Archive | December, 2012

Peter Jackson, Amy Berg speak on “West of Memphis”

20 Dec

Director Amy Berg and producer Peter Jackson discuss "West of Memphis" at the Sundance Film Festival

Director Amy Berg and producer Peter Jackson discuss “West of Memphis” at the Sundance Film Festival

Damien Echols and Lorri Davis.

Damien Echols and Lorri Davis.

Listening to Academy Award-nominated director Amy Berg tell the story of “West of Memphis,” it’s easy to see why she says, “I have no faith in the justice system.” After all, Berg spent the better part of two years working on a documentary film about the so-called Memphis Three—three teenage boys sentenced to prison, one to a death sentence, for the murders of three young boys in Arkansas.
Berg, along with two of those men, sat down at the Sundance Film Festival last January, along with Academy Award- winning director team Peter Jackson and partner Fran Walsh, first-time filmmaker Lorri Davis and a team of their supporters, answering questions about the documentary. It has aired on HBO and will be released on video on Christmas Day.
In a nutshell, here’s the backstory. In 1993, three 8-year-old boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly Jr. were arrested and charged with the crimes. They were portrayed by prosecutors as devil-worshipping metalheads, and later convicted. Echols, 18 at the time, was sentenced to death, while the other two, both under 18, received life sentences. A documentary made in 1996 labeled the trial a sham, and it outraged a number of celebrity supporters of the three—-including Jackson and Walsh. In 2004, they began quietly financing investigations to get the men released.
That happened in August 2011, when after 18 years in prison, the three men were finally freed—-but not exonerated. In exchange for their release, they took what’s called the “Alford plea,” which allows them to proclaim their innocence but also allows the state of Arkansas to proclaim their guilt. Now, Jackson, Walsh, Davis, Berg and the three men themselves are working on that next step-—exoneration.
“Our fight has been to exonerate these three guys,” Jackson said. “When we first saw [Paradise Lost—the 1996 documentary], we just assumed the case was finished. But when we learned it was carrying on, we contacted Lorri (Damien’s wife) and began emailing back and forth. And we became friends.”
Echols learned of the correspondence between Davis and Jackson/Walsh, but “she tried to isolate herself from me in what she was doing. She truly did this all on her own—working with Peter and Fran and Amy,” he said.
One of the men’s attorneys, Stephen Braga, was also present at Sundance for this interview, and he said, quite accurately, “We had a secret weapon working for us-—Amy Berg.”
She joined the effort, and wrote the script for the documentary, which tells the story of the fight these three men had to bring the truth to light.
“You have to know that 90 percent of the time, the courts get things right,” Braga said. “Obviously, it’s a shame for the many others who are in the same place where Damien, Jason and Jessie were.” And Echols stated that a fellow inmate he befriended is fighting the same battle for this life right now—sitting on death row for a murder Echols believes the guy didn’t commit.
“In the beginning, I was shocked,” Echols said when he learned of Jackson’s involvement, “That stuff doesn’t happen in the world I came from. It’s weird when I see one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies now, that the guy who made it is the guy you had dinner with.”
For her part, Berg, who came on after Jackson and Walsh contacted her about the story, said her goal is forcing Arkansas to deal with the case properly.
“Right now, the families of the murdered children have no justice, and the three guys who were wrongly convicted have no justice.”

Post and photos by Tom Haraldsen

Justice, Kasden and friends discuss ‘The First Time’

11 Dec
The cast of “The First Time,” from left, Dylan O’Brien, Britt Robertson and Victoria Justice. Photo by Chalese Dalton

The cast of “The First Time,” from left, Dylan O’Brien, Britt Robertson and Victoria Justice. Photo by Chalese Dalton

Jonathan Kasdan said he had an advantage when he wrote and directed “The First Time,” which premiered at Sundance last January and will finally come to theaters next month. It’s called “experience.”
“I’ve lived and died with the successes and failures of my father and brother (directors Lawrence and Jake Kasdan),” he said. “I grew up watching hundreds of movies a year, so I’ve probably seen just about every technique ever used in directing and screenwriting.” Still, he said, “Being part of that legacy in Hollywood is less of an advantage than you might think. So much of Hollywood today is second generation, so no one necessarily stands out on that (lineage) alone.”
“The First Time” gave Kasdan, 32, a chance to direct three young actors, something his father has also been known for. Britt Robertson (“Scream 4,” “Avalon High,” “Dan in Real Life,”), who is 21, plays Aubrey, while her male co-star and on-screen romance Dave, is with Dylan O’Brien (“Teen Wolf,” “High Road”), who is 20. Singer/actress and Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice, 19, plays Jane Harmon. The film depicts a high school romance between two teens over the course of a weekend. Dave, a senior nearing graduation, meets junior Aubrey at a party, and what begins as a casual conversation soon turns into something much more intimate, more romantic and thus more complicated. As Kasdan said, “It could be the beginning of a serious relationship, or the worst mistake of their lives.”

Director Jonathan Kasdan said he wanted to create a “realistic” story of teenagers’ first romance, accomplished in his film “The First Time.” Photo by Chalese Dalton

Director Jonathan Kasdan said he wanted to create a “realistic” story of teenagers’ first romance, accomplished in his film “The First Time.” Photo by Chalese Dalton

“I think the script really captures the awkwardness and sweetness of that first romance,” Justice said during our interview. “The story stays in the right direction—it makes you wonder if everyone should ‘wait’ for the right time for that first time.”
Robertson praised Kasdan’s direction that allowed for lots of “non-verbal communication. And Jon also let us speak for ourselves in our dialogue—for our characters.” The production was finished in just under five weeks.
“It was great working with Jon and of course Britt and Dylan,” Justice said. She made this film just before launching into another movie, “Fun Size,” which played in theaters this past fall. “This is a different area for me, much different than what I’m doing for Nickelodeon. Jon had a great ability to find our individual sensibilities as actors, and worked with those. It made the process much more seamless.”
“I think what will be memorable for me is the way we made this film,” O’Brien added. “It’s why films should be made. We all had time to know our characters, which the audience will find as well.” And Justice said again that it was a great diversion for her to work in film, having spent so much of her early career on TV.
“Jon was great to try different things,” Robertson said. “It was truly a dream come true to work with him.” She praised his script for looking at romance and love from an innocent perspective. Comparing his work to that of legendary director John Hughes, Robertson said, “truthfulness is his currency.”
Though Robertson had done intimate scenes before, O’Brien had not. Justice said Kasdan was sensitive to that, making both actors feel more at ease in front of the camera.
“The First Time” is set for a national release in January. 

Post by Tom Haraldsen