discuss before you started shooting which of the two is the hero in the movie and whether there is there a hero at all?
DM: That was one of the things that attracted me to the project. The power balance is changing between the characters all the time and they’re taunting each other and suspicious of each other. In a Hollywood movie, they might be friends but they don’t know each other before they meet in the movie and they don’t particularly like each other. That constantly shifting, volatile terrain that they’re both on was hugely interesting to me, as was seeing the psychological plays each character makes constantly to undermine the other.
BG: We’re so saturated with good-guy-bad-guy narratives, but people aren’t really like that. They aren’t molded in a certain way. Give them a gun or put them in a different context and you’ll see that they’re completely different and will do things you don’t expect. For me, it was less about figuring out whether Joe or Paddy is the good guy or the bad guy–I just wanted to be true to what was written on the page. And do the detective work and go in a find out what the guys are getting at. Sometimes unconsciously, you draw this out from the script and follow your nose and see where it goes. It was just about being true to myself and the character.
DP: Brian, I read an interview you did for Stand By, which was a romantic comedy, and you spoke about the spark that was needed between you and the female lead. What about in this film? What kind of spark and connection was needed between the two actors?
BG: We definitely needed to get on. You don’t necessarily need to be on the same page because you have separate characters but chemistry and being generous with each other’s time makes it easy to work together.
DM: It was so physical and so hot when we filmed during the day that we would go to the gym at night time together and kind of be together all the time. But we both had our own music in or ears and were almost in our separate worlds.
DP: When you went to the gym, did you talk about the film at all? My guess is that you didn’t.
DM: Not really, no. Not over the treadmill.
BG: No. Looking back now, that seems so alien to me–going to gym after work. I’m a couch potato.
DP: It was the lure or air-conditioning. I’d think you two didn’t want to be too chummy at night because your characters are distant from one another. Did you think that there is a rivalry between the two?
BG: There is, yeah. From the beginning, there’s a real rivalry and animosity. I think that’s great. They’re trying to put each other in each other’s place. It’s one-upmanship.
DM: Joe is the old guard. Paddy’s is the new blood. Paddy’s the kind of guy that will walk into a new job and say, “Alright, I’m running the show now.” He has a cocksure arrogance with a huge amount of naivety behind it. What was great about the filming process was that Simon would allow us extremely long takes. We would do the lines and do the scene and then maybe improvise for two or three minutes and then maybe revisit the scene again from that standpoint. So we had a huge amount of freedom to develop the relationship when in a normal movie maybe we wouldn’t necessarily get that opportunity.
DP: In the press notes, Brian said, “The challenge was to unearth their humanity that is buried deep.” You may have wanted their humanity to come out, but to do what they do, don’t they want it to be buried deep?
BG: Humanity to me just means being real as opposed to it being the good aspects of a personality. Just trying to work out the psychology of who you’re playing makes it scarier. When you just paint these guys as monsters, you have too easy an answer.
DM: Obviously when Shadha comes in, she adds a whole new element. She brings the humanity of the characters out.
SD: I think the circumstances has hidden their humanity. The deeds they’ve undertaken and the terrible things they’ve done for money by definition is constantly suppressing an eroding the humanity of both characters. We didn’t want to sensationalize or diminish the violence aspect. We wanted to reach inside them. To find two fully three-dimensional characters, we don’t want to condone their world view but we don’t want to paint caricatures either. It’s the rhythm between two men and how their interplay allows us to look at the dark hearts of men and what men do when they’re subjected to this much violence.
DM: Remember that this is not necessarily a big deal for these guys. This is their day-to-day, nine-to-five job.
DP: You also have to figure out what a mercenary is.
BG&DM: Exactly.
SD: A lot of mercenaries have been painted in this very one dimensional way. Mercenaries do shoot people but there’s more to them. It’s almost as if they were in the wild west. These guys are trained in these heinous and dangerous skills to get to Iraq. It’s to make money. So they’re not really interested in the day to day part, but how they’re going to utilize their skills. In the case of our guys, it’s a tiger raid but their relationship fractures in the middle when they meet Shadha [Sofia Boutella], the female character in the film. She becomes kind of the emotional heartbeat of the film and she opens up the story and changes the Joe and Paddy’s interplay. So it moves from being a thriller and a kidnap film to being a really interesting character study of the guys and it’s less about being a mercenary and more about dealing with the terrible deeds and choices that they’ve made in their lives, particularly Joe.
DP: Filming in Jordan, where did that choice come from? Simon was a first time feature director so I’d think going to Jordan and working in the desert in 115 degree temperatures would be overly ambitious.
GCE: That was the thing we thought least about. The most obvious choice in the world would have been to go to Iraq, but we stopped short of doing that. Going to Jordan was obvious to us, not because it would look right but obviously that afforded us tremendous freedom. We considered shooting in a different country like Morocco but you’d have to fake so much to get that reality, whereas in Jordan we could point the camera anywhere we wanted and it felt like Iraq. Beyond that, there was this tremendous benefit to putting not just the actors but the whole crew on those streets and on that sand that they knew stretched to Baghdad. We might pass a road sign to Baghdad on the way to the set. We would feel the quality of breathing the air and feeling the heat of the Middle East. The world that the characters had walked. Talking to the DP, Si Bell–the crew would be driving back from the set, they’d hear the call to prayer. Your mind changes. I know it inspired everyone to think differently
BG: I think it was the best decision to film in Jordan. It really was. It paid dividends. I just felt so in it.In the movie, in the place, in the environment.
SD: We wanted to be as true as possible to the environment. The film is set in Iraq and of course Jordan borders Iraq. So, any one given day, we were a hundred kilometers from the same sand the men would have stood in.
DP: There had to be a spiritual feel, too.
DM: It’s the cradle of civilization. It’s biblical.
SD: We were in the Valley of Jordan. It’s where Moses stood and looked out at the Promised Land. Regardless of whether you believe those stories, it’s quite an inspiring place. It’s the desert where they shot Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a place that means something. My belief is, the more experiential you can be with something like this and serve the film, the more likely you are to get something valuable. It was about finding the space for the characters to really feel real because we’re dealing with very complex, deep and difficult themes. If we could create an environment where everyone felt they were being challenged on behalf of the film to do something different, I think we’re more likely to make a film like Tiger Raid than just make a good film.
DP: You use the word real. How realistic did you want the film to be? Do you want us to see this as the real Middle East conflict, and that this is history?
SD: It’s not based on any specific incident. Things like the physicality of how to handle a weapon, locations, and other things were left in. There’s a reality to how they would handle a weapon.
DP: Is it 2016?
SD: I think you could take ten years off for argument’s sake. The film is manufactured to create the environment to tell our story and the backdrop just gives a degree of context to give a reason for them to be there. It’s not about Iraq or the Iraq War or even about mercenaries. It’s about the darkness within these men and the things they’ve done and the choices that they’ve made and how it comes back to haunt them and ultimately doom them.
DP: Brian and Damien, do you think you, the actors. knew your characters better than the screenwriters, Simon. Mick and Gareth?
BG: There’s collector’s ownership over everything. There was constant dialogue and finding the story together.
DM: Filmmaking is a collaborative process and we’re giving as much to Garrett and Simon as they are giving to us.
DP: They audience is going to be changing their minds about who’s the hero. Simon, do you feel that as the director you’re manipulating the audience?
SD: Clearly yes. The way I see it is that we start the movie quite broad, and then we develop a context that basically changes. We bate and switch on the audience, deliberately to tease them and toy with them. What I think takes over is your own personal perception of what you’ve been told. So when the audience leaves the cinema, I want them to make their own judgment of what they believe the characters are and their moral standpoints and the various layers that have been revealed. We didn’t want to lead them to the water and say, “This is the answer.” So I think it’s a combination. You need to manipulate to create an exciting environment and an experiential feel for the film, but I think it’s a film that’ll be polarizing and I hope people will debate it. I like the idea that people will talk about it. I think that’s what’s important about cinema.
DM: It will be interesting to see how people respond to it. It’s very exciting. It’s interesting to talk about it and let it settle in our heads as well–because we made this a couple of years ago.
DP: Simon, you’ve said Tiger Raid is not a genre film.
SD: It’s a heightened genre. It has a lot of genre tropes. There’s violence and physicality, but it’s not a sensational film. We didn’t want the thriller aspect to outrun the narrative character and the importance of the story. That was what was important to me.
DP: Talk about being at the Tribeca Film Festival.
