Posts tagged with Filmmaker Interviews

Interview with Director of Secretariat, Randall Wallace

We recently spoke with Randall Wallace about his new film, the Truly Moving Picture Award winning Secretariat. Wallace directed the film, and is also responsible for the script of another Truly Moving Picture Award winner, Braveheart. Click here for the full audio interview.

Wallace talks about the difficulties involved with making an historical story suspenseful for a modern audience, and how the filmmakers achieved this effect by accurately recreating the thundering race horses.

He also discusses his collaboration with a long-time friend of Heartland, screenwriter Mike Rich.  Rich is responsible for a number of Truly Moving Picture Award winners, including Finding Forrester, The Rookie, and Radio.

Wallace also talks about using real jockies for the production, instead of stand-ins, in an attempt to realistically recreate the feel of the races.

Finally, Wallace comments on the films that move him, including his own Braveheart, as it teaches the values that young men need to learn. Additionally, he discusses his production company, Wheelhouse Entertainment, a group concerned with creating media focused on classic values, including video games, music, and movies.

HTMP Interview: Joel Hopkins, writer/director

Last Chance HarveyAfter his first feature film, writer/director Joel Hopkins thought it time to pursue more jobs directing films.  So he passed along the film to actress/screenwriter Emma Thompson and the production team behind Truly Moving Picture Nanny McPhee.  Though it didn’t land him the job, Thompson liked what she saw and told Hopkins she’d like to work together in the future.

“I sort of went away,” he said recently during a phone interview, “and thought, ‘That doesn’t happen every day.  I should really do something with that.”

So he got to work creating a character for Ms. Thompson.  Kate, as she is in Last Chance Harvey (opening nationwide Friday, January 16), is lonely and stuck.  Harvey (played by Dustin Hoffman) is, too.  When their lives intersect after a series of rather mundane yet entirely serendipitous events, they’ll both change the other in ways neither could have ever predicted.

In limited release December 25, critics are already abuzz about the movie.  It garnered a Golden Globe nod for both Thompson and Hoffman, and is generating praise from Entertainment Weekly to The Hollywood Reporter.   It’s a character study, and Hopkins readily admits such.

“The plot of our story is not groundbreaking,” he confessed easily.  “I can only write a story where I care about and am interested in the character.  It’s got to be three-dimensional.  When you can take a character on an journey, I think it leads you to some truth.

Last Chance HarveyAs the film opens, Harvey is not having a good week.  A washed-up commercial jingle writer, he’s on the verge of losing his job but must leave for his daughter’s wedding in England.  What should be a joyous occasion is deflated when she informs Harvey she’s asked her stepfather to walk her down the aisle.  Meanwhile Kate endures a dead-end job, humiliating first dates and a needy mother as nothing out of the ordinary in her day to day life.   In one pivotal scene in an airport lounge, Harvey and Kate strike up a conversation.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Asked what he’d like audiences to take away from the film, Hopkins takes his time generating an answer, stopping and starting as he’s not quite sure how to articulate his intentions.  Eventually, he sums it up much as Harvey might have:

“They gave me an hour and a half of their lives, and I hope they find it worthwhile.”

HTMP Interview: Chris O’Donnell

With the upcoming nationwide release of Truly Moving Picture Award winner Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, I got to snag a few minutes on the phone with actor Chris O’Donnell, who plays Kit’s dad Jack in the film.  Check out the latest episode of the Heartland Truly Moving Pictures podcast for the whole interview.  O’Donnell talks about how he got on board with such a fantastic ensemble cast, how excited his own daughter is about the movie, and what films are Truly Moving Pictures around his house (hint: one’s a classic Christmas flick!).

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is the first from the popular book series to be adapted for the big screen.  Starring Abigail Breslin as Kit, the family film is a story of determination, courage and perseverance in even the darkest of times.  Catch the movie in a theater near you when it opens July 2.

Listen to the interview now!

Heartland Interviews: MARK GORDON

Filmmaker Mark Gordon is a world traveler. Between the films he’s made and the Truly Moving Pictures that inspire his filmmaking, he’s been just about everywhere a person can go. In 2002, his film Her Majesty, set in small-town New Zealand, won a Crystal Heart Award at the Festival. His next project, Paper Son, criss-crosses between San Francisco and China. Among the films that inspire him most is the Italian classic Cinema Paradiso, and he counts Chinese director Yimou Zhang as one of his biggest influences.

