Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jesse Eisenberg Becomes An Action Figure in Zombieland

Exclusive Q&A by Brad Balfour

For 26 year old Jesse Eisenberg--who was awarded lots of attention for his troubled teenager in "The Squid and The Whale"--becomes a zombie-killing machine, and offers a curious shift in gears. Interspersed with a first-person voiceover by the wussy Columbus (Eisenberg), Zombieland spotlights two survivors who forge an uneasy alliance to live in a world destroyed by a plague that turns nearly everyone into zombies. Both are trying to get east to see if anyone is free of the infection. The multiweapon-toting, bad-ass Tallahassee (the darkly funny Woody Harrelson) distrusts bonding as much as he hates zombies--but it's only because he doesn't want to pummel a friend if they've morphed into the living dead.

At first bamboozled by sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), they eventually establish a relationship with this duo to form a dysfunctional and desperate ersatz family unit. All four have found their own ways to vanquish zombies, so when the sisters steal the boys' SUV and guns, they catch up to the girls and go along with their determined effort to visit their favorite amusement park in California.

This horror comedy not only brings out the mayhem-making on Eisenberg's part, it shows he's capable of spoofing the kind of post-collegiate, sexually repressed geek he played in "Adventureland" who, lo and behold, worked in an local carnival. Ironically though, Eisenberg admits in this exclusive one-on-one interview, that he's more of an arthouse rather than genre fan and is proud of it.

Q: You’re a healthy 20-something. How have you avoided watching your share of horror movies? Maybe you read little too many Greek tragedies—I saw a performance of The Bacchae by Euripides the other day and that could be translated into a horror film.

JE: My friend directed a Greek play and then he did like a horror movie version of it. It’s not actually that different. I just don’t really like horror movies. They’re either scary, or if they’re not scary, they’re terrible. If they’re not scary then they’re a failure, and if they are scary then they scare you. So either way, you kind of walk out lost. But this movie is really not that. As you saw last night, it’s mostly comedic, and it’s a real fun experience. The horror of it is really secondary.

Q: Now that you’ve done this movie, and you’re a zombie-slayer, are you going to investigate a lot more horror films?

JE: I have my own narrow view of cinema, but no, not really.

Q: You’ve got to see the Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn with the slaying of the vampires, or maybe John Carpenter's Vampires. Bride of Frankenstein is one of the great movies of all time. Didn’t making this film intrigue you as to what is behind the psychology of horror films like the old Universal pictures? What would you want to see?

JE: I’m sure they’re great. There was a movie out last year that everyone said to go see, called Let the Right One In.

Q: The Swedish vampire movie.

JE: Is it really good?

Q: For those who like indie films, you get your dose of indie art out of it. Without too much teen idol-making, it’s teen angst via the vampire genre. Now that you’ve done the kind of movie that might make you a teen idol, are you worried that Twilight's Robert Pattinson fans will switch over to you?

JE: That’s not my nature or the character in this movie. The only people that will be interested in me from this movie will be grandmothers, and they don’t have websites. No, I think there’s no threat.

Q: You don’t think that you've made a valid play for Wichita--Emma Stone--to fall madly in love with you?

JE: Yeah, but he's not that kind of character. Thank God, because who wants to be in the tabloids for anything, ever.

Q: If this movie does well, you’re going to be doing lots of comic-cons and things like that now.

JE: I know, I realize that... I know.

Q: Do you collect anything that you might find at the comic-cons; then you should be looking forward to it?

JE: No. I had no idea what anything was there. We had to go to this year’s [San Diego Comic-con]. I was out of my element.

Q: You didn’t get turned onto any cool graphic novels?

JE: No. they couldn’t be further from my comfort zone.

Q: You must collect something; what do you collect?

JE: I don’t know. I don’t have any space for anything. We have collector’s half-photos of Fidel Castro at my house. I don’t know why. We have like three amazing collector’s editions.

Q: How did you separate yourself from the character which plays on the type of characters you've done?

JE: All the acting is very naturalistic, so it seems like we’re all these people. It takes a lot of effort to establish this tone of this movie. The movie asks a lot of you comedically in a very specific world and in a very specific way.

It’s a unique world that the movie takes place in. I don’t see the character as exactly like myself, but I’m sure when people see the movie they will think that. Until one acts in a movie, they realize that it requires effort, even if it looks very natural or casual.

Q: When you do a movie like this—you’ve handled guns, kicked ass on zombies—how does it change you? Are you inspired to be more of an ass kicker in some way?

JE: No. I don’t want to be promoting violence to children or making it look fun. Luckily, my character does not want to shoot people. He might close a door on this girl’s foot and she’s trying to kill me, and [he'll] say, “I’m so sorry that I hurt your foot.”

I’m glad that my character and I cannot have too much fun with the violence. People are going to see this movie who maybe have a proclivity towards violence, and we wouldn’t want to make it look that much fun where it’s inadvertently promoting it.

Q: Woody does a damn good job of making it seem like it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It brought out your inner shit-kicker. Do you think you’re going to get offers now to do a lot more shit-kicking as a result?

JE: No, no, I don’t think so, nor am I interested in that. It’s exhausting and technically difficult to shoot scenes like that. The scenes that I’m interested in are the scenes where we’re creating these characters. These other scenes, half the time the stunt guy is doing the thing that’s the most fun looking.

Q: If you had to smash anything like you did in the film, if you had that opportunity to smash as a result of the freedom to smash, what would you have had in mind?

JE: Probably a laptop computer, because you know how frustrating it is when it’s not doing the thing you asked it to do. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world, and you just want to throw it against the wall. It would probably feel good for one second—and after that, terrible.

