VIFF 2017 Interview: LUCKY director John Carroll Lynch

By Jason Whyte
Posted 10/05/17 19:21:48

The Lowdown: LUCKY follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist and the quirky characters that inhabit his off the map desert town. Having outlived and out smoked all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self exploration, leading towards that which is so often unattainable: enlightenment. Acclaimed character actor John Carroll Lynch's directorial debut "Lucky", is at once a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton as well as a meditation on morality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection.

I had the honor to speak with John about LUCKY, a movie I saw twice at South By Southwest Film Festival earlier in the year, about LUCKY which is having the final of three screenings at the 2017 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

So excited to have LUCKY, a favorite from SxSW, here at VIFF! Are you going to make it out here?

Sadly, I could not make the screenings for LUCKY, but our producer Richard Kahan was able to come and he is a Vancouver native so it was a great homecoming for him. He said it went beautifully. I haven't have the pleasure of getting to go to VIFF.

I am amazed by this film but was curious how it all came together from your end?

I was asked to read the script originally to consider playing a part in it. My friend Drago Sumonja, one of the writers, gave it to me. I liked the script and thought the opportunity to work with Harry Dean Stanton was enticing as well. Logan and Drago had started writing the script with Harry in mind. They wanted to encapsulate Harry's essence in a fictional narrative. They did a great job.

Drago was aware of my desire to direct and a few months later he and the other co-writer approached me to do just that. We had a good discussion about how to approach making the movie, and that's where it began.

After another pass on the script, we went out to financiers and gratefully got some yesses. It was a very quick process by independent standards, by any standards really. From blank screen to final cut, it was two years and three months.

Our goal throughout was to make a movie that celebrated the life and work of Harry Dean Stanton. It was conceived as an elegy and works as such. Everyone came to work with Harry Dean. From all the producers to the crew, this was clear. Our schedule was quite tight. Seventeen days of principal photography with one satellite day in Arizona for vistas, tortoises, and Saguaro.

Harry was a trooper. 17 days and in every shot, that would be exhausting for anyone. But along with his age, he had to contend with the script that had so much autobiographical material, but wasn't his life. He was brave to be so revealing. I was honored to work with him.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?

Once on the train, you can't stop. I did other projects while working on this, all acting work, but I never lost sight of what was needed in this one. I was doing a job in Winnipeg when we finished the first polished cut. It was exhausting and challenging, but also, a blast.

It seems like such a simple story but it is such an experience. What were the biggest challenges with making LUCKY?

The biggest challenge was the learning curve. To engage in the aspects of the work that I only knew intellectually and to do them well in a hands on circumstance. All those who collaborated on the film, the producers, our great DP Tim Suhrstedt, our production designers, sound department, all the editors were so supportive and helpful. I learned a lot.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of LUCKY, what would it be?

During filming, there was a moment where we were waiting for lenses to be replaced on the cameras and for them to be reloaded and Harry Dean and I sat on the street. We talked for a second or two, then just sat in silence. It was great.

You mentioned Tim Suhrstedt earlier, but I would like to know more on how you shot the film!

The film was shot with an Alexa camera with vintage anamorphic lenses. We wanted the film to feel like a 70s film and need the lenses to make sure we got the vistas and scope of the desert. Each aspect of the film was to enhance the vitality of life on the edge of the desert where it appears fragile but is really tenacious. Like Lucky.

We also spent a lot of time working on the soundscape. Michael Baird and his crew did a great job of making space and density without a score. It was vital that the music in the film be sparse as required by the screenplay.

We also made the schedule and shot in Los Angeles to make sure we tended to Harry Dean's well being. I had just shot a film where I was the lead and it was an eighteen day shoot and I knew how tired he would be. So, we all made sure that we tended his energy. He was exhausted but you would never know it. Amazing.

Where is the movie going to show after VIFF?

We are being distributed in Canada by Films We Like. In the US we are being distributed by Magnolia Pictures who also has helped us sell foreign territories. So, we are being distributed all over Europe, in Asia, the Middle East, South America, and Australia. More to come! Very gratifying.

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I would show it in the Circle theater in Washington D.C. but it no longer exists. I would show it there because I saw PARIS, TEXAS there.

Movie theaters are the best place to see a movie, but sometimes they can be distracting! What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

I would and have asked people to be quiet. I have asked them to stop texting, I have moved. Some of these are the advantage of being scary, which I can be.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews for inspiration. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

I like the advice I read in an article of Robert Altman's which is keep a lot of projects brewing and when one of them boils, do that. Also, I think work begets work. So do anything you can.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

Sadly, I have spent most of my time seeing films at festivals that I was attached to somehow, so that isn't fair. I was at SXSW this past year and loved seeing SERVED LIKE A GIRL, Lysa Heyland's amazing documentary. See it. So moving.

(Note: You can read my SxSW interview with Lysa from SERVED LIKE A GIRL by clicking HERE!)

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 28th to October 13th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
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