Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Dan Harris is obviously best known for his work on X2 and the upcoming SUPERMAN, but he’s also a writer/director of his own film, IMAGINARY HEROES. Leave it to Ghostboy to sit down with Harris to discuss the most personal of those three films in this really nice interview:
It's Ghostboy, back again, this time with no new reviews, no essayistic exposes; instead, I've got another one of my series of interviews with directors of various independent films. This one is a fellow many of you might be more acquainted with than some of my usual focal points: Dan Harris, the writer of X2 and a certain upcoming superhero movie that, judging from past work, will be all the better for his involvement.
But although that film comes up briefly in this interview, the chief concern is Mr. Harris's directorial debut, Imaginary Heroes. The film had a tiny rollout before Christmas, and has more recently started playing in theaters around the country. Dan was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions I had about his picture.
GB: This question often comes part and parcel regarding intimate familial dramas, but I'll ask it anyway: how personal is this story to you? Is it in any way autobiographical, either loosely or otherwise?
DH: The film is autobiographical in the sense that I tried to re-create the world I observed growing up. None of the events in the film actually happened to me. Some were observed from other people, friends, relatives, neighbors, some were fictionalized accounts, and some were experiences of my own turned on their side. But the base of the story grew out of my life. When I was in high shool, I dealt with a series of terrible tragedies and deaths of very close members of my family — when I was 15, 16, 17, these awful events happened, and kept happening. I looked around and thought, this isn’t normal, it’s not happening to my friends, just to me and my family. It was like a snowball effect — that one tragedy can cause another, and another, and soon it became so much that it almost pushed itself into the realm of the absurd. Four years later, I’m getting ready to graduate from college, and I want to write the story without writing the story. It was the era of reemergence of teen comedies — films like She's All That and American Pie, which I thought were great, but so far from what I experienced, that I knew there must be other kids who couldn’t connect to them.
GB: You must have achieved some sort of big budget credibility by working with Bryan Singer on X2 right off the bat. Still, did you have any difficulty getting this project off the ground? And how long did you have it in development (if at all) before that film - and if you were working on it back then, what was the difference between getting a film made before and after having your name attached to a blockbuster superhero movie?
DH: Getting Imaginary Heroes off the ground was very difficult. It’s a dark film, a tragedy with edgy elements and an ending that’s not entirely positive. The independent marketplace has become saturated with what are really just cheaper studio movies, so it’s gotten hard to get people to back something that doesn’t scream commercial appeal. It’s weird — X2 was such a successful film, yet the worlds of 4 million dollar independent dramas and 150 million dollar event films are so different that it didn’t hold over. No one came running to give money to the co-writer of the big mutant movie. People just assume that they came running to make the movie because of X2, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Only Moshe and Illana Diamant were willing to go to bat for me because they believed in it. Everyone who worked on the film gave everything they could because they believed in it. No one cared that I had co-written a big summer movie. For my next film, I’m going to try and do something in between, and I pray that the credibility bleeds into this project.
GB: Lower-budgeted films often have good war stories from the set - anything interesting/entertaining/horrific you'd care to relate?
DH: Well there were all kinds — some were horrific. On the day my dad came to visit the set for the first time (to see me directing a movie for the first time), it was raining, and we were shooting Sigourney walking down the stairs, indoors. During take two we heard a smash, and everyone went running. Outside, one of the grips had slipped and fallen off a scissor lift and landed on the pavement — he had fallen from about twenty feet up and was laying on the ground, immobile, in a small river of blood. It was terrifying. And just when we go outside and call the ambulance, my dad shows up to set. He’s a doctor, so he went right to work and started helping the guy. Sigourney looks at him and says to me, “who’s that guy”. I’m like, “That’s my dad....”. In the end, the grip turned out to be perfectly fine and had no serious injuries, but I had to explain how things like that don’t always happen when you’re making a movie.
On a slightly lighter note, we had a week left to shoot in New Jersey, and had had a late night full of noise. We got to our location, ready to shoot a party scene, and were told we didn’t have a permit to shoot. So, the crew packed up and went home, and the next day the producers and the NY union had a falling out — there was a rule that since we paid the crew for a day we didn’t work it had to be counted as a workday, so by adding another day to the schedule to make up for it, we had to add a week. It was ridiculous, and the producers made a quick decision. We shot the last week in Los Angeles!
GB: I was very pleased to see Tim Orr's name in the opening credits - what led to your choosing him as a DP?
DH: I saw George Washington when it came out and thought he was an absolutely beautiful, lyrical DP. I literally turned to my friend when watching the film and said, when I make my first film, I’m going to get Tim Orr to shoot it. He’s also such a cool, great guy who really gets it. The DVD print really shows off his work in the best format.
GB: The film calls to mind other stories about familial tragedy - Ordinary People, Moonlight Mile, The Son's Room. Were there any films you looked at for inspiration, or any you felt didn't do justice to such serious subject matter? Was it your intention to bring something new to the table, regarding the subject matter of teen suicide, or did you simply want to tell a good story?
