Johnny- It was really a different process with each one of them. So I learned that it was better for me to go to them individually. So at the start of every day I would go into each one of their trailers and we would go over the whole days’ work. We came to an agreement on what we were trying to do together one on one and then t was really important that I got all three or four of us together. Every day was a process because everyone was so connected to their characters and knew that their characters stories were so strong that they had to put the two cents in. They just couldn’t follow the iconic Al Pacino and let Al run with it. They needed to make Al look just as good. Karl was very adamant about that as well. Once we all came together and shared our ideas after day two it was something that we all looked forward to everyday. We would even come into work early just so we could start doing our own thing and then doing everything else to build these characters.
I have so many questions for you but with everything that went on in this film. Did you face any challenges while shooting?
Johnny- Well, this movie was a twenty-one day shoot which is very hard to do. Unfortunately Al was sick for about fifteen days of shooting and you can’t tell and he was such a pro and it was very hard struggling in the cold weather. Having twenty one days to shoot a movie, I was going on weekends and grabbing my camera with my DP and shooting all the shots I knew I wouldn’t have time for. Even all the action scenes and chase scenes I did in one day.
That is where my stunt background really helped me because when we rented the cameras and everything in pre-production I did it during that pre-production where I could try to do all this stuff on my days off. Anywhere I could to try to make it happen and the actors knew that and it was really great because all of the sudden I’d be on-set and I’d be all my by myself with two other guys filming and all of the sudden Al would show up or someone would show up and help in any way they can. They got what I was doing and they could tell I was really exhausted trying to make it happen.
And Joe Anderson is amazing in the film. This was a moment and his eyes. How did he get involved?
Johnny- Well that’s another great story because I interviewed over fifty Hangmen and it wasn’t what I wanted. The Hangman is not seen very much in the movie. We needed this amazing actor to really pull it off and people think well they didn’t really show the Hangman very much and now you want me to get a relationship with him. Well I did everything and finally we were looking and agents are sending me names and I’m looking at the reels and they send me Joe Anderson and I wasn’t really familiar with his work but when I saw him I was like oh my god it’s in his eyes.
The Hangman is in his eyes and in the movie and the script we weren’t going to show him at all but when I saw Joe’s eyes and we decided together. Let’s put a scar and I am only going to show that one eye through the whole movie until the end and that’s what I want to see and never blink because blinking to me is almost a cut. We kept his eyes open and we really keyed on that side of his face to where it really built up his character. I mean Joe nailed it. He was just an amazing actor to work with. He really brought a lot to the table on this movie.
I think it was Sir Anthony Hopkins and even Gary Oldman who did not blink in a lot of films as a fear factor. But that is true it is his eyes and he brings the scare factor. Joe just played it so good.
Johnny- Yes and I got to tell you Joe cared so much and we only had him for two days for the schedule. We tried to squeeze him in all these scenes in two days. He called me up on day two to say goodbye and he goes are you okay and I go no. I just wish I could have you more in the movie and he goes well I’m leaving and then I get a call from him and he said I pushed my flight let’s do this so on our day off all the scenes that you see of Joe’s face are all things that he did on his day off for me with three people on the set.
I have to ask you something about the sequel and the shooting scene. It really bothers me because you don’t know and I really want to know so we really need a sequel now. That is kind of driving me crazy. You can see that Ruiney was angry but how do we know?
Johnny- I love you for that too! During the week when I don’t work I like to sit in the back row of the theaters and watch movies and watch the reactions from the people. You can tell by the way people are positioned and when lean forward they are interested but when they are laid back and their heads are rested on the back it means that we’re losing them. When you leave a theater there is nothing better than sitting by the door and hearing people’s comments.
That to me is really important. I wanted to give a different look at it. I have my own ending of what I feel it is but I wanted to make sure that it was a conversation piece at the end of the movie. That’s why there is only one bullet. Everyone wanted me to shoot five times because action sells and they wanted five bullets but I said no, it’s one bullet. I need people to second guess. Did they wing him and then we have him come back with a missing eye or something like that. Did they really kill him and there is a second Hangman? But in my world there is only one Hangman. The time spread that we have doesn’t ever say if they are still looking for him.
Yes, because you didn’t show dead or being carried away. You didn’t need to shoot him more than once. That one shot showed a lot of emotion from Karl.
Johnny- It was hard because I didn’t want people to think that Karl became out of control and he just wanted to kill this guy in the worse way. I wanted him to be more direct and more deciding, should I do this or should I not? That’s why it takes a while for that shot to go off where he’s debating and he knows the world is a better place without this Hangman and he knows that one shot will the difference.
