Written by: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
Daniel Adams first had the idea for An LA Minute twenty years ago. However, it was considered too bleak, too risky, too extreme at the time, so much so that even Christopher Walken passed on it. That was until Trump got elected. Now, reality is so crazy that fictional stories struggle to keep up. Summer 2018 has brought us a raft of films that are acknowledging and addressing our new reality, including Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting and BlackKklansman. Adams hope to provoke debate and stimulate conversation with An LA Minute, starring Gabriel Byrne and Kiersey Clemons.
I met with him recently in Los Angeles to discuss the film (contains spoilers).
I thanked Adams for drawing attention to the issue of homelessness in the city of Los Angeles, a subject barely covered in the news media, let alone in wider popular culture. He wanted to draw attention to the dichotomy in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, that of celebrity and extreme wealth versus the problem of homelessness. The main character, Ted Gold (Gabriel Byrne) is a best-selling author and does not notice the homeless until he accidentally gives away something of value to one of them.
The film is based on a true story that happened to a friend of Adams in New York City twenty years ago. His friend, the country and western singer Kinky Friedman, was drunk one night and giving cash away to homeless people until he was left with a small amount of change. The man he gave the ‘chump change’ to started complaining, which led to a confrontation. Friedman ultimately sobered up and felt regretful of the encounter. Ratso Sloman was the editor of National Lampoon magazine at the time, and he and Adams got the idea for a movie script based on this night, shared by the three friends.
The story was considered too outrageous, but when Trump was elected Adams was prompted to return to the idea. People are obsessed with celebrity and popularity, not substance; people are “famous for being famous” and Adams considers it inevitable that a reality TV star would end up President. Adams felt this was no time for subtlety, it was time to hit people over the head. There is a responsibility on artists and filmmakers to say something about the state of the world today.
Adams and Byrne go way back, to when Ratso was sharing a production office with Byrne and his then-wife, Ellen Barkin. It was Byrne who insisted there not be a romantic relationship between his character and Velocity (Kiersey Clemons), that it would ruin their friendship. Adams commends Byrne’s work ethic on set, including a day or so of powering through a terrible flu. It was Adams’ son who introduced him to Clemons, by telling his father to watch Dope. Adams describes Clemons as a “chameleon” and said she responded to direction professionally.
One of Adams’ major influences on An LA Minute is Robert Downey Sr.’s Putney Swope. He wanted to emulate the low budget, down and dirty, “run and gun” feel of that film. One of the things that gives the film its realism, texture and grain is Adams’ insistence on shooting on 35mm. He also attributes this decision to affecting the rehearsal process; “you can’t just burn film. You have to be ready before you do a take because you have a limited amount of film and, as a result, you rehearse a lot. And it’s not just the actors who appreciate the rehearsal time, it’s also, for example, the camera operator. We’d rehearse it so he gets his movement right. If you’re shooting everything, like you do with digital, you’re even shooting rehearsals. Someone could screw up but we could still use it. And it’s not like you pick which takes you print like you do with film because you want to keep the price of the lab down. Everything is printed, it’s already on a hard-drive. So you have all those choices, even the screw-ups and it makes people nervous and distrusting. I love that process and everyone else does too, and they appreciate it.”
I had to bring up the #MeToo movement with Adams for a couple of reasons. One is Clemons’ character, Velocity is sexually provocative and deliberately manipulates this as part of her performance art (she goads a male member of the audience into attacking her on stage, but this is all part of the show). The other reason made me gasp while watching the movie. Katherine Kendall plays Gold’s publicist and has a tiny moment near the end of the film where she falsely accuses Gold of having abused her for years. The reason this is shocking is Kendall was one of the first Weinstein accusers. I ask Adams about this scene:
“We shot that before Weinstein ever happened, but it’s weird because in a way I regret that part of it. In the end, she’s not taken seriously and had I known Weinstein was going to happen I would have been…..but what’s really fascinating is there was no dialogue in that scene and Katherine just came up with the dialogue herself, and the most ironic thing about it is Katherine is one of the first people to come out and accuse Weinstein.”
“The #MeToo movement is extremely important and I love the fact that it’s weeding out all the assholes in this industry. I mean, there are assholes in every business, but for some reason we have a predominance in the film business. I’m hoping the rest of the movie is very pro #MeToo. Letting Katherine say whatever she wanted in that scene, to me, was sort of like a Jackson Pollack painting, splatter paint and then [we] see what comes out. I think, in the long run…we have to redeem the character of Ted at the end of the movie, so he couldn’t be someone who abuses someone else, although ultimately he’s really not redeemed, but that’s a whole other subject; he steals an idea from a homeless guy. It’s interesting because it’s a happy ending, but it’s not a happy ending if you really think about it. The fact that Gabriel’s character gets redeemed and she retracts what she said isn’t necessarily a statement on #MeToo as much as it is about the craziness of celebrity and so on. We might have, had we known Harvey was going to happen, we would have picked a different accusation, had I known that, I would have said ‘Katherine, let’s do something else.’”
I ask Adams what the ultimate message is that he hopes the audience takes from the film:
“Being corrupted by fame and money. I mean it’s an old story, but then you have someone who looks so vehemently righteous like Velocity and in the end she succumbs to it too. It’s an incredibly powerful thing if you’re given money and celebrity and you can have whatever you want and people adore you. I mean, who doesn’t want that? And what would you give up? Would you give up your whole being? Would you give up your whole essence to have that?”
“Like any filmmaker, I want to make people think. And in particular, I want them to be more conscious of what’s around them and be less judgmental and think more deeply about their decisions. That’s what the film is about, really. Stop the knee-jerk reactions to these superficial people and issues and look deeply at what’s going on in the world and then do something about it. Because as Velocity says in the film, the key to happiness really is doing something greater than yourself, helping people, helping the world. So that’s ultimately the goal here, because if you just keep consuming and keep taking for yourself, like our President, it’s empty in the long-run. I try to do it through film-making, but you can do it in any way. You can go down the street to the nearest homeless person and find out why they’re homeless, what their issues are, try and help them and what’s wrong with that? Because once you forget yourself, you lose yourself by helping someone else, you’re a happier person and that’s ultimately what we’re all trying to do, is be happy.”
An LA Minute comes out on August 24th in limited release in New York and LA (in AMC theaters) and it will expand after Labor Day.
Author: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
Brit living in Southern California.
Former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Current film writer for jumpcutonline.com, moviejawn.com and others.