Pensacola, Florida
Friday September 22nd 2017

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Catching Up With A Hometown “Hero”

By Joshua Encinias

Not to give anything away, but filmmaker and Pensacola native Brett Haley’s third feature film “The Hero” is a meditation on failure before death.

It’s acted, directed and edited, so you feel every excruciating beat of contemplation.

For “The Hero,” Haley brings Sam Elliott back from his last film “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and gives him more to work with than your average actor of a certain age.

The cinematography is mostly hand-held, giving the effect of being inside Elliott’s thoughts.

The dialogue is concise, sparse and supplementary to its images. The film relies on looks, gestures, and that roving hand-held camera to examine a man who, perhaps, never examined his life outside of measuring his own success.

Fans of Haley’s work might remember that his first feature film “The New Year” was filmed in Pensacola haunts like Cordova Lanes and Village Inn.

We caught up with Haley while he’s promoting “The Hero” but also already looking ahead to his next project.

INWEEKLY: I saw that you edited “The Hero.” Is that something you’ve done with all of your movies?
BRETT HALEY: It started out of necessity. There was no one around to edit my films except me. So it became part of my process, and it still is. It’s not that I’m not open to other editors, but I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of writing, directing and editing. Shaping the story and finishing the edit. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was a kid and it’s hard to break that pattern.

INWEEKLY: When you’re working with your cinematographer, are you guiding the choices they make or are they pretty independent? For example—a lot of “The Hero” was done hand-held. Was that something you wanted to have a more personal approach to Sam Elliot’s character or is that something that Rob Givens brought to it?
HALEY: I’m very specific about what I want visually with my films. I think that’s a big part of my job. It’s a dialogue, a collaboration between two artists and Rob is a great collaborator. We compared notes and ideas and decided together what’s best for the film. It was a collaboration, in the truest sense of the word, but I also think as a director you should bring very specific ideas and vision for the film to the table.

INWEEKLY: Your last movie focused on Blythe Danner and this one on Sam Elliott. Are you seeking out older actors to write retiree, baby boomer experiences or did it just happen coincidentally?
HALEY: It’s not a pre-thought out thing. Both of those films happened in their own magical way. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” was written from an older person’s perspective because it’s about grief and loss. I felt that perspective would be the best vehicle for that. It serviced the themes of the film. And this project was inspired by and written for Sam Elliott, who I worked with on “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” so it just so happens he’s a man of a certain age.

INWEEKLY: Aside from, I think Bruce LaBruce’s recent film “Gerontophilia,” I haven’t seen an intergenerational love making scene on film, especially not in a mainstream film. What was it like to film that with Sam and Laura Prepon?
HALEY: It was fine (laughs). You know, it was like any other scene. You have two actors who want to get it right and make sure that the passion and character moments are coming across. It all went to plan, we shot it very quickly, and it was painless. And everybody was concerned we were doing what was necessary for the story.

INWEEKLY: Are you working on anything now?
HALEY: Yeah, I’m making a film in August that Marc Basch and I wrote.

INWEEKLY: Is that something you’ll try and take to Sundance next year?
HALEY: We always try to stop at Sundance. We’ll see if we finish the movie in time and it’s in shape to submit. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. We’re making another indie, and we’re really excited about it.

INWEEKLY: Were you ever part of any Sundance developmental programs or anything with any other festivals?
HALEY: Not with this film or any of the other films I ended up actually making. Film Independent has been supportive of some projects of mine. I was also in a lab at Sundance called Catalyst for another film. But I’ve never been in one of the screenwriter or director labs. I’ve done investor meet and greet labs where you meet people who are interested in financing films. None of those unfortunately worked out for me.

INWEEKLY: Sam Elliot has complimented your writing as being so accurate to the experience of people his age, but you’re in your 30s and haven’t experienced some of these things first hand. I’m wondering where these stories are coming from? Are you being influenced by your own parents or grandparents experience’s or are you just able to empathize?
HALEY: I’m just a really good-looking 70 year old (laughs). It’s the power of imagination, trying to empathize and put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s not like you and trying to figure out what that feels like. I couldn’t write these scripts without my writing partner Marc Basch, but he’s not an older guy either. So I don’t know. People ask me that question all the time, and it’s a weird thing to try and answer. I don’t have anyone in my life I’m pulling ideas or characters from. We just write what’s from our hearts and from our guts. We try to make it honest. And if people respond and think that it’s true to life and people like Sam Elliott say this is honest and true to me, then that’s the goal.

THE HERO
WHEN: Currently screening daily at Treehouse Cinema
WHERE: Treehouse Cinema, 1175 Gulf Breeze Parkway.
COST: $6.50 for matinee screenings, seniors, kids, and military; $8 for evening screenings
DETAILS: treehousecinemagulfbreeze.com