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Q&A with Hollywood director James Schamus on feature film 'Indignation'

Posted: 11:52 AM, Aug 11, 2016
Updated: 2016-08-11 18:52:10Z

James Schamus is a Hollywood icon that has over three decades experience in making movies.

His producer credits include Hulk, Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon, and Brokeback Mountain.

At 56, he's making his directorial debut with Indignation, adapted from the 2008 novel written by Phillip Roth.

It tells the story of Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a smart Jewish boy in New Jersey who leaves for college in Ohio to escape the military draft. There he meets the affectionate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) and comes face-to-face with the University's societal and religious expectations – both of which prove challenging to him.

A love story? Yes. But, according to Schamus, not the Hollywood love story you’ve come to expect.

Schamus was in the Valley last week for a private screening and Q&A and spoke with us for a few minutes about the film, directing, and his connection to Phoenix. Watch the video in the player above for more.

Below are a few of the take-aways from our conversation:

HE’S A REGULAR VISITOR TO PHOENIX

It turns out that Schamus has spent a lot of time in the Grand Canyon State. His dad and sister and their families live in the Valley. We asked him about some of his favorite places. He told us they were actually his dad’s favorite places.

“Unnamed steakhouses,” he said. Apparently they’ve been to quite a few. Hmm. We did a quick search and could not find any steakhouses in the Valley by that specific name. You pulling our leg here, Schamus? 

We also asked him about his debut feature film:

WHY DID YOU DECIDE ON THIS STORY?

"I fell in love with Phillip Roth's novel. It's his 29th novel so he wasn't too young when he wrote it. He was going back to his youth and talking about a version of himself when he was a young man going off to college. And it really moved me.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT BEING A DIRECTOR?

"I did learn a lot of things, but you can't really learn how to direct except by directing. It's not like going to driving school."

"You learn as you go along. One of the great things I learned was working with actors and really finding a way honestly to bring emotion out and let them fly." He said the crew read through the script a lot, but did not spent a lot of time on rehearsal. Instead, he and the actors spent a lot of time talking about each scene.

“We kept it pretty fresh for the film.”

HOW DOES IT FEEL SITTING IN THE AUDIENCE AND WATCHING YOUR MOVIE?

“It’s hard because you can feel an audience when you’re sitting in the audience of a film you’ve made. You often feel the intensity of the emotion, [but] intensity doesn’t tell you everything. It’s just a dial and even when people are laughing I know, but maybe they don’t know, is they’re laughing right now, but in one minute they might not be laughing.”

ANY MOVIE SECRETS YOU CAN SHARE?

"Yeah, what's it worth to you?" he jokes.

"I think the big secret here is you don't have to pay attention to be surprised by all the little secrets we did dump in the movie along the way. The movie is structured a little bit like a puzzle, but I'm not trying to impress you with it, I'm just trying to hit you over the head from behind in the end emotionally."

ANY OTHER PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?

Schamus said his next project is with director Ang Lee on a movie about the late Muhammad Ali and his boxing match against Joe Frazier .

Indignation is currently playing through select theatres across the country.

In the Valley, it is being shown at the Harkins Shea 14 theatre near Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. Click here for showtimes .

 

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