All posts by natewatchescoolmovies

24 years old from Vancouver, Canada. Loved movies since I can remember. I do reviews on Instagram and Facebook as well, and after being harped at by my friends to start a blog as well... Here I am. I try to give obscure, overlooked films a day in court, ones I feel are hidden gems, that deserve to get some love.

A chat with Icelandic filmmaker Marteinn Thorsson

Proud to present my interview with Marteinn Thorssen, an Icelandic filmmaker who’s responsible in part for one of my favourite indie movies ever made, Paranoia 1.0. An extremely talented guy with a lot of projects on the go, and awesome to speak with. Enjoy!
1. Care to speak a bit about your background, what lead you into film making?

 

I think I always wanted to do something creative. My uncle ran this cinema which was housed in a WWII army barrack in Reykjavik. Mom sold tickets and my grandpa was an usher. Place was called Hafnarbio (The Harbour Cinema). They showed b-movies and light-blue movies. Alakazam the Great had the biggest impact on me. Surreal and weird. That has stayed with me. I was also a bookworm and spent many hours in the local library. I remember owning a super-8mm camera and later I was into stills. In college I started making horror flicks with friends. Those were a great technical exercise but it’s only lately that I feel I’ve been developing my own perspective. I’m a late bloomer.

Paranoia 1.0:

2. How was the writing process; What I spires ypu and Jeff, how did you envision script to screen, and did it eventually end up going how you thought it would?

 

Jeff and I had both been working in advertising and music videos and decided to create a collaborative entity we called waterfall/fjord. We wanted it to be anti-commercial and just be this experimentation hub for no-budget fun stuff. We did some music videos for an Icelandic band DIP (which was the brainchild of Siggi Baldursson of the Sugarcubes and Johann Johannson who is now scoring films for Denis Villeneuve and won a Golden Globe for Theory of Everything) and we had so much fun doing this we decided to try to write a script and make a feature. We worked on several stories but it wasn’t until we decided to something about the advertising world that a narrative formed which we were happy with. We were both very much into nanotech and sci-fi, Ray Kurzweil, Neal Stephenson and William Gibson. I can’t remember where the plot came from, I think I had written a treatment about a detective who receives an infant’s dismembered foot in his mailbox. I think that’s where the plot started. But the main theme, though, is about loneliness, it’s really a film about Toronto (where we studied and lived at the time) and loneliness. When you start something like this you never know where it will take you. We thought we were going to make a low-budget Canada/Iceland co-production but Télefilm and other funding bodies in Canada didn’t want to have anything to do with it. We got a grant from the Icelandic Film Fund early on but we had no luck in Canada. So it became a US/Iceland/Romanian production in the end. Even when we had managed to finance the film in Hollywood we tried to shoot it as an indie film in Winnipeg but there they wanted to unionize it because we had 2 American producers on the film, so, ironically Canada didn’t want us but the Americans and Romanians and Germans did (the main producer, Chris Sievernich, is a German living in L.A.) and we ended up getting the film into Sundance, main competition. I had no idea at the time what a big deal that was. Anyway, all this affected the way the film eventually came together. What was supposed to be a portrait of a crumbling capitalist society became a portrait of a crumbled communist society just about to emerge as a capitalist entity. Very interesting and Bucharest is an amazing place to shoot in. I hope to go back sometime. I’m actually working on one project which might happen next year. But we had to cut out some of the scenes we wanted as well as some of the effects. In the original script we wanted to show the Farm headquarters as well as Howard’s place where he keeps all the brains he’s been collecting and Adam’s progress as an Internet conscience was explained more. Also, Howard’s intentions were clearer but it was always about loneliness and corporate control and that stayed intact.

 

3. Casting: you assembled an eclectic cast of cult favourites, did you seek out these people, Udo Kier, Deborah Unger, Bruce Payne etc., or did they find their way to the projects through their agents? I did hear the story about finding Lance Henriksen at the hotel. What was it like working with the cast?

 

We wrote the script with Udo Kier and Deborah Unger in mind and were very lucky to get them. Udo had made a Danish film (“Besat” or “Possessed” in English) with one of our original producers (Thomas Mai of Zentropa) and he was the one we cast first. We met him at the American Film Market in L.A. and he liked the script. We became friends. I owe him some lamps he bought in Montreal but they got lost in Toronto on their way to Los Angeles. We got to Deborah through our casting director, Carmen Cuba (who is now casting for Steven Soderbergh and the Wachowskis among others). Carmen did most of the casting for us in L.A. At one point we had Gabriel Macht as Simon but he pulled out, we spoke with Gael Garcia Bernal who showed interest and then Adrian Brody signed on to be Simon just after he’d shot The Pianist but then our financing fell through and Brody got an Oscar. Jeremy Sisto was always in the mix though and he stuck with us and he did a fantastic job. I love Jeremy. For The Neighbor part we had Djimon Hounsou at one point but Bruce Payne got on board quite late when we were already in Bucharest. We did find Lance at the Marriot in Bucharest, Jeremy had done a series with him (Lincoln I think), a lot of people were there at the time shooting: Dennis Hopper, Andy Garcia, Gina Gershon, Eva Mendes. It was a busy town, still is, I think.

