THOMAS JANE – An interview with the star of HBO’s “Hung” and 3D Thriller “Dark Country”

DARK COUNTRY plays the Castro Theatre – Friday, 11/18 at 7:30 pm

Live interview with director and star Thomas Jane and the “Czar of Noir”, Eddie Muller

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Join NOIR CITY’s Eddie Muller as he hosts actor/director Thomas Jane for a very special one-time-only screening of Jane’s 2009 horror-noir thriller Dark Country – finally presented theatrically in its original 3D format. In this eerie, phantasmagorical road movie, a man awakens hung over in a motel outside Vegas, in bed with a woman whom he married in a drunken haze the night before. The randy pair drive off into the darkening desert … to a bizarre and unexpected fate. As a director, Thomas Jane displays a startling knack for lurid comic-book-style visuals (he was “The Punisher”, after all), and a savvy knowledge of Film Noir tropes. Following the film, Jane and Muller will engage in an on-stage interview to be included on the Special 3D Edition DVD of Dark Country. Don’t miss this exclusive chance to see this bold and unusual film as its creator intended it to seen—on the big screen and in 3D. The bonus, of course, is the magnificent Castro Theatre.
Click here to order tickets on-line: Dark Country

The Noir City Film Festival will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2012. With Eddie Muller at the helm, it is one of the most popular and fabulously produced events of the year. The series of films plays the Castro Theatre beginning Friday, January 20th through Sunday, January 29th. Friday’s screening at the Castro Theatre of Dark Country, a 3D thriller in the Noir style, will tweak the interests of fans in both film camps. I spoke this week with Thomas Jane – star of HBO’s new series, Hung, and the director and leading man of Dark Country – about his extra-curricular passions for the darker side of storytelling.

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THOMAS JANE – Dark Country

Sean: How was the experience of directing yourself?

Thomas: It all goes back to the adage that everybody wants to direct. When I was a kid and being exposed to movies and television, it occurred to me rather quickly that the guys who were creating this stuff were the ones having the most fun. Acting is something I discovered I was good at by accident. I was building sets for my high school play.

Sean: What was the play?

Thomas: We actually did a variety show, a Vaudeville. My bit was “Niagra Falls” – the old Abbot and Costello act. “Slowly I turned…”

Sean: “…step by step, inch by inch!” It’s also a classic moment in I Love Lucy. Great way to start!

Thomas: That’s how I discovered I was an actor. But I’ve always wanted to get behind the camera. For my first film, I wanted to do something that would appeal to the things that inspired me to get into entertainment in the first place. Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits were huge influences on me – all that old Saturday Afternoon Matinee stuff. And comic books. There’s something about creating the graphics, creating something that is so visually stimulating. A lot of directors say this, including Francis Ford Coppola and John Carpenter. The angles that you see in good comic books are so awesome – the way the image is framed, the way sequential art carries you through a story. It’s so evocative. I read so many as a kid. When I made the movie, the first thing I did was to storyboard it. I got a great artist out of the UK, David Allcock. We storyboarded every single shot. I had this giant bible that I passed out and carried around with me. It looked like a telephone book.

Sean: Alfred Hitchcock did the same thing.

Thomas: Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder was done in 3D.

Sean: Have you actually seen it in 3D?

Thomas: Yes. There was a 3D film festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles.

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THOMAS JANE. Photo, Jill Greenberg

Sean: There’s the story about Alfred Hitchcock’s use of storyboard during the filming of Spellbound with young Gregory Peck. He wasn’t interested in Mr. Peck’s acting training nor his personal motivation for the character being in the room. Hitchcock made it clear that nobody was going home until the shot looked like this! Was that your approach? Did you have a “third eye” to help you achieve the desired result?

Thomas: I had a couple of them. As a kid, my major exposure to 3D was through comic books. Through the ’80s there were a lot of comic books in 3D, like Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds. They were all done by a man named Ray Zone. He still is the King of 3D comics. So, I called him. I hired him as my visual consultant on the film. I knew that if anybody knows 3D, it’s Ray Zone. So we hung out and talked comic books. He was looking at every frame of the film. I also worked with Tim Bradstreet, my partner in my company, Raw Studios. It’s a small independent comic company. We publish science fiction comics mostly. I met Tim on my film, The Punisher. He’s an excellent artist and graphic designer. He did all the covers for Hellblazer and Punisher. He was my eyes to make sure that the vision we’d storyboarded came through.