SD: It’s a great honor. I used to live in Tribeca many years ago.   There’s kind of a spiritual thing to it and a location thing, the fact that it’s Tribeca in New York. The fact that they honored us with selection is an amazing thing. It’s a festival that champions provocative, challenging, unusual international work. The fact that they’re there and allow people to have a voice I think is an incredible thing. It’s a testament to the team that they allow films like ours to get a voice that maybe they normally wouldn’t get. I feel a great deal of gratitude for that.
This is the link to the trailer for Tiger Raid: http://teaser-trailer.com/movie/tiger-raid/
I hope you will order a copy of my new book for you and for every baseball fan that you know: http://www.amazon.com/Jackie-Robinson-Quotes-Remarkable-Significant/dp/1624142443/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461715345&sr=1-1&keywords=Jackie+Robinson+in+Quotes
Be sure to see Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders at the Film Forum beginning next week.
Also of Note: Friday April 29th is Denys Arcand’s Eye of Beauty opens at the Sag Harbor Cinema.

TFF: Ferne Pearlstein and Robert Edwards Get “The Last Laugh”

Playing at Tribeca Film Festival
TFF: Ferne Pearlstein and Robert Edwards Get “The Last Laugh”
(from Sag Harbor Express Online 4/21/16)

Ferne Pearlstein and Robert Edwards.
Ferne Pearlstein and Robert Edwards.
By Danny Peary
The Last Laugh fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor. You can see it this Sunday, when director-cinematographer-producer-screenwriter Ferne Pearlstein’s provocative–and very amusing–documentary has its final public screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, at 6:15 at the Bow Tie Cinema on 23rd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan.
Incidentally, her screenwriting partner and one of her coproducers was her husband Robert Edwards, whom I interviewed a few weeks back for Sag Harbor Express Online about his current theatrical film,One More Time. For his narrative feature, Edwards brought together a terrific ensemble, headed by Christopher Walken and Amber Heard, but even that doesn’t compare to the all-star comedy roster of Jewish comedians he and Pearlstein coaxed into appearing in their doc.
Mel Brooks getting the last laugh on Hitler.
Mel Brooks getting the last laugh on Hitler.
Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Susie Essman, Judy Gold, Gilbert Gottfried, and many other headliners agreed to discuss whether humor can be mined from perhaps the most taboo subject of all–the Holocaust (as the way to get the last laugh on Hitler).
Renee Firestone.
Renee Firestone.
Not lost among the legends is the central figure of the movie, 90+-year-old Renee Firestone, a concentration camp survivor with indomitable spirit whose personal mission is to spread good will around the world. Julie Rozite of the TFF writes, “Pearlstein weaves together a complete and thoughtful exploration into the question of what is and is not off-limits in comedy. The answers are as diverse as the subjects she interviews. There is no consensus on which jokes work and which don’t, and the film doesn’t take a stance; instead it invites you to think, to laugh, and to remember, all the while keeping its levity.” When you laugh during this movie, and I can almost guarantee you will, will you feel guilty or empowered? At the beginning of the festival I had this conversation over breakfast with Pearlstein and Edwards about their brave movie.
Danny Peary: Bob, in my recent interview with you aboutOne More Time, you said that making The Last Laugh was an idea Ferne had for a long time.
Robert Edwards: Yes, it predates our relationship.
FP: Trying to make a long story short, I moved to New York originally to be a documentary photographer. I went to the International Center of Photography. My first real job was working for two Japanese New York bureau chiefs at a Japanese paper. I got very close with the my boss, who hired me to be his personal photographer and sent me to work on all these American stories. He got invited to go to Miami with a group of foreign journalists from the Miami Bureau of the Chamber of Commerce to give Miami a better name. He said, “Why don’t you go and do a story on drug trafficking in Miami?” So I went with a group of foreign journalists and I brought a friend of mine, Kent Kirshenbaum. We were taken to the then brand new Holocaust Memorial.  An elderly Holocaust survivor was giving the tour and my friend had just read Art Spiegelman’s Maus–which was a big inspiration to both of us–and asked her about it. She had a very angry reaction, like, “This is not the proper way to tell this story. It’s not funny at all.’  My friend then said, “Did you read it?,” and she said “No.”  So that really stuck with him. He went back to school for his Ph.D and in the process, wrote this forty-page academic paper that was influenced by Art Spiegelman and titled, “The Last Laugh: Humor and the Holocaust.” In 1993 when I was doing my thesis film at Stanford,  he presented the paper to me and said, “Make this into a movie.” It was a fantastic paper and subject and I knew that some day when I was ready I would make it. I met Bob in 1998, when I was a working cinematographer, and he had hired me to shoot a film of his. A couple of months later we started writing a proposal based on this paper, hoping to get a grant so we could make it. Then Life is Beautiful came out and people had such different opinions about it, and we thought, “Let’s step back.” We wanted to see how it would pan out. We wanted more time. We had waves over the years of, “Let’s revive it. Let’s try to get somebody interested.” We attempted to get a grant, it didn’t happen, so we’d started working on something else. Then in 2005, we saw The Aristocrats [a documentary in which numerous comics talk about one famous taboo-breaking dirty joke].
DP: And Gilbert Gottfried was in that one, too.
FP: Yes, and he told a 911 joke. And when it was over, I said to Bob,, ‘Okay, we’re ready and people are ready for our movie.’
DP: But didn’t you still need to find backing for what would be a controversial film?
FP: Yes, so we started working on it again. Then we started talking to people, and found that people were still really scared of the topic. Then we spoke to David Steinberg, who said, “Great, I’ll help you if I can.” And then we approached a woman I had met through a very good friend whose project I was working on. She had funded one or two small films, including one about survivors of different genocides. She’s Jewish and has a very dark sense of humor and our subject hit every point of interest in her life. She came in with the first big money in the summer of 2011. I hoped I was going to get enough money from her to shoot three comedians and put together a trailer to give other potential investors an idea of what the film would be. But she generously gave me enough so I was able to actually get the movie started and not have to spend money making a trailer with footage that wasn’t going to be in the film. We got our money in July of 2011 and then right after Labor Day we were like, ‘Okay, let’s get this going.”
DP: Was it basically you pushing the project or was it both of you at this point?
RE: This is Ferne’s vision. She’s the auteur here.
FP: Well, the way it works is that we work together on the proposals. Then one of us takes the lead on the project, as the director, and then when it gets going we both are involved.
DP: How did the title The Last Laugh strike you?
FP: It came with the project. In the beginning, honestly I thought of it more as a working title, but other people liked it. It was one of those titles that sort of let you know what the film was about. I know it’s not an original title but…
RE: It was Kent’s title and very apt. It had multiple meanings and interpretations and Emil Jannings’ classic film has the same title, film buffs remember it. German expressionism from the interwar period.
DP: It is explained in your movie that keeping one’s sense of humor after the Holocaust is the way to get the “last laugh” on Hitler.
RE: It’s also the last thing you could laugh about.
DP: But was that always what you thought when you considered that title? You said it had a lot of interpretations but I would think what I just said would be the specific interpretation you intended for this movie.
FP: In the sense that for somebody just opening up the newspaper and going, ‘What movie am I going to today?,’ I agree with you. From 1998 to 2011 when we finally got money, we had been deconstructing the whole concept for so long when it was so abstract, so we had thought of all the ways to view that title. Which helped us decide to keep it.
DP: What’s interesting about the whole concept of having comics talk about what they think is funny and what’s appropriate means you’re open to whatever they say. There’s even some disagreement in the movie. Was that always your thought, “We’re going to talk to twenty-five comics and see what they think”?
FP: I am a cinematographer, I shoot in film. I struggled for a long time with making this film because I did not want to make a film that was entirely interviews, talking heads, and clips. I had that in mind but I wanted to find something visual. I always knew I had to find something to weave through it, even if that was hard and disparate.
DP: Are we now talking about your main subject, Renee Firestone, an elderly Auschwitz survivor who has a joy of life and tremendous sense of humor?
FP: That’s what I came up with. Before I was searching and searching for what could this story be, who could I follow? For a while I thought, “What if I follow a group of second generation subjects?” They call themselves 2Gs in some cases. It just means second generation survivors. Soon they’re going to be the only ones left.
RE: They tend to be mostly in their sixties. I guess it depends on how old their parents were at the time they were in camps.
