By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
Something that really affected me was Forest Whitaker's performance. And it brought to my mind something that's occurred to me before while watching him in other projects: Why isn't this guy used more? When he plays a heavy, he scares the fuck out of you. When he plays a reluctant hero, you can't help but root for him. And here, as just this average guy trying to make it though another day, you can't help but feel for him. And he does this with such subtlety. Now tell me he was the greatest guy to work with, too . . .He for sure is. Forest is one of the greatest actors, directors, producers, mentors and people you could ever hope to meet. He has this handshake that is instantly comforting, which might be surprising for a man who could directly intimidate on build alone.
For me and for many filmmakers, Forest is an amazing mentor and professional craftsman. He challenges you to do your best work by bringing his best talents all the time. He did this thing with both me and my producer, Ted Kroeber, which was like the greatest film school possible, where he would sit down with us individually in his office for hours answering questions about how he had to address this directing problem, how he saw Clint Eastwood deal with that situation or watched Robert Altman confront something else. He's a man who has worked with almost everyone and clearly taken on those experiences as a way of becoming a better filmmaker and helping others to become the same. He always presented me with many answers to my questions and encouraged me to find my own way. And I mean this, sincerely, he is a wonderful, thoughtful, and gracious person and one of the key reasons I was able to make this film and make it this way.
In regards to why he isn't used more, the guy is always producing, directing, and acting. He's a busy dude. Most people don't know he directed Waiting to Exhale, Hope Floats, First Daughterand more. He produced the new Twilight Zone series and, after hearing about what he's been working on these past couple of years, some of his best stuff is still coming at us.
Speaking of Whitaker and the rest of the cast, how did you get so many known actors (Marcia Gay Harden, Donald Sutherland, etc.) to what is, near as I can tell, your first feature?Yeah, it is my first feature and I was fortunate enough to have a phenomenal cast of actors who were crazy enough to trust me as a first time feature director. To have someone of the caliber of Marcia Gay Harden and Donald Sutherland trust you with their image is an amazing thing. Marcia was first on and she believed in this film and supported it with a strength that set the bar very high for the caliber of talent we wanted to attract. I feel fortunate to have gotten talents like Linda Cardellini and Tony Goldwyn to play in the film because when you shoot a film in 24 days for no money, you don't have much to offer beyond the hopes that collectively you will all make a great film.
How can I put this delicately? How difficult or easy is it for a filmmaker such as yourself to make it in this business? And by "filmmaker such as yourself," I'm of course referring to you being from Orange County.It's a trip because when you walk into a room, a black man from the Republican mecca of Orange County, with a name that could be like a Nordic Israeli Italian blend, and you're there to pitch a film about gun violence, people really don't know what to think. "You're from where?" "You want how much money?" "Okay, let me get this straight: all the characters in this movie aren'tAfrican-American?"
It's great starting a meeting about a film like this with the question, "So tell me, what young rapper do you want to cast as the kid in Oregon?" Then watch sadly as they scramble to think of anyone whose name begins with Lil'.
Did previous Orange County filmmakers—your Frank Marshalls, your David Siegel/Scott McGehees, your McGs and even that Spielberg fellow who went to school up the road at Long Beach State—pave the way for someone like you, someone from Orange County, to gain more acceptance in Hollywood?I've never met any of those guys. I did once turn down an $8-an-hour job working at Dreamworks as an intern because the OC commute to Burbank would have had me losing too much money, but who knows? People in LA think we do live on this foreign island behind the "Orange Curtain"—and it's true, we kinda do. But it's my home and I'll take the heat for all the baggage that comes with that.
Do you think that one day, we'll all be able to just say, "He's a helluva filmmaker," and not have to even bring up your Orange County heritage?Maybe, but that would just be a shame . . . a sad, sad shame.
Wait a tick: I've just been passed something that obviously has a typo on it. You indicate you're a "black man." But I thought you were from Orange County???There is a whole bunch of us here, my friend, and now they're letting us make movies!!! I grew up with a large group of guys with soul and melanin and now these same cats who went to Mater Dei and Servite and Brea Olinda have their own online media companies, coach Division I college basketball, and work in various forms of banking and finance. All Orange County black men.
Okay, seriously: so you're out promoting this right now, but I suspect you must have something else in the works. What's next?I'm finishing up my script for a crazy picture called Live at Five about the most popular news show in the history of broadcast news and the fame-driven reporters, producers and anchor people that made the show work. It's a satire about those same people that don't mind cutting into the State of the Union address to show you a car chase.
American Gun is reviewed here.