Gravitas Ventures releases Band of Robbers at AMC Empire 25 and on VOD on January 15th, 2016.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think is so appealing about the story of Tom and Huck? What makes them so iconic?
Adam Nee: It's a story that, on the surface, feels very fun, funny, adventurous and broad, but the truth is that just the next layer down is some of the most substantial social commentary--- it deals with race, religion and all that stuff that's right beneath. That gives it a lasting power that's very unique. Another part of it is the fact that it came out in the right time in history, too.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to find the right tone and to maintain it throughout?
AN: Tone was so difficult and specific on this movie. It really took everything because it's very easy for a tone like this to go off the rails or to get wobbly where it feels like it's switching movies. That's something that we were very serious about not letting happen, so it took a lot of planning. The script took a lot of work, and it was down to casting--even people like Kyle [Gallner] are one of the more interesting, specific cast pieces that was so challenging because we know that Huckleberry Finn was the heart of the movie. It's truly his story even though Tom Sawyer is all the sound and fury. We needed an actor who could embody all of that depth, but feel like they're in the same movie as me, Hannibal Buress and Matthew Gray Gubler.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define "charisma"? Are you capable of detecting you own charisma?
Kyle Gallner: No.
AN: I'm always curious what that actually is because I feel like it's an intangible thing. What is it about Paul Newman, aside from the fact that he's a very handsome man, make everyone want to look at him? There does have to be a little bit more to it. One of my favorite actors of all time is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He had such an amazing charisma, but it's such an intangible thing. You can't take your eyes off of him, but he doesn't look like Paul Newman.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that CGI should be called "standard effects" instead of "special effects" while the truly special effects are everything that's tied to humanism. Do you agree or disagree?
AN: There's nothing more special than a charismatic actor who can keep your attention. There are a lot of amazing animators who can make a helicopter crash completely digitally and make it look beautiful, but there's only one Paul Newman. In those terms, that is more of a special effect, but CGI is an amazing craft. You're not going to believe this: there are at least 200 visual effects shots in this movie. For that hotel shootout, we had to do it all in one day. We didn't have the time, so all the mattress gunshots were done by CGI with my brother Aaron who does that stuff. To your point, I do think there's nothing more special than having someone onscreen who you can't take your eyes off of, and you don't know why, but it's a magical thing.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define a truly good friend? What makes a friendship like Tom and Huck's so long-lasting?
AN: Someone who's good at forgiving.
KG: Particularly in this situation. It's a story about friendship, but at the same time it's almost like a relationship breaking up. I think they've always been there for each other and had each other's backs, and I think it comes from a place where Huck hasn't known any other way, but for the first time, he's ready to kind of step away and see what else is there. But it's a scary thing for him. They've always been there for each other.
AN: A good friendship has almost the same principles as a successful marriage because it's a commitment where, through thick and thin, you're sticking with the person. A lot of integrity is involved in a strong relationship. One of the great magical things about Tom and Huck is that they really want to be each other, and that really helps it to take the heat off of it because Tom sees the freedom of Huck's lifestyle and wants that desperately, and Huck sees the family, love and civilized nature of Tom's life and feels like, "Oh, I don't have that."
NYC MOVIE GURU: What does it really mean to "grow up"? Do we ever really stop growing up? Do you think it's important to still have a child-like wonder while growing up?
AN: Absolutely. One of the most amazing things about growing up and aging is that you start to realize how no one is a grown up and that your parents, who seemed so old and wise, were just trying to figure it out as well. Just because you hit 30 doesn't mean that you're like "Well, now I know how to be a human." I feel like growing up is really just growing old in a way. You don't actually hit that milestone where you say, "Ok, I'm a grown-up!" You just continue to move through this world.