FP: Amongst themselves, they have such a dark sense of humor. They can make jokes about their parents that nobody else can. They can make jokes about the Holocaust that nobody else can. I thought, “Wow that’s something nobody knows about.” The reason that dark sense of humor is still in place is because they don’t share. It’s inside jokes. It’s private. It’s their way of releasing their own anxiety over the life they had and the life their parents had. In my process of trying to find different people that were second generation, I found a woman who is one of the writers of the movie Elvis and Nixon [which is also playing at TFF]. She’s very funny and wrote a book called My Parents Went Through the Holocaust and All I Got Out of It Was This Lousy T-Shirt. As soon as we had a shoot going, I had three interviews on Skype with people in LA, and she was one of them. I told her that I was looking for both a survivor that was okay with humor about the Holocaust and who wasn’t. And she was like, “I have the perfect person for you. Renee Firestone.” She said that Renee’s daughter Klara started Second Generation, Los Angeles, which is a support group. I Skyped with them and knew immediately that they were people I was going to follow. I was so interested because Renee’s not just concerned about the Holocaust. She’s concerned about genocides worldwide.
DP Did Renee talk about her experiences in the Holocaust to you?
FP: Well, Renee speaks about the Holocaust all the time. She’s pretty open about it. She is 92 and tells some of the stories repeatedly because she goes to schools and museums. At 89, she went with the Shoah Foundation in Rwanda to counsel survivors there. She’s an anti-genocide activist and to me that’s the way the word gets out. If you go broader than your own personal tragedy.
RE: That it is only one part of her life. She’s a pretty remarkable woman, even if she wasn’t a survivor. She’s writing a memoir and she asked me to read it because I’m a writer. I read it and the part that about her experience in the death camp is very short. Most of her book is about her life before and after, about coming to the U.S. and becoming a fashion designer and it’s a fascinating story. The Holocaust is just a small part of it. I mean, it’s the heaviest part. When I read that I thought, “Wow, she’s got such a broad view.” Some people who went through something like that can’t stop thinking about that time in the camp every second of every day and Renee’s able to think about her whole life.
FP: That reminds me of your father’s experience in Vietnam, after being in that famous battle that’s in the Mel Gibson movie We Were Soldiers.
RE: There were guys in his unit who never got over that battle and my father got tired of hearing it. He moved on and did other things. Not to malign it, it was the Holocaust. Of course it’s the most traumatic experience of one’s life but I was shocked that Renee saw it in the context of everything else and didn’t write four hundred pages just about Auschwitz.
DP: When you approached Renee originally, what did you say to her?
FP: I was very honest about her role in the movie and she was very easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor. She and her daughter together–immediately I got a great dynamic. I could have done a film just on their relationship.
DP: What about getting everyone else? Did you meet resistance from people who said, ‘That’s a terrible topic.”
FP: It was very hard. Nobody said that but they were just like, ‘We’re not interested.” Nobody wanted to be in the first one to say yes. So a lot of comedians said ‘no’ and some of them we eventually got.
RE: We weren’t connected in the comedy community. It wasn’t like we had a Rolodex and could just call up people.
FP: We had that original connection to David Steinberg, and a woman that works with him as a co-producer and a casting person came on to help us. She’s a co-producer of the film and she helped us with contacts. Between that and Bob’s agent and manager at CAA Brillstein at the time, we were able to start. What happened was, Bob’s agent called up Rob Reiner and said, “You want to be in this film?” And he said, “Sure, I’ll do an interview a week from Wednesday.” So, we went from just having a check in the bank to having to mobilize a crew in Los Angeles and come up with other things to shoot during the week we’d be there. Just having Rob Reiner alone brought us so much respectability. Based on that, we got Susie Essman and Harry Shearer. Then Susie Essman told us, “When you’re in New York, you have to film Alan Zweibel and Rosalind Wyman,” the NBC censor who’s also a second generation.
DP: You got Rob Reiner and through him Carl Reiner. And Mel Brooks?
FP: Mel was harder because he gets a lot of offers. But in the end, Michael Gruskoff, who was a very good friend of his and the producer of Young Frankenstein, convinced him.  In the same way, Mel Brooks convinced Sarah Silverman to do it. It was very hard to get her because she’s so insulated.
DP: Did you have a checklist of comedians you were going after?
FP: It wasn’t a checklist so much as three or four people that we knew we had to have in the movie. We knew we had to have Mel and Sarah. Those two were right at the top. We felt the same way about Joan Rivers, and she was one of the first people to say yes but being the most busy person at the time, and it was just impossible to get her. We finally tragically did have a date set with her but it was a week and a half after she had passed. We worked very hard to keep her in the film, to keep her presence there and I think it’s very poignant now.
DP: Did you find that comics had discussions about this topic with each other?
FP: The benefit of having so many years to think about it and process it was that so many things come up. One was a conference of comedians on taboo humor and they spoke about the Holocaust. And there had been a podcast with Lisa Lampanelli and Marc Maron and a couple of people talking about it. There was overlap with some of the people and things that came up. The discussion of taboo humor has become so much more relevant in the last few years that I even think the response to my film is going to be different than it would have been five years ago, or ten years ago for sure. I think people would have been angry and protested just hearing what the topic was. Now I think we’re living in a society where people are talking about satire, about tragic things.
RE: While we’ve been making the film, the issue of what’s off limits has moved much more to the forefront of people’s minds. As time passes, the Holocaust or the Spanish Inquisition become approachable as a topic for humor and satire. Other things are way too sensitive. It’s hard to joke about abortion, it’s hard to joke about 9/11, it’s hard to joke about AIDS.
DP: I get upset when people joke about Karen Carpenter and anorexia. And it’s very upsetting that when Donald Trump mocks the handicapped that’s considered acceptable.
RE: It’s unconscionable.
FE: The last I heard, it was unacceptable. It’s bizarre.
DP: So having made this movie do you think there should still be taboos in comedy?
FE: As the editor of the film, there were some things I left out. So I have a line.
RE: There’s debate and conversation but as Ferne says, it’s all about context: who says the joke, when they say it, where they say it, how they say it. It’s not a bright line all the time.
DP: Would Renee laugh at the same joke being told by a Christian?
FP: This may be controversial for me to say but I always wondered if Life is Beautiful had come out and he was Jewish would it have had a different reaction with survivors. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s just atime issue. There’s a comedy right now in Germany called Look Who’s Back.
RE: It’s a satire about Hitler reappearing in Germany in the present day. I don’t think you could have made that movie twenty years ago.
FP: I think that it does matter who says it. I think that’s a huge part of it, who makes the joke.
DP: There’s also a distinction between making fun of Nazi soldiers and even Hitler out of the context of the concentration camp element. We’ve always seen Nazis portrayed as buffoons and that’s always been acceptable–but finding humor in the Holocaust is, according to some, stepping over the line.
RE: That was one of the first distinctions we began to uncover when we were first researching the film and talking to people. It’s in the film and it’s interesting. At the same time, other people challenge that distinction. Gilbert Gottfried challenged it because he says, “If you’re talking about Nazis you are talking about the Holocaust.” Mel Brooks makes that distinction also, although he makes the joke in To Be or Not to Be about the Nazi who is proud he’s called “Concentration Camp” Ehrhardt. I know it’s a remake, but still.
DP: The original, Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be, which is one of my all time favorite movies, got some really lousy reviews. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times criticized it, saying, “They’ll do anything for a laugh.”
RE: But now it’s considered a classic seventy years later, so time changes our perspective on that.
DP: “Anything for a laugh.” How much do you go along with that? Is that what your film is about?
FP: I don’t think so.
DP: I don’t mean that your film does anything for a laugh, but that it presents a discussion of that topic.
FP: Absolutely.
RE: A number of people in the film talk about using prurient line for a laugh and for shock value as opposed to taking on a controversial subject in a way that illuminates it. Which is different. This is a film that deals with bad taste. That’s the topic of the film but Ferne has made a film that’s in goodtaste. We’re not trying to shock people. This film is not a comedy even though it deals with comedy and has funny things in it. It’s an examination of this issue.
FP: This was a struggle in the editing process for me. When people would ask, ‘What’s your film about?,’ if I said “Humor in the Holocaust,” they would blanch. Understandably. If that same person saw a rough cut and heard all the jokes, it wouldn’t be as shocking. They’re going in expecting to be even more shocked but seventy years have gone by. You know Mel Brooks. You know Larry David. So you’re not shocked by what they say. It wasn’t until we were able to tie it together with modern day taboos that are touching them now that we could make it gel.
RE: Like when Louis CK was on SNL last year and made a joke about child molestation. People sat up and took notice. They were upset. That’s still hitting a raw nerve.
DP: Similarly, on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David invited a child molester to Thanksgiving so he could get golf tips.