With such a worldly view of movies and movie making, Gordon’s gained a good perspective on what it is that makes a film a Truly Moving Picture.

“They really transport you to another time and place,” he observes. To Gordon, a film should be about the discovery, about not only meeting but exceeding an audience’s expectations.

How does he know he’s seen a Truly Moving Picture? “When you come out of those films, you feel like, ‘I want to call someone, I want to tell someone right away,” he insists. “Feeling like you just found this gem, and you want to tell people. That’s the highest compliment you can pay a filmmaker.”

There’s one filmmaker Gordon singles out to compliment: Yimou Zhang. The Chinese director has been making movies since the 1980s, and his films consistently deliver the sense of discovery Gordon searches for.

Zhang’s The Road Home, about a man who remembers how his mother and father met and married, is among his favorites, though Gordon is quick to add, “Every time, everything he touches is a wonderful story, wonderful filmmaking.”

“I seem to have an affinity for filmmakers from other countries,” he continues, “because I do like stories that deal with cross-cultural elements, that can take specific elements but make you feel the universal aspect.”

Finding films like The Road Home and Cinema Paradiso doesn’t happen often. If it were up to Gordon, however, they’d be the rule rather than the exception.

“I think [American audiences] want to see stories with meaning, stories that are lasting and enduring, with characters they can believe in,” he says. Continuing on the idea of encouraging Hollywood to make more Truly Moving Pictures, Gordon adds, “The studios are going to follow wherever the audience goes.”

Gordon likens this desire for something enriching in a film to a child who can only live on a steady diet of sugars and sweets for so long, eventually needing some substance.

“I think it’s the same way with a taste in films,” he adds. “There’s room for a wide range of films. But in the end, I think it’s about the films you want to go back to and watch over and over again.”

And Mark Gordon is one filmmaker who’ll continue to work to that end, creating films for audiences to discover time after time.

Heartland Interviews: BILL EWING

A Film’s Mission? Captivate.

So says Bill Ewing, co-writer and producer of 2005 Grand Prize Crystal Heart Award winning film End of the Spear. Ewing’s been in movies for over thirty years, and he’s developed a keen sense for what makes a film a Truly Moving Picture. His credits as a production executive include AwakeningsA League of Their OwnStuart Little and Spiderman. He’s currently the president at Every Tribe Entertainment and found telling the story of missionaries who travel a world away and live among the savage Waodani tribe to be a journey in more ways than one.

“I’ve been to these remote rainforests in South America…you’re literally in the middle of 6,600 square miles of rainforest. It was our job to bring that world to the screen, to transport audiences to this environment that they’ve never experienced, that they might never know,” he said recently in a phone interview.

And to Ewing, filmmaking comes down to two things: the story and the journey. Among his most appreciated Truly Moving Pictures, Ewing counts Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Filmmaker Josh Logan is an inspiration to him, as well.

“I’m paraphrasing, but I read something he wrote 20 years ago,” Ewing offered. “He said that in order to make a successful film, one of the principal characters and the audience must change in such a way that they are better off for having gone through the experience.”

Like George Bailey discovering how precious life is or the Drayton family learning to see beyond racial lines, End of the Spear is a story of transformation. Based on actual events, a group of missionaries travel to South America to make contact with the Waodani, a tribe known for their quick spears and ruthless killings. The majority of the film is the story of one warrior’s journey, and his quest to find the answers behind why the missionaries didn’t use their guns to defend themselves. His journey eventually brings incredible change to the Waodani and the missionaries; the two worlds not only learn to co-exist but to welcome each other into families and hearts.

“What’s so unique about this story,” Ewing adds, “are these two dynamic sides that are really very separate stories, but indelibly intertwined…The missionaries with their natural pioneering spirit, this desire to seek out what’s uncharted. And the Waodani, they go through this incredible transformation, from basically devouring each other to being surrogate grandfathers to missionary children.”

Though just a vehicle to tell a story much larger than any film, End of the Spear embodies all that Ewing values in film. “The first objective, once the story is in place, is to entertain. But I value films that captivate, films that captivate my imagination and my emotions. And ones that raise more questions, ones where I don’t have all the answers when I walk out but leave me wanting to know more.”


When asked to offer his advice to aspiring filmmakers, Ewing reiterates the driving force behind his own movies–the story.

“Ask yourself, what is the unique story that I as an artist am called to tell?” he suggests. “In Stanislovsky’s The Actor Prepares, he wrote ‘Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.’ Find that story that is in you to tell. That’s the first step.”

