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Interview with Sam Jaeger and a Review of His New Film, "Plain Clothes"

Nick talks with Sam Jaeger of “American Sniper” about his new short film, “Plain Clothes,” a gripping account of a police officer diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Nick Spake: What initially got you interested in making “Plain Clothes?”

Sam Jaeger: It derived from conversations I had with police officers. When we’d talk about PTSD, we’d also talk about the military. A lot of police officers struggle here with those same issues. In many ways it’s an even more complex issue police have. An officer goes to work, comes home, and pretends what he saw all day doesn’t affect him at all.

NS: There are some similarities between your character, Cole, and Bradley Cooper's character in "American Sniper." Did working on that film inspire this film at all?

SJ: Actually, not at all. I shot my film a year before I even auditioned for “American Sniper.” It was kind of kismet we were on the same wavelength. There are certainly a lot of parallels.

NS: You based much of the dialog on conversations with actual police officers. How many different people did you talk to?

SJ: There are three or four different officers that I’ve had extensive conversations with. Two have responded since we made the movie. We’ve had some police departments call and ask if they can use our video for training. Although it’s no indicative of all officers and what they’re going through, it’s certainly something officers need to be mindful of.

NS: Were there any conversations or stories you considered working into the movie, but didn't?

SJ: Oh yeah. I actually kept some of the more harrowing stuff out of the conversation. I didn’t feel like going to those lengths in order to be graphic, but I did want to kind of hint at those really visceral moments.  

NS: Do you personally know a lot of people on the police force?

SJ: Of course. There’s a history of service in my family. There are people who are pulled into that line of work and feel the need to protect humanity, similar to Chris Kyle. So that was something that I’m close too.

NS: Is it difficult directing yourself in a movie?

SJ: No, because it’s one less person to yell at.

NS: Do you prefer acting, writing, or directing most?

SJ: I know it sounds trite, but I really don’t have a preference. They all challenge me in different ways. For me, writing is the purest because it’s something I can do on my own and feel accomplished. I can’t do that with acting or directing. They’re all part of filmmaking and that’s something I’m very fortunate to be apart of.

NS: Is there anything you'd like to say to people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder?

SJ: The more we talk about it, the less alienating it is. My film is meant to be a conversation piece. Communication is a powerful lifeline for officers. Hopefully this film can be an extension of that.

NS: What do you think is the benefit of making a short film as apposed to a feature film?

SJ: Sometimes it feels good to just get out there and be part of our film community. Gather everybody up for something as ridiculous as trying to make a movie. Short films allow that.

NS: Would you ever be interested in expanding upon this premise with a feature film?

SJ: We’ve talked about it and people have come to us about it. I think there’s definitely a larger story here. If it’s not a feature perhaps it’s a show.  

NS: Can you explain the meaning behind the films title?

SJ: Good question. I think there’s something about the term, “Plain Clothes,” that seems strange in itself to me. I think there’s something to the nature of an officer who is in plain clothes. It doesn’t matter if an officer has their uniform on or not. He’s always on. That’s what our film is grappling with. How do you turn off that switch? How do you let down your guard? Should you let down your guard? How are officers able to be vulnerable when they’re around their family?

NS: What's next for you?

SJ: I’m doing a show for universal with Danny Pudi from “Community.” I wrote a bizarre show about two imbeciles working in a missile silo. We’re actually trying to decide on a home right now.  

And Now My Review

Sam Jaeger previously played a Navy Seal that fought alongside Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle in “American Sniper,” a film that tackled the brutal repercussions war has on the faith, sanity, and family life of soldiers. “Plain Clothes,” a new short Jaeger directed, co-wrote, and starred in, is another deep exploration of an American trying to balance serving his country and maintaining a happy household. Instead of fighting in the Iraq War, though, Jaeger’s character fights the war on crime.

The character actor plays Cole, a police officer haunted by the day-to-day atrocities he sees on the job. In the film’s opening, Cole explains to his physiatrist that he’s essentially torn between two worlds. He’s unable to face his wife after each work shift without driving around the neighborhood block for half an hour. Going back to “American Sniper,” Cole suffers from many of the same anxieties as Bradley Cooper’s character, who also “needed a minute” before returning home.

This is a man that’s just on the brink of losing it, constantly asking himself deep philosophical questions concerning good verses evil, freewill, and God’s existence. Cole’s worlds collide when he encounters a potential suspect exiting a grocery store. Without giving too much away, Cole is eventually left with an imperative choice that will either push him over the line or bring him back to the light. He makes his life altering decision through one of the most powerful film edits of recent memory, leaving the audience gasping for air.

Jaeger fires on all cylinders here, carrying his film with a strong central performance, a sharp eye for direction, and thought-provoking dialog, much of which was inspired by actual conversations with overwrought law enforcers. “Plain Clothes” is a passionate piece about the toll posttraumatic stress disorder has on those trying to make the world a safer place for the rest of us to live in. It’s furthermore something of a perfect companion to “American Sniper,” both of which remind us that we owe these men and women more than just our gratitude.

Interview Dan Stevens

Nick talks with Dan Stevens of “The Guest.” 

Nick Spake: Your character in “The Guest” is probably the greatest departure from Mathew Crawley in “Downton Abbey” you possibly could have taken. What got you interested in the project?  

Dan Stevens: When I stepped away from “Downton Abbey,” I was looking to do something quite different. I never thought I’d get the chance to step into a genre like “The Guest.” It’s the kind of film I grew up loving with a real sense of fun, playing with the audience. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m really all about.

NS: What’s it like playing a character who might be deranged and homicidal, but the audience never knows his true intentions until the final act?

DS: That was part of the fun really. We didn’t want to give the game away from the beginning. We felt we had to work up to that, which is a much more entertaining journey.

NS: Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett previously made “You’re Next.” Between these two films, they seem to have a real attraction to movies with a home invasion theme. What’s do you think the appeal is?

DS: “The Guest” is a very polite and slow home invasion thriller, unlike “You’re Next” which was much more violent in its invasion. It’s a more subtle game they play with my character. Adam and Simon were really looking to step out of their comfort zone and I was looking for something a little bit different too. So we met somewhere in the middle.

NS: What attracts you to the thriller/horror genre?

DS: The horrors and the thrills. The comedic element of “The Guest” also really appeals to me. The script made me laugh from beginning to end. To make the audience laugh as well as scare them is a great victory.

NS: What do you think distinguishes “The Guest” from all the other horror movies out there?

DS: I think it distinguishes itself by not being a horror movie. It’s more of a black comedy action thriller.

NS: What’s your favorite horror/thriller cliché?

DS: If the lights don’t work, don’t go there.  

NS: One last question. Can you describe the worst houseguest you’ve ever had?

DS: I don’t know. I’ve always had great guests. I’ve been lucky.

NS: Well, let’s just be glad you’ve never had one like your character in “The Guest.”

Interview with Roger Donaldson

Nick Talks with Roger Donaldson, the Director of “The November Man”

NS: “The November Man” stars Pierce Brosnan, who is of course best known for playing James Bond, and Olga Kurylenko, who starred opposite of this generations James Bond in “Quantum of Solace.” Coincidence?

RD: I think it is a coincidence really. Olga is playing a very different kind of character in this film. The only thing they have in common is that they’re both spies.

NS: You've directed a variety of thriller-related movies like “No Way Out,” “The Bank Job,” and now “The November Man.” Why does this genre appeal to you as a director?

RD: Every story has to be driven by suspense in a way. Sustaining suspense is not easy and it’s one of the things I always enjoy the challenge of.

NS: What other thriller movies have had the greatest impact on you?

RD: I remember as a kid seeing movies like “The 39 Steps” and “Three Days of the Condor,” sitting in the dark and not knowing what the outcome was going to be. I think it would be unfair if I said I only wanted to make thrillers because I enjoy all sorts of genres of film.

NS: What does it feel like working with Pierce Brosnan again almost twenty years after “Dante's Peak?”