Again, the things that are most fun to watch are usually the things that are the most difficult to shoot. When we were filming the scene where we destroyed this store, you had to be very careful. And then when you watch it, it looks like the characters are having fun so spontaneously. But it’s a difficult thing to shoot. It’s so much fun to watch so you can relive it, almost, through your characters.

Q: Did you talk about a back story as to how the zombie plague began? Did you elaborate--just for fun--on whether it was some sort of biological experiment?

JE: It changed so much over the course. At first, we weren’t sure if people would be interested in knowing the back story. And then we did the test screenings of it and realized people actually want to know where it came from.

So the final verdict is that it’s now like a mad cow disease. It came from contaminated hamburger, which is good because it has some kind of possible practical implications toward the food industry. Woody is really happy with that because he’s a strict vegan.

Q: Woody Harrelson is an incredibly naturally funny guy. I don’t know how you get on set with him without breaking up all the time. Abigail Breslin can be funny too. But you must have had some interesting conversations with him, because he’s got that passionate, serious side about politics, philosophy, and other things?

JE: I’ve admired him for many years. I work with a few animal rights organizations, I’ve been vegetarian for five years and I was vegan for a year. I’m not a vegan right now, but when we were filming I ate all the same food he ate.

Q: You had so much fun with Woody there, that you must love to have a chance to work with him again. Do you see that as a possibility?

JE: Yeah, I would love to. He kind of cast me in this, so I owe him a lot and would love to.

Q: Not only as a result of this movie, but are there people you’d like to act with or work with? Now you’ve done such an interesting range of people, you’re moving on to a new plateau.

JE: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I would never think that I would get to meet Woody Harrelson. It always ends up being more shocking than you would have expected had you tried to fantasize about it.

Q: Do you ever sit there and fantasize about who you would have as your leading ladies?

JE: No, I’m surprised that they stay on the set after they meet me. As you’re well aware, I’m more than lucky.

Q: It must have been fun working with Emma. Did you know her from before? She really doesn’t take seriously that role of the sex kitten, zombie-slayer. It must have been fun to work with her.

JE: It’s a great asset to the movie that she’s not the typical hot girl. She’s an incredibly funny person. The character that she has is a very strong and self-respecting female character, which is not the most common thing—especially in a movie like this, a horror-comedy.

Q: You’re lucky that you’ve been able to get some really great directors. Are there people you want to target? Writers you want?

JE: No. Once you start doing that, you just open yourself up to disappointment, because it doesn’t work that way. It’s best to just be open minded to whatever new opportunities present themselves, like in this case.

Q: You must have thought about sequels.

JE: No, no, I haven’t. If you’d asked me a week ago if I wanted to do a sequel, I would say that would definitely be the last thing that I would ever want to do. In fact, they asked me when I originally signed up for the movie, “Could you sign on for a sequel now?” I asked my lawyer at the time, “Please, please, don’t agree to something like that,” because the worst thing you want to be doing is a sequel to a movie that no one likes. When I saw the movie the other night for the first time in Miami, I was so blown away. I think it would be a great thing to do.

Q: When you envision that sequel, can you imagine all the possible places to go, like zombies in New York versus zombies in LA?

JE: I would love to do that, too, because I wouldn’t have to leave home to film it. That’s exactly right; there’s so much you could do. Although I imagine zombies in New York would be so much more expensive they’ll probably end up doing zombies in Tulsa. But there are so many possibilities because there’s such a free-flowing logic to the movie.

Q: You were pretty young when you started, and you’ve naturally evolved. Where do you want to go from here? You’ve done comedies, but they’re with a more indie heart to them then some of the raunchy buddy stuff that Judd Apatow's produced and directed. Where do you see yourself going now that you’ve added this into the catalog?

JE: Well, I never expected to be in a movie like this. But because the script was so good, I wanted to. So I guess it’s just project to project, regardless of what the genre is or the size of the movie. I feel like if it’s good, then that stuff is really not relevant, and that’s what I felt about this. I mean they’re sending me a lot of movies that are similar to this because people are liking this movie, but they’re awful.

I have plays that I’ve written that I’m trying to get done, and it’s certainly helpful to be in movies that people see. The next movies I’m supposed to do happen to be dramas, but if something like this came along again I’d be happy to do it.

Q: What about directing and other things?

JE: That’s a whole different [story], to actually have some command of authority, and I don’t have any of that.

Q: But then you'd rise to the occasion.

JE: I suppose you could, but you need a deep voice or something.

Q: Oh, you’re undervaluing your magnetic and influential skills.

JE: Thank you, but you’re the same person that wanted to see an action figure of me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Director Dan Stone Joins the Battle To Save The Whales

Exclusive Interview by Brad Balfour

There's no question where director/producer Dan Stone stands on the issue of Japan's incessant drive to kill whales under the guise of doing research in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. After discovering the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's sometimes illegal efforts to stop whalers as the primarily Japanese fleet prowls the southern ice-cap for whale pods, Stone placed a set of seven alternating cameramen/cnematographers on two ships, The Farley Mowat and The Robert Hunter to make the documentary At The Edge of The World.

As the activists searched for the whalers and engaged them in self-described "direct action" (sabotage, vandalism, etc.), his crew faced frighteningly cold conditions to capture the harrowing experiences of the conservationists. The under-trained and under-equipped international volunteer crew, commanded by long-time activist Paul Watson and first-time captain Alex Cornelissen--apply a combination of bizarre and brilliant tactics to stop the whalers.

