Interview with Monte Hellman

Monte Hellman is returning to the role of director with his latest film “Road to Nowhere” which is being released in theaters on June 10th. This will mark his first feature film in over 20 years. He has directed Jack Nicholson in four films over the years and is known best for his film “Two-Lane Blacktop”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Monte about his new films and his career overall.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you become attached to direct “Road to Nowhere”, your first feature in over 20 years?
Monte Hellman: Well it started with Steve Gaydos coming to me with this idea. He claims it was the first of his ideas I liked in 40 years [laughs]. He got excited by just that fact. He quickly wrote and script. We then sat down and did a little brainstorming with a couple of other friends. He came back with a second draft which successful became the basis for the beginning of the film. It did get altered along that way a little bit after that but we pretty much shot what he wrote then.

MG: Was it a difficult transition returning to the director chair? Tell us about the production?
MH: It was so easy because my daughter literally got me to work by saying “Let’s stop waiting for other people to give us permission to make movies”. She went out and raised most of the money. We thought we had enough money to make it. She sort of stumbled through after we ran out of the money and managed to at least finish the shooting part of it. Then raised more money as we went along in the post-production process. It was really all about my daughter Melissa and her getting tired of seeing “Two-Lane Blacktop” over and over again. She wanted to see another movie.

MG: How long was the shoot and where was it shot?
MH: We shot for a total of 30 days. 18 days in North Carolina. About a day or two in London. About 4 days in Italy. And about a week in Los Angeles.

MG: Did you have any involvement in the casting process for the film?
MH: Pretty much Steve Gaydos also inadvertently became the casting director. He discovered Shannyn Sossamon rehearsing a script in a restaurant. He had been in England for five years.  He was unfamiliar with her and thought she was just a student. He gave her his card and asked to have her agent to contact him. I did know who she was from “The Rules of Attraction”. I actually wanted her for a picture I was attempting to producing at that time. Steve just felt that she looked like a Monte Hellman heroine and that she also looked like the character in the movie. I did too and I thought she was good. But I had no idea how good in fact she was. I did not look at any other of her work. Every day was just a revelation.

MG: We recently spoke with Waylon Payne and he mentioned tried to explain the film’s plot, can you give us some background on it?
MH: The script was way easier than the movie. The script gave you clues to the timeline by prefacing each scene with a year date. It would either be 2008, 2009 or 2010. So that was a clue to it all. Shannyn really was able to follow that and she used that. She sort of supervised her own costumes and needed that to know where she was time wise from one scene to another. She was pretty good at it. Some of the other actors because it was not written in continuity just kind of gave up and just went along with it. That is actually a good way to do it as well because any scene is basically in terms of time is today. It is a present tense thing in that moment. When actors deal with it that way it is like the easiest way to handle it.

MG: Tell us about working with Jack Nicholson on projects like “The Shooting” and “Ride in the Whirlwind”?
MH: They were both in 1965. We shot them back to back with only a weekend in between them. Well Jack and I had just come back from the Philippines at that time. We had just done two pictures together. We were in the groove. We actually shot four movies together in the space of 12 months. It was an pretty intense time. Of course he is just so fantastic to work with. We both were going through a really intense and creative learning process. I think we both really developed tremendously during that year.

MG: “Two-Lane Blacktop” is your most critically acclaimed film, but would you consider it your favorite?
MH: Well I love “Two-Lane” and some of the other ones. I really feel that in many ways that the “Road to Nowhere” is kind of a breakthrough. I say that I feel like it is my first movie because you don’t stop learning just because you are not actually shooting. During my hiatus I think I went through a tremendous development. i feel like it is starting from the beginning.

MG: Tell us about your experience directing and writing the horror film “Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!”?
MH: Oh “Silent Night” [laughs]. We looked at it as a way to just have a lot of fun. I actually liked the work I did. I think crucified me for making that movie [laughs] but I do not see why. I just had a great time shooting it.

MG: Do you have plans to direct again in the near future? If so what?
MH: Well I have two projects. One is another Steve Gaydos script. It is an adaptation, I do not want to say much because he is just beginning on it. There is another picture called “Love or Die”, which is a supernatural romantic thriller. It is a kind of time-bomb ticking clock movie and it is very exciting. Melissa is out right now just raising the money. Once we have a little money in the bank we will be off on another road.

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