RD: God, was it that long ago?!? Time flies when you’re having fun. Pierce and I have been friends for a long time. We were always talking about doing something together again and then along came this movie.

NS: What do you think is the key to a good action movie?

RD: For me, I’m always more interested when an action films feel more like reality. In this case, all of our stunts are real. They aren’t created by a computer. They’re created by crazy guys who will do dangerous things.

NS: What's your favorite action movie cliché?

RD: The action movie is a cliché in itself. It’s a genre that demands bullets flying and explosions. That’s what the audience expects and if you didn’t give them that they wouldn’t show up.

NS: Did you read Bill Granger's novel, “There Are No Spies,” or any of his other novels in this series prior to getting involved with this project?

RD: I didn’t read it. The script had already been written and I wasn’t really interested in going back to square one to unravel something from the past. The original books were set in the 60s. It’s a very different sort of reality now in terms of technology that dictates crimes.

NS: What can you tell us about New Zealand's Film Commission, which you co-founded?

RD: I made some of the first films in New Zealand a long time ago. The success of those films became a rallying cry for the film community there to get the government to recognize that cinema had a legitimate place in reflecting New Zealand. It’s fantastic to see how far New Zealand film has come with talented filmmakers like Peter Jackson.
NS: What can you tell me about your next film, “Icarus Factor?”

RD: First of all, I’m not sure what I’m doing next. I love that particular film because it’s about the importance of money and how the world operates. Also, I’ve written a script about a father driving his daughter to college. It explores the diverse ideas of what families are. I got a few other projects in development about car racing in the late 30s and a big World War movie. So there’s plenty happening.

Interview with Director Thomas Carter of "When the Game Stands Tall"

Nick chats with Thomas Carter, Director of “When the Game Stands Tall.”

NS: It seems like the inspirational sports movie trend really blew up in the 90s with movies like The Mighty Ducks, but then at the beginning of the 21st century, sports films started to become more adult with “Remember the Titans,” “Glory Road,” and “Coach Carter,” which you directed. Do you think sports films have significantly evolved in the pasty decade or so?

TC: I haven’t really tracked them. I guess in “Friday Night Lights” we saw an edgier look. It was more of a critical eye of our obsession with sports and the damage it can do.  

NS: What draws you to sports movies like “Coach Carter” and “When the Game Stands Tall?”

TC: “Coach Cater” I was interested in because I’m a big champion of education. That movie was very much about a coach who took a bold stand to focus on student rather than athlete. “When the Game Stands Tall” is just an inspiring story because Coach Bob Ladouceur is interested in building young men or character not just on the field, but off the field. A sense of loyalty, commitment, brotherhood, selflessness, discipline, personal responsibility, he wants to instill these principles in these kids. He’s as much a teacher as he is a coach.

NS: I find it interesting that most sports movies focus on a teams rise to victory, but in "When the Game Stands Tall," the Spartans are already on top and have everything to lose. Then when their streak does finally end, the film plays for like a tale of redemption.

TC: You’re absolutely right. The challenge of making the film was figuring out how do you make a movie about a team that never loses. That’s why we chose to start the movie towards the end of the streak to see where the team would grow and come to together as brothers. It gave me something to stretch for as a storyteller.

NS: What do you think is the greatest sports-related movie ever made?

TC: I’m a big fan of “Remember the Titans.” I also really like “Moneyball,” which isn’t purely a sports movie, but it is another way of looking at sports.

NS: Many years before you directed “Coach Carter,” you played a character in “The White Shadow,” a television series about a basketball team at an inner-city high school. How did your work on this show impact your career in show business?

TC: “The White Shadow” is where I first began to direct. I was afforded the opportunity to go to film school on the job.

NS: Did you play basketball at all before landing a role in “The White Shadow?”

TC: I did play basketball. Strangely enough, I didn’t play high school sports because I was in the theater department. But I was playing a lot of sandlot basketball and those games are very aggressive in Los Angeles.  

NS: Do you play basketball anymore or any other sports for that matter?

TC: No, but I am a huge basketball fan and am a season ticket holder for the Lakers.

NS: In addition to sports, a lot of the projects you take on seem to have a dance-related theme. You notably directed “Swing Kids,” “Save the Last Dance,” and even a couple episodes of “Fame.” What's your attraction to the dance genre?

TC: I’ve just always been excited by music. Even when I did the pilot for “Miami Vice” I put music in a television show in a way it hadn’t really been used before. I just find it to be a great way to accentuate the drama or create great psychological subtext.

NS: Was the Spartans 151 game winning streak a story you followed or did you first read about it in Neil Hayes novel, which inspired this film?

TC: Neil Hayes’ book is a great account of that. He followed them for a whole year. I first heard about it by reading an early draft of the script and from there I jumped in to do the research.

NS: Did you ever get to meet Coach Bob Ladouceur or any of the real life players who inspired this story?

TC: Yeah, I met Bob Ladouceur and went to two state championship games in the course of developing this movie. I think that we caught the essence of them.  

NS: Is there a particular figure or event in sports history you would love to bring to the screen?

TC: For years I was interested in developing a project about Jackie Robinson. I became friends with Rachel Robinson, his widow, and she’s such a fantastic lady. Other than that I don’t have a particular movie I’d like to do, although I am interested in doing something with the San Antonio Spurs.  

NS: As a basketball fan, how do you feel about LeBron going back to Cleveland?

TC: I was never routing for Miami so I think it’s fantastic he’s playing for Cleveland again.

“When the Game Stands Tall” opens August 22nd.

Interview with Jason Carney, Director of the Phoenix Film Festival

The 2014 Phoenix Film Festival is having its opening night premiere on April 3rd at Harkins Scottsdale 101. In addition to screening films, the festival will include Geek Day, Kid’s Day, and numerous other events. This seven day long festival is being helmed by Jason Carney, the executive director of the Phoenix Film Foundation. Carney recently spoke with the East Valley Tribune to discuss the significance of this annual celebration embracing the art of film.

East Valley Tribune: What’s your greatest responsibility as festival director?

Jason Carney: Basically it’s the overall oversight of the festival and the organization. Anything that happens at the festival is up to me.

EVT: What kind of items will be available at the silent auction?

JC: We got a few things lined up so far like a mini iPad, free airport parking for a year, a really cool yoga package, and a “Boss” poster signed by Kelsey Grammer. We’re still waiting on a lot of the memorabilia items.

EVT: What can you tell me about Kid’s Day?

JC: It’s a really cool, free event geared at kids form 3 to 12. We have all these different film-related activity stations like a green screen station and a red carpet where they get their picture taken.

EVT: What distinguishes the Phoenix Film Festival from other film festivals?

JC: There’s no other festival our size that takes place in one location. Everything happens on site at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 center. That’s a really nice benefit that creates a community feel for the festival.

EVT: How many of the films being screened at the festival have you seen?

JC: I have seen probably about 40% of them. We have over 150 films and to watch all of them in such a short amount of time is impossible. That’s why we have different program directors for each of the categories.

EVT: Which film do you think is your personal favorite?

JC: There’s a really cool documentary called “Missfire: The Rise and Fall of the Shooting Gallery.” It’s about this group of folks that turned into a movie company that made “Sling Blade” and several other independent films. It’s just a great story that I never heard before.

EVT: Will there be any big names attending the festival?

JC: We’re still working on that. So far we got Dee Wallace aka the mom from “E.T.” and Leah Thompson from “Back to the Future.”   

EVT: What can you tell us about the seminars and middle/high school programs offered by the festival?

JC: Those are really great. It’s on four different days. On the first day, it’s all about the filmmakers we’ve brought in from around the world talking in panels. The second day is when we start the production process. There’s a screenwriting day where students break out into groups and they have a mentor who works with them to create a short script. The next day they start preproduction of the winning script. Then on the last day, they actually shoot that short film.

EVT: And what can you tell us about Geek Day?

JC: That’s going to happen on Sunday and we got some really cool folks coming out like the Arizona Ghostbusters, the Phoenix Cupcake Company, local videogame developers, and various other comic-related people.   