And what does Ewing see in the future of filmmaking, especially where Heartland’s vision is concerned? Dramatic change, he says. “Moving people emotionally, just as the name says, truly moving audiences emotionally is exactly what people are looking for.” He nods to Oscar’s most recent Best Picture, Crash, to make his point. That film cost only $6 million to make, which in Hollywood is far below the average cost. “If you are really delivering a great story with interesting and well-rounded characters, you can do it without a big budget. I think there are incredible opportunities ahead for filmmakers to tell these kinds of captivating stories.”

Ewing poignantly stated what legacy he hopes End of the Spear leaves with audiences.

“I would use four words to characterize the journey of our story: faith, forgiveness, transformation and reconciliation. Those are the strong messages of the film. Extreme faith of the missionaries, amazing forgiveness of the families, incredible transformation within the tribe and an unbelievable reconciliation between these two groups. That’s what I hope the legacy will be: faith led to forgiveness led to transformation led to reconciliation.”

Heartland Interviews: MARC ROTHEMUND

German filmmaker Marc Rothemund (born 1968) began his professional career as assistant director to Helmut Dietl (on Rossini), Bernd Eichinger (on Das Maedchen Rosemarie), Dominik Graf (on Sperling) and Gerard Corbiau (on Farinelli). In 1998, he obtained the Bavarian Film Prize for best young director for his first feature film, Love Scenes from Planet Earth. With 1.7 million admissions, his second feature, Harte Jungs (Just the Two of Us), was one of the most successful films of 1999. His TV thriller Das Duo-Der Liebhaber won the VFF TV Movie Award in 2003.

With Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) was a very important movie to Rothemund because, as he explained, his parents divorced when he was young and his mother raised him. “I went [to the movie] by myself,” he said. “It touched me so much I watched it three times that day.” He said this was the first film in his recollection that demonstrated just how much cinema can involve you in stories and relate to real lives.

To Rothemund, the emotions of laughter and tears “belong together.” Thus, his next three film choices are all comedies. What’s Up Doc? (1972) is a screwball comedy by Peter Bogdanovich that stars Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. Another of Rothemund’s choices is The Blues Brothers (1980), because it is a fun mix of music, comedy, anarchy and “destroying.” “I love the destroying,” Rothemund said.

The final comedic pick is Arsenic & Old Lace (1944); Frank Capra’s classic comedy/thriller, which stars a young Cary Grant. Rothemund said he has watched this film 30 – 40 times in his lifetime and said he still laughs just as hard as ever.

Finally, Rothemund talked about the films that kept him thinking a long time after he finished watching them. He described these Truly Moving Pictures as “three movies about human rights and values.”

Sue (1997) is a serious story of a woman struggling with mental and emotional issues as she seeks stability in human relationships.

The Deer Hunter (1978) is a famous Robert DeNiro film about the post-war effects on a Vietnam veteran and the people around him.

Dead Man Walking (1995) is based on the true story of Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) and her interactions with a violent death row inmate (Sean Penn).

Rothemund summarized the criteria of his most Truly Moving Pictures in a single word: passion. “For me, the most important thing in filmmaking is passion,” he said. Each of these films, in his mind, powerfully demonstrated the passion of both the actors and the filmmakers, in front of and behind the camera.

Heartland Interviews: KIRK JONES

KIRK JONES graduated from Newport Film School in 1987 after winning a national student film competition. He started to work for London-based production company BFCS as an assistant film editor, but continued to write and direct his own films in his spare time.

He collected a Silver at the Creative Circle awards for his Mercedes test commercial in 1990 and was invited to join Xenium productions as a director. After winning an award for his Absolut vodka commercial, which he wrote and directed, he started to direct commercials full time in Europe and in the U.S.

In 1991, Jones joined producer Glynis Murray at the newly formed Tomboy Films and continued to direct commercials for clients including Coca-Cola, Reebok, The National Lottery and McDonalds.

He won awards at the Creative Circle, British Television Awards, NABS and, in 1996, was awarded the Silver Lion at Cannes.

Jones wrote and directed his first feature film Waking Ned Devine in 1998 with a budget of $3 million. The film went on to gross almost $90 million worldwide with awards in the U.S. and Europe including New York Comedy Film Festival (Best Feature) Comedy D’alp, France (Grand Jury Prize and Critics Prize), Guild of German Cinema (Gold Award, Best Feature), Paris Film Festival (Audience Award), Golden Satellite Awards (Best Motion Picture nomination) and BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer nomination).

