Parkland Q&A with director Peter Landesman

Could the owner of a blue Chevrolet Corvette...

Could the owner of a blue Chevrolet Corvette…

Peter Landesman’s first stab at directing surely won’t be his last. Not with new film Parkland on the top of his IMDB page. The dramatic film on the assassination of JFK, spins the well-told tale with a refreshing panache and left the audience at the London Film Festival premiere in need of a good sit down and a scented candle after 93 mins of highly wound tension.

Landesman is better know as a journalist and screenwriter, but his new stripes as director didn’t put any doubt in his stride as he took to the post-screening Q&A with the confidence of a swan in a duck pond.

Peter Landesman

Director Peter Landesman

Peter kicked off by explaining how those journalistic credentials came in handy in both the research of the script and style of the film…

 The people that were portrayed in this movie were naturally exhausted by the subject of the assassination and didn’t really want to be a part of it so it took about two or three years of convincing them that of the movie I wanted to make. Once I did, then they opened up.

 The cinematographer is the great Barry Ackroyd who also shot Captain Phillips. We worked very hard to create a movie that, and I don’t want to say journalistic – because it‘s not a documentary, but in terms of immediacy, emotional connection and intimacy I wanted to be very journalistic about that. As a journalist I’ve covered Rwanda and Afghanistan and wanted to give a sense of the disorientation and fear of being in a war zone, or like lower Manhattan in 911.

…I psychologically understand why Lee Harvey Oswald did it. What his motives were, what he was trying to do and where he came from…

Seeing Tom Hanks’ name up on the credits as producer came a bit of a surprise. Peter spoke of how this unlikely partnership came about…

After I wrote about Watergate, Tom put this book (Vincent Bugliosi’s Four Days in November) in my hands. There are two Toms: the actor and then there’s the producer and thinker. To me, he represents Americana. He has a very high standard and he agreed to make this movie only if everything in it was true and all of it we can verify.

There are more JFK conspiracy theories than you can shake a stick at, but Parkland is more about the nano-tales of those caught in the event’s pandemonium rather than pointing the finger at some wobbly accusations… 

This movie is not about debate or conspiracy.  In the States, the Kennedy assassination is alive and well. The conspiracy has become an industry and it’s a chess game that will continue because it’s entertaining. Should it become conclusive, it would end the industry. As a journalist I laid it all out; all the theories from the plausible to the implausible.

70% of Americans think there was a conspiracy and most of them think of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK as the blueprint to the assassination but it’s not. There’s people who watch this movie who just don’t know what to make of it as they’re forced to feel a strong emotion that goes against what they believe as true. It’s created a collision which I suppose was its purpose.


Billy Bob Thornton joins an impressive cast

There are a bevy of characters, from the doctors and nurses to the mother and brother of JFK’s assassin. 90 mins doesn’t allow much room for character depth and Peter agrees that some of the characters and their stories could have made fascinating standalone subjects…

The Kennedy assassination is a giant octopus. There were characters that I wrote that were cut. Each of the main players could have had his own movie. Jim Hosty (FBI agent assigned to investigate Lee Harvey Oswald) deserves his own film.

One character that deserves more focus is Jack Ruby – the man who killed Oswald. His tale is extraordinary. He’s a strange, funny little cat. He owned strip clubs and was a self-made vigilante who took it upon himself to put the country out of its misery by killing the killer. He was an eccentric and he would have been fun but that wasn’t this movie. My initial drafts included him. He didn’t sleep and  became so obsessed with what had happened he roused himself into such an explosive state that when he set eyes on Oswald, shooting him was an inevitability because he had a psychological break.

…Sometimes the most beautiful things you make are the things you don’t anticipate…

The dynamics of the Oswald family offer the meatiest chunks to chew on as we’re invited to feel a reluctant compassion for their grief…

I psychologically understand why Lee Harvey Oswald did it. What his motives were, what he was trying to do and where he came from. If you follow that physiological line, him killing Kennedy was almost inevitable. I wanted to portray him, not as a killer and his relative, but as two brothers. I wanted to portray an older brother whose knucklehead younger brother had really f’ed-up, as if he just killed the neighbour’s cat. I wanted him played not with sympathy but with empathy. He’s a human being – he screwed up.

Reel it in Paul Giamatti

Reel it in: Paul Giamatti

The tightly wound tension has many elements to thank, but it’s the trumpeting score by the expert hands of James Newton Howard that helped engineer that restless mood.

James Newton Howard has won something like six academy awards so coming to him was never going to be an easy ask! When I first went to James and said to him – ‘y’know, I don’t if there’s much music in this movie at all. It feels very quiet to me. This is before I shot it. Then I shot the film and screened it to James who said: ‘I don’t know where in the movie there’s not music’.

I told James I’m not really into the trumpet. Then he put the score together and it was nothing but trumpet. It just goes to show that your initial conceptions of what you’re trying to do sometimes vary so wildly from what you end up with.

Those poetic moments in the movie that are not scripted came like a silent dialogue between the characters, me and Barry, and the camera – that’s movie magic. That’s the great thing about art. Sometimes the most beautiful things you make are the things you don’t anticipate. When I hear that score now it makes me want to cry and I’ve heard it 1000 times. It’s beautiful, dignified and very powerful.


Parkland made the 2013 London Film Festival official competition list and is out 22nd November 2013

Parkland IMDB page

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