EVT: Why do you think it’s important for people to attend the Phoenix Film Festival?

JC: It’s just a great opportunity to see films you might not see otherwise. Film lovers can soak in what these films are all about and learn the back-stories of them.

EVT: Do you consider yourself a real moviegoer?

JC: Oh yeah. I’m usually at the theater at least once a week. But this time of year I avoid the theater like the plague.

EVT: Any final thoughts on the festival?

JC: It’s just a great event and when people come out they’ll get hooked. We look forward to having another great year.

Be sure to attend the Phoenix Film Festival from April 3rd to April 10th at Harkins Scottsdale 101 7000 E. Mayo BLVD., Phoenix, AZ 85054.

Miles Teller and Jai Courtney Interview

“Divergent,” the adaptation of the hit novel by Veronica Roth, is hitting theaters on March 21st. The film was directed by Neil Burger of “The Illusionist” and stars Shailene Woodley as Beatrice. Nick recently sat down and talked to Miles Teller who plays Peter and Jai Courtney who pays Eric. Teller previous starred in “The Spectacular Now” and will be playing Mr. Fantastic in the upcoming “Fantastic Four” reboot. Courtney worked alongside Bruce Willis in “A Good Day to Die Hard” and recently landed the role of Kyle Reese in “Terminator: Genesis.”

Nick Spake: Miles, you’ve done two movies with Shailene Woodley now. One was in “The Spectacular Now” where you played her boyfriend. In “Divergent,” you play a rival who’s constantly harassing her. Which do you prefer playing, Shailene’s lover or enemy?

Miles Teller: The falling in love part with Shailene was really nice. For me, I prefer “The Spectacular Now” just because we got to work more.

NS: Jai, much like Hugh Jackman, Mel Gibson, Sam Worthington, and other fellow Australian actors, you’ve played a lot a macho guys in your career. Do you think there’s a reason why Austrians keep getting the best parts in American action movies?

JC: I don’t know. It’s a question I get asked a lot. Someone said to me recently that they think American men have a different idea of what it is to be masculine. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but there is a bit of a patent immerging.

MT: They are taking a lot of our freakin’ roles, I’ll tell you that! Thank god Captain America is American.

NS: What attracted you both to this project?

JC: The people who were making it attracted me. I didn’t know anything about the books, but I liked Neil’s previous work and I was a big fan of Shai’s after seeing her in “The Descendants.”

MT: For me, it gave me an opportunity to do something different. I had done some comedy and indie drama stuff. This was a more physical role with some action in it. I told my agent I wanted to do a movie where I shoot somebody or ride a motorcycle or something. Plus, Shailene kind of convinced me to do it.

NS: What upcoming projects are you excited about?

MT: I’m really excited about “Fantastic Four.” I’m liking the idea of this character who’s been established since my dad was a kid and getting to put my stamp on it.

JC: “The Terminator” is gearing up pretty quickly and I’ll be getting into that in April.

MT: He’s losing some weight for the role. Jai’s not drinking this whole press tour, which I thought was a joke at first.

NS: Would you want to live in the world depicted in this film?

JC: Absolutely not.

MT: Hell no. If you want to live in a world where you’re told what to do all the time, join the military. A lot of people need that firm structure. I’m pretty good at cracking my own whip.

NS: What do you hope to see in the sequels, “Insurgent” and “Allegiant?”

MT: Naked chicks. I’m just waiting to see Shailene take it off.

NS: I think we all are.

Interview with Chiemi Karasawa of "Eliane Stritch: Shoot Me"

I recently talked to Chiemi Karasawa, director of the new documentary, “Eliane Stritch: Shoot Me.” The film offer’s a glimpse into the life of Stritch, a Broadway legend and clearly the most outgoing actress over 85 working today.

Nick Spake: How did you first meet Eliane Stritch?

Chiemi Karasawa: I had only worked with Eliane for one day on a film called “Romance and Cigarettes.” Eliane was cast as James Gandolfini’s mother and she was this tornado of a character. Then I officially met her in my hair salon, where she was a long time customer. And that was my introduction to her outside of Alec Baldwin’s mother on “30 Rock.” I did not know about the incredible history she’s had in the theater until I started researching her.

NS: In the past you’ve worked as a script supervisor and producer. Has it always been an ambition of yours to direct a feature documentary?

CK: I was a film major at Boston University and I think every film student leaves school with the aspiration of directing. It was actually Eliane’s idea that I should direct this film. I told her I was probably going to look for a well-known director and she said, “Why don’t you do it, honey?” And so I did.  

NS: Did you form a strong bond with Eliane while filming this documentary?

CK: I think our journey is pretty well documented in terms of the accessibility she wanted to provide. She demands that you engage with her and there’s no chance the camera crew was just going to be a fly on the wall. Eliane wanted to know who we were, what he did, who we were dating. That’s what made it comfortable for her and for us to be around her. Once we started becoming friends, she wanted us around more and more. So yes, we did become very close and we’re still very close right now.

NS: Eliane dishes out a lot of great stories about her life in the documentary. What’s your personal favorite?  

CK: That’s almost impossible to say because we shot almost 150 hours of her. I love her talking about her husband, John Bay. He was the love of her life. She met him so late in her life, they were married for ten years, and then he passed from brain cancer. It’s something she doesn’t talk about often, but she speaks so incredibly lovingly of him. I loved any time she was able to share moments of her life that meant a lot to her. But every story she told was unbelievable, from her liaison with Rock Hudson to the two dates she went on with JFK.

NS: In the film, there’s a brief moment when the late great James Gandolfini talks about his experiences with Eliane. I take it that his untimely death especially hit her hard?

CK: I think it hit all of us very hard. I met James while filming “Romance and Cigarettes” and he was an incredible man. Eliane was cast as Jim’s mother. They had a very close connection and she had sort of an unrequited love for him. When I found that out, I asked him to be in this movie. James was delighted to do so because he adored her as well. It’s unfortunate he didn’t get to see the film when it was finished because he would have been over the moon for it and her. Eliane was devastated by his death, as we all were, because it was such an untimely passing of someone who had so much to give.

NS: Eliane gave your crew a lot of access to her personal life, allowing you to film her in weakened conditions. Was there a particular moment that was difficult to capture on film?

CK: Any moment of vulnerability is difficult to capture, but I think there is something very validating about witnessing someone in a vulnerable state. You’re allowing them to share what they’re going through. Ultimately, I think it’s very helpful to put it out there because it’s something that doesn’t often get translated in the media very often. It allows people to connect because everybody’s going through it on some level.

NS: Do you still keep in contact with Eliane?

CK: We speak probably every week. She was just here in New York doing press for the film and was incredibly thrilled to be back in the city. I go out to Birmingham as much as I can to spend time with her. She’s really become a dear and important person in my life.

NS: How is her health doing now?

CK: It’s been almost three years since she was depicting in the film. She’s 89 and her health is declining, but her spirits are very high. She still has the same strength of character, conviction, and personality she always did.

NS: The end of the documentary implies that Eliane will likely either retire in 2014, or 2015, or 2016, or 2017, or 2018. What do you think is next for Eliane?

CK: Last spring she moved back to Birmingham. I think her life has been a lot more peaceful and calm. She can have around the clock care and can relax a little bit.

NS: And what’s next for you?

CK: I have a company called Isotope Films. We’re always working on several projects at the same time. A film I was a producer on that I really hope comes out is called “Amazing Grace.” It’s a concert documentary about Aretha Franklin’s bestselling album, which was released in 1971.

NS: One closing question. Why does Eliane choose not to wear pants?

CK: She said it was Judy Garland’s idea. Judy was in rehearsal for a show wearing a man’s shirt, tights, leotard, and dance shoes. Eliane thought was pretty great and so she’s adopted that. With those legs, who could blame her?

Be sure to check out “Eliane Stritch: Shoot Me” when it opens in Phoenix on March 7th. 