 

4. How was the shoot for everyone? How was your experience?

 

It was a difficult but fantastic experience. This was our first feature and we were used to doing everything ourselves so it was a bit weird having a crew of something like 100 people but the Romanian crew was amazing and I have such good memories of Bucharest. It was also weird to stay for more than 2 months in The Marriot right beside Ceausescu’s mad Palace, The Marriot is such a place of luxury and we were doing this little, low budget movie. Our producer, Chris Sievernich, said: “Enjoy this, it will probably never happen again.” We were lucky to be able to have some of the people from film school to work on the film with us like our editor Dan Sadler, cinematographer Chris Soos, Gio Sampogna who did the making-of, Eggert “Eddi” Ketilsson from Iceland who did the Production Design, Jeff’s dad showed up and helped us and more friends came from Canada, the US and Iceland. It was the first feature for so many and everyone was really excited. We storyboarded everything (although I don’t really like that practice) and were really well prepared, we got everything in the can and more, actually. When we showed the first AD (Chris Landry) our shot list he said we’d never cover it but we did, with 2 directors you can do more if you tag-team it.

 

5. Some films/actors/filmmakers who have inspired your work and who you really admire?

 

When I was younger I used to have favorite films and filmmakers but I don’t really today but I admire everyone who is a real artist and they don’t have to be filmmakers. My wife is a novelist and before I met her, I was influenced by her work, it’s amazing. I’m also influenced by music, painting, photography, performance art, literature and kind, interesting people who give me real human experiences. But, yes, in the past, Alakazam the Great influenced me a lot as did Don’t Look Now, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Brood, Red Desert, Blade Runner, Alien, Brazil and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki, David Cronenberg, Trần Anh Hùng, P.T. Anderson, Jonathan Glazier, Terrence Malick, Roy Anderson and others who surprise me and show me something new. When I saw Old Boy, I was giddy with delight. I’m quite fond of 70’s Hollywood. I don’t understand the popularity of some filmmakers and movies though, like Slumdog Millionaire, Argo or Wes Anderson’s work since The Royal Tenenbaums (with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox). Some of the new TV is great although it’s not the future of movies. I don’t like to dwell on the past and I love new things and new technologies, I’m glad to be rid of “film” although it smells nice. I hated editing on film, when non-linear came around with AVID, I was the first to sign up and it was a liberating progress and digital cinema is wonderful.

 

6. Any upcoming projects you are excited for and would like to mention?

 

I have so many projects in development and none of them might come to fruition, I’m actually shooting two no-budget projects that I might never finish. I think I have to move back into making films in English, preferably genre, because as an Icelandic filmmaker I need to supplement my income by working nights as a concierge in a hotel and that takes time away from my writing and shooting the micro budget stuff. But what might be my next film is a genre film, a supernatural thriller or horror film called UNA, we’re in the financing stages for that, that means we have applied for the big production grant at The Icelandic Film Centre and if we get that grant, we’ll be able to go for the rest of the money. UNA is produced by Gudrun Edda Thorhannesdottir of Duo Productions in Reykjavik. It’s based on a novel by Ottar M. Nordfjord and is about a young woman who’s lost her 5 year old son but his body has not been found a year after his disappearance. She starts suspecting he might still be alive when she becomes haunted by an “outcast”, a shapeshifting monster which may or may not want to do her harm. It’s dark, fun stuff, intense and has roots in Icelandic mythology and violence against women. Needs extensive special effects work which I mostly want to do in camera but it will benefit from CGI enhancement. I’m also working on a TV series based on the novel YOSOY by Gudrun Eva Minervudottir (yes, my wife), I’m developing it with two other writers, Lilja Sigurdardottir and Michael Sillery and we’re aiming it at the US market for now, if HBO/Netflix/AMC/ETC don’t want it then we’ll try the Scandinavia/Nordic version. Yosoy is wonderful and intense stuff, like Carnivále, Twin Peaks and True Detective rolled into one. I have a big budget Hollywood type sci-fi in the works. It’s called PROTOS and is loosely inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, it’s a bit like BLADE RUNNER meets APOCALYPSE NOW. I have oodles of micro-budget ideas, one is ERASERHEAD-like horror called DARKNESS KNOWS, another the drama I want to shoot in Reykjavik and Bucharest, GOD’S HEART, I actually have this God trilogy I want to do: GOD’S HEART, THE PATH OF GOD, and TOMORROW, WE BECOME ONE. Another adaptation from my wife’s novel ANGEL DUST. An English language adaptation from a novel by Arni Thorarinsson, WE, a very dramatic love story. There’s a thriller called EXIT I’m working on with writer Ottar Nordfjord and producer Snorri Thorisson. Inspired by true events, it tells the story of two French sisters whose hiking trip around Iceland turns into a nightmare when they hitch a ride with a charming but sinister stranger. I have another English language horror script ready called FROM THE DEEP which I wrote with this wonderful horror writer, Thorsteinn Mar (co-writer of DARKNESS KNOWS) and we have quite a few ideas milling about. So, plenty to work on but an agent and a production company would be nice. And some cash, please. But life is good. I’m trying to be a good husband and father. Life is such an interesting trip, you never know where it will take you.

