Today I am joined by Jim Hemphill, the director of The Trouble with the Truth. If the movie sounds familiar then that may be because I gave it a very enthusiastic review just the other day! It’s a real thrill to be able to bring you a conversation between us as I think he did a very fine job on the film. I hope you enjoy reading about the process of creating the movie, what influenced it and how he managed to get Lea Thompson involved! Read on for more…
Hello there, thanks for sitting down and doing this interview with me today! Are you well?
I’m great, thanks for having me.
First off I have to say congratulations on this movie, I thought it was really excellent! What was it that prompted you to write it?
It started out from a purely practical place, in that I wanted to write something that I knew I could make inexpensively. That meant no special effects, no action, preferably all interiors, limited locations…so in a way the format of a dramedy with just a couple of main characters was dictated by financial limitations. Once that was decided though, I saw it as an opportunity to do either a comedy with heavy drama or a drama with comedic elements, depending on your point of view, about a lot of ideas I’m interested in. Ideas about love, marriage, divorce, mortality, commitment, infidelity, etc….I wanted to try to explore weighty issues but do it in a way that was entertaining and involving, not preachy.
I would assume that the Before Sunset films and My Dinner with Andre are strong influences here? What did you try to take away from them and others like them when writing and directing Trouble?
Yeah, the second film in Linklater’s Before trilogy was particularly influential; the third one came out after we shot our movie, so it wasn’t on my mind, but the first two and My Dinner with Andre were all movies that gave me a certain level of confidence, because they showed that you can make this kind of movie work. In other words, I figured if people had enjoyed this style of film before, they might enjoy it again! I studied those movies to see how they kept the rhythm going, and I also looked at Eastwood’s Bridges of Madison County and a Ron Shelton movie called Play it to the Bone that has lengthy dialogue scenes in a car. All of these films take the simplest thing in the world – two or three people talking – and turn it into spectacularly compelling drama or comedy. I don’t know if we really came close to doing it as well as those filmmakers, but it’s what we were going for.
Honestly, I think you did achieve a level which makes comparisons to those films justified. Have you seen Conversations with Other Women? You might find it pretty interesting as it deals with similar topics, albeit through a rather experimental split-screen technique…
I loved Conversations with Other Women, though I had completely forgotten about it when I was writing and directing Truth. It was only afterward that I realized I must have been influenced by it in some subconscious way.
It must have been really tough writing such a dialogue driven movie where complex layers of character have to gradually reveal themselves over time, how did you approach this script?
I made myself write it relatively quickly, in about a month or so, just creating the characters and writing dialogue about anything and everything that came to mind. I didn’t even really worry about telling a story, I just let these people talk. Then, as they talked, the story started to reveal itself to me…in other words, after the first draft, which was written without a lot of planning or conscious intention, I looked at the script and saw where the drama was – in the question of whether or not these two people belonged together – and then I started cutting things out and reshaping the scenes so that they would emphasize that core question. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but I do have to say that I find something mystical about writing…if it’s going well, the characters speak to you and you don’t feel like you’re putting words in their mouth, though obviously on some level it all has to come from you.
In some respects this is very much like a play except that, in my eyes, it is subtly cinematic in ways such as how the lighting becomes harsher over the course of the film. Was there a concern about how to present this film to its audience without everything feeling staged or cinematically flat?
That was always the biggest challenge: how do you keep something like this visually interesting without getting in the way of the characters and the drama? In other words, if you start throwing the camera around it can be distracting, but if you do nothing with it then the whole thing becomes static and dull. The cinematographer, Roberto Correa, worked out a strategy where the lighting would become, as you say, harsher and less glamorous as the characters exposed themselves emotionally; the compositions also become a little rougher and less elegant in the final act of the story. I was thinking a lot about directors like Sydney Pollack, or a movie like Steve Kloves’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, in that I wanted something cinematic and beautiful but very subtle – a kind of invisible style, but not so invisible that it was non-existent.