RE: There are still things that are sensitive. There’s no doubt. As you said, it’s also who says it. If a Neo Nazi tells a joke, it’s punching down. The same joke told by a Jewish person can feel self-deprecating. You understand that it’s within that community. It’s not an attack. It’s not ridiculing. They tell the same joke but when the Jewish person tells it, it’s a completely different joke.
DP: Similarly, do you think when the Jewish Sarah Silverman tells her joke in the movie, what makes it okay to a listener is that we realize that underneath it all there is some pain in her?
RE: Oh, yeah. Although we can’t speak for her.
FP: One of the lines that didn’t make it into the movie was when Rob Reiner said it helps to have pain.
RE: The question Ferne asked him was, ‘Do you have to be Jewish to make these jokes?’ And he said, “It helps. It helps to have pain.”
DP: You start the film with these words: “Whoever has cried enough, laughs.” What does that line mean to you? Why is it there at the beginning.
FP: I feel like it was there as an indicator to the audience to say, “This is what we’re embracing in the film but also, it’s okay to laugh in this context.” Audiences when they first saw cuts of the film were worried about laughing. I wanted to give them permission and assure the that this is a safe place to laugh.
DP: That word “safe” is really important I think. There’s a safety element in your film. Viewers should feel safe enough to not be like that woman Renee meets at a survivors gathering. I love the scene where cheery Renee takes an indoor gondola ride with that very grumpy survivor. They are both such Jewish “types”–being Jewish, I’ve known many women like both of them.
FE: Ellie will be with Renee at the premiere. They just met in the film and don’t know each other very well. In fairness to her–Renee came from a very nice family. She had a great family life before, lived with Jews and nonJews, and then her life dramatically changed. Ellie was born in Romania. From the day she was born, she was spit on. She was already living in a hated environment. She doesn’t have any happy memory to look back on. So it went from bad to worse. So on the surface it seems like Renee has such a good spirit. I believe she was born with that spirit but at the same time she had the luck of happy memories and she can compartmentalize it as a bad place. She will tell you that people are good. She doesn’t think that all people are bad and you’d better watch out.
RE: Renee had advantages. Genetic advantages. Cultural and financial advantages. She is a naturally resilient person.
DP: What is your reaction when you see footage of Jews in concentration camps performing for the Nazis, as with the orchestra. When you edited that, how do you feel?
Ferne: Well, I was shocked. Now I’ve seen it hundreds of times. It actually made me feel really good. To me, knowing that there was humor in the camps was my okay for what we’re talking about. If anybody blanched, I could say, “You know,  Jewish people were entertaining in the camps. Doing everything from cabarets to joke telling to pantomime.” Deb, the woman who performs in Las Vegas, is a second generation. She had this one woman show about her father, about his going to Auschwitz. She became her father in the show and he was funny and he told jokes in the camp and his line was, “If you were funny before the camps, you were funny in the camps.” It makes sense. If you are a person that tells jokes or has a sense of humor, that doesn’t go away.  We also hear Robert Clary’s funny stories, knowing what he went through [that he was the only member of his large family not to perish in the camps]. I am in awe.
DP: There is a line in your movie: “Laughter is the only weapon in the ghetto.” Were you seeing laughter as a weapon?
RE: Etgar Keret [Israeli author who a child of survivors] says it a weapon of the weak because when you don’t have anything else to fight with, you fight with that.
FP: David Steinberg talks about it being a weapon but says it didn’t stop the Nazis from killing the Jews. For your morale and getting through day to day, I think it is a weapon.
RE: It is a coping mechanism.
DP: The important word you mentioned earlier is time. Time makes things easier to handle.
RE: I don’t know if that’s a good thing. In the movie, Susie and others talk about the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody bats an eye, it was five hundred years ago but it was beyond horrible. In five hundred years will the Holocaust be that anecdotal? If it is, we’ve really lost something.
FP: One of the things I was hoping to do with this film was find a way to get a younger generation to relate to this and think about it and who won’t just write it off because it was so long ago. It’s a way to teach them while they can be entertained in a way that’s more interesting to them.
RE: There’s a kind of Holocaust fatigue. You can’t see any more black and white footage with a cello score in a minor key as Woody Allen jokes. When Night and Fog came out [in 1955] and we first saw what happened in the concentration camps, it was powerful. Now, it has become almost a cliché. So there are new ways of approaching it. Humor is one of them.

"One More Time," Robert Edwards Talks About His Two Stars Christopher Walken and Amber Heard

Playing in Theaters

One More Time,  Robert  Edwards Talks About His Two Stars, Christopher Walken and Amber Heard 

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 4/7/16)

Amber Heard and Christopher Walken at the piano in "One More Time."
Amber Heard and Christopher Walken at the piano in “One More Time.”
By Danny Peary
“One More Time” fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor. Indeed, Robert Edwards’ smart, witty, tender-with-an-edge ensemble piece, which on Friday opens in theaters nationwide, including the AMC Empire 25 in New York City, is a natural to play here because it was shot in the Hamptons. Actually it begins with Jude (Amber Heard) fleeing New York City for her childhood home in Southampton, where her father, one-time-star Paul Lombard (one of Christopher Walken’s best roles in years), lives with his unlikable new wife, Lucille (Ann Magnusen).
Kelli Garner as Corinne.
Kelli Garner as Corinne.
Jude is a talented singer-songwriter but since her punk band broke up she has been reduced to singing commercial jingles and can’t afford her rent. Paul and Jude’s kindly business manager, Alan (Oliver), one of many older men with whom the promiscuous thirty-year-old has had one-nighter’s, tries to get her work but she is too irresponsible to follow through.   She blames her misfortune on her equally irresponsible father, an oft-married, egocentric crooner who is trying to make a comeback. Once home, she and Paul, although they love each other, resume their decades-long, ego-damaging verbal sparring. Also she tries to put up with her righteous younger sister, Corinne (Kelli Garner), who has the husband, Jude’s ex-boyfriend Tim (Hamish Linklater), and child that could have been hers. Although she’s back home, Jude is lost, feeling rootless and directionless, with only her music to combat her self-pity and self-destructive streak. Fortunately, music is a powerful force. In anticipation of its Friday’s release in theaters and On-Demand, I had this conversation with writer-director Edwards.
Robert Edwards filming "One More Time."
Robert Edwards filming “One More Time.”
Danny Peary: I learned from the press notes that you “served six and a half years as an infantry and intelligence officer in the US Army,” and as “a captain in a parachute regiment in Iraq during the first Gulf War.”   I assume that background came into play when you directed the ambitious political film,Land of the Blind, and wrote several serious screenplays, including The Bomb in the Garden. But what about with One More Time? My guess is that the genesis of the film was simply your saying to yourself, “I love music so I’d like to make a movie about music.”
Robert Edwards: It was definitely a departure from the stuff that I normally write, and especially the stuff that I get hired to write for other people. I had the idea several years ago and wrote the script during a brief window when my wife, Ferne Pearlstein, was out of town on a shoot of her own and I had some rare free time and no writing obligations. I had no commercial expectations for it whatsoever; in fact, I didn’t even show the script to my agent or manager for a few years. It was a real pleasure to write without any concern for anything but the story, and having the luxury of letting it go wherever it wanted to. Which meant having some long, talky scenes, and letting it meander at times the way real life does; and putting several dinner table scenes in the first act—things that are a little bit unconventional and you might avoid if you are worried about following the usual rules.
DP: Joe McGinty did the original music. When did he become part of the project?
RE: The lyrics for the main song, “When I Live My Life Over Again” were in the original script because their content is directly related to the subject matter, but there was no music for it at that point. When we went into pre-production one of our producers, Lucas Joaquin, suggested Joe McGinty to write the music, which I immediately endorsed because I have been a longtime fan of Joe and the Losers Lounge, the bimonthly revue he leads at Joe’s Pub in New York. Joe is an amazing composer, producer, bandleader and performer and just a great guy. (By sheer coincidence, his wife Amy Hobby is one of the producers of my wife Ferne’s new documentary The Last Laugh.)
DP: When Christopher Walken’s over-the-hill crooner, Paul Lombard, sings the song about a third of the way through the movie, telling the family that it’s central to his comeback bid, I expected it to be deliberately trite, indicating Paul’s time has truly past. But it turns out to be a really well written, melodious song, one that should be added to his canon. It turns out that you cowrote it. I know that when One More Time played at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival is was titled When I Live My Life Over Again, the same as the song title, but did you write the song specifically for the movie?
