Posted by Valentina Valentini on September 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm
When writer-director Jim Hemphill was ten, he dragged his friends to a new movie he had seen reviewed on TV: Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre. “Needless to say, my friends wanted to kill me,” he laughs. “They thought it was the most boring thing they’d ever seen, but I was entranced.” Hemphill soon became a devotee not only of Malle, but of other character-driven auteurs like Woody Allen and Ron Shelton, and grew up dreaming of making movies in their style.
This year, Hemphill got his chance with The Trouble with the Truth. In it John Shea plays Robert, a jazz pianist whose marriage to novelist Emily (Lea Thompson) ended due to a complicated combination of emotional, financial, and sexual factors. The couple reunites upon learning that their daughter (Danielle Harris) is getting married, and they quickly discover that they have a lot of unresolved issues.
The attention to emotional depth will probably come as a surprise to those who saw Hemphill’s previous film, Bad Reputation, a slasher movie he describes as “I Spit on Your Grave meets Pretty in Pink.” After that movie did well on DVD, Hemphill thought about making another genre film, but financing for a ghost story he had written kept falling through. “I’m very fond of Bad Reputation, but it’s definitely a movie where my ambitions outstripped my resources,” Hemphill says. “I didn’t want to make that mistake again, so when I couldn’t raise enough dough to make my ghost story properly I decided to write something that was geared toward a low budget – no special effects, limited characters, all interiors so we could control the sound and the weather.”
Following an exploitation film with a character study in the tradition of Ingmar Bergman didn’t seem as strange to the director as it might have to the outside world. “I’m omnivorous in my taste,” he explains. “I love Visconti, and I love Step Up: Revolution. There’s no hierarchy for me, I just want to be entertained by someone with a point of view. And that can be the point of view that brought us Citizen Kane or it can be the point of view that made Police Academy 2.”
Hemphill found a kindred spirit in fellow cinephile Roberto Correa, who he chose as his director of photography after the two bonded over their love for The Fabulous Baker Boys. “Roberto knows every movie that’s ever been made, which makes for a great shorthand on the set,” Hemphill says. “If I want a certain feeling or effect, all I have to do is say ‘hey Roberto, remember that shot in Bobby Deerfield where…’ and he just says ‘I’m on it.’ Yet he’s never imitative – he’s a true artist who absorbs his influences but doesn’t parrot them.”
Correa talked Hemphill into shooting with the Canon 5D, which turned out to be the perfect choice for their intimate drama. “The DSLRs were great because they were cheap, fast, and good – three things you’re never supposed to be able to get all at once,” Hemphill gushes. “We always shot with two cameras, which allowed John and Lea to get lost in the moment because they didn’t have to worry about matching. Sometimes you have to compromise your lighting when you’re shooting with two cameras, but the talent of Roberto’s crew combined with the image quality of the 5D gave us gorgeous effects.”
Hemphill is now gearing up for the theatrical release of The Trouble with the Truth, a dream that became more important to him when the movie started showing at festivals. “I learned that the movie plays really well with an audience,” he explains, “so it became important to me to do everything I could to get it seen in at least a few theatres before it finds its inevitable home in the world of VOD and DVD. We hustled to get an art house release in New York and Los Angeles, and if it does well hopefully the movie will expand to some other theatres.”
Regardless of where the film goes, Hemphill feels he’s already ahead of the game. “Look, it’s tough just to make a good feature,” he claims. “And then it’s borderline impossible to get that feature seen. The digital revolution has been wonderful in terms of democratizing filmmaking, but the movies that get into theatres are still largely the big corporate products. And don’t get me wrong, I love studio tent poles – one of my favorite movies of the last ten years is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I just think there’s room for other kinds of stories, and hopefully we’re doing our part to fill that gap.”
The Trouble with the Truth opens Friday, September 14 in New York and Los Angeles. For theatres, showtimes, and a trailer visit www.troublewiththetruth.com