Obviously there has to be a sequel! Are you going to do the sequel and stick with the film?
Johnny- For me if they wanted me to do another one. This one was more about the characters and I think with Al being gone I would like to take this more in the direction of being more about Karl’s character and the Hangman and bring the Hangman a lot more into the story. At the end of the day if we could agree on doing it that way. I would not just want to do another ride like we just had. To me you have to build this story into being more dangerous and keeping the head killer more involved in the story. I am willing to listen to anyone if they are willing to do the second part.
What advice would you offer because you have done so many different things in this business? What would say to someone who wants to be in this business?
Johnny- I come from a small town in the Bay area where the hearts are big and that is the biggest thing that helped me. This business is a place where a lot of egos are all over you and everyone is going to tell you how wrong you are and how right they are. If you can just stop and listen and take their knowledge from them but not be angered by what they say. But patience and knowledge is everything in this business.
I wish I could have been directing at thirty years but I knew that it took time and I didn’t want to do it until I was really ready where I knew that I could answer every single question when I have to sit with an actor like Al Pacino I better be as knowledgeable as Scorsese which I hope to God someday I will be because these guys are the best of the best! I didn’t want to come into this business and make a small action movie that go overseas. I want to make a difference and I want my kids to be proud of me and so I just want to be able to make great movies so knowledge was the way it got me there and being patient and knowing when it was my time.
One thing I wanted to ask you because of a personal experience was Sarah Shahi plays Captain Lisa Watson in a wheelchair and she is portraying a powerful strong role and it was positive to see this.
Johnny- No I think that’s what she really loved the best and shes played this kind of role before and I didn’t want anyone to think that’s shes playing another one of these roles. I needed to let everyone know just because you are in a wheelchair that your strength has not gone away. I never wanted to key in on the wheelchair, I wanted everyone to know that this girl should be able to stand up in two years from now and shes not done yet, she hasn’t given up life. I wanted her strength to come from this weakness that happened to her but for her to still know that she is the one in charge.
I think that’s where Sarah nailed it. She is a strong woman and I wanted her to have these moments where I told her I said now that we know how strong you are, I need to have you have these weak moments to where you know we know there are these hidden secrets. When you go home at night you are probably depressed about what happened to you but you never show it. That is what we worked on and Sarah really loved that. We worked hard on that but the wheelchair was just for you to know that she was in one but not focus on so much. It was something positive and good because they do not always show it as empowering. So it was positive because when someone tells you that you won’t be able to do anything in life because you are in a wheelchair that meant a lot to see that in the film.
Johnny- Yes and my casting took forever, it really did. Even a small role like Joey (Chelle Ramos) I went through probably over a 150 girls because I said you are not supposed to be liked but I need to love you. So you have to play it tough but on the turn around you had to come off and we have to know that we fall in love with you because you’re the only victim that we know through the whole movie. I mean everyone else they are just guys we don’t know anything about. The Joey character was a very hard role so it was really hard because it was seven characters (main characters) and that’s it so they better be the most perfect seven characters and they had to drive the story. Sarah helped Al come off just by Al saying one line to her, you know “Yes, Captain” in that one office thing. You could see their relationship by that one word.
Yes, it was powerful! I wanted to ask you did you come up with idea of Al Pacino sitting in his car doing the cross word puzzles in his car in the film. It just seems like something Al Pacino would say, I need to do something while I wait.
Johnny- You know it’s funny he was going, I need to do something. What would I do? What would I waste my time doing? The goal to that scene with the crossword you know to fit in with the word and everything else. We made it work for the whole puzzle. It was supposed to be that he was ready to retire and he is parked on the side of the road lonely. He was doing nothing, he is just a cop sitting in his car. It was really important that Al had something and he said wait a minute, crosswords! It was really Al that came up with that. We kind of attached that story to his puzzle throughout the whole movie. I mean like the scene with him and Christi (Brittany Snow) it was important that he had that book in his hand. It relates to so much of the story like him going to church, being an altar boy- it all related to that puzzle. It is all part of the story.
Now, you are working with the legend that is Al Pacino. Did you take away any advice from Al Pacino?
Johnny- Ohhh, he made me a much better filmmaker. I was like a little kid. When I would see that Tahoe pulling up to the set I almost caught myself running to it every day. I just loved opening that door for him and having him come out and us having our morning talk and just talking about everything. Talking about his dreams and everything he had and he would tell me stories, he would sit me down and I didn’t know why he would tell me these stories about “Scarface” or “The Godfather” but it was always a drive to make me a better director. He would come to the editing room you know like six or seven times and just sit there and he just wanted to support me. He does today. He calls me to check on me and see how I’m doing and he says we need to get you going again for people to see your work. He is such a big supporter and I’ll ask him a question about film and he’ll call me back right away because he loves film so much and he loves talking about it. He is so knowledgeable.