RE: Thanks. Yes, I wrote the lyrics as part of the original script. The sentiment of the song directly relates to Paul’s storyline, and it was meant to be in his idiom as a big band crooner. But I also knew that the song had to do triple duty: the version he debuts for the family; the fully orchestrated big band version that was arranged by Joe and our saxophonist Mike McGinnis; and lastly, the kind of jazzy, melancholy piano version that Jude sings late in the movie, which is a radical re-imagination of the song and reflects her character and her arc.
DP: That song is of course about Paul but it turns out that it also relates to his daughter, Amber Heard’s struggling singer-songwriter Jude. In part your film is about a bunch of characters trapped by the past, so when writing the song, did you think it was about Paul, Paul and Jude, or about everyone?
RE: Initially it was just about Paul, but as the script evolved and I realized I wanted to have Jude singing a fragment of it—in her own, very different way—I naturally began thinking about how it applied to her. Of course, it applies to all of us, really. We all have regrets and would like to have a “do-over.” I think the inspiration came from my mother talking to me about time passing, and this irrational feeling we sometimes have: “Oh, I’ll do it differently next time.”
DP: To me, Paul and Jude are both exasperating characters who keep repeating their mistakes and being, irresponsibly, their own worst enemies. Do you see them as being the same or are there significant differences between them?
RE: I think they are more alike than either wants to admit, especially Jude. I think she is in denial about how much she is like her father, which is a difficult thing for her to face given how much she blames him and his behavior for her problems. She inherited his talent, but also his self-destructiveness. Paul—for all his egotism and adolescent behavior—has the benefit of wisdom that comes with age, and is a lot more self-aware than anyone, including Jude, gives him credit for.
DP: Jude keeps doing things that push us away. In fact, in one scene, I thought that if she did one particular thing I couldn’t forgive her. Do you want us to just observe her or still sympathize with and root for her?
RE: I’d like the audience to be on her side and be sympathetic toward her, even if she does maddening, self-sabotaging things. But even if they don’t feel sympathy for her, I hope they find her and her story interesting enough to stay engaged. My general rule is that characters don’t have to be likable, they just have to be compelling. (See Walter White in Breaking Bad.)
DP: One of the reasons I continued to like Jude is that she is so knowledgeable about music, present and past, including Nina Simone, who was from another generation. Why were you compelled to make this part of her?
RE: I think it’s a valid part of who she is: she’s a genuine fan who is steeped in music history and loves these artists and knows their work inside out. She has plenty of flaws, but being a poseur is not one of them. I also liked the idea that Jude is a devotee of Nina Simone (she even has a Nina tattoo on her shoulder blade), but we don’t hear a Nina song until the end of the movie, and when we do it’s a pretty obscure one.
DP: You have a terrific soundtrack with everyone from Nina Simone to the Flaming Lips to Christopher and Amber singing together. Will it be available to us?
RE: Sadly, no. There has been a lot of clamor for a soundtrack but legal issues prevent it. Maybe down the road.
DP: In the movie, you point out that Frank Sinatra, a crooner and part-time rock star, carried Nancy Sinatra when they did a hit duet, “Something Stupid.” My memory is that everything Nancy touched turned to gold at that time and she was the one who gave him re-entry onto the charts. It wasn’t the same as Amber encouraging her father to make a comeback because Frank Sinatra didn’t need a comeback, but Nancy was actually the bigger star with the younger set at that time. It was like Paul introducing himself to Flaming Lips fans, by being their opening act.
RE: That’s funny. I’m sure you’re right that at the time, 1967, Nancy was having hits and Frank was yesterday’s news, for the moment. But just vocally he always sounded to me like he was overpowering her. Which was part of the inspiration for this script.
DP: Paul keeps telling Jude not to blame his being a lousy father for all her problems. We do blame him to a large degree and understand why she turned out as unsettled as she is, but do you think she’d be better off if, as he argues, she didn’t use his poor fathering as a crutch, or excuse, for her inability to move forward in life?
RE: I think they’re both right, which is something I really wanted. It’s much more interesting to me when both parties in an argument make valid points and the situation isn’t clear cut. I do think we sometimes look for people to blame our troubles on. Ironically, when there is some truth in the assignment of blame it can make it all too easy to use that as a rationalization or an excuse, rather than facing those parts of our problems that are our own fault.
DP: In your talks with your lead actors about their characters, my guess is that Christopher and you were in almost total agreement about Paul, but that Amber knew even more about Jude than you did.
RE: From our very first meeting it was obvious to me that Amber had a very clear understanding of the character, which is what made me absolutely trust her with it. Good actors almost always bring new and interesting things to their parts that are not in the script, or even in the subtext. That’s part of what is valuable about their contribution, and that was certainly true in Amber’s case.
DP: Talk about the tone of this movie. It reminded me a little of the scenes in Five Easy Pieces when Nicholson returns home.
RE: The tone was one of the things that I was most concerned with and was the trickiest to achieve. I didn’t want the movie to be entirely comic or entirely dramatic; we were striving for that balance between the two that approximates real life but which rarely cleaves neatly into one or the other. Likewise, it had to be funny without being overly broad, and poignant without slipping into bathos. All very hard to pull off. I think the dynamic of adult children returning home and how they relate to their parents and their past is something many people can relate to. Five Easy Pieces is a high standard; if we even approached that level, I would be very flattered and pleased indeed. (We did serve nothing but chicken salad sandwiches during the shoot, hold the chicken.)
DP: I see your movie being about characters seeking approval and appreciation and dealing with rejection—and in some cases, assuring rejection. Do you agree or are there other themes more paramount?
RE: I think that’s a very valid way to look at the movie. Paul is almost childlike (or childish) in his need for acclaim and affirmation from audiences and fans and critics. Jude’s need for appreciation is more personal, but she certainly doesn’t get it from her father in the way that she needs. Neither does her sister Corinne. I really liked the idea of a story of two sisters, each of whom thinks the other one is their father’s favorite.
DP: Talk about Corrine, played with a little suppressed heartache by Kelli Garner. She seems to hang around their father just so he’ll finally notice her rather than the high-maintenance Jude. Is she an underrated person?
RE: Corinne presented both a challenge and an opportunity, and she’s one of my favorite parts of the film. She’s a familiar type—the straight arrow, somewhat uptight sister of the main character—so she could easily slip into caricature. My hope was to turn that to our advantage through a kind of jiu jitsu: to present Corinne initially as this two-dimensional stereotype so that the audience would quickly assume they had her pegged. Then, having lulled them into that false presumption, I wanted to surprise them by revealing unexpected layers of vulnerability and hurt in her. Kelli Garner handled that beautifully; she is a super talented actress who really soared with a difficult part. In fact, my editors were both self-described “Corinne types” and such fans of that character and Kelli’s performance that I had to restrain them from tilting the movie too much in Team Corinne’s favor.
DP: And what about Oliver Pratt’s character, Alan, the only character who seems to be truly good and not at all selfish? What is his role in the film?
RE: Yes, it’s funny: I tried my best to make all the characters as three-dimensional and complex as possible and give them all moments when they behave nobly and other moments when they behave badly. Which I think is true of all of them except Alan, who is pretty much a decent fella all the time. (Not counting his long-ago tryst with Jude, but that’s backstory.) That may be because he is technically not a member of the Lombard family—or married into it, like Tim—but rather a trusted outsider tasked with riding herd on this dysfunctional bunch.
DP: There is a lot of subtlety in this film. But what struck me is that your cast seemed to “get it,” and be acting in unison. How much did you talk over with them before and during filming?
RE: We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time—almost none, in fact. But this was such a strong bunch of professionals that we didn’t need a lot of discussion. They all instinctively understood the family dynamic, and their respective characters’ roles in it.
DP: You assembled a great cast. Talk about casting them—were you writing with Walken, Heard, and the others in mind? Were there auditions?
RE: I almost never write with actors in mind; I just don’t think that way. Once the script is done I start thinking about who could embody the roles. Walken was perfect because on the page Paul can read as pretty harsh, so whoever played him had to bring a certain amount charm and charisma or the audience would turn on the character. But with Chris we had almost the opposite problem. He has so much charm that in early cuts of the film the test audiences were willing to forgive Paul everything, just because people love Christopher Walken. Which was very true to the character, who has coasted through life getting away with a lot more than the average mortal could. So we had to make some surgical adjustments to restore the balance and make it more of a fair fight between Paul and Jude. Of the main cast only the boy, Henry Kelemen, auditioned. Children are very hard to cast and I really wanted someone for the part of David, Tim and Corrine’s son, who felt like a real kid and not a supernaturally precocious, smarter-than-the-adults sitcom kid. In real life, most children are awkward and unsure of themselves and not quip machines, and Henry is a very talented young actor who brought that naturalism in spades.