KG: 30 for as a kid seems like 100 years old! It's sad when you see people who forget how to have fun and how to just let it all go. I've grown up a lot in the last couple of years, but not in a way that I lose the child-like wonder. I'm a dad and do grown-up things, but I was at the park and pushing my kid out of the way to get to the jungle gym. We're climbing trees together. It's a lot of fun, and sometimes you go to the park and you see these parents and you go like, "I wish you can be just having fun!" I think there are people who aren't so much growing up, but just giving up. It's sort of a shame.
AN: Is growing up defined by having a stronger character and more integrity? Because if that's the case, I feel like I was more of a grown up now than I was when I was 23, but if it's about letting go of that child-like enthusiasm in search for wonder and adventure, then I hope I don't ever lose that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you imagine Tom and Huck when they're in their 80's?
AN: That's the sequel! Even though this movie is about the crossroads of facing a destructive relationship---something that was very useful to you at a young age is maybe not giving you the same benefits at this age. Even though that's a big part of the movie, I still believe that Tom and Huck would continue to come back together at an old age.
KG: I agree.
AN: In his 80's, Tom would probably come over to Huck's place and say "Hey, I figured out a way to get more social security money! Let's go do this and this and this."
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think they'd look back on their lives and have regret?
KG: I don't think they'd have regret. They'd probably say, "Man, we've really lived!"
AN: I totally agree. I don't feel like their characters would regret. Huck is a very in-the- moment person. He's an example of someone who's so good at living in the moment. Tom is a forward- thinker, always.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to ground the film in humanism?
AN: It's very, very tough. Aaron and I talked so much about the tone. There were certain things that we knew if we did, it would help us out a lot. One of those things is not to shoot the film like a comedy; shoot it like drama. That allows us to get into those more human elements and grounded internal struggles because we've established a world that's operating in a grounded space. Also, casting. You make your job so much easier if you cast the actor who is right for the part and don't have to say, "Ok, you're getting a little to far. This is too silly." If the actor gets it, then you're in great shape. Something that we talked about a lot was this line that we're walking with the humor and the drama. We always felt like it was probably better to sacrifice some of the humor to be able to maintain the drama, so that was definitely one of the most important things to us.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I noticed that you also avoided going over-the-top into camp territory with the comedy.
AN: That was really important. Some people have said, "Oh, it's like a slapstick comedy!" I'm like, "No!" We're very serious about not going to crazy town or slapstick town. There are things in the movie that we debated so much about like when Tom is talking to Becky while walking through the police station, he trips over a chair. We belabored over whether or not to keep that scene for so long. We had a version of this movie that didn't have the Tom and Huck sequence outside of the jail because we were worried that it made Tom seem too silly because he leaves the gun on the top of the car. But, it's such a great moment. The truth is that I've met a lot of people in big jobs that demand a lot of responsibility who are kooky and not well-equipped to do that job.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to decide on what note to end the film?
AN: What Huck is telling you with that ending is where he is at in the film---not physically, but mentally and emotionally. So, for Huck, the way that he talks about Tom and the end of the movie, he gives you this picture that, even after all that they've been through, Huck still has to see Tom as a magical guy. It's kind of like coping with going through a difficult relationship where you have to remember the good times and imagine that there could be more good times ahead. We did it in a device that was a fun way for the audience to choose your own adventure at the end---they can decide for themselves how much of what Huck is saying has any weight to it and how much is Huck needing to hold onto something magical.
KG: I don't think that there's any other way for Huck to see Tom. There are moments where he's like "Arghh!", but because he's such a powerful influence in his life, to him he wanted this grand, magical figure in his life---even though there was a rocky situation when they were older That's the Tom that he grew up with.
***END OF SPOILER ALERT***
NYC MOVIE GURU: If Mark Twain were still alive today, what question would you ask him?