To Stone, this somewhat ramshackle crew fights a "David Vs Goliath" like struggle to stop the unnecessary and egregious hunting of a noble species that may equal or exceed our own in intelligence. This season, recent movies that grapple with environmental issues have given way to films that not only tell us of the dangers of our assault on the world's fragile ecology, but offer specific and sometimes pirate-like solutions to the problem.

Like The Cove--which dealt with efforts to stop the capture, imprisonment, and destruction of dolphins in Japan--we see direct action applied to such causes. These films don't just take an advocacy position while informing us, they challenge us to do the same. So whether At The Edge of The World is a bookend to The Cove, these films force to address these issues not only intellectually but through the gut.

I will host a special screening of the film with Stone and cinematographer Tim Gorski joining me in a Q&A to discuss it on September 30th, 2009. The screening, sponsored by The Center for Communication, is at at 6:00 pm in the HBO Theatre, 1100 Avenue of the Americas, 15th floor.

Q: When you make a movie like this, do you make a movie with the idea that at the end of the day you're just glad you could make a good movie? Or do you really hope you can change people by having the movie out there? Obviously, you don't do documentaries like this without having some degree of passion for the subject; it's not like being a hired hand. How do you get that balance?

DS: At the beginning and the end, there's a lot of passion. In the middle, it's a long grind. If you've ever seen the graph of Napoleon's march into Moscow, it starts big and it's a thin little thing. That's what happens to you emotionally and financially along the way.

It's a hell of a long grind, and all I really care about is what I cared about in the beginning; getting the story out. It's not about the people who made the film, it's about the story, what was going on down there. I felt at the beginning, I feel at the end, that it's an amazing stage.

Q: You could have made it a story about five different people on the boat. Or, it could have been a history of the guy that started the organization, or one of the cinematographers. There were seven of you. Where do you draw the line between showing that beautiful imagery--the whales under the water and all that--and telling a story about the people?

DS: We did not want to tell it as a standard documentary; there's virtually no talking heads, there's virtually no interviews directly to the camera, there's no narrator. With a standard documentary, you tell someone's story. Often, the person making the film wants to tell their story. To me, what's interesting is to be part of the story. It would have been very easy just to pick three of the characters and carry their story; it would have been very easy to have the talking heads. That's not the film that we wanted to make.

We wanted the viewer to feel like they're part of the journey-- it was about the viewer, not about those people. The idea is so that subconsciously you not only feel like you're part of it, but that you're actually one of the cameras. That's your most natural spot to be, since you don't see yourself on camera. But if nothing else, you hopefully will find yourself on a very interesting journey.

That's also why we break the fourth wall occasionally. It's created so that you'll hopefully feel that you're part of the journey, and if you are part of the journey then you can draw your own conclusions.

Those people were believers coming in and they were believers coming off. Since they did such a hell of a great job, it's not a bad group to be a part of. Most of the cameramen didn't know anything about it; most of them found out about it a week before they left.

They were willing to take enormous risks on very short notice. Going to Antarctica is pretty intriguing to begin with. It's one of the most dangerous places in the world, but it's also one of the most beautiful places in the world. One of the ships was not ice class; it was fast, but it was not designed for that environment. There were a lot of moving pieces and a lot of things that had to be dealt with. Seasickness--one of the cinematographers lost almost 30 pounds and he wasn't that big to begin with.

Q: Had you been passionate about the subject before you decided to make the film? You've been a filmmaker for a while. How did the two dovetail? Obviously the mission gives you an arc so that whatever happened, you have this block that makes it a viable story.

DS: That was luck. We could have come back with any story. In fact, within a few days of running out of fuel, there was no story and then all hell broke loose. The mandate was not to create a story but to capture a story.

It was interesting, because it happened to fall into a classic three-act arc structure. You had your setup in the first act. Then you had the second act, where the things you were hoping for weren't coming to pass. All of a sudden you go from "we're going to be on this mission" to "my god, this is not the mission we signed up for". They start out in heaven in that first scene and halfway through the movie they're sort of wandering around through hell.

And then you have what is, in a sense, two parts of the third act: the different confrontations. Interesting within that is, in the first confrontation you had them challenging the definitive statement from the young captain, which was, "I'll do whatever I can to stop them from killing whales."

Well, he comes into a circumstance that he could never have planned for. He now has to choose between doing whatever he can to stop them from killing whales [and] the almost certain risk of losing two of the crew members' lives. So he made a statement that he was 100% sure of and circumstances brought him to the opposite.

The founder had made a statement early on that 18,000 whales [have been killed] in 20 years, something has to be done. But when he's given the opportunity to do the most dramatic possible thing and make the most dramatic statement, which he had hoped and planned to do from the beginning, he chooses not to because he's smart enough to realize he'll win the battle and lose the war if he does.

I got involved out of blissful ignorance, which was that for most of my life I didn't know that these things were going on. Five years ago, I happened to see a picture of them killing seals; I had thought that had long ago stopped. And in trying to learn about that, I realized that most of what is done in terms of animal advocacy is done for fundraising.

There's this unfortunate symbiosis between those who are committing the atrocities and those who are highlighting the atrocities to raise money, but not really doing anything to stop [them]. Somebody I respected said, "Talk to Watson, he's actually doing something"--this is on the seal hunt.

So when I called, they said, "He's in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean." I said, "What the hell is he doing there?" and they said, "He's stopping the whale hunt." My reaction was, they're killing whales? And I'm no spring chicken.

Q: You really didn't know that?

DS: I didn't know that. When I was a kid, that was the big thing: stop killing whales. I thought it had ended. In fact, theoretically it had been ended in 1986; no more commercial whaling. But there is this research exception, this loophole, which has been exploited for the last 20 years.