DH: It’s really strange, because I’ve never seen Ordinary People, Moonlight Mile, or The Son’s Room. I know a lot of criticism of the film has been about it being close to Ordinary People, and I admit there’s something In the cultural zeitgeist from that film, but I’ve never seen it. The subject matter was so personal to me — so much about suicide itself, what leads to it, how people react, and the reprecussions of hidden secrets and family tragedy. Maybe there are just archetypal parts to these stories that some people can use as a crutch to call it derivative... But then again, people don’t watch or make movies in a vacuum. I never watched another film for reference before I wrote the screenplay for Imaginary Heroes.
GB: The visage of Kurt Cobain makes a brief but prominent appearance in Tim's notebook. What was your reason for including this brief, iconic allusion?
DH: Initially, there was much more about Kurt Cobain in the movie, but it’s very hard to use his image and reference the suicide in a film that is ultimately about the reprocussions of suicide itself. To me, Kurt Cobain was the poet of my generation. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, and Nirvana was saying what we were feeling. Then he killed himself. There was an entire mass of people, a generation of kids who felt like they didn’t fit in — the alternative kids — who instantly lost their leader. I knew Kurt never wanted the fame put upon him, but he had some kind of responsibility for these people that he had affected... And he just killed himself. What does that do to the people that believe in him, listen to every word that escapes his lips? It’s destructive beyond words. So I wanted to set the film in a post-Cobain-suicide world, and say on a grander scale, Kurt Cobain IS Matt Travis. He’s the ultimate Imaginary Hero. We put him on a pedestal, and he never asked to be there. He took himself off the pedestal with a shotgun. When I was a kid, that blew my mind.
GB: (first of all, for all you readers out there, let me say here that this question contains MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!! MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!! SKIP TO THE NEXT QUESTION!!!!) My favorite scene in the film was the spontaneous New Years' Eve kiss between Kyle and Tim. While you avoid illustrating in concrete terms exactly how far they go that night, I was puzzled by your decision not to discuss the implications that arise after Sandy's big confession about Tim's parentage near the end of the film -- as I understand it, this means that Tim and Kyle are actually (half) brothers. Was there any particular reason you decided not to deal with this issue?
DH: Well, because it wasn’t what the story was about. For better or worse, I stuck to my guns, saying, something terrible happened in the past, and never was dealt with properly between these two familes. Using that idea, I traced it to it’s logical end — along the way, amidst confusion over many things, something happens with the two guys. And we find out later the implications of that. It wasn’t planned — it’s not like, okay, how can I find a way to put incest in this movie? It’s the opposite. I sat there thinking, how can I remove the incest part of this story? I can’t. I’ll just let it be there, and it will be one of those things that happens that people don’t talk about. I love things in movies that happen but people don’t talk about them. It means there is a world of discussions and events outside of what we’ve just seen.
GB: Jumping directly to the end of the movie - I noticed what appeared to be a little boy on the roof at the end. Is there a story behind that (or did I miss something earlier in the picture - or am I just crazy and suffering from hallucinations, a possibility I'm always quick to consider)?
DH: The little boy on the roof at the end is really just a nod to the audience, saying — he’s on the roof for a reason — to me, his parents are fighting inside. That family issues and dysfunction never really ends. These things are happening all the time, everywhere. The Travis family story is just this kind of story taken to the extreme.
GB: Do you have a follow-up directorial effort in the works? If so, any details, regarding concept and progress, you'd care to share?
DH: I do have a follow-up that’s been a bit derailed because of Superman. But it’s basically a return to the kind of films Spielberg made in the 80s — dramas with a touch of the supernatural. Grounded science fiction that’s happening in our backyards — oh, and the the apocalypse too...
GB: And speaking of follow-up efforts - this being intended for AICN, I'd be remiss not to ask about Superman Returns, its progress both at the moment and during the writing process? Feel free to say that your lips are sealed (although any answer of a more substantial nature would, undoubtedly, but appreciated).
DH: Well, my lips are sealed with duct tape, but I can say that we’re all beyond thrilled with how it’s going. Mike Dougherty and I just delivered our sixth draft of the script, and we start shooting on March 11. We’re living in Sydney — the art looks amazing, the sets are amazing, the actors are amazing. It’s Bryan’s domain to reveal secrets of the story — the only thing I can say is that there are many secrets to the story, and that we confidently think we’re making a truly great film.
GB: One thing I always like to ask artists of all types -- are there any films, music and/or literature that you tend to use for inspiration when you're working? It's always fun to see what other people are watching/reading/listening to.
DH: I’m always listening to music. If I could sing, I’d be broke, because I would have tried to become a rockstar. I read less than I used to, but literature from my past seems to still impact what I do. Kurt Vonnegut and Phillip Roth have a comic sensibility that I think bled into Imaginary Heroes — but music — the music influences on the film are clearly from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, REM — rock with lyrics that speak to the outsider.
And that's the gist of it! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did - (due to time constraints, the interview was conducted via e-mail). Imaginary Heroes is playing in theaters right now, so, if your curiosity is piqued, do check it out. What, you're planning on seeing The Pacifier this weekend instead? Please.
All that having been said, I'm outta here (at least until I finish typing up this review of The Jacket).
Cinematically yours, as always....
As always, nice work.