Richard Schenkman (Director: 'The Man From Earth')
'One Man's Perspective'
In the tradition of such psychologically-charged sci-fi outings as The Next One (1982) and K-PAX (2001) comes the cerebral science fiction opus 'The Man From Earth' (2007).
Directed by Richard Schenkman, the story concerns Professor John Oldman, a scientist who summons a group of associates to a cabin one freezing night, and strikes them with a fantastic revelation: he is not a traditional human, but a 14,000 year-old immortal, who has survived centuries of evolution from the Cro-Magnon Era to the present.
In the hours to follow, Professor Oldman's earth-shaking assertion about himself challenges the men on spiritual, scientific and historical levels. But the most incredible is yet to come - an even more astonishing truth in which the men's discussions culminate.
Taking it from the top and what brought you to directing films in the
very first place? Richard Schenkman: "All I've ever wanted to do since I was a pretty small boy was make movies. At first I didn't understand what each job was, in indeed for a number of years when people would ask me what I wanted to be I'd say "Cinematographer". But when I started to learn more about actual filmmaking, and I saw all the math involved in being a DP, I realized that I was more interested in directing!"
"In my mind, I pursued filmmaking as directly as I could, but while I made films as a kid and in college, and directed a fair amount of material at my various jobs (MTV, Playboy, my own production company) I didn't get to start making feature films until I'd been at it quite a while."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of
buying some of your other directorial / acting works, which one would you
ask them to pick up and watch first ... and why? "Personally, my favorite movie of mine is called "Went to Coney Island on a Mission From God...Be Back by Five", and it FINALLY comes out on DVD January 8 of 2008. It had a brief theatrical run, and Blockbuster had it exclusively (on VHS), but it's never really been released on DVD."
"It's my favorite movie because it looks the most like the movie I had in my head as we were writing it (Jon Cryer and I wrote and produced it together), because I think the acting is uniformly excellent, because it's got a great look to it (thanks DP Adam Beckman!), and because I think it's a funny yet poignant story that's got a lot to say about friendship, loyalty, and love. Also, making the film was a LOT of fun."
"Having said that, a lot of people think "The Pompatus of Love" is my best movie and I can see why; it's fast-paced, it's funny, it's beautifully shot (thanks Russell Fine!), and it's got lots of great-looking, big-time stars in it."
"Finally, "A Diva's Christmas Carol" has a lot to recommend it, including some funny scenes, some great special effects, and Vanessa Williams playing a very funny, gorgeous and appealing Diva Bitch years before "Ugly Betty" came along."
Being that the story for 'The Man From Earth' was actually conceived by
acclaimed Sci-Fi writer Jerome Bixby back in the early 1960's - although he finally completed it on his deathbed in April of 1998 - what storyline
elements did you find yourself having to change / remove to bring it to the small screen? "Very little. In fact, there was almost nothing that was changed as a result of having grown dated. The thing is that while Bixby conceived the story a long time ago, and made notes on it, he never sat down to actually write until the end of his life, so it took place in contemporary times, with contemporary cultural references."
"The changes I made were more just the sort of things that had to be done because Bixby didn't survive to do a "director's polish". There was a one wandering storyline thread that was removed, and one extraneous character whose best bits we put into the mouths of other characters. That was it. It was a great, great script from the get-go."
With a story line of a man who believes that he is immortal and cannot
stay in one place for more than ten years without his secret being
discovered, did you also find it interesting that such a left of center
belief also quickly becomes one that is also virtually impossible to
disprove or indeed verify? And if so, what's stopping anyone from spouting
forth the same beliefs day in day out?! "To answer your second question first, it seems to me that it someone wanted to "spout" this story day in and day out, it would be their full-time job. Just answering all the questions all the time would take forever! But I guess it would be a good job for a talk-radio host.... "Call in and ask the immortal a question about any time in the past..." Or a side-show carny."
"As for the first question... well, of course I found it interesting -- that's why I took three years and a hunk of my life's savings to put this story on screen! From the moment I read this script I found the story, the tales that John tells, and the emotional themes of this movie very compelling and I've wanted to make this film ever since."
