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SxSW 2017 Interview: THE HERO director Brett Haley

THE HERO at SxSW 2017
by Jason Whyte

"Lee Hayden is an aging Western icon with a golden voice, but his best performances are decades behind him. He spends his days reliving old glories and smoking too much weed with his former-co-star-turned-dealer until a surprise cancer diagnosis brings his priorities into sharp focus. He soon strikes up an exciting, contentious relationship with stand-up comic and he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter all while searching for one final role to cement his legacy." Director and writer Brett Haley on THE HERO which screens at the 2017 South By Southwest Conference.

Congratulations on your film playing in Austin at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

This is my first time at the festival and I will be at all my screenings!

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I went to film school at UNCSA and studied directing. After graduating I started working as an assistant to director John Hillcoat. John was a great teacher and mentor and is still someone I turn to today for advice and real talk. After working for John I co-wrote, directed and produced a $5,000 feature called THE NEW YEAR. That film played a few great festivals and did very well for the tiny movie that it was. After that film I made ends meet by editing and directing a lot of various documentary and reality TV. I then launched a Kickstarter campaign to get my last film, I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, off the ground.

I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is one of my favorite movies of the last few years. How did THE HERO come together for you?

My co-writer, Marc Basch, and I wrote THE HERO specifically for Sam Elliott. After working with Sam on I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, I wanted to give him a performance showcase so Marc and I came up with the character of Lee Hayden. Once Sam read the script and said yes, things moved very quickly from there.

While making a movie, what keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee?

I am the most excited when I get the opportunity to direct a film so I am on a natural high most of the time. Although it's probably a good deal of anxiety as well. However, I drank a lot of Bulletproof Coffee (also known as butter coffee) while making THE HERO. That definitely helped keep my brain and body going on very little sleep.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Every project has its own unique set of challenges. I can't think of one that was bigger than another but just getting through each day in prep, shooting and post felt very rewarding.

I have noticed with THE HERO and I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, one of my favorite movies of the last few years, that you really shine a beautiful light on seniors and how they exactly think and operate in their later years. What has been your experience with seniors in the past?

I had had very little experience with seniors in my life before I made DREAMS. It wasn't based on anyone I knew in real life. But for the films' themes to have resonance I knew that it needed to be told from an older perspective, so that's why we made the decision to have our protagonist be a 70-year-old woman. Marc Basch and I wrote that film, a film about loss , completely from our imagination. THE HERO just so happens to be about a man of a certain age because it was written specifically for Sam Elliott. That being said, I'm happy that these two films shine a light on people of a certain age. It's a rare thing in movies.

Also with both films I noticed the beautiful way you had older and younger characters interacting with each other and creating unusual but beautiful friendships, something that is very rare to see in films these days. What was your inspiration with this?

As you said you rarely see these types of relationships on screen so I wanted to put them forward in an honest and real way. I often ask the question, "Why aren't young people and older people friends more often?" And, "Why do we judge these relationships so harshly when they are?" I don't really have the answer but I'm certainly asking the question.

The incomparable Sam Elliott is the lead and I loved how it's a follow-up to another beautiful character you wrote in I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS. What is the experience like of directing him?

Sam is the best. He is a true collaborator and an incredible actor and human being. He is so passionate about his work and, in my mind, he is an icon. THE HERO is my love letter to him.

I loved how you shone a light on smaller characters and gave them as much emotional weight as Elliott's character. I would love to hear about your involvement with the rest of the cast.

I was so lucky to get the opportunity to work with Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter and Katharine Ross. It was an embarrassment of riches.

I would like to know about the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

We shot on two cameras. The Arri Amira and the Arri Alexa. We wanted the film to feel very real and present and my DP Rob Givens and I thought that a handheld approach would be best for that. The majority of the film is handheld but we didn't go for shaky-cam look. Instead we did a very subtle handheld style that I think fit the film very nicely. We used the Amira for all the handheld sequences since it's a lightweight camera. We used the Alexa with anamorphic lenses for the dream sequences in the film. All of those sequences were shot on sticks, dolly, and sliders to separate those scenes from the real life scenes. I love the look of the film; it feels very down to earth but beautiful at the same time. I think Rob did a wonderful job.

I greatly admired the flashback sequences which felt new while at the same time being a throwback to Elliot's past. What was your key inspiration for this?

These are dream sequences and I'm a big fan of dream sequences, when done right, in film and TV. I was inspired by films like 8 1/2 and TV shows like THE SOPRANOS for their use of dreams in their narratives. Those sequences work so well because they communicate the subconscious fears and hopes of their main characters in truly unique and engaging ways.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I think that THE HERO is a great fit for SxSW so I am excited to share the film with audiences in Austin.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?

The film is going to be released theatrically in New York and LA on June 9th and then go nationwide on July 4th. After SxSW we will screen at a lot of festivals throughout the country and, eventually, all over the world.

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

My favorite theater in the world is the Vista Theatre in Los Angeles. That would be a dream come true.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive, like talking and texting, through a movie?

"You know you're at a movie, right?"

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Work hard, write every day and know that failure is part of the job. This is a marathon not a sprint.

What is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I saw THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL at Sundance in 2015 and I still think about that movie all the time. I think it's an incredible film.

And finally, what is your favorite Sam Elliott line out of all of his performances over his career?

This isn't a line but Sam's monologue at the end of THE BIG LEBOWSKI, which is done all in one shot, is an all-timer. Watch it again. You'll be happy you did.



Friday, March 10 at 9:30pm, ZACH Theatre (1510 Toomey Road)
Saturday, March 11 at 2:00pm, Rollins Theatre (701 W. Riverside Drive)
Tuesday, March 14 at 8:15pm, Alamo Lamar East (1120 S. Lamar Boulevard)
Wednesday, March 15 at 11:30am, Rollins Theatre (701 W. Riverside Drive)

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2017. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas taking place March 10-18. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/10/17 07:55:29
last updated: 03/10/17 07:59:19
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