Vertical Entertainment releases The God Committee in select theaters and VOD on July 2nd, 2021.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Austin Stark: I was trying to be authentic to the story. I felt from there the entertainment sprung out of that because if you're engaging people, I think that they are entertained. In this case, it's just about treating the material in a true way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right way to incorporate exposition and how much of it to incorporate?
AS: I'm always a fan of less is more when it comes to exposition. I think that you need to tell your story. I try to do that as minimally as possible which is interesting because a lot of the film is set in a boardroom. If you notice, the looks that all of the characters share even in the boardroom scenes say so much which enabled me to scale back on exposition that ordinarily you might need in the film. I'm always leaning more toward the side of letting the audience think for themselves and not overexplaining to them.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important was it to ground the film in humanism and avoid treating any character like a villain?
AS: There's not villain in The God Committee. People might say that the character of Granger (Dan Hedaya) is a villain, but even his intentions are that he just loves his son. So, I wanted to treat the characters as human beings. In life, things aren't black-and-white. The God Committee reflects that. Even Dr. Boxer (Kelsey Grammer), he's a brilliant heart surgeon who's, at the same time, emotionally damaged and incapable of accepting love. He's a very difficult character to get along with for the others that surround him, but, at the same time, he wants to change the world. So, I like those contradictions in characters and not making them all-good or all-bad.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How much do you think Dr. Boxer's corrupt values came from his traumatic childhood?
AS: A lot of that came from his childhood. He certainly felt like he was unloved. Also knowing that he has a heart condition since he was a child, I think that affected him.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important is it to have at least one likable character like Dr. Jordan Taylor (Julia Stiles) in the movie?
AS: It's difficult to have a film with characters who are all unlikable. I try not to think about it too much. Generally, the feel of the movie will contain the characters and if you have characters that no one can connect to, then you'll find problems in the script. With Dr. Jordan Taylor, you're right, she's the purest of all the characters. She's important to the story for a number of reasons because you can connect with her and she's your guide. But I didn't consciously write that character for that reason.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I read a quote somewhere that says that it takes a lot of strength to be decent. Indecent people who lie, cheat, steal and hurt other people are weak. The devil, after all, is a sissy. What do you think about that observation?
AS: I think that that's very apropo. It does relate to Granger (Dan Hedaya) a lot. He does show weakness, but then that weakness is also coming from a place of desperation. His son is about to die and he loves him deeply. So, his attempts to bribe the committee are completely misguided, but they're coming from a true place.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do adults like the ones in The God Committee struggle with responsibility? Shouldn't adults grasp that with great power comes great responsibility?
AS: 100%. It's just unfortunate that people do function that way. To some degree, we're all influenced by our ideologies and our ambitions and our own flaws. A lot of those flaws are rooted in our childhood. That influences the decisions that we make which in, the case of The God Committee, is amplified because the team of doctors has an hour to decide which of the three patients gets the heart transplant. I think it's really interesting how the way that they make decisions are highlighted because of the one-hour time constraint of this huge decision that needs to me made in the film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to incorporate comic relief into the film?
AS: Levity is really important. It's a heavy subject matter, so I was conscious of finding moments for the audience to laugh and smile. It was really important to root that in realism for me. Any time when I was writing the script and I felt like I was thinking out of that in order to create levity, I would just re-write it or cut it. All of those moments, to me at least, are rooted in realism.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide how graphic the surgery scenes should be and how much of it to show the audience?
AS: I didn't want to gross people out, but I also wanted it to feel real. Getting those surgeries right was so important to me. We had medical consultants on set every day who would watch those surgeries and tell me if we were getting it right--everything from the blood to the way that the hearts were being held. I didn't want to go overboard. I could've shown much more in that regard, but I chose not to. I wanted to get the point across and to be realistic without making people cringe.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which scene do you think is the film's emotional center?
AS: The scene on the rooftop toward the end of the film when Jordan tells Dr. Boxer that she's pregnant and you see that for a moment it really hits him hard and he starts to well up. But then he just can't accept that affection and says that he'll take care of the child financially which just breaks her heart. Then you see him walk back to the ledge and see that he's just a broken man. That's one of the more powerful scenes in the movie.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you avoid preachiness and schmaltz?
AS: You want the film to have a heart, no pun intended, but at the same time you don't want to go overboard with that. You want to treat it realistically. I wanted to give the audience hope that the system can change.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be accurate to say that the music in The God Committee is like a character in itself?
AS: Yes. I worked with The Newton Brothers on three films and they're just incredibly talented. The key here was breaking into the thriller element and then there's drama. They did a fantastic job of bringing those together seamlessly. They went a little bit more toward thriller when necessary and more toward drama when it was needed as well.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think Dr. Boxer was truly sorry when he apologized to Jordan?
AS: I don't think so. I think he functions on a level that he knows when he hurts somebody because the person is acting hurt, so he can say he's sorry, but I don't think he's truly capable of feeling that emotion. That's not the moment where it really hits him, though. I think that it's that moment on the roof toward the end where he experiences true pain for not doing something else. It's those fleeting moments where he's able to connect in that way, but for the most part, especially on the rooftop, Kelsey and I spoke about him not letting it all in. Dr. Boxer says that he's sorry, but does he truly feel it at that point in the movie? I don't think so.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that greed can co-exist with humanity?
AS: They do co-exist, but not seamlessly. That part of it is the core of the tension of The God Committee. The human side of greed is that people are greedy for various reasons. It's interesting because the film explores how, on one level, in America we try to commodify everything--not just in our healthcare system, but also in our prison system with private prisons, in politics and weapons. It's all commodified. Is there a human side to them and the money influences? Yes, but it's very tricky.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which actor from the Golden Age of American Cinema do you think would fit in the role of Dr. Boxer?
AS: Humphrey Bogart would've been a great Dr. Boxer. He would've played that emotionally damaged side very, very well.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What film would make for a good double feature with The God Committee?
AS: All the President's Men.