That is amazing! I love Al Pacino and I really do not think there is a bad Al Pacino movie! He is a legend, a true legend. Archer, I think is one of his best characters. Oh my God and Johnny YOU GOT a “Hoo-ah” out of Al Pacino! I heard the Hoo-Ah I was so excited! I heard it and I played the scene over and over! I said to everyone, Johnny got Al to do a “Hoo-Ah!”
Johnny- (Laughter) it was the “Hoo-ah” and a “Fuck!” I need Al Pacino to say “Fuck.” It was funny because when he is in the car and he hits the roof of the car believe it or not that is not even in a take. That was when Al was thinking and the cameras weren’t rolling and I told my DP just turn on the camera and quick play it out. Al was talking out loud and he knew he did it wrong and he went FUCK and he hits the roof. I went up to Al and said you know I am going to use that in the movie.
Oh my god, so it was just improvised! It was just amazing!
Johnny- I think if I could go back in time I think I would just go back and re-shoot this movie with Al Pacino and Karl. It was that much fun.
Now what are you working on next?
Johnny- My next movie is about the second gun man in the JFK assassination. I used every conspiracy theory that was out there but it is about the guy on the grassy knoll that had another camera that shot the second gun man and you find out through the whole movie all these conspiracy theories and every one from the Rangers to the C.I.A. to NSA are all after this guy to get this tape and it’s a story that I’ve been trying to work on for over six years. I think it’s at a really great place right now. I am hoping that will be my next movie.
What would you like to say to the fans that will be watching “Hangman”
Johnny- I hope that you guys walk away from this movie in a different manner than what you came in for. I know you guys are probably all coming in to see the Hangman and see all the killings but I want you guys to really see actors act (And they do an AMAZING job! Janel) and I want you guys to see how different a movie can be on paper than it can be on film. I know everyone is expecting a certain movie but when you have an iconic actor like Al Pacino why waste it on going with the story of a killer so I hope that everyone sees it in that light and they will be surprised by what kind of movie it will be.
One thing I loved about this movie is the story is so good and it’s suspenseful. It really keeps you on edge because you have an idea but they play it off so well and I loved the flashback scenes and the fact that Al played his semi-younger self. The shots are so well done. You have to take in the details and Karl and Al just feed off each other.
Johnny- Yeah, I agree. I think they work great together. I know Karl would love to do a sequel to this movie and I think he would be so good in this movie and I think he would be good in this movie to carry it on his own next time.
Is there a specific genre you would like to do with directing or are you taking it day-by-day?
Johnny- Well, I am always writing and it’s like in “Hangman.” I really want to be known for doing these kind of movies where you go in expecting one thing and you leave with another. I want to try to stay within the Alfred Hitchcock way of making character movies and not just making movies about what they are about. I hope I can continue to do this and people will let me in and see my vision of how I can see a movie. It would be more like a fly in a room than trying to be a person in the audience.
Did you have anyone that inspired you when you were growing up or professionally?
Johnny- Well, my father. My father and my mother always taught me who I had to be and how I had to do it. My dad was a salesman and he taught me about listening when I was a stubborn kid and to listen and learn is your biggest tool that you can do. I would say that my father got me through a lot of this and today he still does. My dad and my mom are always in my movies. I always put them in a role because my mom gave up acting to have me so now I have to give her a role in every movie so you will always see my parents in them.
They were in “Hangman?”
Johnny- Yeah they were the couple that when Joey ran and ran through the house by the older couple that were at the door and screamed her name. That’s them.
That is really cool! I need to watch “Hangman” again so I can look for them. Plus I just love the movie and I want to watch it again!
Johnny- (laughter) I’ve enjoyed this call so much. Thank you so much for loving my movie because believe me you are always scared at this point you know where it comes out if people are angry and they just want to find ways to not like your movie and you just want people to have a good experience. You can hate it or like it whatever but just enjoy it. They are movies and we are supposed to enjoy it.
Well, I loved it! I loved that you kept things real and gritty and you brought some extra awesome out of Al Pacino and he is already the most awesome person ever. There are incredible characters and you feel for them. You feel for Archer and Ruiney and you root for them. You also even feel for the Hangman a little even with all his craziness. It was such an honor to talk with you. I could talk to you all day long but I know you are busy so thank you so much!
Johnny- I love it! I look forward to you calling me on my next one. Thank you so much.
Thank you Johnny and keep going! Have a good holiday.
Johnny- Thank you and I am not giving up yet. Have a good holiday too!