Rafael Motamayor talks to Ron Shelton, director of Bull Durham and Tin Cup about his latest movie Just Getting Started and knowing a man on the FBI’s most wanted list…
This is the first movie you’ve directed in 14 years. Was it by choice? Were you waiting for the right movie?
I had about 3 or 4 movies that fell out at the last minute. They were ready to go, and a piece of the financing fell out or the actor became unfinanceable. When you’re not making studio movies, which I’m not, there’s usually 4 or 5 different financing partners, and then the available cast. There’s just so many moving parts, and it was a very frustrating period, of me not working as much. I hope to make 10 movies in the next 10 years. I have several that are moving forward, I developed a Broadway musical that’s going to open the next year and a television thing. So I’ve been very, very busy it’s just bad luck and the movie process, but hopefully that’s all moving forward again.
What do you like about directing?
I love directing, it’s the most fun. To pay your mortgage the writing jobs come more often than the directing jobs, so I just write all the time. Sometimes for my own projects, sometimes for others, but lately it’s just been difficult to get movies made for anybody.
Where did the idea for Just Getting Started come from?
I’m from Southern California. For me Christmas was always warm weather and going to the beach, while the Christmas music you hear on the radio is all about the snow. I was amused by that, specially when people from cold weather come here and say “this isn’t Christmas” and I say “of course it’s Christmas”. And I remember driving through Palm Springs one Christmas and reading that Bethlehem is the same latitude as Southern California and Palm Springs, and I that was ridiculously funny and I thought that was a good background for a story.
In terms of the story, sometimes I go places where I see people reinventing themselves. California is famous for that, Los Angeles specially. I have gone to places like Panama, which is like Casablanca in the old days, nobody’s who they say they are. I thought there was fun to be had in taking the cliché of a retirement place and turning it upside down. Making it a place where people don’t go to die, they go to live and to party. Since finishing the script, I’ve discovered that there are places like this all over Florida, and there are just wild, swingers, you know? That was really funny to me.
How was the casting process? Did you always have Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in mind?
I didn’t. I first had to get a financing partner, so we could make offers to actors. I didn’t know Morgan, but when they offered him the role and he liked the script a lot, he said he was in. That’s when I called Tommy, who I knew and have worked with. I thought Tommy isn’t usually known for it, but he has a great, dry sense of humour that would be perfect next to Morgan. Tommy jumped in because he wanted to work with Morgan and also work with me again. I am very happy with how that turned out, their chemistry was perfect.
You have worked with different genres, from action to sports. When writing a story, how do you place it in a genre?
What I like is human behaviour. It could be dark like Dark Blue, or comedic like Just Getting Started or romantic or whatever. I want it to be about behaviour. I don’t want to just blow things up, even if I have directed movies with action scenes and I do blow up a golf cart in this movie. I am not interested in comic-book movies or Transformers, but in how human beings behave. Maybe there’s action, maybe there’s not, but human beings are more interested than any special effect.
I wanted to ask about your new movie, Escape Artist. Is there anything you can say about that?
We are casting right now. Once we get a lead actor it will move more quickly. This is a true story about a man that I knew very well, Ed “Hacksaw” Jones. One of the most interesting guys I’ve ever met. He went to jail as a teenager. He got a 10-year sentence on a chain gang, then broke out of it before getting caught. Then they told him his first sentence was overturned, it was a mistake and he shouldn’t have got a 10-year sentence, but since he broke out of the chain gang they were going to give him 10 more years. His sentence ended up going up to 85 years because he crossed state lines and kept breaking out of jails. He broke out of local jails and federal prisons, he was kind of a genius. It’s a pretty great story.
How did you know him?
This goes way back. In 1990 an agent sent me a book that Ed wrote, called “Hacksaw”. I read the book and thought “this guy is unbelievable” but I was busy at the time. Then a few years later Ed came to LA and wanted to meet me. He was looking for a place to rent and I was moving so I rented him my house for two years. Then he went to Mexico and when he came back from Mexico they caught him for having broken parole a few years back. During the last 15 years of his life I got to know him very well, and I finally got the rights to his book and now am doing a movie about him.
Thanks to Ron Shelton for taking the time for this interview.
Just Getting Started is set for release on December 8th.