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A chat with actor Holt McCallany

I recently had the chance to speak with actor Holt McCallany, who has appeared in diverse films such as Fight Club, Alien 3, Gangster Squad, Brian De Palma’s Casualties Of War, Michael Mann’s Blackhat, Below, Run All Night, Bullet To The Head, A Perfect Getaway, Vantage Point, Alpha Dog, Men Of Honour, Three Kings, The Peacemaker and more. He’s also appeared in TV shows including CSI, Law & Order, Burn Notice, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, and starred in Lights Out for FX, playing boxer Lights Leary. He’s one of my favourites and a great talent. Enjoy! 

Nate: You gained some pretty high profile credits very early on in your career. Alien 3, Creepshow etc. How did you initially break into the industry? Any stories about the early days? 
My parents were both Broadway actors so I grew up in the theater. I never really considered any other profession. They were very supportive and helped me get started, but you find out quickly that no matter who your parents are if you don’t have talent you won’t last long in show business. One funny story I remember from the early days is auditioning for my first film Creepshow 2. It was a horror film by Stephen King that was a sequel to a successful film that had starred Ed Harris and E.G. Marshall and a number of very fine actors I admired. I auditioned to play a college frat boy but the producer offered me the role of an American Indian. I said “I can’t play an Indian, I’m a white Irish guy who was born in New York.” He said “You have good bone structure, we’ll give you make-up and a wig. Burt Lancaster did it.” I replied “But I have blue eyes!” The producer took a beat, looked at the director, then looked back at me and said “We’ll make you a half-breed.” I’ve never forgotten that. “We’ll make you a half-breed.”

Holt: Theatre vs. Film: How do the two compare for you, does one hold a higher spot or do you enjoy both equally? 

Holt: For me working on stage is a more satisfying experience. In the film world you can give a good performance but everything will come down to what they choose in the editing room. That’s the crucial stage in the process, and actors are usually excluded. I don’t think there’s one actor in the world who’s worked extensively the movie business and not had the experience of seeing a performance ruined in editing. It happens all the time and it’s very frustrating.

Nate: Blackhat: What was your experience working on a Michael Mann film ? 

Holt: Blackhat is a very good example of what I’m talking about. I worked hard for Michael Mann and gave him a good performance but in the cut he cut almost all of my stuff out of the film. I was so disgusted I didn’t even attend the premiere. The film was a commercial and critical disaster but that didn’t change the way I felt.
 Nate: Besides acting what other hobbies/interests do you have? 

Holt: I enjoy boxing and martial arts. I love to read and to travel. I like jazz. I’ll be the president of the jury at the International Film Festival in Brussels, Belgium this year and I’m looking forward to that.

Nate: You mentioned before on twitter that Lights Leary is your favourite role that you’ve played. Can you elaborate? Is there any hopes of ever seeing a movie/continuation of it? 


Holt: Lights Leary was a very well-written and complex character. It was unfortunate he didn’t get a second season because the people who watched the show seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. As far as a film version down the road I’d love todo it but it’s a long shot.

 Nate:Criminal Minds: Your portrayal of a veteran suffering PTSD was harrowing and very convincing. Did you do any research, and what kind of prep did that involve for you before you filmed? 

Holt: Yes I had the opportunity to speak to a number of vets about their experiences in Iraq. They were very open and I was grateful for their isights. I also got some hand-to-hand training for the action sequences from Amir Peretz, an expert in Krav Maga.


Nate: Who are some of your favourite films/actors/filmmakers? 

Holt: As a boy growing up my favorite actors were Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, and Steve McQueen, of course Marlon Brando, and I was a big fan of Gene Hackman. I remember being fascinated by A Clockwork Orange when I was very young. I watched it so many times I could repeat all the lines. I would have loved to work with Stanley Kubrick, but I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with great directors like David Fincher, Clint Eastwood, David O. Russell, Walter Hill, David Twohy and many others.

 

Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects you are excited for and want to mention?

Holt: Yes I’ll be appearing in several films next year including Shot Caller opposite Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for director Ric Roman Waugh, Sully with Tom Hanks for director Clint Eastwood, Jack Reacher 2 with Tom Cruise for Ed Zwick, and a big action film called Monster Trucks. I have high hopes for all of them.

