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INT: McG

Just as I anticipated, director McG, was as cool, young and energetic as his abbreviated name suggested. Having found early success by producing music videos and directing television commercials, he made his grand directorial debut with the blockbuster feature films CHARLIE'S ANGELS and CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE. In his latest film, WE ARE MARSHALL, McG takes on the challenging task of directing a compelling film, based on a historical tragedy that left a town hopeless and in great despair.

WE ARE MARSHALL is an inspiring and heartbreaking true story of dramatic events that transpired after a small community, steeped in the rich tradition of football lost their college football team in a plane crash. Consisting of actual astonishing circumstances and an exhilarating climactic event, the story makes for a perfect Hollywood script. Get the lowdown on what McG had to say about the challenges of directing a true film, it’s football theme and his ironic fear of flying when we sat down to talk to him about his upcoming flick, WE ARE MARSHALL.

McG

It has been said that you are always full of energy?

You know, that’s funny. I enjoy having a lot of energy, and I enjoy filmmaking with a lot of zest and vigor, but I’m trying to get to a place where I can get away from being known as a cheerleader and get to a place where I can walk away and let the film speak for itself. I hope this film is to some degree going to do that in that it’s a two-hour experience and independent of any of my cheerleading or hyperbole the film will stand on its own. I don’t know – I intend to stay energetic because I think it’s very helpful to lead by example on the set and to keep everybody motivated and engaged on the set. I don’t anticipate change but I do look forward to not needing to be a cheerleader in the interest of being the best I could possibly be.

Talk about the conflicting opinions on showing the plane crash in the film.

Yeah, I wanted to be respectful to the community and not subject them to a cartwheeling plane crash burrowing into the ground – I never thought that was appropriate. But I did want to capture the horror of the movie. I always used the example of, ‘Look, wouldn’t you feel cheated as a moviegoer if, in Saving Private Ryan you showed the guys on the Higgins boats approaching the beach and then you fade to black and come back to Hanks’ shaking hand after the battle has been fought.’ It would be difficult to identify with the magnitude of the struggle.

So I elected to portray the crash in nine frames and it was very specific in regards to the sound design. I wanted to have the impact of how horrible that would be, to be six seconds away from touchdown and being with the ones you love and a warm little fireplace and the things you love about your everyday life, and have all that taken from you. I didn’t want to skip that and just have the people boarding the plane and dip to black and never get into the crash itself. That felt unfair and not real. For anyone to talk about this film it begins, ‘Well there was a plane crash and the town came back from it.’ It’s the defining characteristic of this story, and we tried to find a balance in how to show that. Almost home, Robert Patrick’s character gets everybody in order and then, out of nowhere – which is just how it happened, human error; it was low visibility and the guy just came in too low and hit the trees. 

You are on record as being a very bad flyer. Can you talk about that?

Look, I selected this picture because I want to grow as a filmmaker. I realize it is the privilege of the public and anyone to put all people in boxes: ‘Oh, she’s the one who writes like this, she’s the one who paints like that.’ It’s the only way we can get around is to have short hand, and I’m the cutty, colorful, loud, disposable pop culture guy. And that’s fine, but I wanted to get away from that, 180 degrees away from that, because I had been sitting in the Creative Rights Council at the DGA; I was asked to join by Steven Soderbergh, a hero of mine.

I sit next to Peter Weir, I sit next to Michael Mann, I sit across from David Fincher, and I hold these people in reverence. They challenged me, they said, ‘What are you going to do to show growth?’ So I selected this picture and I wanted to shoot it in an architectural capacity, very methodical capacity. I wanted to show growth. And most importantly I wanted face the abyss of my own fear. I knew this was a film about a plane crash, and it would require a lot of flying on my behalf and I would have to fly into the airport where the crash took place.