Interview with Joshua Sasse and Leah Gibson of Rogue

Directv has resurrected a number of cancelled series of the years like “Damages” and “Friday Night Lights.” Now the Audience Network is producing a completely original show with “Rogue,” which premieres on April 3rd at 9 p.m. Thandie Newton plays Grace, an undercover detective who loses her son in a shooting. To track down those responsible, Grace finds herself getting caught up with the Laszlo’s, the city’s most infamous crime family. I recently talked with two of show’s stars, Joshua Sasse and Leah Gibson. Sasse plays Alec Laszlo, the son of crime boss Jimmy Laszlo, while Gibson plays Cathy Laszlo, Alec’s wife who pushes her husband to seize control from his dominating father.

Q: How does it feel to be apart of Directv’s first completely original series?

Joshua Sasse: It feels amazing to create something in a new and original format. We were given a lot of freedom as actors to create our roles and that’s a very rare thing.

Leah Gibson: It’s exciting because this is a new endeavor for Directv. They were very collaborative and supportive of us the entire way.

Q: Do you think that “Rogue” will open the door for Directv to produce more original series?

JS: For sure. They’ve really enjoyed the journey of creating the show as much as we have. We have a lot of faith in the show now so I don’t see why not.

Q: Would you say that your characters have a bit of a Macbeth/ Lady Macbeth complex?

LG: It’s certainly been a reference throughout the process. I was concerned about playing Cathy in a real, human way. I wanted to play her as a very strong woman with a unique position in the Laszlo crime family unit. Her love and strong emotions for her husband are all rooted in a very real family love.

Q: What do you think sets rogue apart from all the other suspense dramas on television?

JS: Directv enables us to do what other suspense dramas can’t in terms of sexual content and violent content. The show has a real film quality, almost like a ten-hour movie. In that respect, it’s like something we’ve never seen before.

LG: The writing is so superb. It takes these classic themes that have been explored in film and television about gangs, but our show is very much centered on characters and their relationships. It’s a very human representation of all those things, which I find interesting.

Q: Sasse’s character has a pretty confrontational relationship with his mobster father, who is played by Marton Csokas. Did things ever get really heated or uncomfortable between you guys on set?

JS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s an intense relationship. Marton and I would often talk offset about how we wanted to explore our relationship. When we were onset it was like electricity because the audience has to believe what they’re watching.

Q: Would you say that the Laszlos are a bit like the Sopranos in the sense that they're criminals, but still have a lot of humanity to them?

JS: The humanity of this family was something that Creator Matthew Parkhill really wanted to play on. There have been a lot of shows about crime syndicate families, but you don’t always get to see is what happens when these gangsters go home. It really rounds out the characters.

LG: I was most concerned about presenting something really raw, gritty, and truthful, which I think the audience is going to respond to.

Q: Between the original content being made available on Directv, Hulu and Netflix in addition to HBO, Showtime and cable, do you think that network dramas are starting to become dated?

JS: Definitely. They don’t seem to be working at the same standard as we are because they have so many rules. People nowadays have very high expectations for what they see in the media. If you’re living in a world that isn’t completely real then you’re just falling behind and I think that’s what’s happened to network TV.

LG: I don’t know. That’s a debatable topic really. There are just different versions of storytelling when it comes to TV. The standards have been rising in recent years and it’s great to be apart of this show because it takes things further.

Q: Do you guys have any big scenes coming up with Thandie Newton? If so, what's it like acting alongside her?

JS: The minute you meet Thandie you get an instant impression of what she’s like. She’s so caring and a highly intelligent human being. Regarding what happens in the series, I can’t give anything away.

Q: Would you say that family is the major underlying theme of the show?

LG: I love the way that the institution of family is profiled in this show. There’s no black and white world in “Rogue,” just shades of grey. You’re watching human struggle and different relationships

Q: What about Rogue has you most excited?

JS: The unpredictability of it. When we were filming we didn’t know what would be coming the next week. I think that is exactly what the audience is going through. You just have no idea what’s going to be thrown at any time.

LG: This show delivers all of the answers that the audience wants and they’re not what you expect at all.

Q&A with 'Ruby Sparks' filmmakers Kazan, Dayton and Faris

It’s been approximately six years since the filmmaking duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris made “Little Miss Sunshine,” the independent comedy that merited a Best Picture nomination. Now Dayton and Fairs, who are married as well as being creative partners, follow-up their debut picture with “Ruby Sparks.” This is another wonderful comedy from Dayton and Faris with a first-rate screenplay by rising talent Zoe Kazan, who also play’s the title character. Their film centers on Paul Dano’s Calvin, a frustrated novelist who writes a woman name Ruby into existence. In due course, Calvin falls in love with the fictional girl he has made reality. This past week, Kazan, Dayton, and Faris dropped by the Harkins Camelview 5 for an open question and answer session. Throughout the interview, they touched based on the collaboration that went into bringing “Ruby Sparks” to life.”

In addition to working as a playwright, Kazan has taken on small supporting roles in movies like “It’s Complicated” and “Revolutionary Road.” Through “Ruby Sparks,” Kazan not only constructed her first screenplay, but also wrote the best role of her career thus far. Ironically, Kazan did not even have herself in mind to play Ruby when she began writing the script. “That was the last thing on my mind when I started it,” Zoe said. “So rarely do you feel truly inspired by an idea. The idea was so vivid and enticing that I wasn’t even thinking who would play it. Then Paul read the first few pages then asked if I was writing it for us. There can be an element of vanity in writing something for yourself where you want to give yourself a good scene or paint yourself in a positive light. But I felt that I would be doing a disservice to the characters.”

The three filmmakers went on to discuss how they closely worked together to make “Ruby Sparks” the best movie possible. According to Kazan, “When you’re in collaboration it stops being your head and starts being a collective head. It’s very close to what we dreamt of. The thing I originally dreamt of was smaller in scope. Our imaginations combined made it a bigger version like putting it on drugs.” Dayton butted in, saying, “The script came to us with Paul and Zoe attached and we were very excited about working with them. We spent nine months working with Zoe on what the film would be.” According to Faris, “It’s so important to have a good, strong script in the beginning so everybody is working with the same themes. It’s your roadmap. A movie starts with a conversation between all the people working on it. Our goal was to make a movie that would start a conversation between the people watching it. What’s important to us is that we’re all one mind.”

Once the story was virtually perfected by the team, they began filming “Ruby Sparks.” This was an equally mutual effort with the whole crew working to get the picture just right. Kazan believes that “the big juicy scenes are always the most fun and it’s the little mundane stuff that sucks. One scene when we’re walking from a parked care to a café, we did like 26 takes.” “On take 26 we thought we got it but ended up using like take 13,” Dayton followed up. Fortunately, the three seemed to all have great chemistry, claiming that they “don’t really fight that much and certainly not on set.”

Kazan ultimately left with some beneficial advice to aspiring writers. “It’s so important to know what you’re writing. You want to let inspiration speak to you. Ask why am I writing this, what are the themes. Every scene and character in a screenplay has to tie back to the themes.” Anybody in the creative writing profession should heed Kazan’s words and see “Ruby Sparks” when it comes out on August 3rd. 

Interview with Drew Goddard, Director of Cabin in the Woods

I was lucky enough to take part in a round table question and answer session with Drew Goddard, the writer/director of the upcoming film, “Cabin in the Woods.” Goddard has a rich background in the horror/comedy genre, writing for shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angle.” He brings the same wit of those shows to “Cabin in the Woods,” one most entertaining movies your inclined to see this month.

Goddard wrote the screenplay with his “partner in crime,” Joss Whedon, who additionally created “Buffy” and “Angle.” “We had been working together for over ten years now,” Goddard said. “We just wanted to write something together and we missed each other. We love horror movies so much and we wanted to get back to there. So we just wrote it. Write what you want to see.”