So that's how it evolved, and what started small just got bigger and bigger. Nobody would finance the project because it was too risky. But I felt that it's an amazing stage down there--it's an amazing story. It's a story that needs to see the light of day.

Q: Initially, your main focus was less about social activism and more about the filmmaking?

DS: Actually, I just followed whatever path was of interest to me. In other words, in the 10 years that preceded doing this, I had gone to college, was a high school coach, and was involved in the poker industry. I got involved with television, and originally thought that this would be a good episodic series. But nobody at that time was willing to step up to the plate. Animal Planet, to their credit, has subsequently gotten involved. They're very happy with the results, because this is really interesting stuff.

Q: There are filmmakers who come to the causes they illuminate by being passionate about the cause and using filmmaking as a way to get the word out. Then there are filmmakers who discover this and, if they get sucked in, become less of a filmmaker and more of an activist. You obviously reach a point where, if your passion is as a filmmaker, you want to move on to the next film. But sometimes it's hard--how can you let go especially if your one movie doesn't solve the problem; the problem is still there.

DS: Life is [made of] trade-offs. I got involved in this not because I wanted to make a film or because I was an activist, [but] because I didn't know and I saw it and I was pissed off. And then when I thought that there were solutions already being done out there, I got more pissed off because there weren't, except for this one little group.

I [heard] about Greenpeace, I didn't know about them. I certainly didn't know that Greenpeace raises 100 times what these guys do. As you see in the film, there's a very contentious relationship between them and Greenpeace. But the reality is that I respect people who are willing to do something good, and these people were willing to.

Some people don't like their methods. Some people have seen the films and said they should be arrested. Some people said, "in a parallel life, I'd love to do this." But at least I figured the exposé could only help. It's not [enough] to solve the problem; but if it brings it out there, it could only help because you've got to draw the line somewhere. I think most people draw the line at killing whales, especially when it's being done for commercial purposes under the guise of research.

Q: When I interviewed the guys that did the penguin movie they had incredible problems with cameras in that weather. There's a whole movie about trying to film in that environment.

DS: I was not on the ships [so I didn't experience that]. I was doing the logistics from New York. I really had no great passion about being part of the movie. I didn't go to most of the film festivals, which was probably not smart. But it's not my thing.

it's not about the people who made the film, it's about the story, what was going on down there. I felt at the beginning, I feel at the end, that it's an amazing stage. I just wanted to help make this happen.

I know from years of coaching, the Mike Ditka philosophy. When they asked him, how do you get the teams to play so hard? He said, "I get tough players and I let them play." And what I wanted to do is find, on short notice, some guys that had some real guts.

Q: That's why there are so many cinematographers?

DS: I was the one who decided that they all deserved that for what they did. You can find people who are willing to do that. They're not there to create a story, they're there to capture a story. You try to create the story, you ruin the story.

They did a little film themselves on the ship, for example, a little five minute thing, and even people who didn't have lines were completely different people. They were wooden. And then as soon as the filming was over and they had the outtakes, they're back to being their natural selves again. That's what we want; people are not meant to be actors. When they're themselves, they can be very very interesting. So you can decide for yourself how natural they come across.

Q: The movie's really great about what it tells, but I wanted to know, what led these people to be on the ship? Within its 90 minutes, you can't cover everything. There's a whole other movie about who [naturalist Farley Mowat] is. And there is Robert Hunter--he's a story in and of himself.

DS: He was also one of the co-founders of Greenpeace. He and his wife, who is still alive, mortgaged their home so Paul could get his first ship way back when. His daughter was on the campaign. We could have told the story through her.

The backstory has been the singular question that's been raised the most, because there are two very different things in backstory. Some people want to know backstory. But our hope is that this is about you, and you are joining the ship. And while you're on the ship with these people, they are your crewmates. And as you go on you realize that, as crazy as they might seem in the beginning, in fairness, it's insane.

You're thousands of miles from anything. You fly a helicopter through an arch--if one piece of ice breaks off when you're flying through, or if the rotor just knocks a piece off, you're dead. If the guy who jumps breaks his leg from the height, the whole campaign is screwed, because what do you do with somebody like that if you have to get them back.

The idea was that you want people to be interested in their backstory. Then when they feel that that's never going to happen, the final piece of the puzzle is you realize they're just regular people. That's why the credit roll is what it is.

Q: They're regular people but they're really not regular people. They are those people who in high school were really passionate and got involved in causes. When they grow up they realize there's a lot more to it than just reading books and talking about it in school. As a documentary filmmaker who's doing a movie with that activism element, your job is to get me emotionally involved so that I want to see it to the end, and find out more about it. Not every movie is that way.

DS: That's the key point. If you do something where later on people are saying, "I wonder what's happening now?" that's the hope. after the campaign, Japan put out arrest warrants on four people. One of the four Americans is an ER doctor. This is not people who are living in trees.

Q: They have other lives besides doing this activism. There's this sub-genre of advocacy documentaries, where we deal with not just naturalist films, but ones that have a point and purpose. Your probably have heard a lot about The Cove.

DS: Sure; I know those guys. But it's very different.

Q: It's a different movie, but they're very complementary to each other. They're showing a gathering storm of films that hopefully can have an impact.

DS: And I will give you a prediction: The Cove will win the Academy Award. It deserves to win.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bad Boy Author Tucker Max Makes a Movie And Survives

Exclusive Interview by Brad Balfour

Web phenomenon, book author and now film producer Tucker Max became an accidental Bad Boy through a combination of drink, smoke, willing women, too much testosterone and the Internet. Nonetheless, bad boy he became rather than a corporate lawyer. In his callow youth, he swaggered his way through a law education (at Duke) and reflected a frat boy wantoness that I have both hated and begrudgingly admired in its sheer assholic-ness.

