Having made movies for kids most of his life, Writer/Director David Mickey Evans [The Sandlot, Beethoven's 4th] is about to take a well earnt rest from the family genre with the teen-comedy "After School Special", starring Amy Smart. CLINT MORRIS finds out what ignited the interest in a new genre, and what’s ahead for the busy Director.
Radio Flyer was a magnificent movie. A great cast, great story…I’m sure you’re dissapointed it didn’t do better at the box office, but as a film, were you happy with it?
Yes, all in all I was satisfied with the film. I think Richard Donner did a wonderful job with it. That being said, yes, I was crushed that it didn’t do better at the box office (I was younger then, and I’ve since grown a thicker skin – but still, one always hopes the audience likes what you done for them). It takes just as much focus, effort, agony, and creative energy to make a movie that doesn’t succeed commercially as it does to make one that does well at the box office. So anytime an audience doesn’t respond (or when the press has a definite hand in turning the public away from what is, if given the chance, something that an audience would embrace) it’s (for me anyway) pretty devastating emotionally. If there was anything that probably accounted for Radio Flyer’s failure at the box office it was that the screenplay was so personally embraced by Jon Peters that it ended up being rendered in a “throw enough money at it and it’ll be good” manner that it neither needed nor deserved. It was written as a small, personal, intimate drama and should have been made that way. But the role that it played in the whole Jon Peters / Peter Guber vs. Sony vs. Warners early 1990’s Hollywood has been written about many times. I am grateful it was made, and although unsuccessful at the box office, I still receive emails and letters from people all over the world (including many times letters from men and women in prisons) thanking me for the movie and saying the movie was a reflection of their own childhoods. Even occasionally a letter from someone who after seeing the film, and unfortunately identifying with “The King” character, was inspired to change their life. And since the story is autobiographical (Mike and Bobby were based on my brother and me) and since my personal need for catharsis was serviced after typing “FADE OUT,” almost 14 years ago, those correspondences from person’s whose lives were touched or changed or affected for the good, is more than I could have ever hoped for.
More recently you’ve been directing the "Beethoven" movies. How was that? and why Judge Reinhold?
They were a ton of fun to shoot. The dogs are wonderful and their trainers (especially April Morely) are the greatest people. Both were, and continue to be, wildly successful on DVD and Video. Judge and I became good friends after those two movies and continue to be. A quick “It’s-good-to-be-the-Director-of-Beethoven-movies-when-you’re-a-dad-with-for-kids” story.
One of my sons was in kindergarten a year and a half ago. When the teacher announced it was “What does your dad do for a living” day, Owen asked me to come to his class and tell all his friends about my job. I of course was thrilled. I took a stack of DVD’s of the movies I’d either Written, Directed or Produced and did a little talk about making movies. They loved The Sandlot and some had seen Radio Flyer, and some loved First Kid etc. The teacher, who’d been in the same kindergarten classroom for 25 years (a wonderful, wonderful lady) teaching 5 and 6 year olds, was beside herself, the kids were rapt, interested, asking questions, and Owen was just beaming. Clearly all the other dads had come in and talked about solid but ultimately boring jobs.
So I hand out an 8×10 glossy of Beethoven (signed by Beethoven!) to each kid, and some other cool swag from some of my other family films, and say, “Owen, would you go outside and let our special guest in?” He has no idea what I’m talking about. Neither does the Teacher or any of the other 20 or so kids. So I say, “Owen, go on out there and let our special guest into the classroom, it’s someone else who worked on the Beethoven movies…” So Owen goes out, and comes back in leading a 220 pound St. Bernard named Buddy Love (Beethoven’s actor dog of course) who’s half a head taller than him. It took about a week before the grin on Owen’s face finally turned into a normal smile. Every time I pried a pair of hugging kid-arms off the dog (who cleaned every face in the classroom) another pair latched on – like a 40 armed octopus! Everyone got another picture taken with Beethoven and I gave the Teacher a huge framed picture of her and her class with Beethoven. She claimed it was (through tears, I swear!) the absolute highlight of her entire teaching career.
Postscript: Owen will be going into 3rd grade this fall. His friends have already been asking him if he’s gonna be in their class, because, one of them let slip, “My dad wants to know.” Ha! They all hate me!
You’ve done a ‘Three Musketeers’ movie with Donald, Mickey and Goofy. Can you tell me about that?
It’s the first feature length movie that Mickey Mouse has ever starred in. Hard to believe, but it’s true. I think he’s been in something like 240 or so shorts (and of course Fantasia, but that was supporting role) so Disney is particularly protective of the mouse that built the empire. Basically I wrote the script (Mickey, Donald and Goofy as The Three Musketeers) and turned it over to the animating geniuses. It’s supposed to come out this year I think.
How does a filmmaker handle certain things, for instance, when a film isn’t as successfull as all planned it to be? any examples?