The first thing I did when I got into TriState Airport was went to where the crash took place and I sat there by myself for hours, and tried to search my heart to see if I had the courage and if I was the right guy to do it justice. I had walked a very difficult and embarrassing path with Warner Bros in regard to the Superman experience, and I just wanted to make sure I was up to it, and to all the demands of flying. That was personal, I didn’t want it to affect the filmmaking, but it was certainly on my mind. I solicited the help of some experts at UCLA for my problem with my fear of flying and now I never go ten days without getting on a plane.

I’m doing better and it’s something I’m always respectful of and I think I brought a lot of that respect – or at least I tried to – to this story in particular. It was interesting, and hopefully it contributed to the analogue, tactile, real component of this film. We just wanted to take Hollywood away from this picture and be as real as possible. [We populated] the film with the descendents of the crash victims. Everybody you see in that Christian center are all the grandchildren and the sons and daughters of the victims.

Everybody you see on the football field, everybody you see all over the place, these are people that are really connected intimately to the events. We needed to shoot in Huntington, West Virginia because the town’s a character in the film. On and on and on, it just has to do with honesty, which is something I know McConaughey is big on. We just wanted to be honest and not bring a duplicitous Hollywood energy to the picture. It wasn’t our place to do so.

But it’s still a football movie…

It’s unfortunate, because I’ve never regarded it as a football movie, but you’re right. It’s just so unfortunate. I always half-joked that this is a football movie like Ordinary People is a swimming movie. This is a film about immeasurable grief and survival. I didn’t want this to be a formulaic Hollywood picture, but they just happened to win on the last play of that game. I didn’t invent that, it happened. I wanted to go to [Matthew] Fox in the locker room as a guy who had been pushing down, pushing down on his emotions until finally finding enough courage and enough strength to have that first cry on the road to recovery.

We don’t end on the rah-rah victory, hands in the air. I wanted the film to be an accurate portrayal of grief, where not every character grabs his inner hero and thrives. The Tom Bogdan character that Brian Geraghty plays, the white guy in there that’s friends with Anthony Mackie, that guy has changed his name twice. He doesn’t want to talk to me or you guys or anybody else. He’s not doing so hot. Red Dawson truly has post-traumatic stress syndrome. He’s like a Vietnam vet coming back, ‘All my buddies got shot up; I don’t understand why I’m still here. I don’t get it.’ This film is about that that not everybody does well.

The McShane character is very antagonistic the whole time. We wanted to stay away from that, I wanted to elegantly portray the difficulties in race relations, that there was this black quarterback, which was extraordinarily rare in 1971. It wasn’t until Doug Williams won the Super Bowl for the Redskins in the 80s that people wrapped their heads around that notion. There was literally a race riot on the campus the day before this incident. This is right around Kent State; a whole lot is going on. I wanted the film to be a metaphor for how immeasurable grief can sometimes bring us all together. I mean after 9/11 in this town, people weren’t hung up on being misogynist or ageist or racist; they were just unified through the tragedy.

It’s unfortunate component of the human condition and its’ reflected in our picture. It breaks my heart that people will think of the film as ‘Whoa, football movie!’ because we tried so hard not to do that. But you’re right, if you don’t look too deeply into it, on paper it looks like a comeback story, football against adversity.  I say with respect to other football pictures, we’re not talking about a guy who’s down on his luck; we’re not talking about kids who robbed a few too many liquor stores. We’re talking about 75 people who died.

This is a community with six doctors – four of them died that night on the plane. This is a family, a mother and father with five children, and another mother and father with six children; each are the guardian of the other’s children should something happen to them – both sets of parents die, 11 children displaced into different homes for foster care. This is an absolute, devastating tragedy that is the definition of what this town is. It’s unfortunate, and you’re right, a lot of people will think it’s a football picture, because boy, in my heart were we not trying to do that. But we wanted the through line of the metaphor that football is a game where you get knocked on your butt a lot and you got to get up and keep on trying. I’d like to overcome that, but it’s difficult.

Talk about how you decided on opening the film with an effective statement, as “This is a true story”.