Since he blogged it along the way, he garnered a virally expanding following, transformed his blog into a funny book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, got it published by a division of Simon & Schuster, and has a huge following of wanna-bes, appreciators of his bawdy style and lots of women -- and most seem self-possessed and not self-flagellating.

So, is Max an heir to the sexual liberation of the '60s or just another exploiter of women -- a male chauvinist pig -- or both? Sitting down with Max, I got to see both his brashness and vulnerabilities when his film/bus tour came to NYC recently -- and we talked about his writing, his producing, his past and future.

Of course, both the business and the attitudes come easier when you've reached a certain plateau of success -- his book became a New York Times Best Seller and he co-founded Rudius Media, an Internet-based publishing outlet and management firm. That success paid off. It allowed him to hire a director, Bob Gosse, get Richard Kelly's production company -- Darko Entertainment -- and Freestyle Releasing to release it, with actors Matt Czuchry (as Max) Jesse Bradford, and Geoff Stults to star in the film.

And in the so far maligned film version of the book, Max even had a revisionist vision of his stories which reveal the value of friends and the virtues of a stable, long-standing relationship at the end of it all.

Q: You did it all for fun? The key was, you wrote it down.

TM: [Your generation] broke the walls down and we came in and said, "Alright, let's just have fun," instead of worrying about liberation, because you guys already did that.

For my parents, it was a different time; it was kind of shitty. Now it's much easier to do this stuff, be public about it and not have to deal with bullshit repercussions.

Q: Would you have had a life if there wasn't the internet?

TM: No way.

Q: You're like a Playboy Magazine manifestation through the internet.

TM: This is not a guess on my part. I tell you, in 2001, when I first started thinking about this could maybe be a career or I could do this, because I never thought I was a writer, I never self identified as a writer. And my boys were always like dude, these are the funniest emails, you need to write this stuff down.

Q: So you were writing these as blogs.

TM: Take the "Sushi Pants" story. I drove from that parking lot, drunk, to my office, wrote that story down. Do you know why I wrote in that time stamp format? Because I was too drunk to write complete sentences. Seriously. All I could do was get the jokes out and the time stamp thing was my way of showing progression, that was it.

So I stumbled into this stuff. I took maybe five or 10 of these stories and I sent them to publishing houses and agents, every fucking one, like I probably sent out a thousand query letters or some stupid shit like that. 90% ignored me. The rest sent rejection letters, and two or three editors actually took the time to send personalized rejection letters about what an awful person I was, how terrible my writing is, and how I should never pick up a pen again--that kind of shit. That was 2002.

At that point, dead in the water, no internet, what the fuck do you do then, right? Nothing. My buddy was like, "Just put it up on a website; fuck them." I put it up on a website and the shit blew up on its own. There was obviously a market for it; none of the publishers or agents saw it though.

Q: Did you do your own editing or did you have help?

TM: Nils [Parker].

Q: This is a pop culture book; though it's not written in a literary fashion, you're not outside of a literary tradition of J.P. Dunleavy's "The Ginger Man" and other books about bawdy characters or cads. I'm sure people have said you're a post-literate Henry Miller.

TM: The two comparisons people use a lot -- and I don't really agree with either one -- are Hunter S. Thompson, which I feel like doesn't make any sense because he's so political and so drug oriented and I think he's a lot better writer too, and Bukowski, and I don't feel like that makes any sense either.

Just because the subject matter is generally the same -- drinking, women, partying -- they're like, "Well it's the same," but I feel those two are both not only much better writers, but they come from such a different perspective than I do.

I come from a perspective of... to me, it's all about joy; the stories and everything. It's funny, it's all about making people laugh and being entertaining. Theirs is like your generation's perspective, which is totally totally different than mine. Hunter S. Thompson is nothing if he wasn't a political animal, and Bukowski, the dude was depressed, man.

Q: Are you the end result of the sexual liberation? That's to say, what's wrong with fucking? It's like enough already with all sort of political correctness. Don't get me wrong. You're just as much of a dork as the girls are. But in a funny way, girls are totally in control of you; it seems you're not really the cocksman that you like to think you are.

TM: I know as well as anyone that everything I do is to get laid. People are like, "Don't you hate women?" Hate women? I love women; everything I do is to impress women, dude. Everything. It's not just about getting ass; if it was just that, you get prostitutes. It's more about interacting with women.

Q: You are really fascinated and obsessed with them. Some men are p-hounds. Or have been. There is something to having that sort of completely unabashed encounter.

TM: It's almost like Casanova.

Q: It's all possible; you're not the most beautiful guy in the world.

TM: Not the smartest, not the funniest, not the best looking.

Q: But you're pretty funny; I'll give you that.

TM: There are tons of people funnier than I am. Nils is way funnier; that's why he has such a hot wife.

Q: That's why he has the hot wife.

TM: His wife is rich too; so fucking rich it's crazy. I was kind of jealous but whatever.

Q: So, the art of cocksmanship. Is it 100 women? 300 women? 50 women? When did you lose count?

TM: I know I was in triple digits before I put the website up, but not much into it, and since then dude it's been... If you're like over 30 or 40 and you know your exact number it's kind of creepy. I have no idea.

Q: Do you consider yourself specifically west coast animal -- aren't you based there?

TM: I'm not West Coast at all. I was born in Atlanta, but I grew up in Kentucky, outside of Lexington, in Winchester.

Q: Do people perceive you as a right-ish kind of guy?