AN: I'd be very curious to know what he thought about the film because, to me, what I'm most proud of with this movie is that we probably hit his tone better than anyone else had in adaptations. I think that a lot of times, Tom and Huck adaptations get caught up in some tropes of Twain. His writing is so funny and weird. He writes really weird stuff into his books. I'd ask Twain if he feels like that we got the tone right. Other than that, I'd probably just get him talking because that guys says amazing quotes all the time. Any conversation I could have with him would be amazing.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Band of Robbers seems like a cross between a commercial and art film. Do you agree or disagree?
AN: That comes back to Twain. Those books are broad and commercial. Just by the fact of adapting the books, that put us in a position of making a movie that has commercial appeal. As far as the art side of it, I don't really differentiate movies in that way. If I think of movies of P.T. Anderson or the Coen Brothers, those movies probably lean more toward art than commerce in a lot of people's perspectives, but not to me. To me, this is the commercial stuff that I like. We were just making a movie that we could be proud of and that we liked, and where it lands is anybody's guess.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the reason behind the interesting font you chose to use for Band of Robber's title card?
KG: It's the white-washed fence.
AN: Yes, it is kind of like the white-washed fence, so it's like a sloppy white painting. It's sort of explosive. Also, we knew that, even though we were not trying to emulate Wes Anderson, people were going to compare our film to his films no matter what we did, so we made it certain that out font had nothing to do with a Wes Anderson movie. Even though, visually, this movie isn't like a Wes Anderson movie, it does have some characters that people say, "Oh, these are the types of characters I like when I see a Wes Anderson movie." Maybe that's more of a correlation that will happen.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you decide to let to movie go unrated by the MPAA?
AN: Rating a movie is a process that costs money. Nowadays, it didn't seem that important. Research has found that it doesn't make that much of a deal on VOD, and since that's the bulk of this movie's life, that makes sense. And I think that when people see the trailing and know what the movie is, they know that it's not a rated-X movie, so it's pretty safe. For us, it was kind of like, "We'd rather spend the money on an ad rather than get it rated." The whole rating system is such a strange thing. This movie does tow a line where I think it's a very clearly PG-13 movie, but the problem is that the F word is in it twice, so it could be an automatic R because of that. We did not want that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I'm glad that you didn't include too much violence because that would've made it like a Tarantino movie.
AN: Yes, exactly. I love Quentin Tarantino, but violence is such a tricky thing. I never wanted the violence to seem cool. It should make you feel bad.
KG: I think all the violence in this movie is justified.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you imagine Band of Robbers if you were given $100 to turn it into a big Hollywood tentpole movie?
AN: Tom Sawyer is a helicopter pilot and wrecks his helicopter, so Huckleberry Finn comes to the rescue, half-cyborg and has to go to another planet to rescue him. It's so hard to get a movie made. Aaron and I used to joke, "Maybe it should be Tom and Huck and time travel or something like that."--maybe they find a time machine and have adventures. We were joking about about genres we could pop this into to make it a tentpole-style movie because nowadays movie theaters are dominated by tentpole movies. It's all so big and high-concept. This is a high-concept movie, but it's still an indie.
KG: I think this movie would probably have suffered if it had a bigger budget. Sometimes money gets in the way. The story, characters and script were king in this movie.
AN: We kind of had autonomy. We had producers who trusted us, so Aaron and I had total creative control over the movie which is very rare, especially when you have more money.
KG: Visual effects has done amazing things, and they're only getting better. The new Star Wars looks great, but at the same time, when you have a great actor doing his thing, you don't need CGI when that happens. That's why sometimes some of the best stories are just stories with the actors telling the story and nothing else needed. There's something there.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would something be lost by watching Band of Robbers on the small screen?
AN: I think that something is lost by watching every movie on the smaller screen.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Even documentaries?
AN: Even documentaries! I went to see Amy is movie theaters, and it made me cry. I was so hit by that movie. I wonder if I would have the same emotional investment sitting on my couch at home pausing it. When you watch a movie on the big screen, aside from the fact of the cinematic nature of movies and seeing it 90 feet long, you're committing your emotions and attention to the movie. It's sort of a religious experience and way more powerful than the small screen. We shot this movie to be epic. It's widescreen and a beautiful film. We did that for the handful of people who will see it in theaters.