Upon being asked if making the transition from writing to directing was difficult, Goddard responded, “Yes, certainly. They’re very different. The reason you become a writer is because you like to sit in a room by yourself all day. The reason you become a director is the exact opposite. Fortunately, the directors I worked with in television, J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon, are very empowering writers. TV in general is the writer’s medium. So a lot of the stuff I did as a director in features is what you would have to do as a writer in television. It felt like a very natural progression.”

Goddard further described “The Cabin in the Woods” as “a love letter to the horror genre. I love going to horror movies, especially when they’re really fun. Where you’re laughing just as much as you’re screening. There’s nothing like a good, rowdy horror movie.”

“Cabin in the Woods” is certainly among the most satirical and gleeful horror movies in recent years. But does that mean that the film the film is some sort of response to torture porn movies like “Saw?” Goddard replied, “We didn’t setout to make the anti-torture porn movie. I love horror films. There’s not a particular genre I don’t like. I just don’t like bad movies. Sometimes you can tell when a director doesn’t care about their characters and that’s what happens in torture porn genre. They’re just lining people up to get killed. That’s what we wanted to do differently.”

With “Cloverfield” and now “Cabin in the Woods” under his belt, one might assume that Goddard would ditch television and concentrate on features. Goddard said however, “I hope I can go in between the two because there’s good and bad in both. The thing that’s grueling about television is also the thing that’s great about television. Every eight days you’ve got to put out a new episode. It’s hard, but you don’t have to second-guess yourself. There were times on “Buffy” where we didn’t have any ideas. It’s like kids in a garage experimenting. Sometimes our best episodes would come out of that. With movies it takes years, but it’s also nice to take your time.”

Whether Goddard sets his sights on film, television, or both, you can always expect something interesting to come from him. Personally, I’m exciting to see what he’ll do next. Until then, be sure to check out “Cabin in the Woods” on April 13th.

Nick Interviews Chris Evans

Nick recently talked with Chris Evans, the star of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” about his history of playing comic book characters and why Captain America can relate to the fans.

Nick Spake: You’ve played a variety of different comic book characters over the years. You were Casey Jones in the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. You were in “The Losers” and “Scott Pilgrim.” Among all these characters, though, which one do you think would win in a fight?

Chris Evans: Hmm, that’s a good question. Well, it’s got to be Johnny Storm. I mean, even though Captain America is a superior human being, you can’t beat a fireball, can you? So I think it might have to be Johnny Storm.

NS: Are you yourself a big fan of comic books?

CE: I am now. You know, I never grew up reading them. But I’ve obviously done quite a few comic book and graphic novel based films. And as a result, you’ve got to read quite a few. And I’ve certainly grown to appreciate and see the value in that medium.

NS: What will set Captain America apart from the other superhero films?

CE: There (are) a number of things. I think the character, his powers were given to him because of his character, which is something that I think we can all kind of aspire to as people – but I think his abilities are also grounded in reality. He can’t burst into flames. He can’t fly. His abilities are still human. He’s not indestructible. He’s mortal.

NS: Is there a message that you think viewers will take away from “Captain America?”

CE: I really think that it’s about who Captain America is. That’s kind of why I like doing the film. He’s got these indestructible values. He doesn’t do the right thing for anybody. He’s not doing it to be praised. He’s not doing it for rewards. He’s doing it because it’s the right thing, and that’s a really commendable way to live life, and I think that’s something we can all aspire to.

NS: What did you think the first time you saw yourself dressed as Captain America?

CE: “What have I gotten myself into?” It was pretty intimidating when you first put the suit on. I think I was still a little apprehensive at that time. You know, I agreed to do the movie, but with a lot of nerve. And I think the first time I put the suit on, it was a mixture. You know, it was a mixture of excitement, because obviously it’s this iconic character that you spent the last couple weeks reading up on, and it’s fun, and it’s unbelievable. It’s a blessing. It’s what you work for as an actor.

NS: Did you ever see the 1990 film version of “Captain America” with Ned Beatty? And if so, would you say that this version is better or worse than the original?

CE: I’ve never seen it.

NS: You’re probably best off never have seeing it.

CE: Oh, really?

NS: And I’m sure, no matter what, your film is better.

Nick Interviews J. J. Abrams

Nick talks with J. J. Abrams, director of “Mission Impossible: III,” “Star Trek,” and the new film, “Super 8,” which is currently playing in theaters.

Nick Spake: What was it like working with Producer Steven Spielberg? What did you learn?

J.J. Abrams: It was such a privilege working with him.  He was a hero of mine when I was a kid, and to get to collaborate with him was surreal sometimes, and other times just wonderful.

 NS: Was it easy keeping the film’s secrets under wraps?

JA: I just try not to talk about this stuff that I don’t think should be discussed. It’s not that hard working with the cast and the crew, letting them know that keeping things quiet is important for the enjoyment of the audience. And when there are questions I feel I can’t talk about about the topic because I don’t want to ruin it for the audience, I’ll say you’ve got to see the movie to see what happens there. But I try to not be coy, because I don’t want to be a jerk.

NS: Do any of the kids in “Super 8″ remind you of any of the kids you might have known growing up, or maybe yourself growing up?

JA: Sadly, yes. Without question they are very familiar kids to me. I don’t feel like it was necessarily one or the other. It’s like a combination of a number of them. I was the kid making the movies. I was also the kid who saw the world the way the main character sees the world. I was also the kid who would take apart my own firecrackers and roll my own M-80s and fill models I made and then blow them up. But there are kinds of monogamous people I knew in the movie. And they all do feel like people I knew, although not necessarily that specific.

NS: What’s the difference in your creative process between doing an original film like “Super 8″ and a franchise film like “Mission Impossible” or “Stark Trek?”

JA: The truth is that there’s very little difference in terms of how I approach any project, because I try and approach it from a place of being interested in the character, the premise, the world. I’ve been very lucky to get to work on projects I actually do care about, as opposed to just taking new jobs. So even [with] “Mission Impossible III” you think, well, what’s the way in? The way in for me was how you reconcile being a spy and being a man and keeping that information about your day job from the person you love most in the world. “Star Trek” was very much about a family. I had never really been a Trek fan growing up, so I didn’t have that kind of baggage when I approached it. So, for me, it was completely about telling a story about a family, people coming together, getting to know each other and being stronger together than they were apart. It just happened to take place in the future and in space. And “Super 8″ was obviously very much an autobiographical piece sort of in the beginning, even though it goes to crazy places that I never got to go as a kid.  But the process was very much the same. How do you go through something traumatic and come out the other side?  And that was sort of my way into this movie. And so everything’s really always about trying to serve the characters in the story as best as I possibly can.

Nick Interviews Emma Roberts

Nick talks with Julia Roberts’ niece Emma Roberts, one of the stars of “Scream 4” opening this Friday.

Nick Spake: When you saw the first “Scream” movie, did you ever dream of staring in one of the sequels?

Emma Roberts: It was one of those things that I never thought was a possibility. When this came up, I was so intrigued because it’s been so long since the last “Scream.” This seems like a perfect time for this one to come out.

NS: What appeals to you about the thriller/horror genre?

EM: I’m terrified of horror films but I’m a really big fan. Sometimes it’s just really fun to play a character that’s not just sitting around. It’s fun to run around and do some chase scenes and stuff like that.

NS: What drew you to this project?

ER: It’s only once in a lifetime that you get to do a “Scream” movie. I thought it would be really incredible to get to work with Wes Craven, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. They had done the last three “Scream” movies, and if they were coming back, I knew this one had to be really amazing. They were all really fun to work with.

NS: Can you tell us how any of the victims in “Scream 4” get killed?

EM: I wish I could tell you. But I can’t. I will say that there’s a lot of blood. I ate some of the blood, and it tasted like maple syrup.

NS: What are some of the new rules of horror movies that “Scream 4” confronts?

EM: Virgins can die now.

NS: Were there any pranks on set?

