Q: This film is the second part of your “It” trilogy. Can you explain what the themes in this trilogy are and how all the films link together?
The thematic element is that each film looks at certain things from a perspective that is not necessarily an accepted point of view in mainstream society. This is what ultimately brings all the films together as a trilogy. I had read Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay in the late 1980’s and immediately knew it was something I wanted to produce. When it became apparent to me that WHAT IS IT? would become a feature, I cast Steven C. Stewart in the film to foreshadow EVERYTHING IS FINE! Which is the sequel.
Q: How did you meet Steven C. Stewart and at what point in the relationship did you learn about his script and decide to produce it? When he acted in WHAT IS IT? had you already decided to produce his script?
I met Steven C. Stewart in the late 1980’s through Davis Brothers who is the co- director of IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. David and I were co-directing a different project (shot on video) that is based on one of my books, The Backward Swing. I started making this movie even before WHAT IS IT? and I hope to finish it after IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. David Brothers had met Steven C. Stewart through another film maker, Larry Roberts. David Brothers and Larry Roberts and Trent Harris are all filmmakers from Salt Lake City, Utah. I knew Trent Harris, because I worked with him on THE ORKLY KID in 1983 at the AFI. Trent introduced me to Larry Roberts and David Brothers.
Q: What attracted you to the story Steven tells in the script?
Ultimately the marriage proposal scene in his screenplay is the one that I read that made me feel like this would be a great film to make. Something about the juxtaposition of his traditional story telling techniques mixed with his naïve point of view was, and is appealing to me.
Q: What changes did you have to make in the script to adapt it to the screen? Did Stephen agree with all of those choices?
Ultimately this screenplay was written by Steven C. Stewart. He had a very specific writing style. I think that even if I had tried to emulate it, I would not be able to do so. It was very important to David Brothers and I to keep Steve’s naïve point of view intact. As a producer and director it was important for me to have a script that I could afford to shoot. The script was cut down in length and the beginning and end added an element to it that was more reflective of Steven C. Stewart ‘s real life as opposed to the fantasy of his story. Steve kept himself alive to make this film, and he was excited about it and very dedicated to making the film. He understood the realities of what we needed to shoot and was certainly not stubborn in any way. He was glad, as we all were, that we were making the film. The most important aspects of the main structure of what he had written and the specifics of his dialogue were not changed. Really the main thing that was added was the nursing home scene at the end.
Q: Was Stephen always the actor you had in mind to play himself?
One of the main reasons I acted in the first Charlie’s Angels film was to utilize the money I made from that film to fund IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. Cerebral Palsy is not degenerative, but Steve was 62 and one of his lungs had collapsed. It became apparent that if we did not shoot something soon, we may never get to shoot at all. There would have been no point in making the film without Steven C. Stewart acting in the main role. The film serves as a documentation of his fantasy enacted. This is part of the beauty and intrigue of the story itself. I would have felt very badly if Steven C. Stewart had died and we did not get his film made.
Q: How much of the script is autobiographical for Stephen?
What is interesting to me about the naïve way he told this story, is that it is almost written as a detective murder genre story, and the feeling of his frustration is much more apparent than if it had been written as a straight autobiography. This is the other thing that I find so appealing about it. It truly has the best elements of what has formerly been called folk art, and now is called outsider art.
Q: What was it like working with someone who has cerebral palsy in light of his physical limitations and the fact that he is hard to understand when he speaks? What was the mode of communication that worked the best for you?
It was often difficult to understand what he was saying, but if one sits and talks with him things would ultimately be able to be understood. Sometimes he would e-mail me short messages as well. I do not know if he was writing them at the time or if he dictated them to someone. When I first met him I remember he had a special keyboard that had holes for his fingers to punch in through to reach the specific keys. He was a very good natured man, and had a true charm and grace, and truly loved to act ,so he was very easy to work with.
Q: What was the impact of Stephen’s failing health on the production?
It made us shoot the film earlier than I had intended. I had still not WHAT IS IT? And this is why we shot It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. before WHAT IS IT? Was completed. He was in the hospital toward the end of production and he died within a month of the completion of the shoot. I have no doubt that he would have kept himself alive if we had needed to shoot more with him. I am certain he kept himself alive in order to shoot the film.
Q: You co-directed this script with David Brothers. What was the breakdown of duties like? Did one of you work more with the actors, the cinematographer?