My interview with actor Richard Fancy

I am pleased to bring you my recent chat with actor Richard Fancy, an immensely gifted man you may recognize as Mr. Lippmann from Seinfeld. He’s also appeared in shows like Mad Men, Ray Donovan, Carnivale, General Hospital, The Mentalist, Crossing Jordan, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Friends, Star Trek: Voyager, Numb3rs, Gilmore Girls and more. His film credits include Being John Malkovich, The Girl Next Door, Species, Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Hollywoodland, Shopgirl, Rob Zombie’s horror films Halloween and The Lords Of Salem, and more. Take a look:)
Nate: I don’t see much of your background or training on imdb. Care to share how you got into acting, what about the craft that appeals to you, and where you trained?
Richard: I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was fifteen. Like falling in love with someone, it’s really impossible to say “Why.” I began studying at fifteen (I was living in LA then) and, when I was twenty two, I moved to New York where I studied for a year with Uta Hagen. I spent a year studying in England, came back to New York and studied with Peter Kass, Uta Hagen (some more), George Morrison, John Lehne, Kristin Linklater, Lee Strasberg, Sharron Shayne and I recently became a professional observer with full working privileges at the Actors Studio here in Los Angeles.  
Nate: You have a very mischievous aura to your work, a gleeful vibe that is very memorable (the moment in Ray Donovan when you realize they’re pulling a fast one on you is a perfect example of this, and one of my favourite character beats of your work) ). Is this quality something you consciously developed in your work, or just organically happened out of your personality?
Richard: Thank you for the compliment about my gleeful vibe. I think what you are seeing is just my response to creating a particular character; that response will unavoidably reflect my own personality and whatever glee that gives off:-)
Nate: The Lords Of Salem: what was it like for you working on a Rob Zombie film, especially such an intense one? Fun experience?
Richard: I loved working for him. The films are intense; the set is the most relaxed, supportive atmosphere you can imagine. Rob (I’m sure you heard this before) is a great guy.
Nate: Carnivle: One of my favourite shows of all time. Your role, although brief, was very memorable for me. Did you have a sense of the story when filming that, were you given a lot to go on in terms of that psychiatrist and who he was dealing with? Have you seen the show and do you enjoy it?
Richard: I had a clear idea when I got to the set the way this psychiatrist would walk, talk; I wanted a moustache and spectacles. He should start out in too much control. I wanted there to be a contrast between the very obsessively organized person he is when we first see him and the nut he becomes. Scott Winant who was the director on the first episode I did was wonderfully supportive and collaborative. A splendid director.
Nate: You have a tremendous gift for comedy, as can been seen with your work on Seinfeld. Do you enjoy working in lighthearted, funny stuff like that? How was working laying Mr. Lippmann for you?
Richard: Everything depends on the script and the people you are doing it with. I loved doing Seinfeld; it was unique. But I enjoyed working with Scott Winant on creating the character I played in Carnivale every bit as much. And, I see something funny in almost everything. I guess it’s built into the way I perceive reality.
Nate: If you had to pick a few roles that you’ve played that have been your favourites, what would you say?
Richard: The roles that have been my favorites have been in intimate theater in Los Angeles. . Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Mr. Prince in Rocket to the Moon, Moe Axelrod in Awake and Sing and–now I’m doing Awake and Sing again, playing Uncle Morty. The intimate theater movement in Los Angeles has been producing extraordinary productions for thirty years now; Spring Awakening, a brilliant Los Angeles intimate theater production, just opened on Broadway to a huge rave in The NY Times. Intimate theater has unfolded here because LA is a place where there are a lot of excellent actors who work in film and TV and, itch to work onstage. If you play your cards right, you can see five brilliant intimate theater productions in this town for the price of a Broadway ticket. 
 Nate: Any upcoming projects, film or otherwise, you are excited for and would like to mention?
Richard: Right now I’m doing a play in Los Angeles. It’s Awake and Sing at the Odyssey Theatre (odysseytheater.com) and it is really worth seeing. It’s a great American play by Clifford Odets in an extraordinary production. It just got a critics choice in the Los Angeles Times.