EM: Wes Craven was the biggest prankster on set. He got everyone. There was this one scene Hayden [Panettiere] was supposed to open a closet and nobody was supposed to be in there. Then all of a sudden this guy pops out and scares the crap out of her. Then a couple days latter I fell for the same thing.

NS: What have you learned from your experience in “Scream 4?”

EM: Don’t go into parking structures at night without a friend. Don’t ever say, “I’ll be right back,” because you probably won’t be.

NS: What’s your favorite scary movie?

EM: “The Ring,” because it genuinely traumatized me for two years after I saw it.

Nick Interviews Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Nick recently spoke with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who previously worked together in films such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Now they’re teamed up again for the new science-fiction comedy “Paul,” a film about two middle-age nerds who meet an alien in the desert.

Nick Spake: Where did you guys come up with the idea for this movie?

Simon Pegg: We were shooting “Shaun of the Dead” and the weather was terrible. Our producer said, “Wouldn’t it be great to make a film where it didn’t rain?” And that was that. We came up with this idea about two guys in a desert, which became Nevada, which became Area 51 because of my love for UFO mythology. It wasn’t a big leap to “Paul. ” The film is about being alien. But it isn’t Paul who is the alien. It is Graeme and Clive, these two British tourists who find themselves in this foreign land who hook up with a mystical figure in a “Ferris Bueller” sense.

NS: In the past you two have typically worked with director Edgar Write. For “Paul” however, you turned to Greg Mottola of “Superbad” and “Aventureland.” Is there a reason why you went with Mottola over Write?

SP: We wanted to give the movie an American sensibility so we wanted to work with an American director. Edgar’s directorial style is very present and has an amazing connected style. This film didn’t need that. It had to be more laid back and retrained. If you saw Paul in an Edgar Write film, he’d fit in because Edgar’s style is so hyperrealist. We wanted to offset the extraordinary appearance of Paul against a bleach American landscape.

NS: Your characters in the film are really die-hard fan boys. Do you think they resemble yourselves in real life at all?

SP: There’s a bit of us in every character we do. Graeme and Clive are us at our most enthusiastic about UFO mythology. But we’re not as low functioning as them.

Nick Frost: Part of the joke is that Paul meets the two guys who are most desperate to meet him. We felt qualified to play these characters because we go to Comicon for fun. We don’t just go for work.

NS: Is there a funny story about how you two first met?

SP: We bonded over the voices of probe-mates in “Star Wars.”

NF: Simon made this probe-mate noise. And that was it. I knew exactly what he was doing and I liked it.

NS: Whose idea was it to have Seth Rogen provide the voice of Paul?

SP: When we wrote the script we didn’t have Seth Rogen in mind. We thought maybe an old man like Rip Torn throughout the writing. But the studio wanted somebody more comedy relevant. So we made a list and they had a list. Seth was on both lists and it made perfect sense.

NS: Is there any possibility that Nick will appear in the next “Star Trek” movie with you, Simon?

SP: Probably not. We like working together but we don’t come as a pair. We’ve done as much stuff apart as we have together. We’ll always work together if we can though.

NF: I’m happy that Simon goes off and does his little things on the side. I like “Star Trek.” I like watching him in “Star Trek.” I wouldn’t like watching me in “Star Trek.” But if somebody offered me a million dollars to do it, maybe I’d do it.

SP: I think he’d make a terrific Harry Mudd from the original “Star Trek” series.

Nick Interviews Edgar Wright

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” might not have of been the biggest box office hit when it was released last summer. Nevertheless, this love letter to fanboys everywhere has still managed to conjured a mighty cult following. With the film released Tuesday, Nov. 9 on DVD and Blu-Ray, the sensation of Scott Pilgrim should only flourish as time goes by.

I spoke with the film’s director and co-writer, Edgar Wright, on a conference call with various others. Initially a short film and television director in England, Wright established himself as a major talent in the U.S. through theatrical satires such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” But Wright doesn’t necessarily like to think of his two debut movies as mere satires. “They’re not really supposed to be spoofs particularly,” Wright said. “The makers of ‘Scary Movie’ or ‘Epic Movie’ seem like they have complete disdain for the movie’s that they’re lampooning. And that was never the case with ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz.’  You can tell watching them that we have a real affinity for that genre and we like to think of them more as Valentines.  It’s the same as Scott Pilgrim. It’s not like it’s a send up of any genre in particular. It’s trying to create its own reality really.”

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” wasn’t quite like any film Wright had directed before, incorporating visual effects to give the film elements of a video game. When asked about the technical challenges Edgar said, “I tried to make it very clear to the cast what we were making. On the Blu-Ray you see a test film that we shot back in July 2008 and that was really a way of showing the studio what we were after.”

With “Scott Pilgrim” now in stores, Wright has many other projects in the works. Wright has been hired as one of the writers for “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn,” which is to be directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson. Wright said getting to contribute to the script was “awesome.” “I worked on it for a little bit and that was amazing, but I didn’t actually witness any of the [making of the film] because I was in Toronto,” said Wright. “So … it’s still 100 percent awesome.  But of course I would have loved to have seen [it in action] a bit more.”

Still, Wright has hit three winning movies out of the park. He mentioned a man in Seattle who went back to the theater 31 times to see “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” — and the man saved the ticket stubs to prove it. You can pick up “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” now out on DVD and Blu-Ray, but keep in mind though that after watching it once, you might risk wanting to watch it over and over again.

Nick talks with Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremain of "Jackass 3D"

Nick talks with Johnny Knoxvile and director Jeff Tremain, the men behind the phenomenon of “Jackass.” For the third entry to the “Jackass” film franchise, Knoxville and crew will be taking their outrageous stunts into another dimension, the third to be exact. As Knoxville put it, “We’re going to take James Cameron’s 3D technology in ‘Avatar’ and shove it up Steve-O’s butt!”

“Jackass” began as a television series at the dawn of the 21st century. The show was, in its own right, groundbreaking in the art of self-injuring stunts. Sure, it was flat out disgusting at times. But for every cringe there was a laugh-out-loud moment. And in the midst of all the self-inflicting pain and ridiculous, yet clever, pranks, the show was truly about a band of misfits who love their professions and the company of one another. The audience enjoyed the antics of the “Jackass” crew too, making it a runaway hit for MTV. “We didn’t even think the show would make it,” Knoxville said. “We’re surprised but appreciate it.”

But after only three seasons, Knoxville announced he would be leaving the show; he was fed up with censors. Out of this came the 2002 feature-length film, “Jackass: The Movie,” where they had free range to do anything they wanted. The film became a surprise hit, opening at No. 1 at the box office. This made leeway for them to making the equally successful, “Jackass Number Two” in 2006. Now this weekend comes “Jackass 3D.”

Among all the stunts in the movie, Knoxville said his favorite is “a revisiting of the notorious Porta-Potty stunt. Steve-O is horrified of roller coasters and bungee jumping so we combined those with the Porta-Potty. It’s one of the best things in the movie.” When asked if anybody ever absolutely refused to do a stunt, Knoxville replied, “They sometimes refuse. That’s when Tremaine steps in and they do it.” “The ones they really don’t want to do are usually the best,” Tremaine said.

Both Knoxville and Tremaine wanted to make it abundantly clear that they do not endorse teenagers reenacting the stunts they do. “It’s a real bummer because we give a warning and we mean it,” Knoxville said.

There have been many instances when even a trained professional such as Knoxville has come close to death. “A bull once 360ed me and I landed on my neck. I got a concussion but I walked away,” he said. “Jackass 3D” resulted in trips to the hospital for the entire cast, one of which involved a broken penis.

What ultimately has made “Jackass” work is the chemistry and sincerity of the cast. Knoxville said that it’s not their intention to create bad vibes and if everybody feels uncomfortable they will shut a stunt down. “We were going to do a stunt where the Donor Family lived and decided not to do it,” he said. Despite some recent changes amongst the cast, such as Steven’s sobriety, everyone still manages to maintain the same high spirits. “Steven proved that he could be an idiot even without the alcohol,” Tremaine said.
As beat-up and scarred as their bodies may become, these men’s juvenile spirits will never die.