[On Lea Thompson] a lot of people think of her as a light comedienne, and she’s wonderful at that, but she’s also got dramatic chops as strong as anyone I’ve ever seen…
– Jim Hemphill
I think you made the right choice there, it never feels like it’s just a filmed play for example… did you ever consider it being a play and do you think it could be one in the future?
I really wrote it to be a movie, because for me the one thing movies can do that plays can’t is show things in close-up. My favourite moments in Truth are often ones where subtle gestures or mannerisms express character, and I don’t know if you would get those on the stage in the same way. Of course, the stage gives you an immediacy and intensity that you don’t always get in film, so if other people ever wanted to stage this as a play I would love it – I think it would be interesting to see how the story changes with different actors, since for me John Shea and Lea Thompson did so much to define these characters.
It seems that you’ve had a pretty successful reception with Trouble, if I understand correctly it was a pretty grassroots production at first… how has its success developed? Was it anything to do with Ebert’s great review?
It’s still a very grassroots production! Independent film distribution is really, really tough these days; as I’m sure many other people have said, it’s easier than ever to make a movie, but harder than ever to get it seen and noticed. Ebert’s review definitely helped elevate our reputation, and other reviews have helped too, but really I’m just hoping word of mouth will spread and people will discover the movie, since regardless of whether or not people think my writing is any good, I do think John and Lea’s performances are really worth seeing.
There’s no doubt that they are! Do you think that financing your next project is now going to be easier?
I don’t know – probably not, unless Brad Pitt or somebody sees the movie and loves it and wants to work with me! But I’m hoping that at least it shows I know how to work with actors and can put together a nice-looking film, and maybe that will make it a little easier to raise funding.
Well, I had interviewed her at a screening of Back to the Future, as you say – I moderate Q&As at a theatre in Los Angeles called the Egyptian, and we had a great time discussing Lea’s work on that film, which is one of my all-time favourites. In fact, the whole idea of using Lea came from Robert Zemeckis saying that Lea was his favourite actor he had ever worked with – given the major people that have been in his movies, I thought that was a pretty high compliment! I thought she would be terrific for Truth and sent her the script, and luckily she was willing to take a chance on it even though it was a low-budget movie and I wasn’t the world’s most experienced director. I think she really just responded to the idea of doing a more complex, dramatic part than she often gets to do – a lot of people think of her as a light comedienne, and she’s wonderful at that, but she’s also got dramatic chops as strong as anyone I’ve ever seen. Once she came on board she helped cast John Shea, with whom she had worked before, and then over the course of the journey – particularly in post-production – she got more and more involved with the making of the film and eventually became a real partner in its production.
I heard that you have a Western on the way, as a fan of the genre that’s pretty exciting to me! What is that project going to be about then?
Yeah, in a perfect world that would be my next film – it’s a kind of cross between a Western and a romantic comedy about a bounty hunter sent to capture a woman who falls in love with her on the journey to bring her back to his boss. The idea is to do a Western like some of the Budd Boetticher and Don Siegel films of the 1950s and 1960s, with a touch of Midnight Run in there as well – a sort of action-comedy-romance, with some heavy-duty drama in places as well. It’s not an insanely expensive piece – it’s not one of these epic Westerns about a cattle drive or the building of the railroad or something – but it’s definitely more ambitious than The Trouble with the Truth, so we’ll just have to see if I can raise the dough.
…love, marriage, divorce, mortality, commitment, infidelity, etc…. I wanted to try to explore weighty issues but do it in a way that was entertaining and involving, not preachy…
– Jim Hemphill
Fingers crossed! Finally, is there anything else which we should be looking out for as well?
Well, I’m always writing, and if the Western doesn’t go I’ll probably do another drama or a horror film I’ve got in my drawer called Hard Feelings. I also host a podcast on cinematography that people can find at www.theasc.com, and write about movies for a website called Talkhouse Film. I’m usually shamelessly promoting all this stuff on my Twitter page, so if people want to stay up to date they can follow me at @jimmyhemphill.
Fantastic, many thanks for giving up your time for me today!
Thank you, I’m so glad you liked the movie!