After Waking Ned Devine, he returned to writing and developing his own film projects and continued to direct commercials.

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Kirk Jones, director of Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned Devine, had these words to say about his most Truly Moving Picture:

“Top of my list has to be Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t become emotionally involved in it.

“The full length ‘Directors cut’ is a masterpiece and tells the story of a boy who is befriended by a film projectionist in a beautiful cinema on a tiny Greek island. The boy develops an interest in films and is encouraged by the projectionist to leave the island and venture into the big wide world where he eventually becomes a film director in his own right. After hearing of the projectionist’s death years later, he returns to the island and meets the characters who were so familiar to him as a child, all older, all struggling to survive in a modern world which has spoilt the intimate community which they once enjoyed.

“The film moves me more than most because I remember very clearly a point in my youth when I realized it was time to leave the community in which I grew up. I’m also familiar with the experience of returning to that small community and seeing wonderful characters from my childhood, their wonderful faces still recognizable to me even though 30 years have passed.

“The fact that I left my village and became a film director, a very unexpected and at the time unlikely choice of career, helps me to connect to the film emotionally, even more.”

Heartland Interviews: JOHN GATINS

John Gatins is a successful writer, director and actor, having written such films as Summer Catch and Truly Moving Picture Award-winner Coach Carter, as well as writing and directing the recent Truly Moving Picture Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, which served as the Heartland Film Festival’s Opening Night Event. John attended the 2005 Festival, sharing with Heartland his experience in making Dreamer. Here he shares some of his own Truly Moving Pictures, as well as his thoughts on filmmaking and what makes a great film.

What are your favorite Truly Moving Pictures? In what ways are they personally inspiring?

I always liked the film Good Will Hunting. It’s a film that came along at the right time and really stayed with me. As someone who grew up with parents who really promoted education, I have always enjoyed films that foster education or explore the way education can help you better yourself. Stand and Deliver is another example.

I also really enjoy sports movies and have written a lot of sports movies. Rudy, in particular, is a favorite, especially the way it combines sports with the idea of education. Hoosiers, too, is a movie I really love.

What qualities do you most value in a film?

Redemption. I love redemptive stories. I adapted the film Hard Ball from a book, based on a real person who was an upstanding, normal guy – kind of a yuppie. I added a twist in the film and made him more of a down-on-his-luck guy, struggling to overcome a gambling addiction and a drinking problem.

I always enjoy stories that demonstrate redemption and the ability to re-engineer your luck.

How do you choose film projects? What is it about a project that most excites you?

While there’s a lot that’s entertaining and good about the “end of the world” genre of movies, I’ve always been more attracted to characters. Stories that are triumphant.

I like to tell human stories about how someone is able to find out they’re better or bigger or smarter than they think.

Who are some of your favorite film characters of all-time? Why?

Rocky is a classic character, the underdog turned hero. Similarly, George Bailey from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life – he is the everyman. In many respects, he is all of us, as his fears and frustrations are overcome by his love for his family. Really a classic American film icon. 

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or actors?

Whenever I meet someone, they always say, “You’re in movies? I’ve got a great movie idea for you!” But that’s really it right there. Start there. Create a great story. When I started out as an actor, I really struggled to survive. It was writing that allowed me to find success. You can’t act by yourself, you can’t direct by yourself, but you can always write.

Great movies come from great stories, and great stories make great screenplays.

It was writing that gave me the potential and allowed me opportunities.

Heartland Interviews: MARY KAY PLACE

Mary Kay Place was first critically acclaimed for her role as Loretta Haggers on the comedy series, ”Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” for which she won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy. Since then, her film credits include The Big ChillThe RainmakerGirl, InterruptedBeing John MalkovichSweet Home Alabama and Killer Diller, among numerous others.

When Place moved to Los Angeles from Oklahoma, she worked for Norman Lear’s Tandem Productions, and began co-writing for numerous TV series, including “M*A*S*H” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” She also acted in episodes of these shows as well as “All In the Family.” Place’s directing credits include television episodes of “Friends” and other programs.

In addition to her numerous film and television credits, Place also served as emcee at the 2004 Heartland Film Festival Crystal Heart Awards Gala. Here she shares with us some of her Truly Moving Pictures, as well as some of her thoughts on what makes a great film.