TM: Usually, whatever people's particular political leaning is, they either think I'm just like them or the opposite. I never talk about my politics in the book ever because I feel it's irrelevant to the comedy, but personally I guess I'm what you'd call a "South Park Republican" -- fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Very much pro-choice, pro-legalization -- it's so stupid that pot's illegal -- all that sort of stuff, but I'm not very progressive economically. Not like asshole George Bush Republicans, but more like a classical one.

Q: You could be a Democrat nowadays?

TM: I could find a position in Obama's cabinet, yeah, if they ever wanted me.

Q: He's had more Republicans in his cabinet than any Republican has had Democrats in theirs in recent years.

TM: Seriously, that's true. Even if I was a Republican, George Bush would have pushed me out of that party.

Q: They definitely are the guys that would have repressed and jailed you.

TM: No question; evil, those guys.

Q: So it really is your movie.

TM: For better or for worse it is ours. Nils and I are the co-creators start to finish; we wrote the entire script, we picked the director, cast the actors, picked the financiers, and we were not just on-set producers but made every creative decision, it was us and Bob.

[Tucker and cast member Keri Lynn Pratt]

Q: Did you get to say everything about the casting?

TM: We did this as an independent movie for that specific reason. Nils and I had every opportunity to sell this; Fox Searchlight offered us $2 million for this script but we turned them down flat because they were going to pick the director, pick the actors, and they'd make the movie they wanted to, not the movie we wanted. We had a very specific creative vision, which is why we adapted the screenplay and we independently financed it.

Q: That's another thing that's different from the writers of the old days. You can make your own movie. You're a creation of the internet and you culminate in the post-literate media era.

TM: Believe me, I am acutely aware of how I'm taking advantage of opportunities that were not available to people before me. Before the internet, if the gatekeepers of media stopped you, you had almost no way around them. Now, you can go directly to your customers, and that's what I've done since day one.

That's what this premier tour has been about; we didn't advertise this, we didn't sell this through Ticketmaster, I put it up on my site, on Facebook, on Twitter, and we sold out the whole tour just going directly to my fans.

You can't really release a whole movie like that; we're going to buy plenty of commercials and normal theaters, but the initial grassroots marketing came from my direct interaction with my fans.

Q: So where'd you get this ego?

TM: That's a good question dude; I don't know. Narcissism, dude. I have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder; in some ways it's beneficial. There are many ways that it's not, but some ways it actually helps.

Q: Your parents didn't fill your narcissistic needs when you were little.

TM: My parents were very much absentee parents. From a very young age I was kind of on my own; not like a street urchin, I always had food and clothes. But they were very much in their own worlds doing their own things.

My parents were divorced when I was a year and a half; my mom was a flight attendant so I was always on my own so it's kind of like sink or swim. And I just from a young age did everything on my own and developed this narcissistic confidence.

Q: Do you think of yourself as a guy's guy or not?

TM: I'm always hesitant to say I'm a man's man because that has such loaded connotations. I feel like I just am who I am, and some guys see me as a role model, some guys see me as a pariah, some guys love me, some guys hate me. Whatever; people just bring their own baggage to what I write and some people love it and some people don't.

Q: Can you talk to women and do women like being your friend?

TM: Oh yeah, no definitely. I don't really have a lot of female friends I don't sleep with. I have a few, but most of my female friends I hook up with, I call them fuck buddies. So it's like, a girl you're sleeping with and not dating, not like a booty call and not a girlfriend, but kind of in between.

It's great because it's like the transition stage between pure bachelorhood and a committed relationship. You have a couple of girls you're really good friends with, you like hanging out with, you hook up with once or twice a week, but you can still chill and go out drinking with and it's no pressure; it's great.

Q: So you have the choice of becoming a producer, where you're encouraging other writers and a new lot of productions like this, or you're going to become a monk.

TM: There's no question; I'm not going to act at 43 the way I act at 33. [And I'm not like I was at 23.] I'm going to be like Dr. Dre; make your mark in front of the mic and then step behind when you're done.

Q: What's with the idea of making it with physically challenged people?

TM: I don't prefer disabled people -- that's like a fetish -- it's more like... You know how when you're in a group of friends and it's like who can drink more, or you kind of one up each other? With us it was always, who had the best story, and so if you've hooked up with a midget that's kind of funny. It's fucking hilarious; the sex wasn't that great, but it's the ability to say "I hooked up with a midget." And same thing with a deaf girl; it's a novelty.

Q: How did you cast Traci Lords -- the former porn star turned conventional actress?

TM: She read the script and she loved it. And the reason she wanted to do this role is because if you look, the female characters are actually pretty smart, strong and in power. They're not dumb sluts or ridiculous, omniscient characters like you see on sitcoms; they're really good, strong female characters. And she loved the script, she thought it was hilarious. So she did it.

Q: Did someone bet that you were going to get arrested.

TM: During the shooting there was a pool, it was a joke, like who would get arrested. Nils, like third day, he gets arrested at a horseshoe casino. He was the first one to get arrested.

Q: Was there any temptation to play yourself?

TM: Yes, there was. Early on in the process...[I realized] I'm not a very good actor. I'm good at some things, acting is not my thing. I set up in my house a camera and I read a couple of the signs with myself.

I threw that shit away because it was embarrassing; I was terrible. I had very little respect for actors before I made a movie, and now I have a lot of respect. It is very hard. I had no idea how hard it was until I tried it and I watched myself and I'm like, "I suck! I'm terrible!"

Q: What gave you the most anxiety? Casting someone to play you? Or casting the women?