Nick talks with the cast and directors of It's Kind of a Funny Story

Nick has a session with Keir Gilchrist and Zach Galifianakis of "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and the film’s directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Nick Spake: Anna and Ryan, in addition to “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” you two have written and directed several other movies together, including “Half Nelson” and “Sugar.” Do you always see eye to eye or do you guys sometimes have creative confrontations?

Ryan Fleck: We see eye to chest because I’m a little taller. We try to hash out disagreements in pre-production and during the writing stage. We know how to handle disagreements efficiently.

NS: Did you guys give the actors free range to improvise?

RF: All actors were very collaborative. We’re open to other ideas. Zach really thrives on improv and you really need to let him go and do what he does best. He’ll give you some gems to work with because we’re not really funny people.

NS: Keir, if you could give Craig, the film’s protagonist, advice what would it be?

Keir Gilchrist: I don’t think I would be qualified to give him advice.

NS: Zach, do you feel overwhelmed by all your success?

Zach Galifianakis: It think if I were younger it would be overwhelming.  But since I’m older I’m handling it OK. I get a really good table at Sbarro now. Other than that not much has changed.

NS: What are your favorite mediums to work with?

ZG: Favorite genre is Cirque du Soleil. Best paying is by far the Internet. I like to keep occupied because idol hands are the devil’s workshop.

NS: Anna and Ryan, what do you think it is about your partnership that works so well?

RF: I’m glad you think it’s working. We’re able to make the other person’s idea better to make a third idea that is much better than what we could have done on our own.

Anna Boden: Dialectic.

NS: Zach, how do you choose your roles?

ZG: My first question when choosing a role is, “Is there any nudity.” When I find out there’s not, I’ll read the script anyway.

NS: Would you ever shave your beard for a role?

ZG: I can’t shave it off. I have a Port wine stain in the shape of India.

NS: What is one thing you hope people take away from the film?

KG: I hope people are entertained because I think the one purpose of film is to entertain. I don’t think people need to take away a message. If they enjoy it, that’s all that matters.

RF: The film has to do with not feeling alone. I hope someone goes in feeling depressed and they walk out thinking, “I’m not alone.”

AB: One of the great things about the story is that Craig learns to appreciate what he has, and I think we’d all be lot happier if we did that more often.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” opens on October 8th.


Nick's Q&A with "Buried" Screenwriter Chris Sparling

Nick Spake: Where did you get the inspiration for this story?

Chris Sparling: Why does everybody open with that question? I wish there was a cool reason. But originally it was a financial decision. I thought it would only be a $5000 movie at first.

NS: Was it easy to sell a movie that takes place entirely in a coffin?

CS: It was. The people I met with had a great response to it. The producer, Peter Safran, and the director, Rodrigo Cortes, wanted to do the film.

NS: Do you yourself have a phobia of being buried alive?

CS: No, I think it’s a natural fear. I don’t think there’s a single person who would be comfortable. What’s scary about “Buried” is that it’s as close to reality that it could possibly be.

NS: What would you say is your biggest fear?

CS: Sharks.

NS: What was the last movie that genuinely scared you?

CS: The first “Saw” movie scared me. After it I had to check the back of my car. “Buried” is not a horror movie though. It’s more of a Hitchcockian thriller.

NS: Is there a particular genre of film you like to write?

CS: The thriller genre. I thought I was going to write comedy. But thrillers seem to work for me.

NS: Was Ryan Reynolds the first actor you had in mind to play the role of Paul Conroy?

CS: I would like to lie and say, “yes.” But Paul is described as forty-five in the script. But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we had someone who captured that range of emotion. Ryan is breathtaking.

NS: How did it feel for your movie to get picked up for distribution by Lionsgate?

CS: I had 25 family and friends to celebrate. Just to get into Sundance was a dream come true. You have been hired by M. Night Shyamalan to write “Twelve Strangers” for the upcoming “Night Chronicles.” How did that feel?

NS: You have been hired by M. Night Shyamalan to write “Twelve Strangers” for the upcoming “Night Chronicles.” How did that feel?

CS: Again, it was incredible. I’ve always considered him to be one of this generation’s best filmmakers.

NS: Do you have any other projects lined up?

CS: In addition to “Twelve Strangers,” “ATM,” which is more of a horror movie, shoots up in Canada in October. I also hope to direct an indie film called “Falling Slowly.”

NS: Is there any advice you can give to struggling screenwriters?

CS: The thing I’ve learned most is to read screenplays everyday and write everyday. It’s about access. Find people who believe in your work and capitalize on them.

“Buried” opens on Sept. 24th in limited release then expands to wide release on October 8th.

Nick's Q&A with Scottsdale Film Festival Director Amy Ettinger

Nick Spake: Why do you think the Scottsdale International Film Festival is a significant event for moviegoers to attend?

Amy Ettinger: We’re a thriving metropolis in the Valley. Our particular festival promotes diversity because it brings in films from every conceivable country. We approach 70 countries worth of programming, which helps promote tolerance.

NS: Do you consider yourself to be a big film enthusiast?

AE: I’m a huge consumer of films. I am not a film critic though. I just love films.

NS: Have you seen any of the 27 films being screened? If so, what would you say is your personal favorite?

AE: I’ve seen 25 of the 27 films. My favorite film I’ve seen is “Time of the Comet,” an Albanian film. I just fell in love with it. It’s a very clever film that made me laugh out loud, which isn’t easy to do. It is not intended to be a laugh-out-loud comedy though. The film is much more subtle than that.

NS: The festival includes five Oscar contenders from the 2010 awards season. Do you think there are any films in the lineup that have been severely underappreciated critically and financially?

AE: Most of them haven’t had a chance to be underappreciated because they haven’t [been] picked up for distribution.

NS: The festival focuses heavily on foreign films? Why is that?

AE: Because I’m the programmer and founder. Over the years I have been asked to bring in films of a wider interest.

NS: Will there be any celebrities attending the event?

AE: I don’t know yet. Sometimes they show up. Sometimes not at all. There’s been early rumbling that a cast member of “Conviction” may attend.

NS: What would you say is the best film you’ve seen this year?

AE: I never do that. I do not make lists. I don’t have a favorite thing except chocolate. I am constitutionally incapable of making a list.

NS: Any final thoughts on the film festival?

AE: I think of the festival as a boutique with handpicked gems from around the four corners of the world. I want to have the selection be so tantalizing so people will have to see more than what they thought they would. This is the 10th year and I’m going big, but not in traditional red carpet sense. Our opening night film is the premiere of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the third film in the “Millennium” trilogy.

NS: How do people go about purchasing tickets to the festival?

AE: We have a sales cycle available on our website [until] Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. Check the ticket and passes page.

Nick Talks with Emma Stone

Charismatic actress Emma Stone has distinguished herself as a promising screen talent over the past few years. She made her film debut in “Superbad” where an inebriated Jonah Hill passed out on her. In the midst of all the over-the-top violence in “Zombieland,” she still managed to create a charming and resilient character. While Stone might have fallen victim to the gratuitous talking dog atrocity, “Marmaduke,” last summer, she has the makings of a certified movie star not only capable of great comedic work but dramatic roles as well.

Stone is an Arizona native, brought up by her parents in Scottsdale. During her youth she participated in numerous productions at Valley Youth Theater in Phoenix. While there she took part in several musicals such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Wiz,” and “Titanic.” Despite her musical theater background, Stone said she is not keen on doing any movie musicals. “I would not be the best candidate. Singing makes me really depressed and nervous a lot of the time,” the actress said. “The only real musical role I would be dying to play is Sally in Cabaret. I think she’s just the greatest.”

After emerging into stardom through several supporting performances, Stone will be tackling her first leading lady part in the comedy, “Easy A,” which opens Sept. 17. In this coming of age story, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” Stone plays a clean-cut high school student named Olive. One night the virgin Olive stages a fake sex scene with a homosexual friend, played by Dan Byrd, jumpstarting a string of nasty rumors. In due course, Olive turns that around to start her own service where she pretends to have intercourse with other virgins.