Well, the Radio Flyer answer is pretty good for this question as well. But, it also depends on what you’ve done on the picture. It takes about a year of your life to see a picture through to answer print. That’s a fair chunk of one’s life. And even although you only have control over what you have control over (there’s marketing, media, the studio’s needs, etc) when something you’ve put your heart and soul into doesn’t reach an audience the way you intended it to, it’s pretty devastating. That’s why I’m always working on more than one project at a time. If I’m directing something, I’m writing something else concurrently. Not in the sense of “throwing spaghetti against the wall,” but in terms of getting re-invested emotionally in a new story. And in Hollywood – anymore anyway – like Mike Medavoy said, “You’re only as good as your next one.”
As a writer I learned a long time ago to disconnect my soul from the material as soon as I type FADE OUT. Not that I let it go completely or simply sell my “child” but after FADE OUT it becomes a collaborative process rather than a solitary one. And since I direct pretty much everything I write, I get to choose my collaborators (for the most part). If we’re all in sync, and we usually are, then I think the picture will ultimately have the best chance of succeeding (both at the box office and with an audience). But, a big mistake that a lot of people make is equating box office success with the intrinsic worth of a movie; i.e. “Radio Flyer.”
Another example is a movie I wrote called, “Ed,” for Universal about a baseball playing chimpanzee. The script was so good (I’m told) that Casey Silver (or whoever was in charge of Production there at the time) issued a memo that used the screenplay as an example of what both a “Buddy comedy,” and an “Animal movie” should be. The benchmark. But, the movie was terrible. And it made about 25 cents at the box office. I was sad to see it turn out that way, but I didn’t Direct it, and so it didn’t affect me emotionally that much, because I had done my job the best I could and the rest was up to the Director and the studio.
"The Sandlot" is a bit of a classic – how was it working on that one?
”The Sandlot” remains my favorite movie that I ever made. I wrote, Directed, Produced (no credit) and Narrated that film, and as a movie, it is closest to being what I intended it be when I wrote it. Although your control is always limited to the number of people whose opinions and ideas are paid for (producers, executive producers, studio executives, marketing people, etc) my “involvement” on that picture was extended into all the areas – even marketing. And so, I think, it was ultimately the better for it. I’ve received and continue to receive more letters and correspondence about that film than any other. It always seems to connect with the next wave of kids and families coming up, and for that I am incredibly grateful. “The Sandlot,” like “Radio Flyer” is also autobiographical.
Ever considered making a sequel to "The Sandlot" or any of the other films you’ve done?
Yes. But Fox was never interested in it. They claimed that because baseball is a particularly American sport that the film didn’t “do good enough business” outside the United States to warrant a sequel. I think that’s bullshit, but who am I. It remains the most successful family video for Fox.
I was reading that you’re a big fan of the original "Star Wars" – how are you enjoying the recent prequels?
Star Wars changed my life. It was when I saw that movie for the first time that I knew what I was supposed to do with my life. Be a story teller. I think I was 13 or 14 years old. Movies had always been the place I went to escape (from a difficult childhood). And when I saw Star Wars I escaped to an utterly different universe. I just kept going back to see it again and again… I couldn’t believe it was a movie. Another huge influence on me was Ray Bradbury. I saw his “The Martian Chronicles” on stage at the Studio Theater Playhouse in LA in probably 1977/78 and I was stunned.
Although it is one of the great joys of my life to take my kids to the movies, and especially to the Star Wars prequels, and they love them, I’m impressed with the technology but not the storytelling.
Can you tell me about "Afterschool Special"?
After years of writing and directing family oriented material, I needed to do something entirely different. An “R” rated teen-sex comedy was about as different as I could get. It’s in the American Pie / Van Wilder vein. The two preview audiences we screened it for came un-glued when they saw it; literally yelling at the screen and busting up so bad they missed half the jokes. That was very gratifying. I understand it’s supposed to be released theatrically this year sometime.
What’s next for you – and any pet projects lined up?
I’m in Vancouver BC directing Peter Falk in a film called “Wilder Days,” written by Jeff Stockwell (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys). It’s a very sentimental film about a grandfather and grandson on a three day road trip to find a cabin the grandfather claims he built 50 years before from the debris of a circus boat he was on that burned at sea. But he’s also having episodes of “Sundowning” – disorientation akin to dementia or Alzheimer’s. His real intent is to make amends to his son (the grandson’s father) for years of having never been there as a father, by proving that all his “big stories” (that the father never believed) were actually true.
I completed the first draft of a screenplay called “Way Outside,” based on the book “The Haole Substitute” by Walt Novak. Michael Schiffer (the great screenwriter and my partner on the project) is doing a polish and we hope to have it before the camera early next year. Maybe sooner.
I have two spec television pilots that we’re pitching in July and I’m writing a Christmas comedy with my partner Howard Burkons as we speak.
So, lots of stuff going on.
You’ve done a large amount of kids/family films, which is great – any reason why you’ve stuck to that path?
In a sentence, “I never grew up.” Plus my wife, Robin, and I have four children, so I feel an obligation to make sure there’s always something for them to go see at the movies. And then there’s the more personally important reason, which is something related to what Walt Disney said when someone made the comment that his Main Street USA at Disneyland was “Just the way it used to be.” He looked at the guy and corrected, “No, it’s not. It’s the way it should have been.” I feel like that about my childhood, some sort of psychological need to re-invent it with all the good moments right out in front.