AN: It's enjoyable. I downloaded it at the airport and watched half of it on my phone and it was fun. Going to see anything in theaters is going to be different, though. It's an experience.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Who are some actors from the Golden Age of American Cinema that you imagine playing Tom and Huck?
AN: I could see James Dean or Marlon Brando playing Huck, and Errol Flynn playing Tom. It would be a totally different movie.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it have been much more difficult had you written and directed Band of Robbers on your own?
AN: Absolutely. I wouldn't have been able to play Tom if I wrote and directed this film on my own. I never would have even thought it was possible. My brother Aaron, I've always obviously known him since I was born, so we have quite a rapport and trust going into it. It's such an amazing safety net on set, so if I feel like I'm missing something, he's seeing it. It's such a luxury to have 2 heads thinking about the same thing.
KG: And they work extremely well together. They cover everything. It was really cool as an actor having Aaron at the monitor while Adam is literally in my face, and having 2 totally different perspectives. I felt really covered, safe and taken care of.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think screenplays are the most deceptively simple form of writing?
AN: It really is such an underrated way of writing. Great screenplay writes are just such amazing talents. Yes, it's so challenging because you're basically writing a poetic blueprint for a building. It's such a strange thing where you're just setting up the framework, but sometimes a script that doesn't read as beautifully as others might actually make a better movie because it's built for that form. One thing that Aaron and I would say to each other is that can't go to this movie with this attitude of "Let's just fix it on set or in post-production. The script has to be ready to shoot." That's how I plan to make every other movie forever.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would Band of Robbers work in black-and-white?
AN: I think it would work, but I don't think it would serve this movie because it's colorful characters, and I think it's nice that they live in this colorful world. So, I would like to watch it in black-and-white, but I don't think it would help. There are some movies that it helps that they're black-and-white like, The Artist. I don't think that that would be quite as unique in color, but this one is meant to be.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important was it for you to keep the running time under 2 hours?
AN: We knew that this couldn't be over 2 hours--even though that some of my favorite directors like P.T. Anderson and Tarantino are making very long movies. Especially for guys like us who aren't really established as filmmakers, it's important that you create a digestible product for people to see. We're asking for people to chance on something they probably haven't seen ads on billboards for, so we wanted to make it easier on them. I think that it served the movie. I think this movie is a very deep movie, but it's packaged as a fast comedy.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you think Tom and Huck's life would be different if they better parents?
AN: Huck has the worst situation with an alcoholic father who's abusive. He's not a rebellious character, though; he's just living the world that he exists in.
KG: It's the hand that he's been dealt.
AN: Yeah, I don't think he's necessarily bucking the system. If someone would try to civilize him, he is rebellious because the civilized system isn't one that he's familiar with. But he's the type of character who's just a product of his environment whereas Tom, yes, he would have done better if his parents had lived and being raised by an Aunt is a different situation. For him, bucking against the system has the appeal of freedom and that free life that he sees in Huck. It would have been different for him if he had a couple of good parental figures leading him along the way, though.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What make a great double feature with Band of Robbers?
AN: I have a buddy of mine, Eddie O'Keefe who did a movie called Shangri-La Suite that I'd love to do a double feature with. He's got his protagonists in red jackets, too, and there are some similar themes happening, so that would be a fun double features. Also, Badlands, which is one of my all-time favorite movies and has a similar protagonist to Tom Sawyer.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What about The 400 Blows?
AN: Oh man, it would be great to be paired with that! Any of the French New Wave would be great---Pierrot le Fou would be an interesting combo. Even Breathless would be a great pairing.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What about a more different and wacky pairing?
AN: We'd open with Holiday in the Sun, the Olsen twins movie where they go to an island, and then have Band of Robbers follow it immediately after.