Interview with Steve Stockman, director of Two Weeks
Tell us about your background and how it prepared you for the making of this film, how did "Two Weeks" come about?
Ive been a commercial director and writer for most of my career so far. Two Weeks grew out of personal experience. It went like this: When my mother died at home in 1997, the whole family was there. The mortuary guy came to pick up her body in an unmarked white SUV. He had one of those rolling stretchers where you flip a lever and the wheels pop down. My mom lived in a suburban neighborhood. It was about 5 in the morning, the sun was just starting to brighten the sky. The guy wheels my mother's body out of the house, and loads it into the truck. I'd just had this excruciating night-long ordeal with my family and I stood there, watching from the top of the driveway as the truck pulled away. Just then, a car came up the street, dropping newspapers one at a time in the driveways of the sleeping houses. And I thought, I wake up every morning on my own street, in my own neighborhood. And somewhere, this is going on. It happens all the time. This is part of everyday life. How come we don't know what it's like? Seven years later I had just finished a script and I couldn't come up with a new idea to write. I kept looking at my list of brainstormed "high concepts," hoping to find one that grabbed me: Mafia Nanny? No. Talking Dog Detective? No. Time Traveling Archeologist? No. Hooker Brain Surgeon? Way no. I had all these notes from when my mother died -- I did a lot of writing while it was happening. I kept coming back to the notes, and remembering those moments -- a lot of them were really funny. Of course the rational, I've-been-in-the-entertainment-industry-since-I-was-18 side of me was thinking, "Great. A dying mother comedy. They'll line up for that." But I couldn't leave it alone. So I took a deep breath, and wrote it. I started the script in a writers' workshop, and I was really surprised by the reactions -- the funny parts were funny. The sad parts were sad. And better still, everybody could relate. They'd all been through it, or knew someone who had. Which was great, because I got a lot of suggestions from other people's experiences that were terrific, that I immediately "borrowed" and which I can now say were entirely my idea, every one of them. The end result isn't just a comedy (though many parts are really funny), and it's not just a tragedy. We've tried to make it about truth. About a family trying to figure things out when the one person who really holds them together can't hold on anymore.
What about the DVD: Will the final cut be the same as the theatrical, and will there be any extras that you can tell us about?
The DVD cut is the same as the theatrical. There are two very cool extras: - My favorite: Since nobody ever listens to the directors track (and its my first movie its not like Im Francis Coppola) I invited Dr. Ira Byock, an end of life expert and director of palliative care at Dartmouth, to comment with me on the film. I talked about what went on with the making of the movie, and Ira gave his perspective for people who are facing, or have faced, the same situation. Having someone else with a different perspective was great, and hopefully theres a lot of information thats fun, and useful for people. BTW, After this successful experience, Ira and I are now available for to do commentary tracks for other films, weddings, and Bar Mitzvahs. - When I did Q&As after screenings this Spring, several people said they were looking forward to discussing the movie in their book groups. So we came up with a Group Discussion Guide you can flip through on screen, that gives you questions for group discussion. We got the idea from paperbacks that do the same thing.
What do you want your audience to take away from this movie?
Our first and most important takeaway is, we hope, entertainment. We tried hard to create a film thats an emotional ride: Very real, very moving, and very, very funny. And if we succeed there, its a home run. Im also hoping that, as part and parcel of delivering an entertaining film, we managed to dig out some truth that will be valuable and relatable and informative, and bring people together in the way that the best movies do.
How was working with Sally Field? Was she your first choice for the role?
I had a very short list of amazing actresses I could, in my dreams, picture doing the part, and Sally was definitely one. Working with Sally was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sally plays Anita, the mother in the film. Day one of the shoot, Ben Chaplin (her oldest son) is behind the camera, interviewing a still-healthy Anita about her life. We're shooting 13 pages of dialogue, almost all hers, that will take about 10 minutes of screen time in the finished film. That's a lot of shooting, and I budgeted two days to shoot it. But Sally wanted to do it in one. Great, I think, I can be a day ahead of schedule after the first day. They'll think I'm a genius. We're shooting in a house in Nashville, TN. The crew is a little nervous -everyone is at the beginning of a film, but this is the first day with our two biggest stars, one of whom is a living legend. So everyone's a little keyed up. Finally, we're ready, and Sally and Ben walk onto the set. Ben crams into a tight space next to the camera. He seems a bit nervous, too. Ben's British and has been a little worried about his American accent all week (turns out it's perfect, but nobody, including Ben, knows that yet). Sally sits down on the couch where she'll be interviewed, puts her script on the floor, her bag with her knitting, water bottle and cell phone next to it. She waits patiently for everyone to be ready. The assistant director calls "Action," and Ben asks her the first interview question. And there, in front of the camera, Sally Field becomes the character. You can hear jaws drop all over the set. She's perfect. Not good. Perfect. And she continues to be perfect the entire day. She doesn't miss a line in 13 pages of heavy dialogue ("Fantastically memorable writing," I try telling myself.) Every gesture, every look, is real - it's Sally, yet not Sally...like she's slipped on a coat of character and became someone else. We did three takes at the most of any of the 14 scenes...one particularly emotional scene was so perfect we only did one (it's the "I can see the end of my life" speech near the end). Sometimes I just asked for a second take because I wanted to see what else she had. Never because I didn't like the first one. There was one scene that didn't work quite right. It felt like a gratuitous joke to her, not something the character would actually do. We discussed it. OK, we argued about it. She was right, of course, but the screenwriter in me felt the piece needed some humor at that moment in the film. When she did it, she adjusted her performance to add a wistfulness, a bit of darker emotion behind the humor. So now a scene I wanted for comic relief works, but it's deeper and better than it would have been otherwise. And it still only took three takes. The most astounding thing about that first day was how high she set the bar for the rest of us. It would have been tough for anyone, cast or crew, to walk onto the set and not give their all after that.
What are your favorite movies to recommend to people? What DVDs do you have on your shelf at home?
Im a movie omnivoreI like any genre, as long as its a good movie. So my tastes range from the fairly obvious The Godfather I & II (and yes, I listened to the director commentary on both. Twice.) to The Hidden, a 1978 cult fave horror film. The home DVD library is aimed at teaching the kids what quality movies look like, from the Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogy, to Jackie Chan, to Miyazaki (Spirited Away is our favorite) to Buster Keaton (go right for Sherlock Jr.), anything by Preston Sturges, Casablanca and Singing in the Rain, which we just watched AGAIN last weekend.