Michelle Danner, an acting coach at the Los Angeles acting school, gets behind the camera for “Hello Herman”, a confronting drama about a high school killer (Garrett Backstrom) and the reporter who sees a career-boosting story in the young man’s shocking attack. Clint Morris caught up with the multi-skilled Danner to speak about what’s unarguably one of the year’s most powerful films.
I assume the idea from the film came from simply watching the nightly news and the tragic events that have unfolded, especially in terms of school shootings, over the past few years?
Yes, the news of these shootings have increased in intensity. The day we opened the film there was a shooting at Santa Monica College. We saw it as a sign that it was important to make the movie.
Why did you feel this was a story worth telling?
I wanted to tell a story about what happens with our youth where things escalate out of control. For example the consequences of cyber bullying can be deadly. If we can keep talking about it thorugh art it will elevate the conversation.
What does your film say that, perhaps, Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” said differently… or not at all?
This is a very different movie from “Elephant”, which I thought was an important movie. “Hello Herman” examines the mind of a school shooter when he is interviewed by a journalist who is haunted by his own past and also explores some of the reasons why these tragedies keep happening.
Is there a message to the movie? What do you hope audiences take from it?
To me this is a movie that has a strong message of love, connection, and reaching out to our kids. So many people after the screenings would come up to me and tell me that the movie had moved them and made them want to go home and hug their kids.
How did you go about finding distribution for the film? Was it a hard cold-calling process, sending out screeners, or was it discovered by way of festivals and so on?
Finding distribution was challenging yet fell in place. Warner Brothers was excited about the movie and the timliness of it. They released the film on demand in 100 million homes through iTunes, Amazon, Sony PS3, XBox 360, and cable video on demand. We also opened in fifteen cities nationwide.
Being an acting coach, and obviously someone that’s considered to be a top of the game, do you think the actors in the film felt a bit more pressure on this film – feeling they had to really prove themselves to you?
You’d have to ask them, maybe. Being an acting coach I feel that i can talk to across when something doesn’t work in the scene. I feel that I can say something that can help. I understand and love actors
Can you tell us how you came upon and settled upon Garrett Backstrom for Herman?
I auditioned over 100 young actors. I knew when he walked in that he was it! I knew he could rise to the challenge of playing a kid like Herman before he even started to read the scenes. After that I was pitched actors with names but I was set on casting Garrett and I was right. His performance is fantastic.
In terms of your past students, is there anyone you’re particularly proud of? I noticed you worked with a fellow Australian, Isla Fisher – who has come a long, long way in recent years! Can we attribute some of her success to you?
I am proud of my students. I love Isla, she’s amazing. I always hope to have had impact on the people I work with. To watch actors that I’ve worked with tell great stories is always very rewarding.