In interviewing George Gallo (he wrote “Midnight Run”), I was hoping to come across as a total professional besides being a fan. Instead I blurted out, “I’m a huge FIT of Midnight!” What Mr. Gallo was thinking, I don’t know, but he was one of the most polite and interesting interviews I’ve ever done.
Gallo got his start in a completely unique way; after developing his love of movies from his dad (especially Humphrey Bogart in the Sam Spade films), he thought he would take a shot at screenwriting. Gallo was growing up in the New York suburbs in the 70s (“a great time for cinema”) when he was able to sell a screenplay at the tender age of 19 to Universal. He had looked up film people in the phone book of all places and found the name of Arthur J. Ornitz. Ornitz, a well-known cameraman (“Serpico” and “Death Wish”) thought Gallo had a real ear for dialogue from his screenplay and connected him with Marty Bregman (producer, “Dog Day Afternoon”), who immediately optioned it.
Gallo wrote other screenplays, then did “Wise Guys” and “Midnight Run.” His entire life changed.
Below, Gallo muses about painting (he is an impressionist artist), filming “Midnight Run,” his upcoming directed film “Vanquish” and his long-time collaboration with Morgan Freeman.
MOVIEHOLE: Let’s start off with a film that you admired, the original film “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.”
George Gallo: It was a major influence on me as a writer. I was 20 when I saw it, and it was a really very tough movie that had tremendous humor in it, very, very funny; I laughed more watching that movie than a lot of comedies. A lot of comedies have become tedious nowadays. I watched it very often and even a few months ago — it has one of the best soundtracks. Really, if I could foam at the mouth at the moment talking about this, the screenwriter who wrote “Charade” and “Father Goose” was terrific too. A lot of great films are underrated.
MOVIEHOLE: What is the main thing that people tell you about “Midnight Run”? It was based on your mom and dad’s relationship, right?
GG: I based the two characters on my father and mother; my father was very much like the Robert DeNiro character, he was very emotional, while my mother was calculating. My dad was like a dog and my mother was like a cat. I based their relationship in the film on that. A lot of people say, it’s their favorite movie and that if they are ever depressed or down, they watch “Midnight Run.” To me, everyone does films for different reasons; I like making them because I like entertaining people, I think the idea of movies as entertainment is a very positive thing. I like positive movies and art. There’s not anything wrong with making people laugh or feel good. It’s very fulfilling to sit in the back of an audience where they don’t know you had anything to do with a film and hear a bunch of strangers laugh all at once.
MOVIEHOLE: How did you get into painting?
GG: As a kid, I was the habitual drawer, I was drawing and drawing, I’d draw pictures of my parents and pets, I loved the act of pencils and paper and over time, I learned how to paint. Painting is all about color, shape, design, values, and just the interaction of everything, it’s all harmony; whereas storytelling and writing are all about conflict. There’s no harmony in a movie generally until the end, until the resolution. So, they serve different things. I love painting the most as it’s a solitary endeavor, it’s about being alone with nature and as close to God as you can get; you see how everything relies on everything else. Directing a movie is also a lot of fun, as it’s like a rollercoaster, you are dealing with technology and personalities. The other thing in making a movie, people have to get to trust you and you trust them. As a director, you are holding people’s careers in your hands. I love actors and I have a lot of respect for people in general.
MOVIEHOLE: What was the most challenging time in your career?
GG: It has definitely had high and low points. My career took off into the 80s and into the 90s, and then it hit a couple of dry spots; people associate you with a certain kind of thing, and then you fall out of favor. My career went up and down; thank God I didn’t go through all my money so that I was broke. It’s been a pretty quiet life with my wife of 38 years. Then the last four or five years, I got incredibly busy again, I went from not working a bunch to working again. You have to be patient in the movies. One good thing about being a writer, you can kind of control fate to some degree, not like an actor; it’s been quite the ride.
MOVIEHOLE: How are you handling things during the pandemic?
GG: When we made “Vanquish” (Morgan Freeman, Ruby Rose), we were tested every day, but we had to shut down once because one person tested positive and that was a false positive. We were making it in Biloxi (Mississippi). Then we had to shut down twice during hurricanes. Morgan is an old friend and I’ve done three movies with him, I just called him up and asked him and we are going to do a movie later. With Ruby, I didn’t know who to cast in that role and someone suggested her and I knew in a minute she’d be perfect; her and Morgan got along great. I always try to encourage everyone to be as creative as possible. I tell people to try stuff. We just had a great time. I think it’s the smartest way to make a movie, it’s insane to make a film and not allow them to do their best work.
MOVIEHOLE: What is your advice to newbies in the business?
GG: I think everyone finds their own way, and when you hear showbiz stories they are both different and very similar, in that someone believes in someone and takes a chance with them. But I’d say stay on it. It’s anxiety producing, that question, as I sometimes have a recurring dream that I’m starting my career all over again and have to prove myself.
MOVIEHOLE: What are your upcoming films?
GG: I have a couple of things. There is one movie that is supposed to shoot in the fall with Ruby Rose again, and I believe with Antonio Banderas; it’s a different movie, a beautiful film, about three generations in the wine business in Napa Valley. It’s basically about a Mexican immigrant in 1961 who buys a little piece of land and starts growing grapes and three generations later has the most successful best business in Napa Valley. The grandson is now running the business, and the harvest season changes everyone’s lives. Ruby comes to Napa as an intern and starts to fall in love with the wine business, it’s called “Chasing Crush.” The interns call chasing the harvest, “Chasing Crush” – think of a film with generational struggles.
“Vanquish” will be in select theaters on April 16, on Digital and On Demand on April 20, and on Blu-ray and DVD on April 27.