'The Man From Earth' was recently screened at the Rhode Island Film
Festival where it won the Grand Prize for Best Screenplay ¯(Jerome Bixby)
and First Place for Best Feature. Was this expected or a complete surprise? "When my producing partner Eric Wilkinson and I were planning this project from a financial standpoint, our prediction was that we'd get into a zillion festivals and win a few awards, and based on that, we'd hopefully, finally sell the film."
"Instead what happened was that we were accepted into very few festivals and yet we sold the film VERY quickly to a very good, creative distributor who really understands the film."
"It certainly doesn't surprise me to see the script win awards because it is a GREAT script!"
The film also has a particularly strong connection to the 'Star Trek'
series and films, but was this some weird fluke or was that planned to be
so?! "The "Star Trek" connection starts with Bixby, obviously, and continues with the cast. That was partially by design, and partially just luck. When we started casting, we realized that it would probably help us commercially to have at least a few actors in there who were already familiar to the Sci-Fi fan community. The first real "name" to sign on was Tony Todd, and obvious has a VERY strong Trek connection, especially for me personally, since he stars in one of my favorite episodes ever, "The Visitor", from DS-9."
"Billingsley was my favorite actor on "Enterprise", and he brought us Richard Riehle, who has also been on Trek. I didn't realize that David Lee Smith had any connection until we were chatting on the set one day!"
"The thing is, with all the hundreds of episodes they've done over the course of four series, the odds are actually pretty good that any actor you hire will have, at one point or another, been on a Star Trek series or in one of their films."
On the DVD's Special Features you do an Audio Commentary along with John Billingsley. So, for those yet to pick this DVD up, what turned out to be the most wondrous thing you said at that time? What came back to you
watching it about a certain scene that made you recall something
interesting, perhaps? "I'm sorry... that recording session was so stream-of-conscious that I can't remember a damn thing I said. And Billingsley kept distracting me!"
Back in the early '90s as an actor, you managed to star in (and direct)
'Angel 4: Undercover' along with Darlene Vogel. Reflecting back to those
days please tell us a funny story about the filming of that movie that when we play it back we'll get a greater viewpoint for whatever scene it is?! "Well, sadly I didn't "star" in "Angel IV: Undercover"; I just played a cameo, as I've done in most of my films (except "Man From Earth" - I was going to play a moving man, but we were on SUCH a tight schedule that I felt we couldn't spare the extra half-hour or hour it could cost to have me play the role instead of another actor)."
"I learned a lot on that film...indeed, it's why I made it. I wanted my "first" movie to be something that could (indeed WOULD) disappear, in case it was something less than stellar, so when this opportunity came along, I grabbed it."
"But in my defense - it was NOT an "Angel" movie when I was hired. It was a "rock n' roll thriller" named "Assault with a Deadly Weapon", which is why it has that whole music-video opening title sequence to the song "Assault with a Deadly weapon". But here's what happened: Late in pre-production, the executive producer came to me and said, "For a couple of markets, like Poland, it may be easier for me to sell this film if it's an 'Angel' movie. Do you think you could shoot alternative versions of a couple of scenes so that I could present it as an 'Angel' sequel?" Of course I said yes, and rewrote two little scenes to imply that Darlene Vogel played the woman who used to be known as "Angel" (never mind that Darlene is a blonde and angel was always a brunette)."
"We edited both versions, but - what do you know? - the only one that ever saw the light of day was the "Angel IV" version."
"Still, it was a fun shoot. The line producer was a great guy and indeed we became pretty good friends, plus I had a number of other friends in the movie as well. I made it a kind of a campy picture and I think the humor holds up, if nothing else does."
Lastly, what other new films do you have upcoming that you will either be directing or acting in? "Jon Cryer and I have written several more scripts, all of which I'd like to see get made. The two likeliest candidates are "Cosmodrome", a big political thriller set inside the Russian space program at the height of the Space Race, and "LostBoyz", a heist comedy about a failed boy band."
"Eric Wilkinson and I have an 80's-era teen comedy we're trying to get set up, and we even wrote a horror movie."
Which one will be the first to go? I've no idea!
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'The Man From Earth' DVD Purchase Link
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