What are some of your Truly Moving Pictures?

My earliest childhood recollection of being emotionally moved through film was watching musicals. Since I grew up in Tulsa Oklahoma, far away from professional theatre and Broadway, watching South PacificThe Sound of Music, and West Side Story on a big screen in the dark was absolutely thrilling. I was swept away with the music, the costumes, the locations, and the stories. I would reenact scenes in my bedroom, learn every song, and endlessly make up dances, leaping around corners and flying down hallways, as a Jet or Shark. Though the stories occurred in places I’d never been and were about experiences I’d never had, I connected to the characters, I lived in their shoes during the life of the film and I carried the feelings these movies evoked for weeks afterwards.

“I guess it’s no surprise I became an actor.”

Another influential film for me was The Last Picture Show. It was one of the first films that I related to in a very personal way. It takes place in a small, dusty, flat, west Texas town just like the one I inhabited every summer while visiting my grandparents in Rule, Texas. I watched the town change over the years, stores shut down, and the movie theatre close. I spent endless hours with my girlfriend driving up and down the main drag and played many of the same songs on the film’s incredible soundtrack (by Hank Williams, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Eddie Arnold, Lefty Frizell) on the tabletop jukebox in the Bluebonnet, the local Rule café.

“Here was a movie that took place in a world I knew intimately – not a distant, fantasy location – and it rocked my world.”

The beautiful black and white photography by Robert Surtees added to the gritty reality of the story, to the lost dreams, opportunities, struggles, frustrations and fantasies of the people in this town. It inspired me to want to write my own stories, to share my own experiences. It allowed me to believe that it was possible.

I also loved My Left Foot, the story of writer Christy Brown, a spastic quadriplegic born into a large, poor, Irish family. Brown, who was believed to be retarded for the first ten years of his life, was loved and supported by his family, and because of his mother’s devotion, his intelligence and abilities are discovered. He learns to read and to write and paint with the only controllable part of his body, his left foot. This could be a manipulative, sentimental film – but it’s not. It is an honest and deeply affecting portrayal of this very complicated, difficult, hard-drinking, rough-talking, and arrogant man. The portrayal of Christy Brown by Daniel Day-Lewis is an unforgettable performance.

“It is an inspiring story about courage and determination and to me is truly moving.”

Another film I’d like to mention is Witness, directed by Peter Weir. This is a wonderful movie weaving action, romance, suspense, crime, spirituality, and even a little comedy into a moving, entertaining story. An Amish widow and her son travel to the city and the son witnesses a murder at the train station. Harrison Ford plays the rough, Philadelphia cop assigned to their case, who discovers his own co-workers are involved in the murder, and he’s shot and wounded in an ambush. He escapes with the widow and son to their Amish community to protect all of their lives and lives there while he heals and figures out what to do next.

The contrast between the cop’s worldliness, aggression, and violent impulses and the simplicity, honesty, and pacifist nature of the Amish people changes Ford’s character gradually over time. There is a poignant, old-fashioned love story between Ford and the young widow based on their shared circumstances, growing friendship and mutual respect. There is a beautiful buildup of tension before their fantastic first kiss (like it used to be during the days of the Hays Code) that I found both exciting and refreshing. We also experience what it’s like to live in an Amish community, and there is a lovely barn-raising scene that is a joy to watch.

What qualities do you most value in a film?

Good story telling that is original, not a clichéd formulaic approach that is automatically predictable, authentic dialogue that rings true to the spoken word, simplicity, a film that surprises you, a film that moves you honestly rather than one that manipulates with cheesy sentimentality, subtlety in acting, a film that in the midst of even serious drama knows how to make you laugh.

What parts do you choose? What is it about a project that excites you most?

Parts that hopefully contain some or all of the qualities listed above. I can also get excited about working with certain directors and/or fellow actors that I admire and enjoy working with. But most always I choose a part based on the quality of the entire script. The quality of the writing of the screenplay determines everything – the tone (most important), style, and potential of the whole film is found in the script. That’s what gets and keeps my attention.

What advice do you have for inspiring filmmakers or actors?

Always, always listen to your instincts. Your gut reaction is your most reliable resource. It tells you the truth. When I’ve gone off track I get what I call my “gut alarm” — a sort of stomach ache, a feeling of not being quite right in my own body, which instantly lets me know I’ve made a bad choice, or that my work is false, is not ringing true, is created by the intellect in some “made up” version of the truth and that I need to go deeper, prepare differently and keep working.

