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Ghost Canyon

Steve Stockman    (Director - 'Two Weeks') Steve Stockman (Director - 'Two Weeks')

'Life Thru A Lens'

"Two Weeks," written and directed by Steve Stockman, is the story of a woman dying from ovarian cancer and her four adult children as they gather at her Wilmington, N.C., home for what they believe to be her final days. The loss of a parent is difficult under any circumstances, and a movie that dares to take on the situation as its premise enters territory where maudlin and saccharine are common enemies.

As Anita (Sally Field) enters the final stages of cancer, her children assemble in southeastern North Carolina for the final days of her life: Oldest brother Keith (Ben Chaplin), a filmmaker, arrives from L.A. hoping his Zen attitude will get him through, while Emily (Julianne Nicholson), Anita's only daughter and best friend, has turned to a manual entitled "How to Die" to help her mother and herself.

Busy executive Barry (Tom Cavanagh), whom Anita always considered the "responsible one," can't cope and is counting on an upcoming business meeting in Singapore to save him from the family reunion/death watch. The last to arrive is youngest brother Matthew (Glenn Howerton) and his horrible, self-centered wife (Clea DuVall).

Chatting recently with Stockman, a veteran of TV commercials making his feature debut, we first wondered - being that this was his first film undertaken as a Director - at what point had MGM approached him about his script ... and just how polite had they been?! "They were very polite—primarily because they picked up the film after it was done. This was a real indy—we had distributors interested when we made it, but no commitment until it was complete."

With 'Two weeks' being a film about life's lessons, upon completion did you yourself learn anything deeper about yourself, perhaps? " I learned not to read reviews. We got some really great reviews for the film when it was released this spring, but a few people hated it. I, of course, dismissed all the great reviews, and obsessed about the bad ones. I ran into Harry Shearer at a party a month or so ago, and he told me that he hasn’t read any of his reviews for the last five years for exactly that reason, and he’s been happy ever since. So I resolved to stop too. I haven’t, yet, but isn’t resolving to the first step?"

Being that you are a veteran of TV commercials, how much more different / difficult did you quickly discover movie making to be in comparison? "The moviemaking part is the same—it’s a craft, and if you have a great crew, it’s a lot of fun (we did). The main difference is how you work with cast. On a commercial, you just tell the guy dressed as a pizza to walk out, say his lines, and then move 3 steps to the right. He says “Yes sir!” With Sally Field, you have an actor with 40 years experience (and two Oscars) who expects to collaborate in the development of her character over 98 minutes of screen time. And you’d be an idiot not to let her. So each key actor becomes another department head to work with. It wasn’t harder, exactly, but it was a lot more thinking and discussing than you’d do with a guy dressed as a pizza."

With 'Two Weeks' carefully mixing some awkward comedy with intimate sadness, was it hard at times to obtain such desired acting stances from some actors more than others? "With Sally Field, Ben Chaplin, Tom Cavanagh, Julianne Nicholson, Clea Duvall, and the rest, we had a world class team who all got what we were trying to do from the first reading. I think 80% of the director’s work with actors is casting. (Of the rest, 10% is getting them the resources they need to do the job, and 10% is staying the hell out of the way.) Put the wrong actor in a part, and you can tear your hair out trying to get anything done. You know you’ve screwed up if you’re doing 20+ takes on scenes, just trying to get it right. This was about a 3 take film—and sometimes we went only went past 2 just to see what else they could do."

Was the midsection of 'Two Weeks' cut in any way as there seems to be a flurry of secondary characters (including a cameo by Clea DuVall), whose appearances in the film have little or no dramatic value? "I would say that I saw this in your review, that the film was shot pretty much as written and that it’s not a critique I’ve heard before ... but of course I don’t read reviews."

Finally, after all the dust had settled, does the old adage "Dying is easy, Comedy is hard" ring true, perhaps?! "Death and comedy, as anyone who’s been close to someone who was dying will tell you, are both inextricably intertwined. And they’re both hard."

"At the first public screening of the film at the Hamptons International Festival last fall, I got up to answer questions. And the second questioner started by saying, “I just went through this with my family. We laughed and cried all the way through it, like I just did with the movie. I didn’t know it was like this for anyone else. Thank you.” I was a little surprised, since all I had done was put down more or less what had happened to me. I hoped it was universal, but it was amazing to have a woman stand up, tears still streaming down her face, and say it out loud in front of 500 people."

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk

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