TM: There are so many great actresses in Hollywood and there are so few good parts, I knew we would find good actresses, so that wasn't the problem. I was anxious that we would get the Drew character right and the Tucker character right. I thought the Drew character would be harder but Jesse Bradford was the first person we saw and he nailed it right off the bat. After that we just couldn't find a Tucker; it took 200 or 300 actors coming in.

Q: Really? You must have been sick of yourself.

TM: Dude, you have no idea. It was so hard to find that balance between guy who is redeemable and likable but still kind of edgy and an asshole. Actors were either kind of creepy and aggressive, or weepy pussies; no one fit that line. Czuchry came in though and nailed it.

Q: You can't be too creepy and disgusting because you have to create a sympathy.

TM: I feel like in a lot of ways he's a better me than I am because he's so much more likeable.

Q: After I got through the book, I thought there were many times when you actually displayed a moral rudder and had a sort of positive point of view. It's a little unfair to call you completely an asshole.

TM: Well you can be an asshole and still not be a bad person. You can be a good guy and still be an asshole. Well there's no question I've grown. Making a movie is no joke man; you've got to learn how to collaborate and how to work with other people, and I wasn't good at that in the beginning. I've gotten much better now.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Media Mogul Tyler Perry Does A Good Job Talking About I Can Do Bad All by Myself

Story by Brad Balfour

Sitting at a conference table almost too full with cast members of I Can Do Bad All by Myself, the mulit-hyphenated Tyler Perry came to Manhattan to offer a lively Q&A session with a broad range of press people. While his latest film is remotely based on an early play of his of the same name, Perry's feature focuses more on his on-going positive message of redemption and growth than the antics of his flippant but caring Grandma Madea character. And again, once it opened it topped the box office.

Coming from poverty and homelessness, Perry has gone on to make an incredible success of himself, first as a writer/director/producer of plays, then as the creator of films and television series. Through his female alter-ego, Medea, he became a huge comic phenomenon, and a whole industry in and of itself.

Besides producing plays, film and television out his huge Atlanta-based production studio, the 40-year-old has become a media mogul and motivational speaker with various charities under his auspices. According to Wikipedia, Perry's films have grossed just under $400 million worldwide as of July 2009. And to add to his list of accomplishments, Perry co-produced--with Oprah Winfrey--director Lee Daniels' Precious based on the novel by Sapphire--a movie that has won top audience awards at both Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, will be the centerpiece film at the upcoming New York Film Festival and is already stirring Oscar talk.

In I Can Do Bad All by Myself, Madea (Perry) catches 16-year-old Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson) with her two younger brothers looting her home. The big-mouthed, wise-cracking granny takes matters into her own hands and delivers the young delinquents to their only relative, aunt April (Taraji P. Henson), a hard-drinking nightclub singer who lives off her married boyfriend Raymond (Bryan J. White). April wants nothing to do with the kids who live with their grandma (but she's M.I.A.). When a handsome Latino immigrant Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) is sent by the pastor of their neighborhood church (Pastor Marvin Winans), he trades work for a place to live in her basement.

The closer April and Sandino grow, the more she realizes the importance of faith and family. Once she's told by church elder Wilma (Gladys Knight) that her mom has died, she knows she has to take care of the kids, and reluctantly sees her life in a different light.

Things come to a head--Ray and Sandino fight; Sandino proposes to April--her best friend bartender Tanya (Mary J Blige) sings a song that is both the film's title and its signature statement: I Can Do Bad All By Myself.

Q: What’s the key to your success especially with this subject matter.

TP: I’m just a man that has used what I’ve learned in this life and I’ve tried to put it in film. I don’t want to just do film to make a movie for people to see; to blow up something, to kill somebody, explosions. None of that is attractive to me because what I’ve tried to do with my work and with my life is inspire and motivate people because I’ve come through too much hell to be able to sit in this seat.

I have a tremendous debt to pay so I want to just pay it forward and pass it on to other people; that’s why I keep doing positive movies. This is what I know for sure; you reap what you sow. That’s why I think I’ve been so successful; god is just blessing me and honoring everything that I’m doing.

Q: Your films are based on your plays; you’ve been able to work out the experience before a live audience. How has that experience of working in theater educated you and what your plans are with theater going forward.

TP: There’s nothing like a live performance; it’s immediate. And being on the circuit that I was on for a very long time doing 300 shows a year, most of them sold out, for 10 years straight, I learned a great deal. What will work and what won’t work and how far I can go and how far I can’t. And I’m still writing from those experiences. Everybody at the table can attest to that immediate give and take from an audience, and you take that and you go with it.

Q: You have a knack for talking about contemporary issues as you do in this film with the child molestation element.

TP: In writing this and talking about molestation and sexual abuse, it is very very clear to me that a lot of our own issues, including myself as a person, are a result from what has happened to us as children. So when I was thinking about April and her, “I don’t care about anybody but myself,” where would that come from? And molestation is the root to so many things, so I wanted to explore it a little bit and I think that when people really see it, they get it. They understand that, “Wait a minute; is this why I’m this way?”

Because it’s happened to so many people, and [because whatever goes on in this house stays in this house and nothing ever gets covered], that’s why I wanted to address it. I think that as people see it they’ll really get it.

Let me say this to everybody here; I’m speaking to people, for the most part, my base, my core audience, that everybody has ignored for years. And we are a people that exist and need to be spoken to in a way that we get, in a way that we understand. And I’m just really really fortunate and blessed to have that opportunity to do that.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current status of African American women who are not getting married at the same rates of other ethnic groups or white women, particularly because you cast another ethnic minority in a role that is the love interest for an African American woman. Were you subtly suggesting that African American women need to exercise other options [laughs]?