DP: Which did you like best, the two character scenes or those with everyone gathered together?
RE: Both are near and dear to me. But I am especially fond of the big dinner table scenes, with everyone talking at once and the overlapping dialogue and the family being bored with Paul’s war stories of showbiz and life on the road and hanging out with the Beatles and such. Those scenes were deceptively hard in every way: hard to plan, hard to shoot, hard to edit. So I have a special fondness for them.
DP: I don’t want you to give away the ending, but do you see the film as hopeful or has nothing changed by the end?
RE: I think it is modestly hopeful in the end, at least as far as Jude is concerned. Paul’s ending is a bit more melancholy, with his being in the twilight of his life and looking back on the mistakes he’s made, and trying to help his children avoid repeating them. (Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have much credibility with them.) That said, I didn’t want to tie everything up in a neat little bow, which to me often feels fake, and not at all the way life is.
DP: Where in the Hamptons did you film your movie?
RE: Most of it—including the main house that served as the Lombardi home, and most of the surrounding scenes—was filmed in Shinnecock, near Southampton. We filmed some other scenes in East Hampton, Amagansett, Riverhead, and Quogue. It was very fitting to be out there in the wintry off-season, which fit the tone of the movie. During shooting all of us in the crew actually lived in the motel where you see Paul having his extramarital affair in the film. It’s called the Bentley but we renamed it the Seabreeze and made our own signs. It’s located about a mile from the house. It’s closed in the off-season, so we took it over for five weeks. It was a real “camp” atmosphere, because all anyone had time to do was work and then go back to the Bentley and drink beer.
DP: Your wife Ferne Pearlstein served as producer on One More Time. She directed the feature documentary, The Last Laugh, which will be playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this April. You cowrote that script with her. Talk about your working relationship over the years, especially when you’re working on different projects at the same time.
RE: Ferne and I both went into the documentary film program at Stanford; we met when I hired her to shoot a documentary I was working on back in 1998. The first thing we really did together was her feature documentary, Sumo East and West (2003), about East-West culture clash viewed through foreigners in the world of sumo. Ever since then we’ve worked on each other’s projects. Usually one of us produces while the other one directs.
The Last Laugh has been a passion project of hers since even before I knew her and has finally come to fruition. It is having its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18th and will be on the festival circuit after that ahead of national and international distribution (we hope). It’s about taboos in humor and what’s on and off limits, proceeding from the premise that the Holocaust would seem to be the ultimate off-limits topic. It features interviews with Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Susie Essman, Larry Charles, Harry Shearer, and many others. I produced it and am very proud of it.
DP: What is next for you?
RE: My new project is an adaptation of The Bomb in My Garden, the memoir of the chief scientist in Saddam Hussein’s uranium enrichment program. It’s with Johnny Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil, and we hope to start shooting in the new year.
DP: What are the plans for One More Time?
RE: It comes out theatrically and digitally this Friday April 8th. As they say, please check local listings for a theater near you, or a digital platform anywhere….
Please take a look at the One More Time trailer:https://www.dropbox.com/s/p2vzcl5rb5ooyqk/ONEMORETIME_TRLR_falcoink.mov?dl=0
If you’re looking for the perfect baseball book for yourself or the nicest person you know: http://www.amazon.com/Jackie-Robinson-Quotes-Remarkable-Significant/dp/1624142443/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459995208&sr=1-1&keywords=jackie+robinson+in+quotes

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Gavin Hood Talk About "Eye in the Sky"

Playing in Theaters

Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Gavin Hood Talk About Eye in the Sky

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 3/11/16)

Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky.
Following its red carpet premiere Wednesday night, Gavin Hood’s white-knuckle political thriller Eye in the Sky officially opens in New York City and elsewhere this weekend. Helen Mirren slipped into military garb to play Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK-based commanding officer who wants to order a drone strike on a house in Nairobi, Kenya before the major terrorists who are inside depart. With time running out, her commanding officer, Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman’s last role), is elsewhere in a stuffy conference room trying to convince skeptical British diplomats of the legality of the strike. When it is obvious that one of the terrorists is about to go into a highly populated area wearing a suicide vest, it looks like the missile strike will get clearance from British and Americans at the highest level.
eyeintheskyposter
But when a little girl starts selling bread outside the house, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), the drone pilot who sits in a bunker in Nevada, refuses to launch the missile until a new collateral damage assessment is done and there is less chance the girl will be harmed. When watching this exciting, provocative movie, you may find yourself rooting for something you were against when you entered the theater. And afterward, you will be eager to engage in healthy debate about whether drone strikes are ever justified. This is the rare recent movie that encourages thinking, and that’s surely a good thing. On Wednesday afternoon, I participated in a press conference at the Towers of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Present were Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Gavin Hood. I actually got the ask the first questions but since they were about the climax of the movie, I moved them and the responses by Mirren, Paul, and Hood to the end of the following (edited) transcript, as a SPOILER ALERT section. The questions that come before my part were asked by other journalists.
Q: Helen, you have many scenes in the movie where Colonel Powell is trying to convince Aaron’s drone pilot Steve Watts to deploy the missile on the house with the terrorists and scenes where you speak to your commander [Lieutenant General Frank Benson] played by Alan Rickman.   But you were never physically on the same set with Aaron or Alan Rickman.   However, since you all filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, did you get to see each other?
Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman
Helen Mirren: No, I didn’t get to see Alan and I hardly got to see Aaron. Gavin shot all of my stuff first, and then I went away and Aaron came, so at least we crossed paths for one night. And then Aaron went away and Alan’s general and the actors who played the politicians came in. It was in that order. And, Gavin, you shot the stuff on the ground last of all, is that correct?
Gavin Hood: Yeah, unfortunately, because it is completely the wrong way to do it. But because of budgets, shooting, and schedules go, in filmmaking you start with your perfect plan and then there’s the reality of “When’s Helen available?” You just get in there with your actors and to the credit of these two, they gave great performances although they didn’t have footage of the people they talk to, including each other, in front of them–they had green screens in front of them.
HM: But we had a director who knew exactly what he was going to shoot and had it very well planned so he could talk it through.
Q: It turns out that this is Alan Rickman’s last film.
(Left to right) Gavin Hood, Helen Mirren, and Aaron Paul at press conference
(Left to right) Gavin Hood, Helen Mirren, and Aaron Paul at press conference
HM: I think Alan would be incredibly proud of this movie. I think he is very proud of this movie, let’s put it that way. I think that if he looked at his canon of work, and it’s been great work his whole life, I think if he had the chance to choose what would be his last movie, I’m convinced he would point to this movie. What I love about it is that the Alan you see up on the screen is Alan. He was brilliant as Snape and in all of the character roles he often played. But that is Alan. The elegance, the wit, the formidable nature of him, the humanity of him. We have Alan up on the screen and I think that’s such a great thing for his last movie.
Q: To both actors: where you drawn to your parts because of what is happening in the world regarding drones?
Aaron Paul: This story took me there. The first time I talked to Gavin he had such a specific vision of the story he wanted to tell. He wanted to make it a very honest, human story, and that’s what this film is. It takes you to the front line of terrorism and drone warfare, but it gives you an inside look at these characters and really humanizes them. I wasn’t very familiar with the drone warfare. But when doing this film I talked to a drone expert. I did spend a lot of time with him from the moment the Nevada bunker was built on the sound stage in Cape Town. Before we started shooting, we would go there and spend hours a day in that bunker and I really learning how to fly these drones. He would call out orders behind Phoebe Fox [who played Watt’s sympathetic assistant pilot] and me and say to do this and do that. I mean, the pressure was on, because I didn’t want to look like an idiot. I wanted to feel like I was actually flying these things, and you really put yourself in that position. It is a crazy idea that you are in the safety of a bunker in Nevada, while flying something very dangerous in another country. He told me about how these guys can fly four drones at once. I had no idea that they can control more than one at once. At times he could have a drone in Kenya or a drone in Australia. I didn’t realize that part of it. He has seen the film and he is very proud of it.