Also, that creating something – be it a screenplay, a song, an acting role, a work of art, a film – is a process that is always evolving. It is a combination of hard work and preparation that begins to find shape in a fixed form but must always remain flexible enough to grow with in-the-moment revelations and changes.

“That to make it in the film world means being dedicated to hard work, capable of receiving lots of rejection and being dogged in your efforts.”

Always remember that making a film is communal effort. Every single person who works on a film is a crucial part of the process and it is important to appreciate and respect every department. We have fewer and fewer opportunities to really experience community in this day and age and working on a film is a true example of community. It can be a joyful and very satisfying experience.

Heartland Interviews: RALPH WINTER

A highly successful film Producer, Ralph Winter has had two decades of experience in the industry. During that time, he has produced such familiar titles as Hocus PocusHackersPlanet of the ApesX-Men, and X2, as well as the recent blockbuster, Fantastic Four. He is no stranger to Heartland, either, having produced the Truly Moving Picture Award-winning film Blizzard in 2003. Here he shares with Heartland his own thoughts on what makes a Truly Moving Picture, and those films that he finds personally inspirational.

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The movies that have inspired me tend to be some of the big commercial movies since those are the kind of movies I make professionally. I tend to be more sympathetic to seeing the inspiring moments in those pictures.

Gladiator (2000) is very compelling for me. A story of an everyman hero thrust into extraordinary circumstances, he stays true to his values and beliefs no matter what. Even the music in this movie is inspiring by itself! I am particularly drawn to hero stories where he or she knows when to fight and when to hold back.

Although this film is rated R with the subject material, there is a tenderness and power in the search for love underneath the plot line. At the surface the movie seems to be about how to “win the crowd and win your freedom”, yet deeper reflection shows how each character is searching for love: Maximus, in his love for his family and for honor, and Commodus, in his twisted search for love that murders his father and destroys everything around him.

Ultimately Maximus gives up his life in a battle to free his friends and ultimately Rome from the injustice and tyranny of the old way of life. The movie makes me want to go out and strive to be a better person.

ET (1982) is another compelling and inspiring movie. I find it hard to watch any portion of this movie without wanting to sit through it all again. This movie represents the best of what big commercial movies can do – transport us to a different time and place, where we see life through the eyes of a child. Spielberg is of course so good at this, and he draws us into the story very quickly. The building of a friendship, the loss, and the saying goodbye are all wonderfully moving scenes that will affect you no matter what age you are.

I think ET also represents for me a high standard in storytelling as a producer, since this movie, like so many great animated movies, speaks to both children and adults, each at different levels. Crafting stories that can be enjoyed as families together are indeed a rare and valuable skill we must encourage in our younger filmmakers.

Heartland Interview: KEN KWAPIS

Ken Kwapis is a relative newcomer to the Heartland family. Renowned in the industry for directing some of the most groundbreaking and intelligent shows on television, beginning with The Larry Sanders Show and including ERMalcolm in the MiddleFreaks and GeeksThe Bernie Mac Show and The Office, Kwapis shared a 2000 Emmy Award nomination for his producing work on Malcolm in the Middle. He has also directed seven features, including He Said, She Said, and the Truly Moving Picture Award winner The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Here he candidly shares his insights to the films to which he personally finds Most Truly Moving.

American Graffiti – “This film had a really profound affect on me,” Kwapis said. “When I saw it, I was in high school.”

Kwapis remembered “being struck by the fact” that this film was the interwoven stories of four boys and, what’s more, he could identify with each of them. “I saw myself in all of them,” he said. “And when I read the first draft of Sisterhood, I was struck by the same thing.” He realized that The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants might help young women of today to have the same experience he had as a boy watching American Graffiti.

“[American Graffiti] is so deceptively simple – it seems to be just one night of antics,” he said. “But, for two of the main characters, over the course of that one night their lives are completely changed.”

He went on to talk about Richard Dreyfuss’ character, Curt, and the scene where he meets the “shlumpy” radio station DJ and discovers that this man, who has “God-like status among the high school kids,” is really the famed “Wolfman Jack.”

“Wolfman Jack” goes on to help Curt realize that he needs to get out of the small town at make something of his life, a piece of advice Kwapis himself has never forgotten.
“At the end, when he does go, and you see the plane flying off into the sky – I get choked up – you see the epilogues of the four boys,” Kwapis said. “You realize that [Curt’s epilogue as he becomes a Canadian writer] is the most profound…and one of the things he’s written is the story you’ve just watched.”