A chat with veteran film and voice actor Keith Szarabajka 

I’m proud to present my recent interview with accomplished actor Keith Szarabajka, who has many wonderful appearance in films including The Dark Knight as Detective Stephens, Argo, Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World, We Were Soldiers, Staying Together, Billy Galvin, Missing and many more. He’s shown in up in television shows including Sons Of Anarchy, Prison Break, Charmed, 24, CSI, Archer, and more. A huge portion of his prolific career consists of an absolutely staggering amount of voice work, including video games and animated shows such as Halo 4, Bioshock, Fallout, Call Of Duty: Black Ops, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, L.A. Noire, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Darksiders, Metal Gear Solid, Batman: Arkham Knight, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spider Man, Batman Beyond, and so many more. He is currently directing a play entitled Watching OJ  the Ensemble Studio Theatre in Los Angeles. He’s a great guy with a storied career. Enjoy!
Nate: How did you get into acting, did you always know it was something you wanted to do, or did you stumble into it? 
Keith: I was an altar boy for six years in grade school and high school, plus I was an officer in military school so I became accustomed to performing ritual in public. Then when I was 14, I discovered that being small left you out of a lot of school varsity sports, sports in which I participated vigorously prior to high school. I drifted into acting, as I had a knack for reading things well aloud. My first performance in public was at four when my mother made my cousin, Joyce, and I sing a duet of “I’ve Been Working on The Railroad “ in a talent night at the Bedford Park Community center near Chicago, Illinois. I’ve been hooked on applause and laughter ever since.

Nate: A Perfect World: Your character was extremely intense, and leaves a vivid impression despite only appearing in the first half. How was experience creating that character, and working with Clint Eastwood? 
Keith: Terry was very intense. I just reached into my inner self and pulled out my rage demons. It was fun, but as I said, very intense. I loved working with Clint. He’s one of my favorite directors ever. No B.S. with Clint. Two, maybe three takes at most. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it (and when he got it). I hope that I someday get the chance to work with him again. Though probably not, because he’s not big on working with people with whom he worked previously, especially villains (and who aren’t stars like Morgan Freeman or Gene Hackman.)

Nate:  At a certain point in your career, voice over work became a huge component of your work. How did you get into VO work? Do you enjoy it as much as in front of th camera in live action? How are they comparable? 
Keith: It was a natural segue while I lived and worked in New York. People in New York come to the theater, including ad execs and other creatives, so it just happened naturally. Of course I had a wonderful agent in New York for VO, Carole Ingber, who still represents me there. I have a long time VO agent in L.A. too, Tom Lawless @ VOX, Inc. , through whom I do most of my video game work.The great thing about VO work is you don’t have to learn lines or wear makeup. But don’t get me wrong, I like doing both acting and VO work. I like movies because you get to go on location and travel. I often confused my theatrical agent and my travel agent.
Nate: You mentioned that you have a play in the works that you are directing, when we spoke online. Care to speak about that? And any projects coming up that you are excited for. 

Keith: I just directed a new play at Ensemble Studio Theatre- L.A. Project, called WATCHING O.J. by David Mc Millan (where I am also interim co-artistic director). It’s a wonderful worms’ eye view of the O.J. verdict set in a small white-owned dry cleaners and its environs in a mixed urban neighborhood in L.A. on the day O.J. Simpson murder verdict came out, October 3, 1995. It was avery polarizing subject both in L.A. and the while US. It still is. We opened on the 20th anniversary of the verdict. (At this writing, last Saturday night. Still waiting on the reviews.)
Nate: You have a very distinct voice that stands out in the best possible way. It sure lends itself to voice over,  and I can see why that has been a major factor in your work. Have you done voice work, as in theatre classes or training? Or did the video game/animation work just kind of happen? 

Keith: As I said previously, it just kind of happened. I haven’t taken many VO classes. The one time I did, a promo and trailer class, I ceased working in that sector of the VO world. I guess it’s bad luck. I had the good fortune to live in the same building as the man, Isaiah Sheffer, who ran the Selected Shorts program at Symphony Space in NYC which aired on NPR here(our BBC Radio). We read short stories before live audiences at Symphony Space in NYC and at the Getty Center in L.A. That was in 1987, and I did Selected Shorts for as long as it ran until Isaiah died two years ago. The first time I did it, it was a cold February evening. I lived two blocks from Symphony Space, so after I did a sound check at 6pm there, I went back home and ate dinner. I expected very little from the show. When I returned for half hour at 730pm, people were lined up around the block to see it! I swear they were hanging from the rafters when we did the show! The atmosphere was electric. A lot of people in the industry in NYC came to see it and/or listened to Selected Shorts on the radio, so that’s a lot of the reason I made it into VO work.

Nate: The Dark Knight: you have an iconic exchange of dialogue with The Joker; how was your experience filming that with Heath Ledger, working with Chris Nolan, and portraying a Detective in the Gotham universe? Nolan has a reputation for seeking out actors. Did he come to you/your agent or were you submitted? 

Keith: I was submitted by my agent and auditioned. I didn’t hear from them right away, as initially they were trying for another actor, but ended up not making a deal with him. I received a call on Tuesday six weeks or so later, asking if I had a valid passport. I said yes, and by that Friday i was on a plane to London for a month. Heath was a complete pleasure to work with. Very friendly , very hard-working, very creative. It’s a loss for the industry and the world that he’s gone. Chris Nolan is … a very intelligent, very creative man as well. I would love to work with him again.
Nate: Some of your work is in some iconic games and franchises. Have you ever been asked to attend any conventions,  or comic con type things? Would you if asked? 