HM: I was drawn to this film because of the amazing script [by Guy Hibbert, the writer of Mirren’s acclaimed TV series, Prime Suspect]. The film that you see, it’s so true in filmmaking. If it’s on the page, it’s on the screen, and with this movie it was absolutely on the page. It was a beautifully written, constructed, has an interesting issue that it deals with in a very interesting and humane way. Like Aaron, I didn’t really know very much about drone warfare but we were all on the learning curve with this one, and regarding the research that Guy had done, and then Gavin had done, we all learned a lot. I had no idea of the technology. I had no idea that these kinds of operations are conducted in the way that they are with all of these checks and balances, and I thought, “You know what? That’s a good advertisement for democracy.” It’s not bad that people go into these kinds of operations with their consciences and an awareness of legality and political issues; and I thought it was fascinating how so many voices are involved. Every second counts, which is how the film ratchets up with the tension.
Q: Colonel Powell fits in with the strong female characters you’ve been playing recently, so I wonder if you worry about type casting? Do people simply think of you whenever they need somebody strong and able to take charge?
HM: I love that. If that’s how I’m typecast, I’m very happy with that, thank you very much.
Q: Gavin, I understand Colonel Powell was originally a male character. Did you think that making the character female would add more feeling to the part?
GH: Yes. I never told Helen until after the film was made that Powell was originally a male. Helen, I think you only found out when I mentioned it in some interview.
HM: Yes. Yes. Yes. And I’m going, “You were so bad.”
GH: In the original script the character was written for a man and I don’t judge Guy Hibbert for doing that. There are many, many men doing this work and there are women doing this work, but frankly at this point there are more men than women doing military work.
AP: I’m not sure if that’s true for younger people in the military.
GH: Yes, more and more women are going into these roles. We did research, because I didn’t want to put Helen Mirren into a role that women wouldn’t be in. We specifically put her in the military intelligence branch. She could be commanding this operation if she was a Colonel in the Army, but military intelligence, we honed it so that it would be correct for a woman to be in this role.  It could have been a man, so why change it to a woman? Well, a couple of things. I have twins, one’s a boy, one’s a girl, and I loathe seeing my little girl ever feeling that she can’t do whatever she wants. Also, frankly, I would like the ethical and legal and policy questions that this film raises to be discussed by all of us.  We are moving into an age of greater automation in warfare. More and more women are in positions of power. We may have a female President, other countries do. So I didn’t want to make it a guys’ war movie and exclude or discourage half my audience from coming. So from a commercial point of view, I thought I could have it both ways. Helen Mirren is the lead and truthfully I flatter her but it’s true that while I’m reading the script I’m thinking, who plays this Colonel? As I did with the character played by Alan Rickman. Who plays this Colonel and gives the audience a fully fleshed out character despite the fact that it’s written so economically?  We’re trying to drive forward with a plot. This is not a character-driven film, and yet every character has to feel fully human. So you just want the actors that can give you as much as possible. I’m glad, thankful really, that Helen and Aaron both agreed to do this movie.
HM: I agree with Gavin’s point that the discussion of the issues becomes broader with a woman as the Colonel. Would a woman make those decisions? I don’t think that’s in the discussion at all. It’s more that we are all in this together, so we women can’t sit back and say, “Oh, typical men, you know.” I think having it be a woman is a very good device just to broaden the discussion and bring us all into the discussion.
Q: Did you meet with anyone who helped you play your character?
HMI didn’t meet up with an actual female Colonel, but we did have a military advisor on the set.
GH: A military intelligence officer who knows exactly what’s going on. He talked to us about targeting and he was in fact a military intelligence officer in a targeting unit that had targeted over Libya of all places.
HM: Yes, and he was with us all the time and he was absolutely invaluable. I think the thing that surprised me the most was how obsessed the military personnel are with what they’re wearing.
GH: Well, he felt responsible about making sure that we didn’t get anything wrong
HM: Like how your sleeves have to be rolled up.
AP: Oh, yeah. He was so specific.
HM: And your belt buckle has to be here, not there, it’s got to be here; and your cap has to be folded exactly like this and put here and only so much of it can show. They’re absolutely obsessed with the details.
GH: You once expressed why you thought that they did that. You said that if that’s what you have to wear every day and you’re not allowed to change it up, then you get very obsessed with it being just so.
Q: Could each of you say what was the key to understanding your character psychologically in terms of motivation?
HM: I never really think of motivation, honestly. If it’s on the page I do it.
AP: Exactly, if it’s on the page you have something great to work with. When you read this script, your heart starts to beat a little bit faster and you’re really just inside this world, and the moment you start watching this movie your hands start to clam up and you’re into it. And to repeat myself, it just humanizes everything. For instance, with Alan Rickman’s character, before he goes to work he’s buying a toy for his grandkid and after doing his work he completely forgets about work and thinks of the kid. This is just their day-to-day, and that’s what really drew me to this film.
GH: Alan’s character compartmentalizes. Will Aaron’s drone pilot be able to compartmentalize his life the same way Alan’s has? I don’t know what he will decide to do. It’s ambiguous. I don’t even know if he knows in that moment, and that’s okay. Alan Rickman’s character knows and psychologists know that only the drone pilots who learn to compartmentalize, survive. The other 30 percent don’t. Is it good to compartmentalize? Maybe it’s terrible. But if you don’t, you can’t do this job.
Q: Gavin, have you gotten feedback from Somalians or anybody that might have been a little sensitive to the subject matter?
GH: That’s a great question and I’ll give you the best answer I can, which is that all the actors in the movie that play the Somalians are Somalian refugees who were running from al-Shabaab, having come to Cape Town. For example, the man who plays the father of the little girl, and the woman who is her mother, are married. She’s a singer. His brother was shot by al-Shabaab, and they walked for three months. We think coming from Mexico to the States is far–try walking from Somalia all the way to the Southern tip of Africa, going through five countries. There are thousands of refugees in Cape Town, many of whom are applying for asylum in the United States. It begs the bigger global question of: “Do we take refugees in?” If we don’t, where do they go? And how will they feel about us? All of these questions are in the balance. The young little girl, Aisha Takow, is currently awaiting approval or disapproval of her asylum ratification to this country. The little girl selling the bread, and she’s not alone. The little boy who runs to fetch the bread, is her real life brother. Her real mother is a woman who buys bread from her, and the little girl with the green hijab is her sister. That little family has been through hell and is desperate never to be sent back to face al-Shabaab. In casting those roles, we went into the Somali community in Cape Town and we held open auditions. My wonderful casting director, a South African woman called Moonyeenn Lee, who has been there forever and who does an amazing job going into communities and looking for real people. I can tell you that we were in those communities. Many people, not just some, came in, looked at the script, looked at the pages we were talking about. I had to be honest with them about what the film was about, and when they heard it was in any way connected to al-Shabaab, boom and they were out the door. Mothers would take their kids and leave, not because they were pro al-Shabaab, but because there’s that much fear of him. The actors who chose to be in this film are brave. So we not only did we talk to Somali people, but also they’re in the movie. I don’t know if that answers the question.
Q: Helen, I know there is a huge refugee problem in the UK.
HM: Well, it’s a problem in many people’s minds, yes. Whether it actually is a problem is another matter. For millions of years, it seems to me, people have been traversing the globe and finding safety. That is the absolute natural human thing to do. We’re just obeying our perfectly natural human instincts and animal instincts if you like, but I mean, seems to me that, that is the history of human life, moving to a better place. My God, I’m part Viking, we’re all mixes–that’s the brilliance of DNA, isn’t it, that I can find–oh, my God–that I’ve got a little bit of Chinese in me. I think it’s exciting and wonderful, in a way. I know it comes out of tragedy and horror and that is something else, but there are beautiful things that come out of that.
GH: Some of us who were brought here came to a worse life, I hate to say. But we’re all immigrants in some ways.
Q: Helen, did your initial reaction to the moral dilemma raised in the film change as you got further into the process?
HM: Not change, but I got a deeper understanding of it. Definitely. I think when I first read the script, my reaction was that it was tough and I saw the Colonel as the villain of the piece, if you like.
GH: She may be, but not from her point of view.
HM: I agree. As I got deeper into it I started really understanding the issues and had a more global understanding of it. My attitude changed and I think now I would say that she does the right thing. It’s a terrible thing to say!
GH: And I’m not sure I would say that.
HM: It’s awful.
GH: There’s a great debate and that’s the point. What I love about Helen’s approach and Aaron’s approach is that they may not agree with me, but to me an actor’s job is to commit to the character that they are playing and get underneath that character’s skin. A director’s job is to try to understand multiple points of view. I need Aaron to get under the skin of that character, do the deep work. Helen, it’s fascinating to me. Helen has so studied this woman so that, Helen, you may be right about her.