“I tried to keep all these things in mind when filming Sisterhood – that had a gigantic effect on me,” he said.

How Green Was My Valley – “It’s like a miracle of a film,” he said.

“It’s such a film about what defines a community. One of the brilliant things about it is that it has no plot. It’s episodic… but you never get a sense of it meandering – it’s driving.”

“The most powerful part is the sequence toward the end when [Roddy McDowell’s character, Huw’s] father gets trapped in the mine,” Kwapis said. “Everyone puts aside their problems for this one problem.” But what happened next, according to Kwapis, is what truly made the film moving. When it comes time for volunteers to go down into the mine, it is the comical blind character, Dai, who is first to step up in the rescue effort for Huw’s father, saying “he is the blood of my heart.”

At this point in the interview, Kwapis again mentioned The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the parallels he tried to draw between his direction and films like How Green Was My Valley. He said many reviewers have seemed almost apologetic in their reviews about getting emotionally involved in Sisterhood and how perhaps they have a difficult time discerning between honesty and sentiment. Kwapis said he believes that Sisterhood demonstrates honesty in what could have been a sappy story, and that the actors themselves proved this as he left them to “do their own thing.”

Kwapis said How Green Was My Valley was similarly straightforward in showing the stoic quality of the town – “I don’t think there’s a dishonest moment in it,” he said.

All five of the main characters in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants gave these sorts of candid performances, according to Kwapis, but he told a specific story of Jenna Boyd, the actor who played Bailey. He explained how Boyd prepared for her role as a cancer patient by going to a pediatric oncology unit in a hospital and talking to the kids there, which in turn widened her scope to see what her character would really worry about. From her research, the 11 year–old girl was able to show that Bailey was not so worried about death, but rather about whether or not her friends would still want to hang out with her.

The Shop Around the Corner – Kwapis called this a “remarkable film,” which was remade into a musical theater project and later, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan project, You’ve Got Mail.

Part of the beauty in this film, Kwapis explained, is how the director, Ernst Lubitsch, “knows that the comedy is only as good as the drama is,” bringing to light the subplot of shop owner Hugo (Frank Morgan). By using the “down” side of drama in this film, Lubig was able to make the romance of Alfred (Jimmy Stewart) and Klara (Margaret Sullavan) more real.

The scene Kwapis noted in particular was late in the film, after the shop is closed and Hugo goes into his office in the back of the shop. The camera remains outside the office door and the audience can see him bring out a gun. But, what happens next, as Kwapis explained, is what makes the scene so powerful. “The camera makes a little arching move to give him his privacy,” Kwapis said. “You hear the gun go off and the lamp shatters, so you know he missed. He tried, but he missed.”

Kwapis said this scene shows how effective it was for Lubitsch to imply the action rather than show it, demonstrating respect for the character and subtly telling the audience to give Hugo his privacy.

Kwapis said he tried to use similar “eavesdropping” kinds of scenes in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, such as Lena’s “first kiss” scene or the scene where Tibby and Bailey are stargazing. He said filming scenes such as these is very important, giving the audience “the privilege to feel like a fly on the wall.”

Heartland Interviews: KARL MALDEN

This month’s “My Truly Moving Pictures” interview is completely unique – unlike the Q&A style of past articles, this time the subject matter was such that we decided to write more of a feature piece. Our very special guest this month is the multi-talented Academy Award®-winning actor, Mr. Karl Malden.

Karl Malden is probably best known for his roles in classic films like A Streetcar Named DesireOn the WaterfrontBaby DollBirdman of Alcatraz, and Patton, as well as his role in 1970s television show, The Streets of San Francisco. Malden, an Indiana native, won high critical acclaim for his 50+ year acting career, working with some of the greatest talents Hollywood has ever seen and even serving as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for five years. In 1997, Malden’s autobiography, “When Do I Start?: A Memoir” was published. He was also the longtime recognized spokesman for American Express credit cards.

Inspiration and heroes

Malden said he watched a lot of movies before he was actively a part of them, referring to himself as “a real film buff” even at a young age. “I fell in love with everything I saw,” he said.

One of his favorite actors, and subsequently, a star in many of his most Truly Moving Pictures, was Paul Muni, a major studio actor in the 1930s, whose career included ScarfaceThe Story of Louis PasteurBordertown andThe Good Earth. “He did a lot of great films,” said Malden. “I admired what he did and how it was done.”