I was so passionate about removing Hollywood from the film and just telling the truth. A very, very persnickety Warner Bros legal department finally got to a place where they said, ‘OK, you can call it a true story.’ It was honest enough. We didn’t have to say based on, inspired by. To me that’s a point of differentiation. This is what happened. The Annie Cantrell character is a composite character based on two different cheerleaders just because we couldn’t get the life rights before we had to go forward making the movie.

Everything you see, what you see is what you get. They lost that bad to Morehead State, they won at the end like that against Xavier, they really came that close to imploding and falling apart and they really did go on to become one of the winningest programs, in that town built on the Ohio River with a steel mill fifty yards away from the president of the university’s office and it’s surrounded by coal mines. These are not people of privilege.

What goes into getting life rights?

The legal guys pretty much go after that, but yeah you have to reach out to the real people. It can be hard to track people down, and the clock of physical production is always running out. You have to go, you have to make choices. You have to prescribe character names and get them registered at the WGA. If you don’t have every single clearance at the right time, you have to come up with an alternate.

It was very rewarding to see the people we weren’t able to reach or who were hesitant… Teddy Shoebridge, he was a quarterback for the team that perished, and his family was always, ‘we don’t want to talk about it, please don’t put the Shoebridge name in the picture,’ and then they saw it and they let us invoke Shoebridge, which is just flattering and very honorable. I don’t think we’re out to gain from this town’s pain. I just wanted to say, this is what happened and once in a while humanity is worth sticking around for. 

Did you have to cut certain scenes to pull it back from being a football movie?

Many, many scenes. I wanted to limit the football to the best of my ability. I wanted to limit that rah-rah energy. There have been great football movies; I didn’t want to get into that. I didn’t want to get into the technical aspects of how to photograph the ball flying through the air differently. I wanted it to be reminiscent of football footage from the period. We backed off on just those generic rah-rah moments. We waned to do justice to the characters and do an accurate portrayal of grief.

[Producer] Basil [Iwanyk] was 30 when he lost his brother-in-law to cancer. His family was falling apart while the guy who dying was doing OK. It was the wisdom of the brother-in-law who said, ‘Grief is messy,’ which is why we used it with McShane. Who can say at what point in your life… one day grief comes into your life and you galvanize your family and your community, the next day you’re the one who’s a wreck and in a ball and crying and being a brat.

I wanted to have an accurate portrayal of grief, where some people do well, some people rise, some people fall, some people fall off. That’s what you get, and that’s the truth. To me, that’s what the movie is about. The movie is about survival, and what are you going to do when real grief and real difficulty comes into your life? You’re going to want to write it off, but if you really want to honor…. I mean, I ask you guys, I’m sure we all lost somebody we’re very close to, and if you ask yourself in your heart, what would that person want me to do? Would they want me to write it off and stop following my gift, or would they want me to be the best journalist I could be and move forward and have a rich life? I bet you that just about all of them would say, ‘I don’t want you to stick around and mourn me and feel sorry for yourself,’ even though we all feel like doing that. It’s about moving forward.

What’s next?

I want to continue to grow. Before Clint could do Mystic River he had to Every Which Way But Loose. Sean Penn was Spiccoli before he became a credible actor, and Ron Howard was Opie, for goodness sakes. I realize it’s going to take some time for me to make this course correction and this sea change, but I hope this film is a step in the right direction as I try to grow and become a better and better storyteller.

I’m looking at a WWII picture right now that has a lot to do with the Brokaw idea of the Greatest Generation, where people came up in the Depression and made a huge sacrifice to fight in the war, and how we today are the beneficiaries of all that sacrifice. To me that seems like an excellent platform where I can continue to talk to my friends and learn from guys like Mark Romanek, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonez, some of my contemporaries, and some of the guys who have been around a lot longer than that and grow as a patient, resolved storyteller. Those are my goals – we’ll see if I’m able to do it or not.

Source: JoBlo.com

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