HM: In terms of the world, appalling decisions that have to be made. I’m talking about the world rather than just her as a woman.
GH: I don’t want anyone to walk away with the impression that this film does represent what happens in every drone strike. Just so we all understand. This movie shows you how many players can be involved. It doesn’t mean that every time there’s a drone strike that many players are involved. Colonel Powell is compelled to go up a kill chain that you only go up and up if the situation is evolving in a way that is becoming more and more complex and has more and more political ramifications. So if you are in what we call a “defined conflict,” which essentially means Iraq, Afghanistan, the defined war zone where drone strikes are happening every day. A drone pilot, like Aaron’s Steve Watts, might be flying that mission tomorrow. He’s over Afghanistan, he’s watching with an eye. His on the ground forces are moving through an area of defined conflict and they’re being attacked by 25 Taliban and he goes, “Guys, guys, guys, I can see them over the hill.” And they say, “Can you take out the target?” And he says, “Yes.” So the rules of engagement already allow him to fire a missile. We’re in the conflict. We’re not in a friendly country with civilians selling bread. So he may only have to refer up to his Colonel, and someone like Helen’s Colonel Powell would say take him and be done without even picking up the damn phone.  So that’s her instinct. She runs the show. But in our film, she’s thinking, “I’ve got this frigging complication. I was supposed to do this, now I’ve got to go talk to these policy wonks to give me permission.”
AP: That’s because it changes from a capture to a kill.
GH: A kill, but not just a kill. A kill in the divine set of circumstances. So what Guy Hibbert and I wanted to do was present the most complex scenario in order to push it all the way up the kill chain. Maybe all drone strikes should still go up the chain of command. But they just wouldn’t have time, I’ve got to think so. I think you can pause this film at any point and spin off into multiple discussions. I hope that this film is just a contribution to the discussions. We don’t profess to tell anyone what to think. Whether we should be there is a great question. To that point the question people ask me is, “What do you think of drones and should we have drones or not?” Well, let’s ask the question. The drone is a tactical weapon recently invented. At the time the long bow was invented people objected to that, too. You’re shooting people from afar? How dare you, you coward! Every time a new weapon is invented there is a policy discussion. We need that policy discussion. Should we be using drones over Tribal Pakistan? Should we be intimidating a local population with surveillance 24/7 seven and with armed attacks happening every few weeks? Should it be okay that kids are afraid to go out and play if it’s a sunny day because drones can’t see you only on cloudy days? Should we be using a big strategy that turns that population against us? The drone is a tactical weapon. Should it be deployed in this way? Are we using it to better our overall objective of winning the hearts and minds of the population away from the streams of ideology? That when it has political fallout implications. It’s very interesting because I hasten to say that not everyone in the military has one point of view. There are people in the military who absolutely agree with the suggestion made here that drones are a really bad being, deployed really in a bad way. But their argument is not is a drone good or bad, it’s “Are we deploying this new weapon in a way that moves us forward or backwards?”–and you have to assess that situation by the situation.
HM: I think in many ways this film reminded me of a courtroom drama, only the audience is the jury. And then when you come out of the cinema, hopefully you go and have dinner or you go to a bar and you discuss it, and you talk about strategy. Is it correct, is it incorrect, should we, shouldn’t we? It throws it out, the film throws it out to the audience. And what I love about the film is it makes no decisions for you. it puts decisions in your lap.
Q: Helen and Aaron, when you saw the final cut of the film, what surprised you?
HM: I think the thing that surprised me was the wit in. It was the funniness, and I thought that is what makes the film ultimately palatable, because it’s a tough, difficult subject. It’s very tense but the humor makes it watchable. I think it’s fantastic in that way.
AP: Watching this film, I saw that it is a very human story and it puts an audience in these characters’ shoes. I’m not surprised by that–I knew that was going to be the case.
But the simple fact that I’m sharing a screen with Helen Mirren, you know, it’s out of control–it’s such a beautiful dream of mine. So thank you all.
SPOILER ALERT
Danny Peary: Helen and Aaron, after what they do, will your characters be able to sleep that night?
AP: I think that there is an easy answer, no.
HM: And I would say yes. I think my character would sleep, absolutely. Sleep really well because: “Job done. Thank God we got our target. What happened was terrible, terrible that, but that was the price we had to pay, but thank God we got her.” So I think yeah, she’d sleep well.
GH: I’m glad Aaron says his character wouldn’t. I think that’s the point.
AP: Yeah, putting myself in that situation, I don’t know if I could sleep. That is the price you have to pay. I mean, you re serving your country, you are doing your duty, but for me I don’t know. I don’t know if I could do what he does.
DP: The next morning. if there were no ranks to separate them and they could actually talk to each other, what do you think they’d say to each other? I ask because they both might get some closure if they got to speak to each other–even though they probably never would.
HM: They might. I don’t know the protocol or how they’d find themselves in the same bar at the same time, but I think my character, Colonel Powell, would say, “Next time Lieutenant, you do what I say when I say to do it!” I suspect she’d say that. And then maybe five vodkas later they might get into the complications of the issues. I don’t know, but I suspect people like my character have to manage to put that behind and carry on, because: What’s next? What are we dealing with next? There will be possibly many more of those situations to come. Aaron, what is your answer?
AP: What you said. Yeah. I don’t think he’d want to reopen those wounds [by talking to her], but they experienced something pretty traumatic together. He did what he had to do. He was trying to buy some time in order to, hopefully, save this young girl’s life. But it is what it is.
GH: Can I just point out that the mindset that Aaron’s character has when he says, “I’m the pilot in command, responsible for releasing the weapon. I have the right to ask for the CD [assessment] to run again. I will not release my weapon until that happens.” That is a line that they’re all trained to say. We didn’t make that up. He was trained to say that not because of his own conscience, but from a war crime point of view, to ensure that he’s following a legal order. He suspects that she is bending the rules too much. He is not only allowed to, he is required to because he is the final person [to determine whether the drone is fired]. The trainer of drone pilots that I interviewed said to me, “It doesn’t matter if it’s the President on the line.” That’s why the drone pilot is given that line to say [to his superiors]. So when Steve says that [and questions Powell’s order], he’s actually doing the right thing. Now do all drone pilots do the right thing? Or are most intimidated by someone as intimidating as the Colonel? I did speak to drone pilots who have taken that route. And also to F-16 pilots who have declined to drop their payload. I spoke to one who knew that his target in Iraq was not correct. When he visualized it, when he was flying over it, he realized that they got the coordinates wrong and he pulled out. He told me, “I had a four-star General yelling at me, not very politely, ‘Drop your fucking load, Lieutenant!’” He said, “I just knew it was wrong and in that moment I didn’t give a shit about whether I stayed in the Air Force or not.” That doesn’t mean all pilots would do that, but that’s what he did, and that’s where we got those kind of scenes. I asked, “So what happened?” He said, “I landed my jet. They came and they took my black box, and for two weeks I thought, ‘Jesus, am I going to get court-martialed or not?’ Then it just went away.” Now the difficulty for a young Lieutenant in his position is if it is illegal, and he’s pushing back and pushing back, he could be court-martialed. Because if you follow an illegal order that’s a war crime–Nuremberg was about following orders that were war crimes. So these guys are in a really tight spot!
END SPOILER ALERT
Q: Helen, tell us about your kissing Stephen Colbert when you were on his show last night.
HM: The thing is, I’ve been deeply in love with Stephen Colbert for a long time.
GH: For real or were you just pretending?
HM:. No, no, for real. Oh, absolutely. I think I dreamt I kissed Stephen Colbert. And as I was walking out last night, I looked at him and thought, “You know what? If I don’t take my opportunity now I’ll never have it again.
AP: So you just kissed him?
HM: I kissed him.
AP: Good for you!
HM: Oh, gosh. This morning my husband was going off to work and as I saw him off, I thought I’ve got to tell him. I said, “Darling, I kissed Stephen Colbert last night.” So forget Stephen Colbert.
Note: I want to thank iHop publicity firm for inviting me to the press conference. And I want to highly recommend another film they are handling, Argentine director Pablo Trapero’s The Clan, which opens in NYC next Friday. It’s a wild, perverse political thriller based on a astonishing true story–and it has one of the most fascinating movie scoundrels in a long time, played chillingly by Guillermo Francella.
Note 2: For yourself or any baseball fan you know, please preorder my new book on Jackie Robinson: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jackie-robinson-in-quotes-danny-peary/1123308452?ean=9781624142444