Malden explained that one of his greatest joys in acting was to get the chance to work with some of his childhood film heroes, such as Gary Cooper (in The Hanging Tree, 1959) and Bette Davis (in Dead Ringer, 1964). “All those people who were in pictures I enjoyed when I was younger were great to work with,” he said.

Truly Moving experiences

Malden explained that while a lot of the more popular films, such as On the Waterfront, Baby Doll and Patton were wonderful to make, some of the lesser movies he enjoyed creating very much as well. These were movies like Hotel,Ruby Gentry, and One-Eyed Jacks. “Just because they weren’t successes, doesn’t mean they weren’t great movies,” he said.

He used Hotel as an example. In this film, he played a thief, though he began the film assigned to a different role. Though the first part he was asked to play had more lines, Malden was fascinated by the thief’s role instead, appealing to the director, saying, “I think I can do something with this, and I’d like to try.”

However, Malden said he feels “lucky” that he could also take part in the timeless and better-known features like A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A Streetcar Named Desire was one of the best-written plays I’d ever read, written by Tennessee Williams. There was poetry in his script…I was lucky to be in it [the film version],” Malden said.

He also referred fondly to the late Marlon Brando, who paired with him in Streetcar, in addition to at least two other film projects, as “one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with.”

Once a film buff, always a film buff

Though Malden has not acted in a film for several years, he is still an active watcher. Recent favorites? “Just this past year, I saw one I loved about the author, J.M. Barrie, and Peter Pan,” he said. “Finding Neverland – I loved Finding Neverland.”

And when complimented on his role as “Walrus” in the 1985 made-for-TV childhood favorite, Alice In Wonderland, Malden laughed and said, “Did you ever see Pollyanna? That was another great kid’s movie I got to do.”

Heartland Interviews: JUDGE REINHOLD

his month, Heartland was able to score an interview with Judge Reinhold, the gifted actor many know from the Beverly Hills Cop movies,Walking Across EgyptThe Santa Clause movies and Checking Out. Judge has acted in over 75 films in his 25-plus year career. In addition, Mr. Reinhold has been a longtime friend of the Heartland Film Festival and has attended both the October festivities and our events in May in conjunction with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, without much further ado and in no particular order, here are My Most Truly Moving Pictures according to Judge Reinhold:

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – A film from the late 1960s that not everybody has seen. It’s one of Alan Arkin’s first films. He plays a deaf man who rents a room in a southern household and strikes up a relationship (platonic) with the teenaged daughter. It’s about his struggle to overcome his loneliness and frustration. It’s a beautiful film about loneliness.

“I tend to be drawn to movies that are portraits of loneliness. I find it incredibly tender and touching. At their best, films give us windows into people’s lives, and I think we’re all courageous in our loneliness at some point in our own lives.

“This film also is an exquisite performance by Arkin – particularly the scene where he pretends to be listening to music as she [the daughter] is trying to explain what music sounds like to him.

Paper Moon – This is a perfect little film – every frame is just perfect. What’s touching to me is that it shows how important family is.

“This was Tatum O’Neal’s first film, for which she became the youngest-ever Oscar winner. Also, Ryan O’Neal, her real father, plays her father in the film.

“As fractured, as tenuous a familial relationship they have, it’s still family. It shows the depths of family connection and how profound it is.

To Kill a Mockingbird – This film is deeply beautiful. The confrontation of the fanciful world of a child and the ugliness of life us an amazing combination and such an achievement.

“Also, as an actor, it held one of the seminal moments for me…the scene on the porch where Gregory Peck, Atticus, was listening to his children talk about their mother who had died and he just listened – he didn’t do anything. That moment illustrated to me that I didn’t need to be presentational in my work. That was my ‘Aha moment.’ That simple act of being emotionally invested while holding back – you draw the audience in. From that scene, I learned an important lesson about film acting.

“I also chose this movie for personal reasons. A lot of the people I’ve met who love it have problems with their fathers. I was estranged by my father, and Atticus is really for people who’ve lacked a paternal figure – he’s gentle, kind, thoughtful – an ideal father.

* * *

“What’s Truly Moving to me about all of these movies is that amazing alchemy between the shot and/or the camera move, the dialogue, and the acting moment. It’s those moments to me that are just transcendent. When it all comes together like that, I get teared up – that’s what I’m in it for.”