There was not really a duties list, but I was the producer-financer of the film so all money issued were handled by myself. I owned the shooting equipment so I was heavily involved with the technical aspects that the cinematographer dealt with. David built all the sets and he had built them for camera so there were certain elements that he had concerns with for the cinematographer and there were certain things I was concerned with. I would make a shot list every night before shooting, and almost every aspect of production design was overseen by David. Yet, some of the backdrops I rented from Grosh Senics in LA so really all aspects of the production had input from both of us. There are a fair amount of actors that I knew who were brought in from LA, and that is my background, so I had certain elements that I was concerned with there, and David had things he would bring in to it as well. There is no question that if I had directed the film myself, or if David had directed it himself it would not be the same film. I feel like as a producer it was important to bring the strengths of each of our personalities and backgrounds together and utilize them for the best product. I know we were ultimately both dedicated to getting Steven C. Stewart’s story across. We are both pleased with the outcome
Q: How did you and David Brothers come to know each other and collaborate?
Trent Harris and Larry Roberts as I mentioned previously were both filmmakers from Salt Lake that I knew from working with Trent. They showed me some of David Brothers’ movies that he was making on video in the late 80’s and I felt it would be good to collaborate with him on making one of my books into a movie -- which we did.
Q: Can you talk about the aesthetics of the film? Your decision to shoot on sets instead of a real city street for example? The artificiality of shooting a driving scene in studio?
For the most part the most beautiful films made are films shot on sets as opposed to locations. Designing something for a two dimensional medium is easier to control in terms of visual beauty than walking into a three dimensional area and making that look good for two dimensions. It is more expensive to shoot on sets, but if you can do that relatively inexpensively then it gives a lot of value to the production dollar especially since it has become the exception as opposed to the norm of shooting on location.
Q: Can you discuss the realization of the production design.
David Brothers was the production designer and as the financer of the film I let him go to it as he knows what he is doing in that area. I did go over budget in that area and it caused me immediate financial trouble at the time, but in the long run it was worth it. David and I would discuss many things about the production design, but ultimately I trusted him and he did a great job with it.
Q: Can you discuss where you shot the film, locations, Utah, etc. What was that experience like.
Everything was shot in a warehouse in Salt Lake. The only thing that was not shot on sets was the nursing home location. We found one that had all the qualities that we needed and when we got there it turned out that it was the very one that Steven C. Stewart had spent much of his life in as a young man, and in turn his experiences there had partially caused him to write this screenplay. For me the moments shot in that location have a particular quality to them that brings the film to another level that is a little difficult to describe. I am very glad that we shot there.
Q: Can you speak about some of your other casting decisions and any interesting stories attached these decisions?
Many of the actresses were friends of mine. Margit Carstensen whom I had admired from many of her roles in Fassbinder’s film I contacted through the Goethe institute in LA. My parents are both actors. My mother retired as an actress (and primarily a dancer ) when I was born and my father still acts. They both played significant roles in the film. Ultimately everyone in the cast did an excellent job.
Q: Can you discuss the collaboration with the cinematographer? Were there any films you asked him to watch to get an idea of the aesthetic you had in mind?
This was Wayne’s first film as cinematographer, and he did a great job. He understood lighting for a certain moodiness that we wanted. He was very easy to work with.
Q: Can you discuss the film’s score?
Most of the film’s score is Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. There is an emotionalism to both of them that serves the emotionalism of the story very well.
Q: How was making this film different than making WHAT IS IT? for you?
WHAT IS IT? I made organically from what was to be a short film and built it into a feature by adding film and reworking it for many years. I was the only editor on WHAT IS IT? I had to be when making it in the way that I did. IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. was based on a screenplay and I was able to edit with Molly Fitzjarrald who was initially able to assemble a rough cut based on the screenplay and then we were able to get in to more specifics of the edit as time went on. The films are very different kind of movies and I am extremely proud of both of them. WHAT IS IT? has certain things that It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. does not have, and vice versa, but It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. has is a true catharsis with Steven C. Stewart’s character, and for me that is a very strong thing.
Q: If you had to specify a genre or genres that categorize this film, what would you say?
I would call it a drama with humor, but there is even a documentary element with the documentation of Steven C. Stewart enacting his fantasy. This documentation may be one of the most fascinating parts of the film.
Q: What would you say was the biggest challenge in making this film?
Making the film before Steven C. Stewart died. And writing Steven C. Stewart a good-bye letter letting him know that we had
enough footage to finish the film after he took himself off of life support systems. I wish he was still around to see the finished film.
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