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Artwork by Tim Bradstreet

Thomas: I devised a color-coded system so I could tell the cameraman where I wanted the 3D visually in space. If I wanted the 3D to be popping-off the screen in a particular shot – I had a color code for that. If the 3D was to be deep in the background so that you get a real sense of depth, that was another color code. And there were colors for the middle ground. I indicated wherever the 3D would be and map it through the movie – because I think it can be overstimulating. I also became a member of the Southern California Stereo Club which has been around since 1950. It’s basically a group of old men who get together in a basement in Hollywood and they trade 3D nudie pictures back and forth that they’ve created themselves. So, technically, they’re extremely proficient. If you want to learn 3d, that’s where you go. These guys have been doing it and doing it and passing it down. There’s a bunch of older gentlemen there and a bunch of younger guys coming up that are being taught.

Sean: The visuals about all this going on in somebody’s basement is piquing my imagination.

Thomas: It’s actually a church basement.

Sean: Even better!

Thomas: Yeah. That’s where I went to get the dope on what is good 3D. What I’ve done with my film is to vary the intensity of the 3D. We start out strong and then we back it off for a little while. Then when you bring it in again, it’s impactful – it hits you again. You can re-engage the effect. Playing with the ZX from shot-to-shot is also fun. I can start a sequence where the 3D is in the deep background and, as I move through the sequence, I can move that focal point from the deep background all the way up to 10-feet off the screen. There’s so much fun to be had with 3D. Some of the guys who really know 3D say my movie demonstrates one of the best uses of it. I just hired the right guys and did the research.

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Sean: But you also knew how you wanted it to look even before you saw the daily rushes.

Thomas: Yes, I did. I knew what I wanted it to be.

Sean: Do you still have your comic books?

Thomas: Actually, I have them hanging on a wall in my office.

Sean: Where does the script of Dark Country come from?

Thomas: I’m a fan of O. Henry’s short stories with the twist endings. I read a short story by Tab Murphy that reminded me of them. I hunted him down and said it would make such a cool movie. We sold it to Lionsgate as a film. I had a production deal there. So, Lionsgate paid Tab Murphy to write this little movie. Then, because of my involvement with the Southern California Stereo Club, I went to Lionsgate and said, “I want to make this movie in 3D.” They looked at me as though I’d lost my marbles. They said, “You mean with the red and blue glasses? Are you nuts? That hasn’t been done since the ’50s! Where are we gonna show it? No. No!” And they gave the movie back to me. I took it to Sony. Sony had pulled the trigger on these 3D televisions that they had coming out – and that nobody knew about. So they said, “Our DVD department actually would be interested in something like that because we’re going to need content.” So, we made it over at Sony Home Video. It’s the first all digital 3D movie ever made.

Sean: You will have the greatest audience you could ever hope for this coming Friday night. There is a huge audience for Film Noir here in San Francisco and it doesn’t get better than seeing it at the Castro Theatre. Tell me about your connection to Film Noir. What are some of your best favorites?

Thomas: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Whirlpool is a great Film Noir. I’m really proud that I’ve made a Film Noir. This film is a direct descendant of Edgar Ulmer’s Detour. I took a lot of inspiration from that. I never used a lens that was longer than a 50. I shot the whole movie in wide lenses. I stole a lot of shots from my favorite Film Noirs.

Sean: How old were you when you got hooked into this?

Thomas: I was a teenager.

Sean: Did you see them on TV? Did you go to the movies?

Thomas: I saw some of them on TV, some started coming out on VHS. I was watching this stuff when my colleagues would’ve been watching something like – Grease. You know?

Sean: Yes! And you become aware that Film Noir has a particular style, that it’s not just “an old movie”, but has a look and feel that is intriguing you.

Thomas: It’s the style, it’s the use, it’s the psychological drama. The time frame when Film Noir came out – after World War II, the nation is in flux, men are coming home from the war and they’ve lost their position and women have taken over their jobs. They’ve been emasculated a little bit. It was a dark period. As a result we start getting movies like Nightmare Alley, Double Indemnity, Criss Cross, and They Live By Night. They’re smart, they’re low budget, and moody. They really caught my imagination – just as much as The Twilight Zone and EC comic books. Put this combination with 3D and you end up with Dark Country.

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LAUREN GERMAN

Sean: I have a fascination for the women of Film Noir. I zone-in on the “Femme Fatale”. How did you choose your leading lady, Lauren German?

Thomas: In classic Hollywood style. Sony ran a picture for me down in one of their screening rooms on the lot. They said, “Look at this girl. We like her.” She was terrific. She’s very beautiful. It’s hard to find a very beautiful girl that can really act, that can really take it. That’s who she was. That’s who I needed. Dark Country is her best performance to date.

Sean: Given all your success with the HBO series, Hung, will you get involved with another film project?

Thomas: I just finished a script on a Western. It’s called, A Magnificent Death From A Shattered Hand. I wrote it with a man named Jose Prendes. I plan on starring in and directing it next year. I call it a “Gothic Western”. I want to invent a new niche within the genre. Or a good cross-pollination.

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Visit Thomas Jane on his web site: RawStudios.com

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