Exclusive Interview : Joe Halpin


Writer of “Walking Tall 2” and “Walking Tall 3”

The Rock won’t be back, but the fistfights most definitely will be, as another interloper (genre fave Kevin Sorbo) decides to start “Walking Tall” in the sequel to the 2004 hit.
In this exclusive chat, writer Joe Halpin (“Into the Sun”, “The Foreigner”) talks about “Walking Tall 2” and “Walking Tall 3”, as well as his upcoming projects, including a sequel to a Wesley Snipes actioner from a few years back.

How did you get involved in “Walking Tall 2”?
In the summer of 2005, I was approached by Screen Gems executive Gilbert Dumonte about writing “Walking Tall 3”. We had worked very closely together on “Into the Sun” and enjoyed the experience. After I finished that assignment they asked me to do a quick rewrite of “Walking Tall 2”. I should add that it was already a fantastic script and that any changes I made were more for production reasons than faults with the script itself. Screen Gems is one of the few Production companies that are writer friendly. They take a real interest in your thoughts both before, during, and after production. For those that are not in the business, that’s a very rare occurrence.

Did you know straight-away that it would be DTV, and without The Rock?
I knew that the casting line up would be different, and that the original plan was to have Walking Tall 2 & 3 shoot simultaneously for budgetary reasons. Even though the story is not about Buford Pusser, it still has much of the same premise as the original 1973 version. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the latest adaptation (written by David Klass and Channing Gibson and David Levien & Brian Koppelman) but the original version (written by Mort Briskin) is still the best in my book. I’m also fully aware that the original movie has a huge following. The pressure is always there for a writer in this situation to create something that is different… but still holds true to the theme of the original. That’s not an easy task for any writer, but one that I hope I’ve accomplished.

Does it follow on from the first film, or is it something new?
The premise is that “Walking Tall” is how a man faced with acts of outright injustice can step up and fight for what’s right. It’s something that the audience can readily identify with. We all see things in our daily lives, whether it be on the news or the streets, that we think are unfair. And to see a character righting those wrongs is immensely satisfying to us as an audience. Movies are entertainment. We all want to be taken away from the daily grind of our lives. Those two hours take us into a world where we can live vicariously through the characters on screen. These types of movies are not meant to educate or enlighten. They’re made to amuse and divert the audience from their own worries. At least that’s my belief.

Who has been cast in the film?
The lead will be played by Kevin Sorbo. The supportive roles are made up of relatively new actors but from what I understand they are a talented lot. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Haley Ramm (X Men 3, Flight plan) who has the role of Kevin’s stepdaughter in the film.

Having written many of Steven Seagal’s films, would you say that writing action movies is your forte?
I’m not sure if action is my forte. In fact it sounds presumptuous for me to believe anything I write is a forte. I do enjoy writing action but that is not the only type of script I’ve been paid to write. I’ve actually written two horrors that should go into production by the end of the year. I know that in Hollywood the executives like to pigeon hole a writer. Because of my background as an undercover police officer I think they tend to feel that my expertise and life experiences lend themselves better to action. Whether that’s true or not, it certainly has served me well in the past three years.

Are sequels something you’ve done before, too?
I have done some work on sequels such as Steven Seagal’s “Black Dawn” which was a sequel to the “Foreigner.” Much of the work I did on that was unaccredited and after seeing the finished product I’m not exactly saddened by it. That film was also my acting debut; so I cringe whenever I see it. I’m also currently writing “Art of War 2” which once again will follow the game plan of Walking Tall; in that it will be a DTV and not have any of the original cast returning.

What’s your proudest film?
I hope in the future that will be a question that causes me a little more thought. Unfortunately, as you know, this business is very collaborative and that means that the writers vision is rarely realized when the finished product hits the shelves. That’s not to say that the process is wrong or flawed. One thing that we all have to realize is that this is a business and the responsibility for a projects success or failure rests on many people’s shoulders. Of course that results in everyone having input which is rarely a good thing. That said I would have to say “Into the Sun.” It was my first produced film and the feeling of being in Japan on the set and watching my words come to life was humbling.

Are you working on anything more with Steven Seagal in the future?
I am indeed. I’m very lucky that Steven enjoys working with me. He trusts my writing enough to partner up with me in the process. I am forever grateful for the opportunities he has given me. In 2005 Steven and I wrote a film called “Prince of Pistols” that should start shooting in July of this year. It’s set in New Orleans. I know that he is very excited about Directing it himself. As you know, the only other project he directed was “On Deadly Ground.”

What else is on the cards for you?
This year I have “Prince of Pistols” filming in July and “Art of War 2” probably starting production in September. “Walking Tall 2&3” should be finished by mid July and that will probably be released sometime in early 2007. I’m also setting up a television pilot based on my past experiences as an undercover narcotics detective. This year two of my past projects with Steven Seagal should be released. They are “Shadowman” and “Harvester.” Also, two months ago we wrapped “Enemy of the Unseen” which was filmed in Romania and that should be released sometime in mid 2007. Writing this out makes me realize how lucky I am to be involved in so many projects — and for that I am very thankful.

Let me end by thanking “Moviehole” for the opportunity to ramble about myself and the projects I‘m involved with. I’m a big fan of the site. Especially the “Caffeinated Clint” editorial which holds nothing sacred and pulls no punches about film. Thanks Clint for some entertaining reads.