Friday, March 7, 2008

Casting Eric Roberts in The Butcher

I asked action filmmaker Jesse Johnson (an unapologetic Genre Hack) to write something amusing from his latest shoot. Jesse writes:

Writing about my latest shoot is like remembering the details of a fist fight: it's difficult to find anything amusing about it until some time has passed.

So I'll go back to the film I directed last year.

"The Butcher" was going to be my first real performance driven story - still a genre movie, in the gangster/crime milieu, but with significantly less action than anything I had directed before, and mercifully, with no martial arts.

We were looking for a name (Valerie Macafrye was casting). William Morris put forward Tim Allen as a counter casting idea for our aging, ex-enforcer lead, but after a month that didn't work out.

The same thing happened with Ray Romano - when it came down to the wire, playing an alcoholic killer who finishes the movie slaughtering twelve gunmen in a point blank gun fight didn't appeal to him so much.

Somebody said, "Eric Roberts is always available, Jack Gilardi told me so," and we laughed.

But time was running out. Our financing required that shooting take place during a certain window of opportunity, and if we missed that window, it would likely go away. No money, no movie.

So, I met Chaz Palminteri at the Four Seasons. He was nice, but as a director himself, he couldn't see how I was going to manage the 18 day shoot with the amount of action required. I said there wasn't much action! He said that there was, and that he'd probably be required to do his own stunts, and didn't fancy getting bruised up. I reminded him I had been a stunt coordinator for ten years, and his safety would be paramount, but he wasn't overly impressed with my explanation. He passed.

Of course, Eric Roberts was still available. We shook our heads.

We finally got our "big star" when Tom Berenger read and loved the script. But at the last minute signed to his TV show. That was 48 hours to the start of principal. We were at the end of our rope.

So we signed with Eric Roberts.

We were all reeling! But, the joke was on us. Eric, as it turned out, is awesome in the picture. Charming, quiet, and professional, he is a film buff and a historian, and just loved the work, really immersing himself in the character.

The rumors about him being "difficult" proved unfounded, and as to Chaz's predictions: Eric received a fractured rib, third degree burns to his hand, stitches above his left eye, and a bruised abdomen from a machine gun bolt, none of which I found out about until after shooting (Well, truthfully, I saw the bruise, but thought it was make-up, it was so grotesque.)

During a quiet moment, I asked Eric about his vetting process with regard to scripts, he laughed, and said that after the Oscar loss on "Runaway Train" he had asked his agent to find him scripts that were fun and paid, and that had remained his criteria. He was a happy and rich man who owned almost the whole of his city block in the Valley.

I thought about his answer for a while, and can't really find too much wrong with it.

My film turned out well, but of course will not be a theatrical release, a solid D2DVD, hopefully. The point to this is; if there is one, is that there is more to life than the prestige associated with an A picture...

But... that's what we all want really isn't it?

"The Butcher" will be a 2009 DVD release with a theatrical in certain territories. "Charlie Valentine" has just completed principal photography, and it's turned out ever bit the performance driven genre piece I hoped it would be.

by Jesse Johnson


Cunningham said...

Good story Jesse and thanks for posting it, Sean!

We'll have to have some adult beverages, and I'll tell you how Heidi Fleiss was cast in ALIEN 51.

(No, not that way!)

Neale Sourna said...

And what is WRONG with Eric Roberts? He's far more interesting and consistently reliable performer than his sister.--Neale Sourna