TP: I want to make sure that this is clear; hell no! No, the thing is this; I didn’t suggest anything, I didn’t even know those stats. I was once accused of being anti-Semitic last time I was here doing a press conference because one of the attorneys in “Diary of a Mad Black Women” got an award called the Feinstein award and they said that was anti-Semitic because I named the award after a Jewish person.

I don’t get it. It’s kind of similar to this; I’m just writing. I’m not thinking about what race a person is because I don’t live my life that way. I just write the story and I thought these two would be a good look and be good for each other with his story, his problems, his issues that he’s worked through, and her with hers. He could have been Tyrone Jackson, it wouldn’t have mattered, but in this case it just happened to be somebody who’s Latin.

I had the same issue in the first two movies; a couple of critics went off because all of my heroes seem to be light skinned. It’s not something I was even thinking about, it just happened. And so I went and found some dark skinned heroes in the next one. So I will take this into consideration; next time I will make sure that the black woman finds a black man.

Q: While white and Hispanic women may be on their second husbands, many African American women have never been married by the time they are in their 30s and 40s. One reason for that is that African American men are more likely to marry outside of their race.

TP: It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, but my point was that part of the reason that a lot of people are not married is because they have this list of what they want their men to be, have, make. And more important to the point of what Adam was making, it doesn’t matter if the person has nothing; if they can bring you love and the love you need then that should be enough.

Q: You do allow for some adlibbing; not everything is scripted. Were there parts of the movie where you were allowed the cast to expand their roles?

TP: Well there is this one scene, it was a really serious scene where Taraji and Adam are sitting on the sofa and we’re shooting the scene and Taraji leans over and she starts to kiss him but it wasn’t in the script. So I’m looking through the script and I’m sitting at the monitor watching and I just sit back and see how long it’s going to go. I don’t understand how when you’re kissing somebody you put your tongue in their mouth and you’re supposed to be acting, when there’s no camera inside your mouth to see the tongue.

So the kisses went on and on and on and I sat there waiting for them to finish and they just kept kissing. I have it on video; it’s a long long long long long kiss and they wouldn’t stop. So I finally said “Cut” and I said, “What the hell was that? Where did that come from?” Taraji was like, “What? It’s in the script,” “Show it to me,” so they adlipped.

Q: Being around such soulful singers and such an amazing pastor, was there ever a time during taping when you were doing the church scenes, that you literally go to church?

TP: Yeah, the entire church scene is real. I had five cameras rolling because I knew the only way to capture what I wanted is to have church, so that’s what we did. He actually preached a sermon and sang the song, that was it. It wasn’t like we did a million different setups; we did maybe one or two, but that thing that you feel when you’re watching it is real and you can’t fake that. You can’t cut and resetup and cut again and re-setup and try to get it; you have to get it as it happens and I was very adamant about capturing that moment.

Just like in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”, when she comes in that church, you feel it. It was the same way I wanted it in this situation and the only way for that to happen is it had to be caught all at the same time.

Q: “I Can Do Bad” is one of your earliest plays. Why did you wait until now to bring it to the screen? And what sort of changes did it go through in the adaptation?

TP: No rhyme, no reason. And it’s so different from the play; the only thing that the movie has in common with the play is the title and Madea, that’s it. It was Madea’s first time on stage, I was scared to death. It was the Regal Theater, 79th and Stony Island. I had rehearsed all month the show without ever looking at a costume or putting it on, just like this. The night of the show I put the costume on and looked at myself and was like, “Oh god, what have I gotten myself into? It’s sold out out there and these people are waiting.”

So I’m standing there and they’re saying, “Go, go, go,” and Brown pushed me on stage. And that’s where she was born. But no rhyme or reason for it; I just thought the time was now.

Q: What are your upcoming projects?

TP: I’m working on a new album with Mary J. Blige [laughs]. Not. I just finished Why Did I Get Married Too; it comes out in April. The first thing that comes out in November is Precious directed by Lee Daniels. Oprah and I are presenting it. And then it’s Why Did I Get Married Too and I can’t wait for you guys to see it because Janet went through all the stuff with Michael at the time and she needed the work so she brought everything she had into the film and she’s got some scenes in here that I can’t wait for you guys to see.

Q: And you’re adapting For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf--a challenging and highly respected plays. What makes you want to do that as your first adaptation?

TP: ’m writing it now, don’t worry there will be no Madea in it. I know there are For Colored Girls fans who are wondering, “Why the hell is he doing For Colored Girls?” but I really really embraced the material and listened to the stories and the cast I think is going to blow people away. It is the most incredible cast of women of color, and Latin, that has ever been assembled in film. Ever.

Q: Are you sticking with the play?

TP: It’s all of Ntozake Shange’s work, her poems, but as you know, as everybody who knows For Colored Girls knows, there’s no story there; it’s all different vignettes. But what I did was each woman has her own story and all of their lives cross. It’s kind of like Crash; none of the women know each other. They pass through each other’s lives and they’re all living their own lives but nobody knows that they’re all on a collision course to meet each other.

At the middle of the movie what happens is one of the women has just started a For Colored Girls center, where women go through this 12-step program of healing from relationships and everything. A lot of the poems happen in this center when all of these women come together. So it’s going to be fantastic.

I’m also working on a new play; the first date is October 4th and it’s called “Laugh to Keep from Crying” but I haven’t written a word yet. But it will be ready.

Q: Have you cast For Colored Girls yet?

TP: I have made five phone calls. We haven’t made an announcement yet; the five women that I’ve spoken to have said yes, but it’s sixteen women, sixteen major roles, and I can’t wait to tell you. But the dream cast is pretty darn exciting and most of the dream cast has said yes.