Keith: Sean Harry of Star Fury brought me to various UK venues twelve different times between 2003 and 2013, mainly for my work as Holtz in Angel. I loved meeting the fans and doing talks, and I got to see a lot of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland on those trips. I have never been invited to a com for video games. I would go if invited, but I don’t attend these things on my own dime. I once went to Dusseldorf, Germany on a Star Trek convention invitation in 2013.
Nate: from film work, what else do you like to do in life? Hobbies, interests? 
Keith: I love to cook. I used to parachute and rock climb, but have given those hobbies up for tamer interests, like mountain biking and scuba diving (Advanced Open Water certification). I also coached baseball and soccer for 16 years, but my sons are now aged out of my league. 
Nate: Thanks so much for chatting, Keith!

Dead Man- A review by Nate Hill

Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is a truly one of a kind film, a film that I have been entranced for over a decade by, and constantly revisit it’s haunting beauty, poetic absurdities and stark, gorgeous black and white cinematography (holla to Robby Muller). Johnny Depp basically plays a meek, downtrodden east coast boy mired in a wild, violent and confusing journey through a western outpost town and after a love triangle ends in murder, possibly his own, he embarks on a strange, spiritual walk through a Pacific Northwest netherworld of pine trees, outlaw bounty hunters, and oddball characters, led by a Native named Nobody (the excellent Gary Farmer). Is he dead? Was he even there to begin with? Jarmusch abandons logic for an expressionist approach, and the film ends up as a hypnotic tone poem and visual palette of events that don’t really make sense, and may frustrate some. But to those open to its idiosyncratic writing and determined, enigmatic style, oh what a film it is. The cast is absolutely to die for. Depp is incredible in the best performance of his extremely uneven career. The character arc he inhabits here is wonderful, taking a feeble, checkered suited mess of a man and morphing him into a ghostly, predatorial, terrifying wilderness archetypal bandit, a force of nature among the trees and mountains. Haunted eyes, quick draw kill streak, moody contemplation, it really is his finest work. Michael Wincott steals his scenes as a chatty assassin and Lance Henriksen is scary as hell, playing a hired killer who “fucked his parents, then cooked them up and ate them.” (Don’t ask, just go with the film’s demented flow). Gabriel Byrne, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Mitchum, Milli Avital, John Hurt and an especially weird Crispin Glover all nail their cameos, and Neil Young’s beautiful, melodic, elemental score is the beating heart of the film. Dead Man isn’t a traditional film in any sense, and in fact seems to take place in a cliché free, bizarro alternate western dream universe where the rules don’t apply, but all the beauty, mysticism and rugged frontier intrigue of the genre still remain. Fine with me. One of my all time favourites.

A chat with writer and director Howard Goldberg

I am proud to present my recent interview with the incredibly talented writer and director Howard Goldberg, the man behind one of my favourite indie films of recent years, Jake Squared. He’s a great guy with a lot to speak about. Enjoy! 
Nate: Did you experiment with film when you were younger, make any shorts etc? What led you to writing and directing.

 

Howard: I was always a film buff. Whenever the subject of film came up people would always say, “Ask Howard. He knows everything about film.” I remember always thinking, “Man, they’re nut! Little do they realize, I don’t really know that much.” I thought I had a bit of a phony reputation. But, then one day, I was looking through this long list of the greatest films ever made and I realized I’d seen them all! I thought, “Wow!! I really do know a lot about film.”

 

 I started officially making films when I became a Film major at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I spent three glorious years there and made many short films – all pretty experimental in nature. Nice to see that after all those weird films, many years later I’m making really straight narrative films that are quite conventional in nature. Like “Jake Squared!” Oh wait, that’s right… “Jake Squared” is weird as all get out!

 

Nate: Care to talk a little bit about your writing process, envisioning characters on film, where your ideas come from, how your creative process works?

 

Howard: As Dorothy Parker said – “I hate writing. I love having written.” My writing process basically follows the time-honored tradition of sitting at the keyboard until my forehead bleeds. There are many writers who just spew it out, page after page after page. I am not, unfortunately, one of them. Hard work. Endless procrastination. Things percolating and stewing in my brain. Endless drafts. Great fun! But, “I love having written.” The end product is almost always worth the long process of getting there. At least to me!

 

Nate: I know how you feel, I procrastinate in my work as well. Interests, hobbies besides writing and filmmaking? I read that you have done sculpture as well, is that still something you are involved in?

 

Howard: For a long time, I was the only struggling filmmaker in New York who supported himself by sculpting. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was true. I was working on screenplays and constantly trying to raise money and, at the same time, I had fallen into a lucrative career as a sculptor. I did many fine arts piece and (financially) more importantly, many commercial pieces, like for The Basketball Hall of Fame, the Clio Awards, etc., etc.

