Five Questions With Filmmaker Herschel Weingrod

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Mr. Weingrod has been a working screenwriter and producer for over twenty years. His credits include Trading Places, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Brewster’s Millions, Falling Down, Space Jam, Pure Luck and The Final Season. To date feature film projects bearing his name have gross revenues in excess of $1.6 Billion (USD). Last Wishes is his directorial debut. He is an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin and the London Film School, and a member of the WGA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (IMDB). His film, Last Wishes, written by D. Parker Widemire, Jr. and based on a very compelling story by Lee Dresselhaus, will be at the 2015 GI Film Festival.

Where are you from and what is your film background?

Even though I’m an American, I’m a graduate of the London Film School. After graduation, I worked as a film critic in England and then moved to Los Angeles, where I got a job as a reader/story analyst while I tried to pursue a career in screenwriting. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to earn writing credit on several films, including “Trading Places”, “Brewster’s Millions”, “Twins”, “Kindergarten Cop”, and “Space Jam”, as well as producing credit on “Falling Down” and “The Final Season”. “Last Wishes” is my directorial debut.

Who are your biggest influences in film and why?

I have far too many influences to list, but here are a few:

  • Billy Wilder – for his unsentimental, tough-minded, and     majestic career as a writer and director.
  • Howard Hawks – for his ability to consistently masterpieces in many genres, from comedy (“His Girl Friday”) to film-noir (“The Big Sleep”) to Westerns (“Red River”).
  • Alfred Hitchcock – for truly being the master of suspense and for creating a unique film language for achieving it.
  • Martin Scorsese – for his dedication to film scholarship and preservation and, by the way, for being our greatest living American director.
  • Federico Fellini – for creating worlds so original that, while watching just a random scene accompanied by Nino Rota’s score, are immediately recognizable as his.

What was the hardest part about getting this film made?

Every film is an adventure in overcoming adversity and unforeseen consequences, and “Last Wishes” was no different. Upon arrival in New Orleans for pre-production, we had yet to secure a location, but the one that we found was an uncanny match for the location described in the script. Apart from our cinematographer and first AD, we didn’t have a crew, but we were able to attract an incredible group of people who were as talented and professional as any crew I’ve seen on a Hollywood studio feature film. On the afternoon before the first day of shooting, we were informed that one of our lead actors was in the hospital and wouldn’t be able to appear in our film. That night, we managed to get several local actors to come to the back room of the bar adjacent to our hotel and basically cold-read a couple of scenes with us. We cast one of them later that evening, and he was wonderful in the film. On the first morning of shooting, our rented camera malfunctioned and we had to scramble for a replacement while the clock ticked and we lost valuable daylight. After that, everything was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

What do you want viewers to take away with them after watching your film?

On one level, the story is simply about two thugs who picked the wrong elderly couple to abuse. On a deeper level, I think it’s about how little respect our culture gives people of a certain age, how little curiosity we have about their lives and experiences, how little we value their wisdom. While the term “The Greatest Generation” might have become a cliché, the fact remains that we owe our freedom to those who fought and sacrificed in WWII, and they have a lot to teach us about bravery and courage.

What is a fun fact about you that would surprise people?

As a boy, I went to summer camp with the Zucker brothers (“Airplane”, “The Naked Gun”), who welcomed me into their “secret society” by sharing their chant of completely made-up words, which I still remember, even though I can’t recall what I had for lunch yesterday.

Last Wished directed by Herschel Weingrod is playing at Angelika on May 24, 2015. Click here for tickets.

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8.4.2015