Schlock goes to Hollywood as we chat to David Rodriguez, writer-director of the post-9/11 thriller American Bully (aka Anytown) – now hitting the festival circuit with a ‘post-mafia’ movie, Last I Heard, which boasts a cast including Paul Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Renee Props, Paul Ben-Victor, Stephen Bauer and Chazz Palminteri.
Judging by your biography, it seems as though being a filmmaker wasn’t always your agenda. What was the turning point that led you to decide on this particular career path?
Actually, showbiz has always been on my agenda but there’s no clear path or map on how to start down that road when you’re raised in a NY-blue collar environment. Since I was married with kids at such a young age, it was important for me to just get a job. That said, as I experienced different jobs and careers, I realised that trying to harbour my creativity was having a negative effect on me which forced me to just go for it. No plan-B, no turning back. I did my research, made a short – which led to my first feature, Push – and looking back on that crazy decision now, it’s definitely the best thing I ever did.
America seems to be a source of continuous interest to you as a filmmaker. Could speak about how and why your country influences you to create films?
I feel like any writer that pays attention to their surroundings has constant and enormous sources of information around them. For me, it’s boiled down to what’s inspiring me at that particular time.
How challenging is it to write and direct your own films? Have you ever been tempted to pursue a career collaborating on other people’s work?
With every film I’ve written and directed, it’s gotten a tiny bit easier. ‘Easier’ in the sense that you start to get to know how to best package and position your project to get the best response from potential investors in and out of the business. As for collaborating with other writers, I’m actually doing that now. I didn’t actually pen my upcoming project, but I love the story and script as if it came from my own brain.
How would you say that Last I Heard follows through from your previous project? What led you to decide on this subject matter in particular, following up on your previous film?
My previous project, American Bully (aka ‘Anytown’) was the project where I felt I matured and grew quite a bit as a director. With Last I Heard, I felt like I needed to write a story that was undisputed – 100% mine. I feel like the two elements converged: mature filmmaking, and ‘writing what you know’.
While putting together ‘Last I Heard’, were you eager to create a mob-based drama that differs distinctly from previous – and also quite recent, like The Sopranos – examples of the genre? What gives Last I Heard that distinct edge?
Last I Heard is what I call a post-mafia film. It’s about what happens when a life of crime is over. It’s about what happens to the old-school gangster and how they attempt to navigate a progressive society. I’m not so sure there’s an edge because the ‘gangster’ genre fan may not want to see their heroes in a vulnerable place. That said, Last I Heard is as real as it gets for those gangsters who are now coming home after many years in prison. It may not be edgy, but it’s certainly a part of the genre that hasn’t been tackled yet. It’s a fresh perspective.
You’ve assembled a pretty potent cast of seasoned Hollywood veterans for this film. What was the process of acquiring them like, and how do you feel about having such an ensemble working for your film?
The cast was amazing. Fortunately, I have a relationship with all of them so the process was relatively easy. The challenge was making sure all of their busy schedules coincided with our production schedule. Quite frankly, I was like a kid in a candy store. It was an amazing experience.