 

I have two hobbies – My kids (which is not really a hobby, but a calling) and collecting old watches.

 

Nate: Jake Squared: How did that idea come about, how was the process of making it for you, did the final project resemble what you envisioned when writing it? (I ask because I write as well, and having gone to film school have seen how vastly different ideas on paper can become when put through the wringer of filmmaking) Also, I must ask, is the film in any way autobiographical?

 

Howard: “Jake Squared” just evolved. It came out of many hundreds of pages of writing all kinds of thoughts about all kinds of things. Somehow, out of all these unconnected scribblings, a character started to emerge and take form. Writing such a seemingly freeform piece became like juggling 7 balls at one time. When it was finally done, I was very happy and very satisfied.

 

Making the film itself was a dream. It came together the most quickly of any project I’ve ever done. Once Elias Koteas had signed on the rest of the cast started falling into place. From the time he said yes to the time we started shooting was only about 4 months. Unheard of.

 

I am completely and totally thrilled with the film. In terms of the script I wrote and how I originally envisioned the film, I think it turned out even better than I could have hoped. There is nothing I look at in it and say, “Wow, I wish I had done this or that or this differently. To me it’s the best incarnation of the film I wanted to make that I could have made. That being said, some people adore it and some absolutely despise it. That’s a different issue entirely. Me? I’m perfectly happy with everything about it.

 

Is it autobiographical? Well, yes and very much no. Many of the characters and situations have some small part of me in them, but they also have thousands of parts of other people, their lives and their situations as well. All of the characters and situations are really fictionalized and dramatized composites of many people and places.

 

Nate: In an interview I heard you say you made Jake Squared free from the pressures and permissions of powers that be- essentially on your own. What resources did you use, casting, equipment etc to pull that off? Because it looks so polished, the editing is out of this world and it seems like every aspect just really came together (Get used to me gushing about the film lol I’ve seen in 4 times already since June :P)

 

Howard: Since I produced the film and put together all of the financing privately with no pre-conditions, I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do. I love to collaborate, so I had a remarkable team, from actors, to makeup and hair, set design, cinematography, editing, etc. and that’s what makes the film great. But, I got to choose them all, listen to their advice, and rebel in their help in bringing about and even making better my original vision But, the bottom line was always me and that’s what I liked. The film is 100% my own artistic vision – so if one were to love the film or hate it, the buck stops here.

 

That being said, I couldn’t have made it look like I did without my incredible team.

 

Nate: Do you have any films you are trying to get made now? Scripts, stories, anything in the works you want to speak about?

 

Howard: I’m trying to get a new film off the ground right now called “Once in Blue Moon.” I wrote it with my friend, Broadway composer and librettist Paul Gordon. It’s a modern day “Midsummer Nights Dream” that take place all in one night, a night of a Blue Moon, at a restaurant/bar/indie-alt music club. It’s about love and regret and angels and music.

 

I also am just finishing a new screenplay, tentatively called “Clear.” That one I couldn’t possibly describe yet as I’m still trying to figure it all out. But, it makes “Jake Squared” look like a straight narrative!

 

Nate: What are some of your favorite Directors, films, stories, anything that has inspired your own work?

 

Howard: Jean Cocteau, John Huston, Martin Scorsese, Preston Sturges and about 500 more!
Nate: Awesome, Howard, thanks for sharing! 

THE HILL FILES: AN INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR ROBERT JOHN BURKE

I recently had the honour to chat with actor and firefighter Robert John Burke, a great guy and experienced veteran, appearing in excellent character arcs in Gossip Girl as Bart Bass, Rescue Me as Cousin Mickey, Law & Order SVU, Person Of Interest, Generation Kill, The Sopranos, Oz, Sex & The City, Homicide: Life On The Streets and more. He’s also worked in many films, including Robocop 3 in the title role, Limitless, Safe, Tombstone, Munich, 2 Guns, and the George Clooney directed films Good Night & Good Luck, and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. He’s one of my favourite actors, and I was beyond excited to be able to interview him. Enjoy!

Nate: How did you get into acting, was it something you knew you wanted to do at an early age, or did you fall into it? Did you got to school for it at all? Where?

Robert: I kind of fell into it, and for an acting degree I went to State University of New York, at Suny Purchase.

Nate: Robocop 3 happened pretty early in your career, with not a lot of film credits before that (or at least as far as I can tell from imdb). How did that come about, and did you enjoy taking up the mantle of such an iconic character from Mr. Weller?

Robert: Robocop 3 came about.. In God’s great earth they thought I was the only actor who could do it, I don’t know why. I think physically I poked like Peter Weller, and I had also had extensive karate training, pantomime training, and body training, and I fit the suit. I held out for a long time, I was very hesitant to do it, but then after about six or eight months I finally agreed.