In addition to staring in “Easy A,” Stone has several other projects in the cannon for next year. In 2011 she will star in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” with Steve Carell, an animated feature called “The Croods” and “Friends with Benefits” alongside Mila Kunis. In this mix of comedies, Stone will also be tackling the complex role of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan in the screen adaptation of “The Help,” based on The New York Times bestselling novel. When asked about the possibility of a second “Zombieland” movie though, Stone was reluctant to reveal any information.

Stone has certainly evolved as a performer since she caught the acting bug in Valley Youth Theater’s production of “The Wind and the Willows” at age 11. She might have never made it to Hollywood though had it not been for a slide show presentation she made for her parents as a proposal to move to California.  Stone said she is grateful to her parents for their support in her road to stardom. With two big hits already under her belt and numerous upcoming films, the future looks bright for this talented Valley native.

Nick vs. the cast of Scott Pilgrim

Today I sat down and interviewed the cast of Edgar Wright’s new film, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” based on the celebrated graphic novel series. The cast consists of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, and Brandon Routh, whom a fellow reporter indicated I share a resemblance to.
Nick Spake: “Scott Pilgrim” references numerous video games. Are any of you big video game fans and if so which ones?
Kieran Culkin: Three years ago I called the Nintendo hotline for Mario 64 to find out where the 120th star was. It turned out all I had to do was walk up to Toad and ask him for it. I was so pissed off!
Brandon Routh: I grew up playing a lot of Nintendo. Dragon Warrior became pretty powerful in my life.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I have no credibility on the topic.
NS: Who do you think would win in a fight, Scott Pilgrim or Superman?
BR: No offense to Scott Pilgrim but the answer to that question in pretty much every scenario is Superman.
KC: I think that Professor X could destroy Superman.
NS: Brandon, you were a big Superman fan prior to staring in “Superman Returns.” Exactly how big of a Superman fan would you consider yourself?
BR: I was a big fan of the movies. I didn’t read the comics as much. But I was definitely a fan of the first two films. The third one a little bit and the forth one not really.
NS: Mary, Have you ever considered dying your hair pink, blue, or green in real life?
MW: The film made me consider it. I would love to try it one day.
NS: You’ve done a lot of horror movies like “Final Destination 3,” “Black Christmas,” and “The Ring Two.” Was this a fun departure for you to do a graphic novel adaptation?
MW: I was actually cut from “The Ring Two” by the way. But this was certainly new territory for me and a much more complex role than I’d ever played before. It was amazing for me to be part of it.
BR: I thought about dying my hair green.
KC: I actually showed up to the set with green hair and about 20 pounds too much.
NS: Kieran, you were not in “Home Alone 3” or “Home Alone 4.” Were you offended by that?
KC: I think most people were offended by those movies. The “Home Alone 2” video game is the worst game though! The year it came out it was voted the worst game of all time by Game Pro. Two years ago I looked at the Worst 100 list and it had dropped to only the third worst video game. It’s the dumbest thing. You eat pizza and there’s like three Joe Pescis. The game made no sense.
NS: If you had to single out one director you’d like to work with who would it be?

KC: Edgar Wright…oops!

MW: Paul Thomas Anderson.

BR: I’d have to say the other Anderson, Wes Anderson.

NS: Aw yes, the two Anderson brothers…well not really.

Nick's Question and Answer Session with Twilight's Justin Chon

The other day I was given the opportunity to interview Justin Chon, who plays Eric Yorkie in the “Twilight” movies. We sat down and I asked him a number of questions while he helped himself to a plate of macaroni. From what I collected Chon came off as a nice young fellow who is very enthusiastic about his profession.

Q: Are you for Team Edward or Team Jacob?

A: I’m Team Switzerland. No, I’m Team Jacob. I sort of like the underdog.

Q: Were you a fan of the Twilight novels prior to the movies?

A: I had heard of them but I hadn’t read them yet. After I booked the role I started reading them. It sort of was a requirement.

Q: Do you ever use the line, “I’m a star of The Twilight Saga” to pick up chicks? As I see it being part of “The Twilight” ensemble is like being a cop or fireman. Tell a woman your occupation she’ll throw herself all over you.

A: To be honest I can never say it because that would be pretty douchey. It’s a cheap trick. But my friends can say it.

Q: You recently decided to dye your hair blonde. What brought on that change?

A: It’s summer time in the LBC. It’s just time to lighten up. People take life too seriously and I don’t. I just like to do what I want even though my agent and manager were pretty angry at me.

Q: Being an actor who has worked in numerous entertainment mediums, what is your favorite film and television show?

A: I really liked “Arrested Development” because it was so ahead of it’s time. I like stuff that’s really off the wall. I also like Documentaries. See “A Prophet,” a small art house film available on DVD now. It’s awesome!

Q: Are you a fan of any other vampire series like “True Blood” or “The Vampire Diaries?”  

A: No. I watched the first season of “True Blood.” I know it’s a good show and Alan Ball’s amazing. But I haven’t followed up on it. But one of my favorite movies is “Interview with the Vampire.” Tom Cruise is actually really good in that.

Q: Is there any particular actor or director you’d like to work with?

A: I want to work with Aziz Ansari. I loved his character in “Funny People,” Randy. “In a fucking hot tub.”

Q: Are you friends with any of the “Twlight” cast members offstage?

A: I’m the closest with Michael Welch who plays Mike. We have very similar interests. I also really like making fun of Christian Serratos, who plays my girlfriend in the movie. I just really like making fun of her and telling her how ugly she is.

Q: Is Taylor Lautner’s six-pack real and if so is he constantly looking for excuses to take off his shirt like in the movie?

A: It is real and yes he rarely has a shirt on, even in the mountains where it’s snowy because he’s tough like that with big muscles…tough!

Q: Who would win in a fight, Harry Potter or Edward Cullen?

A: Edward Cullen because he’s very powerful. Harry Potter needs a broom to fly around and Edward Cullen can just jump around real high on his own. If they were to duel Harry Potter would start using magic but then Edward Cullen could read his mind and predict what he’s going to do. And he could distract him with his glittery body then punch him in the balls.

Q: How’s that macaroni you’re eating?

A: It’s actually pretty decent. I like it

Nick's interview with Sam Rockwell

This week, I was lucky enough to take part in a conference call with actor Sam Rockwell, one of the stars of “Iron Man 2.” Rockwell has been working as a character actor for years with supporting roles in movies like “Galaxy Quest” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Recently, his popularity as an actor has become higher than ever with his acclaimed leading performances in “Snow Angels” and “Moon.” In “Iron Man 2,” Rockwell plays a slimy defense contractor named Justin Hammer. Rockwell is no stranger to superhero movies, though, having played Batman in the short film, “Robin’s Date” — and of course the Head Thug in the cinematic masterpiece “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Strangely enough, Rockwell revealed in the call that originally auditioned for the role of Tony Stark in the first “Iron Man” picture. But the role, of course, went to Robert Downey Jr. Now Rockwell plays a nemesis of Iron Man who wishes to one-up Tony Stark with a line of Iron Drones.

Rockwell had previously worked with “Iron Man’s” director, John Favreau, on the 2001 movie “Made.” The actor says one of the reasons the two “Iron Man” movies work so well is because Favreau “knows how to make things real and has a bullshit meter.” When I asked Rockwell if he anticipated being so successful when he set out to become an actor, he modestly replied,  “No, I thought I would just get some summer stock.”

Rockwell will collaborate with Favreau once again in 2011 with the film “Cowboys & Aliens” and has several other projects lined up. Unfortunately, he has no information regarding “Iron Man 3” or who will be staring in the upcoming “Avengers” movie. However, he “hopes he’s in them.” The ending of “Iron Man 2” does hint at one of the heroes who will be teaming up with “The Avengers” though. But I won’t dare give that twist away.