Nate: You are are a certified NY firefighter, and from what I’ve read participated in rescue efforts following 9/11. Would you care to share your experience with that at all? Did that contribute to your being casted in Rescue Me, or is that just coincidence?

Robert: I became a firefighter in 2002, my best friend was a fire captain, Captain Patrick Brown, he worked at Ladder 3, and when I went down to the World Trade Center to dig and look for Pat, that kind of became the first time I operated as a firefighter, returned to my hometown, joined the volunteer force, and after thirteen years I’m now a captain.

Nate: You frequently play offbeat, corrupt higher ups and gruff lawmen or criminals, always under the radar, but always absolutely memorable. Do you find that a career as a character actor was what you saw yourself doing upon entering the industry? Or have you surprised yourself with the direction your work has taken?

Robert: It has surprised me that I’ve become kind of a character actor, and the style of roles, the gruff detectives. People say do you worry about being typecast, and the operative word there is ‘cast’. So if we leave out the word ‘type’, what they are essentially asking is do you worry about about being cast, and no, I don’t, it sure beats unemployment. I love playing the bad guy, it’s always more fun, always more interesting. Who wants to play the good guy? It’s boring.

Nate: Who are some of your favourite actors/films/filmmakers?

Robert: My taste in actors is varied, I’m not much of a cinephile to begin with. I’d have to say that my number one actor that I really, really like is Alan Rickman. I don’t know what it is about Alan Rickman, the guy is just a consummate artist. I love Bob Duvall, also Gary Oldman I love. There are a lot of different actors I like for a lot of different reasons, but yeah, those would be the top three.

Nate: Awesome choices! Rickman and Oldman are absolute favourites of mine. You seem to have a ton of fun in your work, even when playing contemptible pricks. There’s always a glint in your eyes and an infectious energy that radiates off the screen. Do you find that that rambunctious, mischievous quality happens naturally via your personality, or do you consciously use your training to create it?

Robert: I always seem to have a lot of fun even when playing ‘contemptible pricks’, (laughs) I love that usage. Um, it’s fun, like in Person Of Interest, this character Patrick Simmons, whose kind of over the top, the story of Person Of Interest, the CBS television show, it’s kind of a comic book type of adventure, so you get to be a wee bit arch. But as long as I’m doing the definitive interpretation of the role, then I just am so grateful to be doing what I’m doing, that I don’t really apologize for it. Yeah I’m having fun, an acting teacher told me, why do you think they call it a play?

Nate: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind- the million dollar question haha. Your monologue in this one is just sheer comic brilliance, and lights up the entire movie like a beacon of knowing, satirical fun. My buddies and I re watch the scene on YouTube all the time and descend into fits of laughter. How did the nature of that come about? Did you take it upon yourself to lay the over the top, hilarious nature of that character into it, or was it in the script to have him like that?

Robert: With Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, that was my first audition after 9/11, I hadn’t auditioned in a year, I hadn’t acted in a year. I went for George Clooney and I read that scene, and he was.. snot was coming out of his nose he was laughing so hard. Then when I got up there subsequently to shoot it, I dialled it back a lot, and he said “What are you doin?”, and I said “well, I wanna be in the same movie YOU’RE shooting”, and he said “No, no, you have to do what you did in the audition, it was such a wonderful interpretation”, so I did it, and I really had fun with that. What was wonderful about George is that he’s an actor, so he allowed me to really just be fearless and not whatever the hell I wanted per say, but at the same time to reallyy stretch the boundaries of who this particular whacko CIA agent could be.

Nate: You have primarily worked in crime/action cinema. Do you find that a particular genre just kind of finds you based on your look, style and approach to the work, or did you actively seek out projects like that?

Robert: I think the reason that I work in these genres, of action adventure, well it’s not action adventure per say, but action. I guess it has to do with the way I look, you know, sharp featured, blue eyes. Western canon would say that I’m the consummate looking hunter, you know, killer. But I play a lot of military types, it’s interesting that that’s what is thrust upon me, I played like five or six Generals so far in the past three years. This is how I’m perceived, it’s kind of a surprise to me, but again it’s usually fun stuff, and interesting. I especially like doing historical work, playing someone who has actually lived, because then I get to do the research and being a history buff that coincides nicely.

Nate:  How is life these days? Do you have any projects you are excited for and would like to speak about?

Robert: Life these days is good, I do a recurring role on Special Victims Unit, and he really was a contemptible prick, and now they’re softening the character up. I just finished a turn in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and my volunteer fire service, July August I took off, that’s our busy time of the year, so just getting the fire department and the training materials, everything up to snuff, lots of training, lots of EMS calls, and the odd fire. There’s a lot of fire safety these days, so it cuts down on your fire service in that respect. But the training I love, and I’m pretty fortunate to have such good guys around me.

Nate: Thanks for sharing, Robert, I really appreciate it!